Rastafari is an Abrahamic belief which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, following the coronation of Haile Selassie I as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. Its adherents worship Haile Selassie I, emperor of Ethiopia (ruled 1930–1974), much in the same way as Jesus in his Second Advent, or as God the Father. Members of the Rastafari way of life are known as Rastafari, Rastas, Rastafarians, or simply Ras. Rastafari are also known by their official church titles, such as Elder or High Priest. The way of life is sometimes referred to as "Rastafarianism", but this term is considered offensive by most Rastafari, who, being critical of "isms" (which they see as a typical part of Babylon culture), dislike being labelled as an "ism" themselves.
The name Rastafari is taken from Ras Tafari, the title (Ras) and first name (Tafari Makonnen) of Haile Selassie I before his coronation. In Amharic, Ras, literally "head", is an Ethiopian title equivalent to prince or chief, while the personal given name Täfäri (teferi) means one who is revered. Jah is a Biblical name of God, from a shortened form of Jahweh or Jehovah found in Psalms 68:4 in the King James Version of the Bible. Most adherents see Haile Selassie I as Jah or Jah Rastafari, an incarnation of God the Father, the Second Advent of Christ "the Anointed One", i.e. the Second Coming of Jesus Christ the King to Earth.
Many elements of Rastafari reflect its origins in Jamaica and Ethiopia. Ethiopian Christianity traces its roots to the Church of Alexandria, founded by St Mark, and its 5th-century continuation in the Coptic Church of Alexandria. Rastafari holds many Christian beliefs like the existence of a triune God, called Jah, who had sent his divine incarnate son to Earth in the form of Jesus (Yeshua) and made himself manifest as the divine person of Haile Selassie I. Rastafari accept much of the Bible, although they believe that its message and interpretation have been corrupted.
The Rastafari way of life encompasses the spiritual use of cannabis and the rejection of the degenerate society of materialism, oppression, and sensual pleasures, called Babylon. It proclaims Zion, in reference to Ethiopia, as the original birthplace of humankind, and from the beginning of the way of life calls for repatriation to Zion, the Promised Land and Heaven on Earth. This can mean literally moving to Ethiopia but also refers to mentally and emotionally repatriating before the physical. Some Rastafari also embrace various Afrocentric and Pan-African social and political aspirations.
Some Rastafari do not claim any sect or denomination, and thus encourage one another to find faith and inspiration within themselves, although some do identify strongly with one of the "Mansions of Rastafari"—the three most prominent of these being the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
By 1997 there were, according to one estimate, around one million Rastafari worldwide. In the 2011 Jamaican census, 29,026 individuals identified themselves as Rastafari. Other sources estimated that in the 2000s they formed "about 5% of the population" of Jamaica, or conjectured that "there are perhaps as many as 100,000 Rastafari in Jamaica".
- 1 World-views and doctrines
- 1.1 Jah Rastafari
- 1.2 The Trinity
- 1.3 Haile Selassie I
- 1.4 Iyesus Christos
- 1.5 Zion vs. Babylon
- 1.6 Afrocentrism
- 1.7 Ceremonies
- 1.8 Places of worship
- 1.9 Sects and subdivisions
- 1.10 Lion
- 1.11 Rastafari and other Abrahamic faiths
- 1.12 Spiritual use of cannabis
- 2 Politics
- 3 Culture
- 4 History
- 5 Rastafari around the world
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
World-views and doctrines
|“||... Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.||”|
— Psalm 68:31
Rastafari are monotheists, worshiping a singular God whom they call Jah. Jah is the term in the King James Bible, Psalms 68:4. Rastas view Jah in the form of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Rastas say that Jah in the form of the Holy Spirit (incarnate) lives within the human. For this reason, they often refer to themselves as "I and I". "I and I" is used instead of "We" to emphasize the equality between all people, in the belief that the Holy Spirit within all people makes them essentially one and the same.
Rastafari doctrines concerning the Trinity include stressing the significance of the name "Haile Selassie," meaning power of the Trinity, might of the Trinity, powerful trinity in Ge'ez or also Haile Selassie I (qedamawi Haile Selassie) meaning the (first power of the Trinity) name given to Ras Tafari upon his baptism and later assumed as part of his regnal name at his November 2, 1930 coronation by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church, then known as just the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church.
Haile Selassie I
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The future capital city of Zion is sometimes put forward as the New Jerusalem (Lalibela, Ethiopia) and the very Habitation of the Godhead (Trinity) creator, Ras Tafari. Prophetic verses of the Hebrew Bible (such as Zephaniah 3:10 "From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, the daughter of My dispersed ones, shall bring my offering") have been interpreted as subtly hinting that the messianic king will be in Ethiopia and the people will come from all over world beyond its rivers.
Rastas may say that Haile Selassie I's coming was prophesied from Genesis to the Book of Revelation. Genesis, Chapter 1: "God made man in His own image." Psalm 2: "Yet I set my Holy king On My Holy hill of Zion." Psalm 87:4–6 is interpreted as predicting the coronation of Haile Selassie I. During his coronation, Haile Selassie I was given 38 titles and anointments taken from the Bible: "King of Kings," "Elect of God," "Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah the Author of Mankind," "the Power of Authority," etc. He also received acclaim from various Christian and Muslim leaders and clergy for the work he performed towards establishing world peace and the brotherhood of mankind — this being one of the primary reasons his followers hold him as a God incarnate. Rastas also refer to Haile Selassie I as "His Imperial Majesty" (or the acronym HIM) and "Jah Rastafari."
According to tradition, Haile Selassie I was the 225th in an unbroken line of Ethiopian monarchs of the Solomonic Dynasty. This dynasty is said to have been founded in the 10th century BC by Menelik I. Menelik I was son of the Biblical King Solomon and Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, who had visited Solomon in Israel. 1 Kings 10:13 claims "And King Solomon gave unto the Queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants." On the basis of the Ethiopian national epic, the Kebra Negast, Rastas interpret this verse as meaning she conceived his child.
