Italian court rules its ‘okay for Rastafarians to smoke marijuana when meditating

Italian court rules its ‘okay for Rastafarians to smoke marijuana when meditating’

Lawyer successfully argues cannabis regarded as sacred to religion

Courtesy of

An Italian court has acquitted a man of cannabis possession because he is a Rastafarian and was using the drug to meditate.

The 30-year-old was arrested in May last year after police found eight grams of cannabis in his pocket and a further 50 grams at his home.

A prosecutor called for him to be sentenced to up to four months in prison, but his lawyer successfully argued he should be acquitted because cannabis is regarded as sacred in the Rastafari religion.

Explaining the judgement, the court in the southern coastal city of Bari said: “Rastafarians are followers of a religion whose believers use marijuana for meditation.”​ It added that the cannabis was only for his personal use.

Rastafari is a young religion that developed in the 1930s in Jamaica. Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie, a former Ethiopian Emperor, is the reincarnation of God or a destined emissary. They say he will return to Africa members of the black community who were transported away from the continent during the slave trade and colonisation.


Governments should provide reparations to the Rastafari community, says King Frank-I

Governments should provide reparations to the Rastafari community, says King Frank-I

Rastafarian Elder Franklyn “King Frank-I”  Francis said that governments should provide reparations to the Rastafari community for the condemnation by the international community of the rastafarians’ call for the legalisation of cannabis.

He made the comments following his return to Antigua and Barbuda from the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in Jamaica as part of the Regional Commission on Marijuana.

King Frank-I, as he is more commonly known, said that Rastas have often been maligned by the international community for their advocacy of cannabis decriminalisation and legalisation.

He praised the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, for his acknowledgement of the global administrative strategies against the Rastafari.

“He (Prime Minister Browne) has acknowledged that the strategies employed against the Rastafari community, not only here in Antigua, but  around the world, because of their advocacy of the use of the cannabis, were counter-productive.”

He also added that, although the recommendations given by the commission to the various leaders of CARICOM did not go to that extent, he believed that the Rastafari community deserves a percentage of the potentially lucrative industry.

King Frank-I went further by saying that many of the international conventions on drugs and narcotics, which regional countries have signed, have been broken by various countries and states outside the region as it pertains to marijuana.

“One of the concerns or fears of some of these national governments is the international conventions of which they have been signatories, and what our report points out is that these international conventions have their validity in consensus, and since the consensus have been broken by so many countries, it is time to review these international conventions,” he said, adding, “A number of countries [including] the Netherlands, Austria and Portugal, and a number of states in the United States have been going ahead on the premise that this plant is not really a narcotic and is not a dangerous drug.”

He also said that cannabis is used for more than simply a medicinal, sacramental or recreational drug, but also for economic development.

“[There have been] a number of companies, that have been involved in the production from either the medicinal point of view or making other substances;  cannabis is widely utilised in a number of different ways, beside the medicinal usage, [including] textiles, paper production, [and] oils,” he said, adding that “cannabis now gives us the chance to produce not only the primary product but also the secondary and tertiary aspect of the production where the greater value added is derived.”

King Frank-I is a member of the country’s Marijuana Decriminalisation Committee and a member of the Regional Commission on Marijuana, the commission responsible for conducting a rigorous inquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Caribbean, and to determine whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana thereby making the drug more accessible for all types of usages, according to its website.

Rastafarians Seek Religious Recognition For Drug Use

Rastafarians Seek Religious Recognition For Drug Use

Courtsey of


Tribune Chief Reporter

Priest Jevon Thompson at the Bobo Ashanti camp yesterday. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

RASTAFARIAN communities in The Bahamas are calling for reparatory justice in the form of state recognition and inclusion as national discourse over marijuana law reform picks up steam.

Priests canvassed by The Tribune said they expected the government to follow the track of Jamaica and Antigua, whose leaders have issued formal apologies for the longstanding oppression inflicted on Rastafarian communities due to their sacramental use of the plant.

The government has reportedly held talks with the Bobo Ashanti – formally known as the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC) – for the past three months concerning sacramental rights; however, confidence over the inclusion and equity stake of Rastafarians was not widespread.

An overriding concern among faith leaders was that the community be placed at the forefront of national discussions on marijuana law reform and commerce as it has led agitation over liberalisation of the plant for decades.

“We are the vanguard,” said Elder Peter Sheffield, of House of Nyabinghi. “We are the one with the stigma, who have been persecuted for herb, couldn’t get jobs, banned from society. Right now it is coming to a closure on this but it’s like they pushing us aside and saying they don’t recognise the Rasta. We smoked it straight through so it’s too complicated. It’s a way of life for us, it’s nothing to do with recreational or medicinal or how they glorifying it.

