The Rastafarian movement began with the teachings of Marcus Garvey in the 1920’s.

Garvey, who lived in New York City, believed that the black man would never receive fair treatment in a white man’s world.

He thus organized a “back-to-Africa” movement that attracted thousands of followers among the poor blacks of certain large-city urban areas.

Garvey was convicted of mail fraud, spent time in prison, and finally returned to his native Jamaica in 1927. 

His “Back to Africa” movement sought to awaken black pride and was critical of  British colonialism.

In a 1929 address Garvey stated, “a king would be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near.”

A black king would be crowned in Africa, and through that monarch deliverance for dark-skin people would be realized eventually.

Rastafarianism began in Jamaica in the 1930s  

Rastafarians came to worship Haile Selassie (Amharic for “power of the Trinity”; 1892–1975), the Ethiopian emperor, as a god-king or messiah (deliver-er), the second coming of Jesus, the living God for the black race.

The name Rastafari derives from “Ras”, translated as “prince,” and Tafari, “he who must be feared,” from the Amharic language of Ethiopia)

Through Selassie, they sought liberation from the legacy of slavery and colonialism.

Haile Selassie embodied Marcus Garvey’s vision of black pride, self-reliance and restoration of the ancient glory of Ethiopia and Africa.   

Haile Selassie claimed to be a direct descendant, the 225th ruler in an unbroken line of Ethiopian Kings from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

He has been called many names including King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah – all of which are taken from the Bible. 

Ironically, Selassie was never a Rastafarian himself

No one is really sure what he thought of his following.

Selassie was considered a ruthless dictator by some of the neighboring African countries. 

Rasta combines elements of Judaism, Christian and African religions.

The Rastafarian NAME for GOD is JAH. (Hebrew Jehovah

Moses was the savior of the Jews. 

Jesus was the savior of the Gentiles.

The first man that Jesus saved is said to have been an Ethiopian.   

Selassie was the modern savior of the Africans. Rastafarians consider themselves to be the black “children of God”.

Like the Biblical Hebrews or Israelites enslaved in Egypt and exiled in Babylon & Egypt, Rastafarians are God’s “Chosen People”. 

Rastafarianism sought to break with its Western colonial past by returning to their Africanhistory, identity and“homeland” from which they had been “stolen.”  

Rasta “black superiority” was a reaction to perceived “white supremacy”.  

Many Rastafarians believe that following their repatriation to Africa, black people will become rulers of the world, resulting in the suppression of whites.

This period will mark the beginning of a new world, in which Blacks are “respected”.

Many Rastafarians believe this is how the world wouldhave been, but for the behavior of “corrupt” whites.

However, many Rastafarians now dispute this belief and promote the multi-racial appeal of Rastafari.

Ethiopia specifically and Africa in general is considered the Rasta’s heaven on earth.

There is no afterlife or hell as Christianity believes. 

Babylon is the Rastafarian term for the white man’s world of greed and dishonesty. 

Rastas have traditionally despised Western politics, calling it politricks, to indicate their belief that it was marked by deception and trickery. 

Ganga, or marijuana is of sacramental significance, considered a “sacred” herb, based on a Biblical reference in Genesis 1:12. God created the earth and since it was all good, all can be used.

Their logic is herbal Ganja was given by Jah:”… thou shalt eat the herb of the field ” (Genesis 3:18).  Psalm 104:14 of the Bible states, “He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the service of man”.

The use of this herb was not only for spiritual purposes ( Nyabingi celebration) but also for medicinal purposes such as for colds.

Ganja has been used by native herbalists in different countries as medicine.  

Smoking “de herb” also symbolized a “counter-cultural” protest (like the 1960s “Hippies”) against the oppression from  “the establishment”.  

It also was believed by some to give a revelation of uniting them with God as well as black consciousness identifying them with the movement.     

Most Rastafarians are strict vegetarians who use no salt.  Some eat meat, but most will not eat pork.

No liquor, milk, coffee, or soft drinks are to be consumed, as they are “unnatural”.

Many Rastas outlaw the combing or cutting of the hair, citing Leviticus21:15 of the Bible. 

The hair is worn in long knots called dreadlocks, after the image of the Lion of Judah.


Rastafarianism had a profound influence on reggae music,  becoming the main avenue of Rastafarian spirituality, self-expression and communication

Reggae evolved from African rhythms and  drumming styles, Jamaican-Caribbean music styles such as ska and calypso and American rhythm and blues.

East Kingston, the Jamaican capital, became a gathering place where local musicians met and participated in lengthy jam sessions fostering the exchange of musical ideas.

Reggae is considered a ritual music regarded as having mystical power for use in the fight against “oppression”

Most Reggae songs have politically oriented messages of social protestagainst oppression, poverty, slavery, apartheid (racial “separateness”) and human rights.

It was social protest against the “oppression” of “the Establishment”.  

Reggae involved the struggle of black people, but also contained a “global” message of peace, love, unity, hope and “brotherhood” for all mankind. 

Reggae’s “message” is about one love and one world – global humanity can come together despite our different beliefs.

Bob Marleybecame the public persona and international ambassador of Rastafari andreggae.

It is said Hale Selassie wore a ring with the Lion of Judah that was given to Bob Marley at the time of Selassie’s death.  

Marley became the voice or “priest/prophet” of Rastafarian spirituality and society, representing the poor, fighting their “oppression” by “the establishment”, stressing the importance of their African heritage and the legalization of ganja.  

Marley died from brain cancer in 1981.