The death of Haile Selassie I is a topic of some debate amongst Rastafari. Some Rastas consider it a partial fulfillment of prophecy of the "Temporary Messianic Kingdom" found in the apocalyptic 2 Esdras 7:28. Others believe that Haile Selassie's 1975 reported death was a hoax. It has also been claimed that he entered a monastery and is now known by many as Abba Keddus (Amharic for Holy Father) and will return to liberate his followers and vanquish all evil, restoring his creation. One Rastafari reaction to Haile Selassie's supposed death was contained in Bob Marley's song Jah Live, which declares emphatically that "God cannot die." Many Rastafari claim to have met Haile Selassie after his reported death and know him also by his claimed new name Abba Keddus or Abba Keddus Keddus Keddus
For Rastafari, Haile Selassie I remains their God and King. They see Haile Selassie I as being worthy of worship for having stood with great dignity in front of the world's press and the representatives of many of the world's powerful nations, especially during his appeal to the League of Nations 1936 when he was still the only independent non-European monarch in Africa.
Acceptance of the Jesus-incarnate status of Qedamawi Haile Selassie is Rastafari doctrine, as is the notion of the corruption of his teachings by secular, Western society, figuratively referred to as Babylon. For this reason, they believe, it was prophesied in the Book of Revelation—"And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed a hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel."—that Jesus would return with a new name that would be inscribed on the foreheads of 144,000 of his most devoted servants. Rastas hold that they represent this fulfillment based on their experience in the light of Haile Selassie I's return and coronation as the King of Kings on 2 November 1930, whom they see as the second coming of Jesus or the coming of the holy spirit, and therefore Jah, onto the Earth.
Zion vs. Babylon
Rastas assert that Zion (i.e., Ethiopia) is a land that Jah promised to them. To achieve this, they reject modern western society, calling it "Babylon", which they see as entirely corrupt due to materialism and greed. "Babylon" is considered to have been in rebellion against "Earth's Rightful Ruler" (Jah) ever since the days of the Biblical king Nimrod.
Many Rastafari are physical immortalists who maintain that the chosen few will continue to live forever in their current bodies. This is commonly called "Life Everliving". Everliving in Iyaric replaces the term "everlasting" to avoid the "negative wordsound" of last implying an end. Rastas say their life will never have an end, but will be everliving, with Jah as king and Amharic the official language. Rastas strongly reject the idea that heaven is in the sky, or is a place where dead people go and instead see heaven as being a place on Earth, specifically Ethiopia.
"Last May, in Addis Ababa, I convened a meeting of Heads of African States and Governments. In three days, the thirty-two nations represented at that Conference demonstrated to the world that when the will and the determination exist, nations and peoples of diverse backgrounds can and will work together. In unity, to the achievement of common goals and the assurance of that equality and brotherhood which we desire. On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson: That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil."
He concluded this speech with the words, "We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community."
There are two types of Rasta religious ceremonies: Reasoning and Groundation.
A "reasoning" is a simple event where the Rastas gather, smoke cannabis ("ganja"), and discuss. The person honored by being allowed to light the herb says a short sentence beforehand, and the ganja is passed in a clockwise fashion (passing 'pon the lef' han' side) except in times of war when it is passed counterclockwise. It is used to reason with Jah.
A "groundation" (also spelled "grounation") or "binghi" is a holy day; the name "binghi" is derived from "Nyabinghi" (literally "Nya" meaning "black" and "Binghi" meaning "victory"). Binghis are marked by much dancing, singing, feasting, and the smoking of ganja, and can last for several days.
In public gatherings, Rastafari often say the following standard prayer, with several variants, comparable to the Lord's Prayer:
- "Princes and princesses shall come forth out of Egypt, Ethiopia now stretch forth her hands before Jah. O Thou God of Ethiopia, Thou God of Thy Divine Majesty, Thy Spirit come into our hearts, to dwell in the paths of righteousness. Lead and help I and I to forgive, that I and I may be forgiven. Teach I and I Love and loyalty on earth as it is in Zion, Endow us with Thy wisemind, knowledge and Overstanding to do thy will, thy blessings to us, that the hungry might be fed, the sick nourished, the aged protected, the naked clothed and the infants cared for. Deliver I and I from the hands of our enemy, that I and I may prove fruitful in these Last Days, when our enemy have passed and decayed in the depths of the sea, in the depths of the earth, or in the belly of a beast. O give us a place in Thy Kingdom forever and ever, so we hail our majesty Haile Selassie I, Jehovah God, Rastafari, Almighty God, Rastafari, great and powerful God Jah, Rastafari. Who sitteth and reigneth in the heart of man and woman, hear us and bless us and sanctify us, and cause Thy loving Face to shine upon us thy children, that we may be saved, Selah."
When lighting a chalice, the following, shorter invocation is often used: "Glory be to the Father and to the Maker of Creation, as it were in the Beginning, is now an shall be forever, world without end, SELAH."
Some important dates when groundations may take place are:
- January 7 – Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas
- March 25 – The birthday of Empress Menen
- April 21 – The anniversary of Haile Selassie's visit to Jamaica (also known as Grounation Day)
- May 25 – African Liberation Day
- June 16 - The birthday of Leonard P. Howell
- July 23 – The birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie
- August 17 – The birthday of Marcus Garvey
- September 11 – Ethiopian New Year
- November 2 – The coronation of Haile Selassie
Places of worship
First and foremost, Rastas assert that their own bodies are the true church or temple of God. However, in international communities with large Rastafari populations, Rastafari have created tabernacles, churches, headquarters, and temples as spiritual meeting centers. Tabernacles are a place of worship for Rastafari, Nyahbinghi tents are a place of worship for the Nyahbinghi sect of Rastafari. The Bobo Shanti Sect have Bobo Camps where they come together and worship.
Sects and subdivisions
There are three main Mansions (sects or orders) of Rastafari: the Nyahbinghi Order, Bobo Ashanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel. All agree on the basic principles of the divine status of Haile Selassie. Many Rastafari do not belong to any sect.