I’m almost 60 and they still have me as a criminal from 1985. I’m looking for even compensation from the government and all. It’s been too long they’ve hold us back, our families got held back because we are Rasta. Separation of families because we’re going to jail. We look at it as a personal thing, leave it alone and let us be. This is my sacrament, we use it in our tabernacle.”

Although Rastafarianism has no singular hierarchical structure, there are distinct sects commonly referred to as “mansions”. The two groups said to have the largest presence in the Bahamas are the House of Nyabinghi and the EABIC. Prominent study groups include the King of Kings Missionary Movement and the ASFAW, African Sisters for all Women.

The EABIC is headquartered in Jamaica but has branches throughout the diaspora, ambassador and head of the Bahamas branch, Priest Rithmond McKinney told The Tribune.

“(Cannabis) it’s part of our rituals, our celebrations and our service,” Priest McKinney said, “so it was something always been a part of Rastafarianism from conception. We have always used it as a sacrament. From I become a Rastafarian over 30 years ago it was big stigma on us. Something they used to castrate us, oppress us, all negative things toward us they used marijuana. They called it dope, then called us drug dealers. We been oppressed over the years because we know this is a natural plant, this is our sacrament and we use it as part of our service and we continued using it. We never stopped although we went through all the oppression.

“We as a church,” Priest McKinney continued, “we are in talks with the government now concerning our sacramental rights, making them more aware of sacramental rights. We want sacramental/medicinal use so we will be able to make our products for use external or internal, and to be able to achieve revenue also from our products.

“We are a church, this is a community, we believe it’s our sacrament. Our community feels good in ourself, the conversation is on the table, and we are agitating for our sacramental/medicinal rights. Not necessarily we want decriminalisation or legalisation for recreational use – that should be natural. We want our sacramental rights.”

The EABIC’s Bahamas branch compound on Fire Trail Road is commonly referred to as the “Rasta camp”; however, the House of Nyabinghi is located on Polemus Street off Nassau Street.

Priest McKinney said the Fire Trail compound was registered to the EABIC, and represented a formal acknowledgement of the group by the state. He explained while successive Progressive Liberal Party and Free National Movement administrations have recognised the church, stigma surrounding marijuana has heavily influenced the government’s approach.

Priest McKinney said the compound should be afforded the same respect and protection as any other embassy or diplomatic community.

The Rastafarian population in the Bahamas was said to be around 10,000, according to House of Rastafari chairman and EABIC priest, Philip Blyden. House of Rastafari is an inter-mansion umbrella committee established to arbitrate with the public on issues where there is a consensus among groups in the Bahamas.


Priest Blyden, 60, recalled making a presentation on marijuana legalisation before a Select Senate Committee headed by PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell in 1993.

“Our culture, well-being, and spirituality has been interrupted by first, the colonial powers. Slavery is the biggest interruption of our civilisation. Rastafari members were then hunted by the neo-colonial authorities and our service sacrilegiously interrupted, and sometimes our camps burned down, and our women are sometimes being violated by officers and it’s a number of things.

“We are being eclipsed by those snakes and vultures that are coming up now and everybody’s seeking to benefit from our pain and suffering,” he added. “We suffered under the criminalisation of marijuana more than any other social group in the Bahamas and if it is to be legalised, I think that there should be a pardon issued to the group on behalf of the government of the Bahamas – simply because it’s the government who would be seeking to benefit.”

Priest Blyden noted there has also been a paradigm shift within the Rastafarian community with groups moving from isolationist to more engagement with the wider public.

He said despite the use of Rastafarian culture like Ital food and health practices becoming more mainstream, the groups have not been recognised as pioneers and thought leaders for social change.

“We are still being pushed back and our message is being suppressed and eclipsed by all of this sensationalisation of medical marijuana and CARICOM reports, reparations, and yet we are the leaders in all of these fields,” Priest Blyden said.

CARCOM’s report released last week suggested expunging criminal records to remedy past injustices as it called for its declassification as a dangerous drug.

The commission recommended marijuana is decriminalised for personal use in private premises and medical purposes before being fully legalised.

Priest Jevon Thompson, EABIC, explained the absence of a standardised policy for the community has left its membership to battle legal challenges over their sacrament on an individual level with varied success. Priest Thompson said he has successfully defended his rights in court but the community was currently engaged in raising funds to assist with legal costs of an incarcerated member.

Priest Thompson expressed optimism that liberalisation will affect a lessening of the discriminatory practices but only if Rastafarians are included in the debate.

“The public needs to have an understanding of the debate,” he said, “what we have come to understand is what we were taught about marijuana was wrong. We were taught lies and propaganda, the public has to recognise that wasn’t the truth.

“Learn the truth, accept the truth,” Priest Thompson added, “and I think it will take some of the stigma from us. We would be more recognised because we are like shrouded in mystery.”

Yesterday, Priest McKinney invited the public to the Bobo Ashanti’s celebration to mark the birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie I at the Fire Trail compound on July 23.


