Belief in brief

Sunday, February 11, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:51 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Rastafari was born against the backdrop of colonial rule. It was inspired by the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, a political leader who espoused black self-empowerment. Although Garvey neither followed nor believed in Rastafari, his prophecy ­— “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand” ­— was believed to have been fulfilled in 1930 when Rasi Tafari Makonnen was crowned the new emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I. He was believed to be the Messiah who would return to Africa the blacks who had been exiled due to slavery and deliver them from colonial rule.

The message of cultural pride and self-empowerment caught on with urban youth and Caribbean immigrants. Bob Marley brought reggae music to the world in the 1970s, and through his appearance and songs, he made known the message and spirit of Rastafari. He is considered to have been the single most influential person in spreading the religion globally, from America to Japan.


Rastafari does not have a formal creed; views can differ by time, space and group. What remains integral, however, is belief in the divine nature of Haile Selassie. Rastafari also draws heavily on the Holy Bible — Rastafarians believe that blacks are God’s elect, the genuine Israelites. This concept of black empowerment, however, may not be as strong now, as Rastafari has acquired a broader appeal spanning race, class and nationality, through the spread of reggae music and migration of Jamaicans.


There are no fixed religious buildings for Rastafarians to worship in. They typically meet up informally to hold Reasoning sessions, where there is usually chanting, drumming and meditating. Marijuana — or the holy herb — may be smoked, as it is believed to heighten the spiritual experience.

Rastafarians, in accordance with Old Testament law, do not cut their hair, preferring to twist it into dreadlocks instead. Dreadlocks are worn with much pride; they are felt to be an important part of the Rastafarian’s identity.

The Rastafarian philosophy of “ital livity” rejects consumerism and subscribes to a lifestyle that is close to nature. Hence, believers eat “clean” food, which is grown without chemical fertilizers, and abstain from alcohol, contraception and abortion. “Ital livity” also demands of Rastafarians values such as integrity and straightforwardness.

Sources: Rastafari: Roots and Ideology, America’s Alternative Religions,

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