The Nyahbinghi Order (also known as Haile Selassie I Theocratical Order of the Nyahbinghi Reign) is the oldest of all the Rastafari mansions and was named after Queen Nyahbinghi of Uganda, who fought against colonialists in the 19th century. The Nyahbinghi Order holds steadfast to ancient biblical values. It focuses mainly on Haile Selassie I, Ethiopia, and the eventual return to Africa. It is overseen by an Assembly of Elders. Nyahbinghi brethren also accept the Bible according to the teachings of Haile Selassie I.
Twelve Tribes of Israel
The Twelve Tribes of Israel sect was founded in 1968 by Dr. Vernon "Prophet Gad" Carrington. It is the most liberal of the Rastafarian orders and members are free to worship in a church of their choosing. Each member of this sect belongs to one of the 12 Tribes (or Houses), which is determined by Gregorian birth month and is represented by a colour, a part of the body and a character trait often called a faculty. The Standard Israelite calendar begins in April, the 12 tribes being Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin. Although the 12 representations apply to male and female alike, Dinah, although not considered a tribe, is representative of the feminine. Members of this order are not required to be turbaned.
The Howellites and The Ethiopian Salvation Society
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The Howellites were the Iciency of The Rastafari Movement/Ethiopian Salvation Society that was established by Leonard Percival Howell (the Founding Father of the Rastafari Movement) in 1932. Many Howellites travelled with their parents from the settlement of Trinity Ville in St. Thomas, Jamaica to Pinnacle, or they were born in Pinnacle; Pinnacle was the "First Industrial Mission" and was the most thriving society in the Caribbean at the time.
The Lion of Judah is an important symbol to Rastas, for several reasons. The lion appears on the Imperial Ethiopian flag, used in Haile Selassie I's Ethiopia. In addition, the Ge'ez title Mo`a Anbesa Ze'imnegede Yihuda ("Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah") has been applied to Ethiopian Emperors, in their tradition beginning with Menelik I, said to be the son of king Solomon (c. 980 BC).
Rastafari and other Abrahamic faiths
Some Rastafari choose to classify their movement as Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity or Judaism. Rastafari typically hold that standard translations of the Bible incorporate changes, or were edited for the benefit of the power structure, and one common idea is that half the Biblical story has never been told.
Spiritual use of cannabis
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For Rastas, smoking cannabis, commonly referred to as herb, weed, kaya, sinsemilla (Spanish for 'without seeds'), or ganja (from the Sanskrit word ganjika, used in ancient Nepal and India), is a spiritual act, often accompanied by Bible study; they consider it a sacrament that cleans the body and mind, heals the soul, exalts the consciousness, facilitates peacefulness, brings pleasure, and brings them closer to Jah. They often burn the herb when in need of insight from Jah.
Sacramental use of Cannabis in celebration of the Rastafari faith became legal in Jamaica on 15 April 2015.
By the 8th century, cannabis had been introduced by Arab traders to Central and Southern Africa, where it is known as "dagga" and many Rastas say it is a part of their African culture that they are reclaiming. It is sometimes also referred to as "the healing of the nation", a phrase adapted from Revelation 22:2.
Alternatively, the migration of many thousands of Hindus and Muslims from British India to the Caribbean in the 20th century may have brought this culture to Jamaica. Many academics point to Indo-Caribbean origins for the ganja sacrament resulting from the importation of Indian migrant workers in a post-abolition Jamaican landscape. "Large scale use of ganja in Jamaica... dated from the importation of indentured Indians..."(Campbell 110). Dreadlocked mystics Jata, often ascetic known as sadhus or Sufi Qalandars and Derwishes, have smoked cannabis from both chillums and coconut shell hookahs in South Asia since the ancient times. Also, the reference of "chalice" may be a transliteration of "jam-e-qalandar" (a term used by Sufi ascetics meaning 'bowl or cup of qalandar'). In South Asia, in addition to smoking, cannabis is often consumed as a drink known as bhang and most qalandars carry a large wooden pestle for that reason.
According to many Rastas, the illegality of cannabis in many nations is evidence of persecution of Rastafari. They are not surprised that it is illegal, seeing it as a powerful substance that opens people's minds to the truth — something the Babylon system, they reason, clearly does not want. They contrast it to alcohol and other drugs, which they feel destroy the mind.
They hold that the smoking of cannabis enjoys Biblical sanction, and is an aid to meditation and religious observance. Among Biblical verses, Rastas quote the following as justifying the use of cannabis:
- Genesis 1:11 "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so."
- Genesis 1:29 "And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat."
- Genesis 3:18 "... thou shalt eat the herb of the field."
- Psalms 104:14 "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man."
- Proverbs 15:17 "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."
- Revelation 22:2 " the river of life proceeded to flow from the throne of God, and on either side of the bank there was the tree of life, and the leaf from that tree is for the healing of the nations."
According to some Rastafari, the etymology of the word "cannabis" and similar terms in all the languages of the Near East may be traced to the Hebrew "qaneh bosm" קנה-בשם as one of the herbs that God commanded Moses to include in his preparation of sacred anointing perfume in Exodus 30:23; the Hebrew term also appears in Isaiah 43:24; Jeremiah 6:20; Ezekiel 27:19; and Song of Songs 4:14. Deutero-canonical and canonical references to the patriarchs Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses "burning incense before the Lord" are also applied, and many Rastas today refer to cannabis by the term "ishence"—a slightly changed form of the English word incense. Some Rastas claim that cannabis was the first plant to grow on King Solomon's grave.