The African Diaspora, Ethiopianism, and Rastafari

The African Diaspora,
Ethiopianism, and Rastafari

Courstey of


Amharic One of the many languages of Ethiopia; the language of the royal Ethiopian dynasty since the 13th century.

Babylon From a Rastafari perspective, Babylon is the historically white-European colonial and imperialist power structure which has oppressed Blacks and other peoples of color.

Diaspora (dispersion; a migration; the dispersion of an originally homogeneous people). The mass dispersion of peoples of a common culture or national origin is commonly referred to as a diaspora. Historically, these movements tend to be forced or involuntary. They may be the result military occupation, systematic persecution, servitude, enslavement, or laws by which the dominant society defines an ethnic group as marginal, undesireable, or subordinate. These movements also tend to reflect pervasive regional or global forces that separate peoples of common origin form their homeland (real or imagined), leaving them to think of themselves as exiles. Such is the case of the African diaspora which began in the early 16th century and displaced tens of millions of Africans from their ancestral continent to various sites in the New World.

East Indian (Indo-Jamaican, Indo-Trinidadian, etc.): In the Caribbean context, this term is used to refer to individuals who came to the Caribbean (mostly Trinidad, Jamaica, and Guyana) during the late 19th century as indentured laborers :

Elders The term given to individuals of longstanding commitment in the Rasta Movement. In everyday speech, the status of male individuals as elders is often acknowledged by use of the term “Bongo” as an honorific (e.g., addressing someone as “Bongo Hill” or “Bongo Ketu”).

Ital The Rastafari term for a saltless and vegetarian diet. Although not all Rastafari adhere strictly to such a diet, it serves as a model for idealized lifeways of practitioners. During Nyabinghi ceremonies (which last for up to a week), an Ital diet is part of the ritual protocol observed by communicants.

Jah In Rasta speech, this term is used as a synonym for Emperor Haile Selassie as the manifestation of the Godhead. The term derives from the Old Testament where it appears as an archaic form of “Jehovah” (see Psalm 68:4).

Maroons A term derived from the Spanish word cimarron, meaning wild or unruly, used to refer to runaway slaves in various parts of the Caribbean. In Jamaica, Maroon settlements formed in the island’s mountainous interior as early as the mid-16th century. While small in number compared to the overall population in Jamaica, Maroons retained strong African-derived traditions and remained proud of their cultural heritage. In the 20th century, Rastafari culture has continued to carry forward this African pride in Jamaica and other parts of the Black Diaspora.

Nyabinghi (Ni-uh-bin-gee) This term has a series of overlapping meanings within the contemporary Rastafari Movement. It refers variously to the island-wide religious gatherings of Rasta brethren and sistren at which communicants “praise Jah” and “chant down Babylon,” to the three-part drum ensemble on which chants are composed, to the African-derived dance-drumming style performed at these events, and to the corpus of chants themselves. It also refers to the most orthodox organization within the broader Rasta movement variously known as the House of Nyabinghi or the Theocratic Government of Emperor Haile Selassie I. The term Nyabinghi entered the movement in late 1935 during the Italian Invasion of Ethiopia and is actually derived from an African secret society which operated in the Congo and Ruwanda during the last quarter of the 19th century.

Ras Tafari the pre-coronation name of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Ras is an Amharic term equivalent to duke or lord. And Tafari Makonnen was the family name of Emperor Selassie. Rastafari is the same name taken by members of the Rastafari movement who regard the Ethiopian Emperor as the reincarnation of Christ as well as the embodiment of the Godhead.

Reggae Sometimes called “the King’s music” or “roots music”, reggae is the Rasta-inspired music of black protest which emerged in Jamaica during the late 1960s. Reggae reflects the basic rhythmic influences of Nyabinghi drumming as well as that of other African Jamaican musical traditions. During the 1970s, Rastafari-inspired reggae themes became central to the emergent national consciousness of Jamaicans, both Rastafari and non-Rastafari alike. During this same period, the music developed an international following in Europe, the United States, and on the African continent.

West Indian The term used to refer to the peoples and cultures of the Caribbean archipelago and parts of the Circum-Caribbean rimlands from present-day Belize to Jamaica in the Greater Antilles to Trinidad and Barbados in the Lesser Antilles. Hence, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Antiguans, and others are often referred to collectively as West Indians. This is a problematic term since it does not refer to a single ethnic, linguistic, or national background. West Indian reflects the multicultural and migrant backgrounds of the populations that comprise the Caribbean as a cultural area.

Zion From a Rasta perspective, Zion refers broadly to Africa and more specifically to Ethiopia as the ancestral homeland of all black peoples. The symbols of Rastafari culture identify with this domain in its various spiritual, cultural, and political connotations.