In 1998, Attorney General of the United States Janet Reno gave a legal opinion that Rastafari do not have the religious right to smoke marijuana in violation of the United States' drug laws. The position is the same in the United Kingdom, where, in the Court of Appeal case of R. v. Taylor  1 Cr. App. R. 37, it was held that the UK's prohibition on cannabis use did not contravene the right to freedom of religion conferred under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
On January 2, 1991, at an international airport in his homeland of Guam, Ras Iyah Ben Makahna (Benny Guerrero) was arrested for possession and importation of marijuana and seeds. He was charged with importation of a controlled substance. The case was heard by the US 9th Circuit Court November 2001, and in May 2002 the court had decided that the practice of Rastafari sanctions the smoking of marijuana, but nowhere does the religion sanction the importation of marijuana. Guerrero's lawyer Graham Boyd pointed out that the court's ruling was "equivalent to saying wine is a necessary sacrament for some Christians but you have to grow your own grapes."
In 2009, Rasta Doug Darrell was arrested after a National Guard helicopter flying over his New Hampshire home found he was growing 15 marijuana plants in his backyard. In a subsequent trial in September 2012, Darrell was found "not guilty" by twelve jurors exercising the right of jury nullification.
Rastafari culture does not encourage mainstream political involvement. In fact, in the early stages of the movement most Rastas did not vote, out of principle. Ras Sam Brown formed the Suffering People's Party for the Jamaican elections of 1962 and received fewer than 100 votes. In the election campaign of 1972, People's National Party leader Michael Manley used a prop, a walking stick given to him by Haile Selassie, which was called the "Rod of Correction", in a direct appeal to Rastafari values.
In the famous free One Love Peace Concert on 22 April 1978, Peter Tosh lambasted the audience, including attending dignitaries, with political demands that included decriminalising cannabis. He did this while smoking a spliff, a criminal act in Jamaica. At this same concert, Bob Marley led both then-Prime Minister Michael Manley and opposition leader Edward Seaga onto the stage; and a famous picture was taken with all three of them holding their hands together above their heads in a symbolic gesture of peace during what had been a very violent election campaign.
- "He [the Almighty] taught us that all human beings are equal regardless of sex, national origin and tribe. And He also taught us all who seek Him shall find Him." — Haile Selassie I, Dec. 1968 interview with Dr. Oswald Hoffman on 'The Lutheran Hour'.
Per the Rastas' perception of what Haile Selassie's consistent lifelong message was, Rastafari tend to be firm adherents to the proposition that in the eyes of Jah, all men and women deserve equal and just rights, treatment and respect. With both King Alpha and his Queen Omega as examples, Rastafari bredren and sistren (collectively idren) seek to emulate kings and queens according mutual respect and dignity. According to them, all people are equal, regardless of race, because all people are children of Jah.
However, in terms of sexual behavior, there are many in the Rastafari movement (like most other biblical religions) who consider homosexual acts to be a Babylon-promoted sin against the Creator (see LGBT rights in Jamaica), and therefore question organized homosexual activists' demands for their lifestyle to enjoy equality with more traditional, reproductive lifestyles. The Bobo Ashanti mansion has been noted for this; with other mansions it tends to vary.
Rastas assert that their original African languages were stolen from them when they were taken into captivity as part of the slave trade, and that English is an imposed colonial language. Their remedy has been the creation of a modified vocabulary and dialect known as "Iyaric", reflecting their desire to take language forward and to confront the society they call Babylon.
Some examples are:
- "I-tal", derived from the word vital and used to describe the diet of the movement which is taken mainly from Jewish dietary laws.
- "Overstanding", which replaces "understanding" to denote an enlightenment which places one in a better position.
- "Irie" (pronounced "eye-ree"), a term used to denote acceptance, positive feelings, or to describe something that is good.
- "Upfulness", a positive term for being helpful
- "Livication", substituted for the word "dedication" because Rastas associate dedication with death.
- "Downpression", used in place of "oppression", the logic being that the pressure is being applied from a position of power to put down the victim.
One of the most distinctive modifications in Iyaric is the substitution of the pronoun "I and I" for other pronouns, usually the first person. "I", as used in the examples above, refers to Jah; therefore, "I and I" in the first person includes the presence of the divine within the individual. As "I and I" can also refer to us, them, or even you, it is used as a practical linguistic rejection of the separation of the individual from the larger Rastafari community, and Jah himself.
Rastafari say that they reject -isms. They see a wide range of -isms and schisms in modern society, for example communism and capitalism, and want no part in them. For example, Haile Selassie himself was an anti-communist during the cold war, and was deposed by a Marxist coup. Rastafari would reject Marxism as part of the Babylonian system or, at the very least, just another version of western Humanism. They especially reject the word "Rastafarianism", because they see themselves as "having transcended -isms and schisms". This has created conflict between some Rastas and some members of the academic community studying Rastafari, who insist on calling this faith "Rastafarianism" in spite of the disapproval this generates within the Rastafari movement. Nevertheless, the practice continues among scholars, though there are also instances of the study of Rastafari using its own terms.
The Ital vegetarian diet is one of the main tenets of the Rastafari movement. Those who adhere to it abstain from all meat and flesh whatsoever, asserting that to touch meat is to touch death, and is therefore a violation of the Nazirite law.
Some Rastafari eat limited types of meat in accordance with the dietary Laws of the Old Testament but in accordance with those laws, they do not eat shellfish or pork. Some are vegetarian but make a special exception allowing fish, while abstaining from all other forms of flesh. Most Rastafari maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet all of the time. Food approved for Rastafari is called ital. The purpose of fasting (abstaining from meat and dairy) is to cleanse the body in accordance to serving in the presence of the "Ark of the Covenant".
Usage of alcohol is also generally deemed unhealthy to the Rastafari way of life, partly because it is seen as a tool of Babylon to confuse people, and partly because placing something that is pickled and fermented within oneself is felt to be much like turning the body (the Temple) into a "cemetery".
In consequence, a rich alternative cuisine has developed in association with Rastafari tenets, eschewing most synthetic additives, and preferring more natural vegetables and fruits such as coconut and mango. This cuisine can be found throughout the Caribbean and in some restaurants throughout the western world.