Rastafari Culture The Extreme Ethiopian Rasta

Rastafari Culture
The Extreme Ethiopian Rasta Vs. The Mellow Dallas Rasta

Courstey of William Grant – April 25 2002 –  Reggae/ Speech 214 – Professor Snider

Many people throughout the world have a hard time understanding what it means to be a Rasta.  For some their troubles in understanding Rasta’s come because they look as Rastafari as only a religion.  When one does this they run into many problems. This is because Rastafari is much more than a religion.  It is a way of life, a social movement, as well as a mind set.  Another reason why western people have a hard time understanding Rastafari is because the movement lacks the structure that the western world is use to.

 A lot of people’s understanding of Rasta’s only goes as far as to think that Rasta’s are people that live in Jamaica, smoke weed, and have Dreadlocks. These people do not begin to think what is behind the movement. The idea that Rastafari is strictly Jamaican is also very wrong.  Since the origination of Rastafari, the Rasta movement has expanded far beyond the island of Jamaica.  Rasta’s now live all over the world.  There are Rasta cultures in all parts of Europe, Asia, New Zealand, United States, and especially Africa. This paper seeks to explain Rastafari and to show it’s expansion by exposing Rasta’s culture from it’s most holy form in Ethiopia to one of it’s least holy in Dallas Texas.

The Development of Rastafari

             The Rastafari movement stems from the teachings of the great Jamaican leader and motivator of masses, Maces Garvey.  Garvey told the African people of the world to unite and to return to African, the homeland. Garvey’s vision was for the

“Blacks to overcome their feelings of inferiority and build upon their own unique and evolving culture, and ultimately return to Africa to redeem their homeland and to build a future”(Dubb. Pg2)

Garvey’s vision and ability to unite people made the Jamaican people enlightened to what was going on in the world.  Garvey created the U.N.I.A. and the Negro World newspaper, which helped to inform the Jamaicans of what was going on in the African world. Garvey told his followers, “Look towards Africa for the crowning of a black king – he shall be the redeemer”. Garvey often used many biblical terms in his teaching to free his movement from the oppression of the “White Man”, whether he meant them to be taken literally is unclear, but what is clear is that many Jamaicans took them literally. An event that would happen in 1930 would be as important to a Rasta’s as the birth of Christ is to a Christian.

            In 1930 a man named Tafari Makonne or Ras Tafari (Ras meaning king) claimed himself Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I as well as the traditional titles “King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Conquering Lion of the Tribe Judah.  To some Jamaican people this meant that Garvey’s prophecy had been fulfilled. These people tuned to the Bible and through literal translation of the documents found much correlation into what had taken place. An important correlation to the Bible is the fact that Selassie claimed to be a direct descendent of King David. By Selassie claming his relation to David, he had made a coalition to Revelation 5:2-5.  To some Jamaicans this meant their Messiah had arrived.

            In Jamaica some people such as Leonard P. Howell, J.N. Hibert, and Archibald Dunkle, began to spread the word of the Messiah coming to save the African people.  To Dunkle Howell, and Hibert Haile,  Selassie became their living god.  The people who listened to this soon began to call themselves Rastafarians. To these new Rasta’s, Ethiopia became their Zion, and Haile Selassie their Messiah. The Rastafari religion would continue to follow this trend of interpreting the Bible literally which lead to practices that make the Rastafari religion unique from any other.

What It Means to be Rasta

            The beliefs of the Rastafarian are often misunderstood. To many, any one who has dreads, smokes ganja, and plays Reggae music is a Rasta. There is much more than those three elements to being a Rasta.  Rastafari is more than just a religion.  It is a movement and a way of life. The Rasta life style is one of peace, or at least it seeks to be one of peace. I say this because throughout the world the Rasta are oppressed and harassed and Rasta’s sometimes are forced to turn to violence for survival.  It is important when reading this section of the paper that one understands that the Rastafari has no set book of rules. The Rasta way of life that is laid out here is not true for all Rasta’s. What is said in this section is the basic beliefs of Rasta and not all Rasta’s follow these customs exactly.

Ganja Smoking

                One of the first aspects of Rastafari that come to mind when people hear of Rastafari is their use of marijuana. The smoking Ganja for a Rasta is a special experience. They use the Ganja to help enlighten their mind so they can correctly reason the ways of the world. The Ganja is always smoked in a ritual way. Before smoking the plant the Rasta will say a prayer to Jah (God) or to Haile Selassie I. The Rasta call them reasoning sessions when they use Ganja for Nyabinghi. A Nyabinghi session is much different from a casual marijuana smoking session that western people take part in. People in the west smoke marijuana for social and entertainment reasons. In the west smoking the weed may lead to a silly time of laughing and horse play.  This differs greatly from what takes place during a Nyabinghi. A Nyabinghi is a taken very seriously.  Acting silly would be considered disrespectful to a Rasta.  Before Rasta smoke the ritual plant, they say a prayer to their god Haile Selassie.

            Unfortunately for the Rasta, the smoking of Ganja has become one of the Rasta biggest struggles. This is due to the fact that Ganja smoking is illegal in almost every country in the world with the exception of two. Throughout the world, from South Africa to Jamaica the Rasta are constantly at court with the government trying to fight for the legalization of Ganja for religious purposes. In every country that Rasta’s have gone to court to fight for this religious right they have lost.  The countries that they have tried to fight for the right to smoke Ganja in include: Great Britain, United States, South African, Jamaica, and more. Many Rasta’s throughout the world have ended up in jail because of the smoking of their religious plant.

            The Rasta’s use of Ganja stems back to the beginning of Rastarafi in Jamaica.  In 1941 one of the early teachers of Rastafari, Leonard P. Howell, set up a Rasta community of sixteen hundred Rasta’s. This community was named Pinnacle. At Pinnacle, Howell grew Ganja as a cash crop.  It was during this time that Rasta discovered the properties of Ganja that helped their reasoning process. The Rasta soon turned to the Bible and found reverence to the use of this holy plant.  From this Ganja was born into the Rastafari culture.


            Dreadlocks are another well-known part of Rastafari.  The origin of the dreadlock traces back to ancient Africa, originating in eastern Africa,

“The hairstyle was worn by warriors in Kenya, and a Hairstyle of ancient Kemet and Nubia. However in Jamaica, in post slavery and Eurocentric culture, the Hairstyle was deemed in the early years as “Dreadful”(Dubb pg.3).

                    The name dreadlock comes from the locks of hair deemed dreadful as Dubb explained.  The Rasta’s also believe that they should not put sharp metal objects to their head.  This comes again from interpreting the Bible literally.  Due to this belief they do not believe it is right to shave or comb their hair. Another belief that led to the dreadlocks among Rasta’s is that the wearing of the Dread resembles the main of  a lion. The lion is significant because the lion is the respected king of the animal kingdom, as well as humble animal. Both of these traits the Rasta believes are divine and important to the “Black Man”. Haile Selassie I also was called “the conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah”, this makes the wearing of the dread connected to the Rasta god. The dreadlock is also a natural state of the African person hair, and by being natural the Rasta feels they are more connected to Jah.

              The wearing of the dread first appeared in the Rasta Community at the original Rasta community of Pinnacle. At Pinnacle Howell was growing Ganja as a cash crop and the police where constantly raiding the farms.  Because of this and other border problems at the Rasta community, Howell was forced to create a group of guards to protect the area.  These guards grew their hair long in the form of ancient African warriors and became known as “locksmen”.  With this and the reasons given in the previous paragraph, the Dreadlock became the hairstyle of the Rasta.

               Just like the smoking of Ganja, the dreadlock hairstyle has lead many problems for the Rasta.  In the early days of Rastafari, Rasta who wore their hair in dread form where brutalized by the police for no reason. This pushed many Rasta into the bush of Jamaica so that they could live in peace. Things have not gotten a whole lot better for dreadlocked people.  In Jamaica and other parts of the world children who have dreads are not allowed to attend some schools. Just like the Ganja issue the, the dreadlock school issue is constantly being fought in courts throughout the Rasta world.  It came up lately in a South African school where a young child was not given the right to go to school because of her dreads and the issue had to be fought in court.

The Rasta Diet.

            The Rastafari diet is something that is often overlooked by many people who do not know a great deal about Rastafari. The Rasta has a very interesting belief in their thoughts about dead beings. The Rasta’s do not like being around any animal that is dead. This idea stems into their diet. The Rasta believes that it is wrong to eat animals that have died because then you are turning your body into a cemetery. This does not mean that a Rasta will not eat dairy products. Most Rasta’s have no problem with the consumption of milk because it does not come from a dead animal. Although most Rasta’s will not eat animal meat, many Rasta’s will eat fish. However the Rasta will not eat shellfish.  This stems from more readings in the Bible.  Some but not all Rasta will go as far as to not t eat fruit that has been altered from its original form.  This means they would not eat fruit that has been pealed, cut, or smashed. There is also a large number of Rasta that will not eat any processed food.

Rasta Dialect

               The dialect of the Rasta reflects their beliefs in many ways. “If you Really want to know how Rasta’s think, listen to them Talk”(Hicholas pg.37).  Rasta’s take their speech very seriously.  Rasta’s are often trying to make their speech sound very powerful and grateful. The Rasta’s speech reflects how they often think literally.  Their speech uses a literal translation of words, just like their beliefs use a literal translation of biblical readings.  Their speech reflects their protest against oppression, as well as their protest against authority. When the Rasta’s speech is analyzed, it shows how the Rasta’s are always trying to think positively.