Some of the Houses (or "Mansions" as they have come to be known) of the Rastafari culture, such as the Twelve Tribes of Israel, do not specify diet beyond that which, to quote Christ in the New Testament, "Is not what goes into a man's mouth that defile him, but what come out of it". Wine is seen as a "mocker" and strong drink is "raging"; however, simple consumption of beer or the very common roots wine are not systematically a part of Rastafari culture this way or that. Separating from Jamaican culture, different interpretations on the role of food and drink within the religion remains up for debate. At official state banquets Haile Selassie would encourage guests to "eat and drink in your own way".
The wearing of dreadlocks is very closely associated with the movement, though not universal among, nor exclusive to, its adherents. Rastafari maintain that locks are required by Leviticus 21:5 ("They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh.") and the Nazirite law in Numbers 6:5 ("All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow."). The Dreadlocks represents A lion's mane and Yeshua (Jesus) in his Kingly Character.
It has been suggested (e.g., Campbell 1985) that the first Rasta locks were copied from Kenya in 1953, when images of the independence struggle of the feared Mau Mau insurgents, who grew their "dreaded locks" while hiding in the mountains, appeared in newsreels and other publications that reached Jamaica. However, a more recent study by Barry Chevannes has traced the first hairlocked Rastas to a subgroup first appearing in 1949, known as Youth Black Faith.
In 1844, the trade of coolies was expanded to the colonies in the West Indies, including Jamaica, Trinidad and Demerara, where the Asian population was soon a major component of the island demographic. The Indian coolies brought their culture with them which includes, prominently, the wearing of dreadlocks by holy men. This god Shiva of the Indian trinity wears dreadlocks.
There have been ascetic groups within a variety of world faiths that have at times worn similarly matted hair. In addition to the Nazirites of Judaism and the sadhus of Hinduism, it is worn among some sects of Sufi Islam, notably the Baye Fall sect of Mourides, and by some Ethiopian Orthodox monks in Christianity, among others. Some of the very earliest Christians may also have worn this hairstyle; particularly noteworthy are descriptions of James the Just, "brother of Jesus" and first Bishop of Jerusalem, whom Hegesippus (according to Eusebius and Jerome) described as a Nazirite who never once cut his hair. The length of a Rasta's locks is a measure of wisdom, maturity, and knowledge in that it can indicate not only the Rasta's age, but also his/her time as a Rasta.
Also, according to the Bible, Samson was a Nazirite who had "seven locks". Rastafari argue that these "seven locks" could only have been dreadlocks, as it is unlikely to refer to seven strands of hair.
Locks have also come to symbolize the Lion of Judah (its mane) and rebellion against Babylon. In the United States, several public schools and workplaces have lost lawsuits as the result of banning locks. Safeway is an early example, and the victory of eight children in a suit against their Lafayette, Louisiana school was a landmark decision in favor of Rastafari rights. More recently, in 2009, a group of Rastafari settled a federal lawsuit with the Grand Central Partnership in New York City, allowing them to wear their locks in neat ponytails, rather than be forced to "painfully tuck in their long hair" in their uniform caps.
Rastafari associate dreadlocks with a spiritual journey that one takes in the process of locking their hair (growing hairlocks). It is taught that patience is the key to growing locks, a journey of the mind, soul and spirituality. Its spiritual pattern is aligned with the Rastafari movement. The way to form natural dreadlocks is to allow hair to grow in its natural pattern, without cutting, combing or brushing, but simply to wash it with pure water and herbal shampoo.
For Rastafari the razor, the scissors and the comb are the three Babylonian or Roman inventions. So close is the association between dreadlocks and Rastafari, that the two are sometimes used synonymously. In reggae music, a follower of Rastafari may be referred to simply as a "dreadlocks" or "natty (natural) dread".
As important and connected with the movement as the wearing of locks is, though, it is not deemed necessary for, or equivalent to, true faith. Popular slogans, often incorporated within reggae lyrics, include: "Not every dread is a Rasta and not every Rasta is a dread..."; "It's not the dread upon your head, but the love inna your heart, that mek ya Rastaman" (Sugar Minott); and as Morgan Heritage sings: "You don't haffi dread to be Rasta...", and "Children of Selassie I, don't lose your faith; whether you do or don't have your locks pon yuh head..." Some Rastafari may eschew dreadlocks, either as a means of avoiding persecution or for practical reasons, especially in as they may be a liability in many industrial jobs as it may get trapped in machinery. Many non-Rastafari of African descent wear locks as an expression of pride in their ethnic identity, or simply as a hairstyle, and take a less purist approach to developing and grooming them. The wearing of dreads also has spread among people of other ethnicities. Locks worn for stylish reasons are sometimes referred to as "bathroom locks", to distinguish them from the kind that are purely natural. Rastafari purists also sometimes refer to such dreadlocked individuals as "wolves", as in "a wolf in sheep's clothing", especially when they are seen as trouble-makers who might potentially discredit or infiltrate Rastafari.
Red, Gold and Green
The Rastafari colors of green, gold and red (sometimes also including black) are very commonly sported on the Rastafari flag, icons, badges, posters etc. The green, gold and red are the colors of the Ethiopian flag and show the loyalty Rastafari feel towards the Ethiopian state in the reign of Haile Selassie. The red, black and green were the colors used to represent Africa by the Marcus Garvey movement.
The Ethiopian Flag has a different meaning for different members of Rastafari, although the proper orientation of the flag goes bottom to top as red, gold and green although many members of the movement use it in different or sometimes opposite orientation, the red gold and green are associated with the first three chakras of the body which is usually referenced as "Seals" Referring to the Seven seals Within man and womb-man, this is also in contrast with the New Haile Selassie I Bible (1962) and also the seven different types of Biblical literature. This Ethiopian Christian and Rastafari Holy book is also known as to some as the book of the Seven seals fulfilling Revelations 5:5.
|Music of Jamaica|
|Nationalistic and patriotic songs|
|National anthem||Jamaica, Land We Love|
Music has long played an integral role in Rastafari, and the connection between the movement and various kinds of music has become well known, due to the international fame of reggae musicians such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
Niyabinghi chants are played at worship ceremonies called grounations, that include drumming, chanting and dancing, along with prayer and ritual smoking of cannabis. The name Nyabinghi comes from an East African movement from the 1850s to the 1950s that was led by people who militarily opposed European imperialism. This form of nyabinghi was centered on Muhumusa, a healing woman from Uganda who organized resistance against German colonialists. In Jamaica, the concepts of Nyabinghi were appropriated for similar anti-colonial efforts, and it is often danced to invoke the power of Jah against an oppressor.
African music survived slavery because many slaveowners encouraged it as a method of keeping morale high. Afro-Caribbean music arose with the influx of influences from the native peoples of Jamaica, as well as the European slaveowners.
Another style of Rastafari music is called burru drumming, first played in the Parish of Clarendon, Jamaica, and then in West Kingston. Burru was later introduced to the burgeoning Rasta community in Kingston by a Jamaican musician named Count Ossie. He mentored many influential Jamaican ska, rock steady, and reggae musicians. Through his tutelage, they began combining New Orleans R&B, folk mento, jonkanoo, kumina, and revival zion into a unique sound. The burru style, which centers on three drums — the bass, the alto fundeh, and the repeater — would later be copied by hip hop DJs.
Reggae was born amidst poor blacks in Trenchtown, the main ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica, who listened to radio stations from the United States. Jamaican musicians, many of them Rastas, soon blended traditional Jamaican folk music and drumming with American R&B, and jazz into ska, that later developed into reggae under the influence of soul.
Reggae began to enter international consciousness in the early 1970s, and Rastafari mushroomed in popularity internationally, largely due to the fame of Bob Marley, who actively and devoutly preached Rastafari, incorporating Nyabinghi and Rastafari chanting into his music, lyrics and album covers. Songs like "Rastaman Chant" led to the movement and reggae music being seen as closely intertwined in the consciousness of audiences across the world. Other famous reggae musicians with strong Rastafari elements in their music include Peter Tosh, Freddie McGregor, Toots & the Maytals, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, Prince Lincoln Thompson, Bunny Wailer, Prince Far I, Israel Vibration, The Congos, Adrian Nones, Cornell Campbell, Dennis Brown, Inner Visions and hundreds more.
- Reggae music expressing Rasta doctrine
The first reggae single that sang about Rastafari and reached Number 1 in the Jamaican charts was Bongo Man by Little Roy in 1969. Early Rasta reggae musicians (besides Marley) whose music expresses Rastafari doctrine well are Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer (in Blackheart Man), Prince Far I, Linval Thompson, Ijahman Levi (especially the first 4 albums), Misty-in-Roots (Live), The Congos (Heart of the Congos), The Rastafarians, The Abyssinians, Culture, Big Youth, and Ras Michael And The Sons Of Negus. The Jamaican jazz percussionist Count Ossie, who had played on a number of ska and reggae recordings, recorded albums with themes relating to Rasta history, doctrine, and culture.
Rastafari doctrine as developed in the 1980s was further expressed musically by a number of other prominent artists, such as Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, Third World, The Gladiators, Sister Carol, Black Uhuru, Aswad, and Israel Vibration. Rastafari ideas have spread beyond the Jamaican community to other countries including Russia, where artists such as Jah Division write songs about Jah, and South Africa where Lucky Dube first learned reggae music from Peter Tosh recordings. Afro-American punk band Bad Brains are notable followers of the Rastafari movement and have written songs ("I Against I", etc.) that promote the doctrine.
In the 21st century, Rastafari sentiments are spread through roots reggae and dancehall, subgroups of reggae music, with many of their most important proponents promoting the Rastafari religion, such as Capleton, Sizzla, Anthony B, Barrington Levy, Jah Mason, Pressure, Midnite, Natural Black, Luciano, Cocoa Tea, Jah Cure and Richie Spice. Several of these acts have gained mainstream success and frequently appear on the popular music charts. Most recently artists such as Damian Marley (son of Bob Marley), Alborosie and Million Stylez have blended hip-hop with reggae to re-energize classic Rastafari issues such as social injustice, revolution and the honour and responsibility of parenthood using contemporary musical style.
Berlin-based dub techno label "Basic Channel" has subsidiary labels called "Rhythm & Sound" and "Burial Mix" whose lyrics strongly focus on many aspects of Rastafari culture and ideology, including the acceptance of Haile Selassie I. Notable tracks include "Jah Rule", "Mash Down Babylon", "We Be Troddin'", and "See Mi Yah". Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O'Connor released two Rastafari/roots reggae CDs – "Throw Down Your Arms" and "Theology".
|This section requires expansion. (March 2010)|
Ethiopian world view
Before Garvey, there had been two major circumstances that proved conducive to the conditions that established a fertile ground for the incubation of Rastafari in Jamaica: the history of resistance, exemplified by the Maroons, and the forming of an Afrocentric, Ethiopian world view with the spread of such religious movements as Bedwardism, which flourished from the 1890s to the 1920s. These groups had long carried a tradition of what musician Bob Marley referred to as "resisting against the system".
Rastas see Marcus Mosiah Garvey as a prophet, with his philosophy fundamentally shaping the movement, and with many of the early Rastas having started out as Garveyites. He is often seen as a second John the Baptist. One of the most famous prophecies attributed to him involving the coronation of Haile Selassie I was the 1927 pronouncement "Look to Africa, for there a black king shall be crowned," although an associate of Garvey's, James Morris Webb, had made very similar public statements as early as 1921. Marcus Garvey promoted Black Nationalism, black separatism, and Pan-Africanism: the belief that all black people of the world should join in brotherhood and work to decolonise the continent of Africa — then still controlled by European colonial powers.