              The Rastafarian rhetoric changes the English language in a way that helps them make more sense of the world, as well as to protest against what the Rasta believe to be unjust. Rasta will often change word from a negative meaning to a positive meaning.  The changing of the word understand to “overstand” is an example of this.  To “overstand” means to fully and entirely have a grasp of a concept. This Rasta reasoning for this is that something that is under is worse than something that is over it, so they change “under” to “over”.  A Rasta might say  “I and I, must not just understand but overstand, seen”.  A Rasta will almost never use a negative term.  They will always replace it with something positive. This is a great reflection on how the Rasta always sees things positively.

               Another interesting concept of the Rasta’s language is their concept of I and I. The letter “I” is in almost every part of their language. It is in the name of their Religion “Rastafari”, and it is part of their gods title Selassie I. The Rasta use the word to connect themselves to god, to show that that god is always part of them.  A Rasta will never “I am going there” instead it would be “I and I am going there”.  The Rasta does this to show that god is part of him, and that he is not separate from any other person. “I” is also used to replace letters of powerful words.  This too is reflected in the word “you” not being part of the Rasta language. The Rasta believes that first there was just “I” and then the devil came and created “you”.

The Rasta’s Social Thought.

            The Rasta believes in peace and they are constantly trying to preach down violence. This preaching down of violence is often hard for Rasta’s to do because most Rasta live in poor areas where peace is often unattainable.  The Rasta fear world wars, and especially Nuclear war. This want for world peace is heard often in the Rasta’s Reggae music.

            One of the most important parts of Rasta thought is the protest against authority and structure.  The Rasta’s refer to the authorities that rule the world as Babylon.  Babylon is connected to the devil and is ruled by the oppressive “white man”.  This rejection of authority can be seen in how Rastafari has no rules like many other religions do.  There is not one thing that Rasta has to do to be a Rasta because that would defeat the whole purpose of being a Rasta.  The Rasta’s reject the Pope very much. “Burn the Pope. Burn the Pope man….The Pope is a vampire, wants our blood. Selassie I is the head. The Pope is the devil”(Lewis pg 45).  This quote of a Jamaican Rasta is an example of how the Rasta’s feel about organized religion and the Pope.

            Rasta’s economic beliefs are anti-capitalism. The Rasta’s believe that Capitalism is part of Babylon.  Rasta’s believe what is yours is also your neighbors. This does not mean that Rasta’s would approve of Communism.  To a Rasta Communism would be too structured.  They would also reject the idea of a leader telling them what to do. Most Rasta’s also do not believe in paying taxes.  Because of this most Rasta’s do not take part in the formal economy.  Instead they either live in a place where they can survive on what they can grow or they take part in the informal economy and survive through street vending.  Some Rasta’s survive by selling Ganja, or other illegal substances.

            One unfortunate part of Rastafari is their negative attitude toward females.  Most Rasta’s believe that females are not equal to men.  They believe that a good woman must always respect men and do what they ask. This is very contrary to much of their other beliefs about people being equal.  Rasta men often beat their wives for being lazy.  Rasta men believe that being naked is good because you are closer to god in your natural state.  However Rasta’s believe that women should not show off their bodies. Rasta’s belief of sexual contact also differs from men to women.  Rasta men often have many different partners, while it is wrong for Rasta women to give more than a hand shake to more than one man.

Rastafari in Ethiopia.

            For many Rasta’s moving back to Ethiopia is their dream.  Fortunately for some this dream has come true.  In 1963 Emperor Haile Selassie I gave 500 hectares of land to any African that wished to return to Ethiopia. The land that was given is located in the small southern Ethiopian town of Shasemene.  The small town of Shasemene has a population of 13,000.  The people living in this town are 90% Christian and 10% Muslim.  The town has many visitors because it is a cross roads of the three largest Ethiopian cities. Prostitution is very common in this town and many women make good money through this business. Other than prostitution there is little contact between the sexes. The town’s economic base is in   trade and farming. The staple crops are maize, beans, potatoes, wheat, barley and injera (a local grain used in traditional Ethiopian breads).

            Separate from this economy the Rasta’s have set up a commune that lies three miles outside of the main market of Shashemene.  The town has grown from the original 12 Rasta’s to two hundred families.  Almost all of the Rasta’s living in the town have come from Jamaica. For the most part the only ones who have not are Ethiopian woman who have intermarried with the Rasta’s.  The Rasta’s who live here are members of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The Twelve Tribes is the most organized form of Rastafari that there is. The origin of the group is in Jamaica and has branches in Brooklyn, NY.  The Twelve Tribes tend to be more radical in their beliefs than other Rasta’s.  They believe strongly in the return of all Rasta’s to Africa.

            The Rasta’s compound is made up of houses that are made out of mud, straw, clay and loose concrete mix. The structure of these houses is very strong, but none of the houses are more than one story.  This is because the Rasta’s of this area believe that building their houses over one story would be invading Gods area. The walls of these houses are also very porous because the Rasta’s say that is so they can breath while inside.