He promoted his cause of black pride throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and was particularly successful and influential among lower-class blacks in Jamaica and in rural communities. Although his ideas have been hugely influential in the development of Rastafari culture, Garvey never identified himself with the movement. Garvey was even critical of Haile Selassie for leaving Ethiopia at the time of the Italian Fascist occupation, "Hailie Selassie is the ruler of a country where black men are chained and flogged...He will go down in history as a great coward who ran away from his country." In addition, his Universal Negro Improvement Association disagreed with Leonard Howell over Howell's teaching that Haile Selassie was the Messiah. Rastafari nonetheless may be seen as an extension of Garveyism. In early Rasta folklore, it is the Black Star Line (actually a shipping company bought by Garvey to encourage repatriation to Liberia) that takes them home to Africa.
Other early written foundations
Although not strictly speaking a "Rastafari" document, the Holy Piby, written by Robert Athlyi Rogers from Anguilla in the 1920s, is acclaimed by many Rastafarians as a formative and primary source. Robert Athlyi Rogers founded an Afrocentric religion known as "Athlicanism" in the US and West Indies in the 1920s. Rogers' religious movement, the Afro-Athlican Constructive Church, saw Ethiopians (in the Biblical sense of all Black Africans) as the chosen people of God, and proclaimed Marcus Garvey, the prominent Black Nationalist, an apostle. The church preached self-reliance and self-determination for Africans.
The Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy, written during the 1920s by a preacher called Fitz Balintine Pettersburg, is a surrealistic stream-of-consciousness polemic against the white colonial power structure that is also considered formative, a palimpsest of Afrocentric thought.
The first document to appear that can be labelled as truly Rastafari was Leonard P. Howell's The Promise Key, written using the pen name G.G. [for Gangun-Guru] Maragh, in the early 1930s. In it, he claims to have witnessed the Coronation of the Emperor and Empress on 2 November 1930 in Addis Ababa, and proclaims the doctrine that Ras Tafari is the true Head of Creation and that the King of England is an impostor. This tract was written while Howell was in jail on charges of sedition.
Emperor Haile Selassie I was crowned "King of Kings, Elect of God, and Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah" in Addis Ababa on 2 November 1930. The event created great publicity throughout the world, including in Jamaica, and particularly through two consecutive Time magazine articles about the coronation (he was later named Time's Person of the Year for 1935, the first Black person to appear on the cover), as well as two consecutive National Geographic issues around the same time. Haile Selassie almost immediately gained a following as both God and King amongst poor Jamaicans, who came to be known as Rastafarians, and who looked to their Bibles, and saw what they believed to be the fulfilling of many prophecies from the book of Revelation. As Ethiopia was the only African country other than Liberia to be independent from colonialism, and Haile Selassie was the only African leader accepted among the kings and queens of Europe, the early Rastas viewed him with great reverence.
Over the next two years, three Jamaicans who all happened to be overseas at the time of the coronation, each returned home and independently began, as street preachers, to proclaim the divinity of the newly crowned Emperor as the returned Christ, arising from their interpretations of Biblical prophecy and based partly on Haile Selassie's status as the only African monarch of a fully independent state, with the titles King of Kings and Conquering Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5).
First, on 8 December 1930, Archibald Dunkley, formerly a seaman, landed at Port Antonio and soon began his ministry; in 1933, he relocated to Kingston where the King of Kings Ethiopian Mission was founded. Joseph Hibbert returned from Costa Rica in 1931 and started spreading his own conviction of the Emperor's divinity in Benoah district, Saint Andrew Parish, through his own ministry, called Ethiopian Coptic Faith; he too moved to Kingston the next year, to find Leonard Howell already teaching many of these same doctrines, having returned to Jamaica around the same time. With the addition of Robert Hinds, himself a Garveyite and former Bedwardite, these four preachers soon began to attract a following among Jamaica's poorer classes, who were already beginning to look to Ethiopia for moral support.
Leonard Percival Howell
Leonard Percival Howell, who has been described as the "First Rasta", became the first to be persecuted, charged with sedition for refusing loyalty to the King of Great Britain and Ireland, George V. The British government would not tolerate Jamaicans loyal to Haile Selassie in what was then a British colony. When he was released, he formed a settlement called Pinnacle, at St. Catherine in Jamaica in 1939 on 500 acres (2.0 km2) of land which attracted as many as 4,000 people. Reports surfaced that the Rastas were urging the communities around them not to pay taxes to the government. In 1941, the police raided the community and Howell and his followers were sent to prison. After their release, several members attempted to resurrect Pinnacle, but law enforcement continued raiding the community. The raids by colonial and post colonial forces destroyed the Pinnacle, and dispersed the dispossessed Rastafari into the slums of Jamaica.
Visit of Selassie I to Jamaica
Haile Selassie I had already met with several Rasta elders in Addis Ababa in 1961, giving them gold medals, and had allowed West Indians of African descent to settle on his personal land in Shashamane in the 1950s. The first actual Rastafarian settler, Papa Noel Dyer, arrived in September 1965, having hitch-hiked all the way from England.
Haile Selassie visited Jamaica on April 21, 1966. Approximately one hundred thousand Rastafari from all over Jamaica descended on Kingston airport, it having been announced that Selassie was coming to visit them. They waited at the airport smoking a great amount of cannabis and playing drums. When Haile Selassie arrived at the airport he delayed disembarking from the aeroplane for an hour until Mortimer Planno, a well-known Rasta, personally welcomed him. From then on, the visit was a success. Rita Marley, Bob Marley's wife, converted to the Rastafari faith after seeing Haile Selassie; she has stated that she saw stigmata appear on his person, and was instantly convinced of his divinity.
The great significance of this event in the development of the Rastafari movement should not be underestimated. Having been outcasts in society, they gained a temporary respectability for the first time. By making Rasta more acceptable, it opened the way for the commercialisation of reggae, leading in turn to the further global spread of Rastafari.
Because of Haile Selassie's visit, April 21 is celebrated as Grounation Day. It was during this visit that Selassie I famously told the Rastafari community leaders that they should not immigrate to Ethiopia until they had first liberated the people of Jamaica. This dictum came to be known as "liberation before repatriation".