            The Rasta’s that live in the compound at Shashemene are able to live without being controlled by any kind of state. Their economy is completely informal.  This is able to work because the land is very fertile and they can grow almost all they need to survive.  What they can’t grow they get from the trading at the market and other funding that comes from Jamaica and other organizations. Because of this the people of the compound are completely free and truly live with no other person governing their actions.  There is no class order in the compound.  Work projects are done by the most skilled person in that field, being in charge of the project.

            Life for women in the Rasta compound at Shashemene is not great.  In fact it is more oppressive than in other areas of Rastafari culture. Women are often severely beaten for taking too long to go to the market. The men often time how long it takes to go to the market and come back with out wasting time to talk or any other pleasure.  If the woman does not return in this pre planed time they are often beaten.

“She showed me scars she bore from such a beating when she was punished for lingering too long in the daily market. Her husband had carefully timed her trips to the market and lateness aroused suspicions of infidelity”(Lewis pg 112)

This is grossly unfair for when men go to the market they spend much time lingering around, smoking Ganja, listening to the BBC to see what is happening in the world as well as discussing their view of world politics of other Rasta’s.

            The daily life for a man living in the Twelve Tribe compound is much different than that of the women. The men spend most of their time involved in activities that are not related to work. They will spend much of their time smoking and discussing Rasta world views, as well painting pictures of Haile Selasie I.   Most Rasta’s living on the compound do not do much work in the fields. Newcomers to the compound do most of the work that is done in the field.  Most of these new comers do not stay long in the community because they are worked too hard  by the older members. A Ethiopian women who lived in the compound for a while claims:

The newcomers, she claimed, are exploited and overworked through a process which the brethren call education. If they do remain it is because the brethren put fear in their hearts that the Twelve Tribes in Jamaica will shoot them should they leave. To return to Babylon is forbidden and sacrilegious (Lewis 112).

Most of the money that the members of the compound receive comes from the money that has been donated by people who live in Jamaica.

Different people that live in Shashemene perceive the Rasta’s differently.  Some people reject the Rasta’s because their way of life is in conflict with the rest of the community, while others find the Rasta’s to be a harmless group that does nothing to hurt the community.  However, there are very few among the villagers that feel that the Rasta’s do anything positive for the struggling town.

               There are a few reasons that some people in the town do not like the Rasta’s. One of these is that even though the Rasta’s preach anti-violence, people in the village claim that they are very quick to pull out a knife when they disagree with each other. A second complaint about the Rasta’s is that they are lazy and sell cloth at the market that was given to them as charity. A third complaint about the Rasta’s is one that is universal throughout every place that Rasta live. This is the complaint about their use of Ganja.

“All they do is smoke marijuana, which the Ethiopian farmers here grow for them. Some people in the town don’t like this, as our children have also started to use this drug. We like them as they integrate and there is a lot of inter-marriage, but the marijuana has to stop,” says 27-year-old mechanic Adbul Onduka.(Bhalla).

A fourth complaint out Rasta’s is simply that their religious beliefs clash with those of other Muslim and Christian beliefs.

             The Rasta’s that are currently living in Shashemene welcome any African that wants to come to live in their community to come. They say their community can handle any amount of people that want to come back to African.  The Rasta’s believe that they will some day turn the town of Shashemene into the most important city in Africa.  They claim that some day it will be a thriving African city that will be able to defeat the oppression of the “White Man”.  As of now the Rasta’s have done little to nothing to improve Shashemene.

Rastafari in the United States.

            Rastafari has ventured out of Jamaica and Africa to the United States. The center of Rastafari in the United States is by far New York City, but Rastafari is not limited to New York City at all.  There are large populations of Rasta’s living all over the U.S.  from California to the Methodist dominated Texas.  It seem wherever there are people of African decent that have been or are being oppressed by the “White Man” Rasta’s will emerge.

Dallas Texas

            One of the more interesting places that Rasta ‘s have emerged is Dallas Texas. Texas is one of the most religious areas in the western world.  Texas is a place where Christianity dominates the social life a great number of people.  Texas is also a place that has a great amount of discrimination of African people and this is probably one of the reasons that Rastafari has emerged in this area.

            Rastafari first came to Dallas 20 years ago.  Most of the first exposure to Rastafari came from Reggae music that became popular in that era.  It is not know how many Rasta’s are living in the area, but at a recent Rasta event to celebrate the birthday of Haile Selassie I over 500 Rasta’s showed up.  Most of the Rasta community in Dallas is African Americans who looked for answers through the Black Panther movement, or Nation of Islam, and other African churches, and were left felling empty. A Rasta by the name of Moore is a good example of this.  Moore spent much of his life looking for answers. He turned to the Nation of Islam and felt more oppressed than before.  Moore is now a Rasta and his outlook on life has improved very much for him. “It been a rough life, but as Rasta, we’ve got to keep on”(Jones pg. 4). This quote of Moore shows how Rastafari helps him get through his hard day-to-day life.