In 1968, Walter Rodney, a Guyanese national, author, and professor at the University of the West Indies, published a pamphlet titled The Groundings with My Brothers which among other matters, including a summary of African history, discussed his experiences with the Rastafari. It became a benchmark in the Caribbean Black Power movement. Combined with Rastafarian teachings, both philosophies spread rapidly to various Caribbean nations, including Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, and Grenada.
Rodney influenced his followers, according to Tafari: “In his powerful ‘Black Power’ synthesis, Rodney brought together the Rastafarian and Marxist theses in a new ideological trinity of race, class and culture; i.e., a rejection of white imperialism (race); the assumption of power by the black masses (class); and the redefinition of the society in the image of the blacks (culture)."
Rastafari around the world
There are Rasta communities all around the world.
In Botswana, a prevalent Rastafari community exists and was profiled in the documentary Runaway Slave.
Democratic Republic of Congo
There are a substantial number of Rastas, Federation des Rastas du Congo, or FERACO that make up Ndjili Kinshasa, DRC.
Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
A small but devoted Rasta community developed in Japan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rasta shops selling natural foods, reggae recordings, and other Rasta-related items sprang up in Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities. For several years, "Japan Splashes" or open-air reggae concerts were held in various locations throughout Japan.
Rastafaris are very visible in the coastal city of Fort Dauphin in the south east of Madagascar, predominantly by the beaches where surfing is a favourite pastime. The movement has yet to fully settle with the more conservative views of some of the town and is seen as something of a subculture that is grown out of.
There is a Rastafari community in Malawi as well. They have had influences in the music industry in Malawi where reggae remains a popular form of music. Malawian reggae band, The Black Missionaries, continues to propagate the Rastafari culture and issues in Malawi. They have featured at the Lake of Stars Music Festival, an international music festival which features international artists including many of Malawi's reggae artists. They have also brought Malawia-style reggae to the international scene through their performance abroad, including in the United States. One of Malawi's most popular reggae singers used to be Lucius Banda, who was especially outspoken against the autocratic state of Kamuzu Banda. Later, he briefly became a member of Parliament in the now Democratic Malawi.
Rastafari have also been involved in the political scene, particularly in their efforts to legalise Chamba in Malawi. Malawi Gold (Chamba), remains one of Africa's most potent cannabis leaves and has gained notoriety internationally for its potency. The Rastafari use it for religious reasons. It remains currently illegal in Malawi.
The House of Judah Community in Azania and other areas of South Africa have some of the largest and most prominent Rastafari communities, and a Nyabinghi Groundation is regularly held.
According to the 2001 United Kingdom Census there are about 5000 Rastafari people living in England and Wales Especially in London, Manchester, Birmingham and many other places, the majority of whom live in London and are of Jamaican origin.
In 2000, Judge Charles Gibson suggested that a Declaration of incompatibility could be issued by a high court, ruling that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is incompatible in its current form, with the UK's obligations under Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (incorporating the European Convention of Human Rights into UK domestic law); providing a right to freedom of religion and to manifest a religion or belief in worship and practice.
In 2008 an Italian high court ruled that since the Rastafari religion considers marijuana a sacrament, its members should be permitted to possess an amount appropriate for personal use, considering the heavy amounts that some Rastafari smoke. This annulled a prison sentence handed to a Rastafari musician by a court in Italy.
Fairfield House, Bath where Haile Selassie I lived during his five years in exile, has a community of Rastafari which regularly meets to maintain the garden and hold events. The Facebook group "Rastafarians and Friends of Fairfield House" keeps members up to date with goings on there. While events attract Rastafari from around the UK, much of the core membership are drawn from areas of Bristol, where there is a growing number of Rastafari centered on the Jamaican community of St Pauls.
- Awake Zion
- Ethiopian suit
- Jamaicans in Ethiopia
- List of topics related to Black and African people
- Religious and spiritual use of cannabis
- Vegetarianism and religion
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- Bhang is often produced in large vessels at dargah gatherings known as "shaam-e-qalandar". During these gatherings large kettle drums known as naggara are played or alternatively, the Dhol. It is known as Qalandri dhamaal. Both groups, the Qalandar's and Sadhu's were lumped together by the British as faqeers. They are still frowned upon by the industrious population and are considered "dreadfull". Yet they are considered holy men by many. Both groups practice either some sort of chilla nashini or yoga in remote jungles, mountains or charnel grounds in which ganja aids to put a veil on the worldly & to transcend the various societal trends and pressures. It is also used to induce a state of euphoria and trance by some in conjunction with drumming, dance or whirling. Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God: Retracing the Ramayana Through India, Jonah Blank, p. 89.
- Edmonds, p. 61
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- Eusebius of Caesarea, The Ecclesiastical History, book 2, chapter 23
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- "You don't have to grow your hair to be a Rasta. It's in your heart, not how you look,", Courtenay Griffiths quoted in the Jamaica-Gleaner
- Chanting Down Babylon, p. 2
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rastafari.|
- Dreadlocks Story - Documentary exploring the hidden spiritual links between Jamaican Rastas and Indian Sadhus.
- Rastafarianism Scholarly profile at the Religious Movements Homepage (University of Virginia)
- A Sketch of Rastafarian History by Norman Reddington
- Rastafari Actuality
- Rastamentary - A Documentary Of Rastafari Culture & Beliefs
- House of Judah Nyabinghi Rastafarian Grounation — John H. Bradley on YouTube
- Rastafari: Alternative Religion and Resistance against "White" Christianity by Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini for Etudes caribéennes, n° 12, 2009
- Remembering Rasta Pioneers: An Interview with Barry Chevannes by Jérémie Kroubo Dagnini for the Journal of Pan African Studies, vol. 3, n° 4, 2009
- Songs of Freedom – The Rastafari road to Orthodoxy: An interview on the authentic roots of the Rastafari movement and its fulfillment.