            Rasta’s in Dallas face many of the same problems that other Rasta’s face.  Like most other Rasta’s living throughout the world, they face the problem of smoking their religious herb, Ganja.  Despite this the Rasta’s in Dallas hold Nyabinghi rituals on every full moon in the Dallas area. The Rasta’s in Dallas try to help their issue of Ganja use by helping the community fight other drug problems in the city.  Rasta’s come to the anti drug rallies that the Muslims of the area held and by doing this the Rasta’s hoped to show that they where not pro drug.  By showing that they wanted to help the drug problems the Rasta’s hoped it would help them to legitimizes their ritual use of Ganja.

            Rasta’s also face discrimination of their religious style in Dallas. The son of Rasta Moore, Jameel Moore was suspended from his school for wearing his crown in his sixth grade elementary school.  The school officials suspended Jameel because they said he was violating the school rules that prohibit the wearing of hats.  The Moores disputed the ruling arguing that the crown was not a hat but a “Cultural Headdress”, just like the yarmulkes is to a Jew, and a turban is to a Hindu.  The issue was dropped when the school scared young Jameel so much that he had to swallow his pride and agree not to show his faith and not where the crown.

            Another case of Rasta’s harassment by authorities is the case of Carols and Dana Jackson.  The Jackson are a Rasta couple that tried to improve their run down West Dallas neighborhood.  The couple bought up run down homes in their neighborhood and renovated them.  During the renovation of the homes they painted pictures of Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie on the walls of the homes.  They grew vegetables and purchased animal to be raised on the area for means of self-sufficient survival. When the couple began to hold Nyabinghi sessions they where sighted for code violations and eventually arrested for possession of marijuana.

            The women in this Rasta community of Dallas Texas seem to be treated much better than Rasta Women throughout of the rest of the Rasta world. Although they are not seen as equals, they are part of the Ganja smoking rituals and are not forced to stay at home like many other Rasta women are throughout the world. This is probably a reflection of the low intensity of the Rasta community of Dallas.  It is also mostly a result of the surrounding that the Rasta woman are in.  The way in which woman are treated in Dallas Texas is much better than how women are treated in Jamaica or Ethiopia as a whole.

            In general, Rastafari culture in Dallas Texas is much less intense than it is in most other parts of the world.  These Dallas Rastas do not seem to have the desire of rebellion that most other Rasta feel.  Many of the Rasta’s are part of the legitimate economy, pay taxes and have legitimate jobs. This is partly because it is very hard for the Rasta to survive in the informal economy in Dallas.  The Dallas Rasta seems to be one of the most relaxed, least rebellious, and least motivated to help bring Babylon down. The reason for this is most likely the level of oppression in the area is much less intense than it is other places. Another reason for the lower level of intensity is the large separation that Texas has from the African world. Texas does have a large population of people of African decent, but these people do not feel the same oppression that black people feel in other places such as Jamaica. A third reason for the low intensity is that there is not a large following of Rasta’s in the area, which would effect how intense their lifestyle can be. Rastafari in Dallas is more of religious movement than it is a social or cultural movement.  In both Jamaica and in Ethiopia it is a major cultural movement.

The Dallas Rasta is much less intense than the Rasta’s of Ethiopia. This does not mean that the Rasta’s of Dallas are not Rasta’s.  What it does show is how Rasta’s can differ throughout the world. This is not different from people of other faiths.  Every religion has people that believe in the religion at different levels. A good example of this is in the Jewish faith. There are Jews such as the Orthodox Jews that believe in the religion to a very strong degree and then there are people of Jewish faith, such as the Reform Jews that follow the religion to lowest degree.  Therefore the Twelve Tribe Rasta’s of Ethiopia could be compared to the Orthodox Jews, and the Rasta’s of Dallas could be compared to the Reform Jew’s.

            Despite the differences that these two Rasta’s cultures have they still share the basic principles of Rastafari. The first and most important of these principles is their love and worship of Haile Selassi I.  Second, they want to fight the oppression of the black man. Third, their hatred of authority and preaching down of Babylon (although this is felt to a lesser degree by the Dallas Rastas). Fourth, their ritual use of Ganja to reach clear thought and to connect to God. A fifth connection is their appearance wearing their hair in dread locks and having unshaven faces. The last and most important connection is their love for the world, and their desire for the unity of man.

            The purpose of this paper in discussing Rasta’s in very separate environments was to show Rastafari in way that shows how broad the faith is. By showing Rasta’s in the their most extreme form, the Twelve Tribes that live in Ethiopia, I was able to show how serious Rasta’s can be.  On the other hand by showing Rasta’s in the much less intense culture of Dallas I was able to show that the religion is not always so radical. The paper also showed that Rasta’s exist all over the world, from Africa to Dallas. The point is Rastafari is everywhere, just like oppression is everywhere.  There is always positive thought (Rasta) where there is negative thought (oppression).