Rastafarianism is a 20th century phenomenom originating from the shanty towns of Kingston, Jamaica, and spreading among the African (and non-african) diaspora on the wings of the international music industry and the ganja trade routes.
The Rastafarian movement began with the teachings of Marcus Garvey who founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in the 1920's. He advocated a "back to Africa" consciousness, awakening black pride and denouncing the British colonialism that made blacks feel ashamed of their African heritage. "Look to Africa", said Marcus Garvey in in 1929 in his last address to the UNIA, in Jamaica, "where a king would be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near."
When on on November 2 of the following year Ras Tafari, was crowned emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia and assumed his name meaning "the power of the Holy Trinity". it seemed like the prophecy was fulfilled. Haile Selassie claimed to be a direct descendant of King David, the 225th ruler in an unbroken line of Ethiopian Kings from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. He took great pride in being black and wanted to regain the black heritage that was lost by loosing faith and straying from the holy ways. He was also, mind you, considered a ruthless dictator, by some of the neighbouring african countries and was opossed by the Eritreans who were fighting for their freedom. He did however allow his subjects to draw up a constitution, established a parliamentary and judicary syystem, abolished slavery, and revised the constitution. In 1974 following worsening political and economic conditions he was deposed by the unsavory Marxist military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, later toppled in turn in 1991
The prime basic belief of the Rastafarians is that Haile Selassie is the living God for the black race; the avatar of the present day. Rastas believe that Selassie was the Jesus that Christianity speaks of. 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 book of Revelations. Ironically, Selassie was never a Rastafarian himself, and no one is really sure what he thought of his following.
When Haile Selassie died in 1975, as is so often the case with messianic religions, there was a tremendous crisis of faith. It was at first believed to be a trick of the white media to try and bring their faith down, because true Rastas are immortal. To compensate for his death they believe that his atoms spread through out the world and became part of new babies, therefore, his life is never ending.
Rastafarians consider themselves to be the ancient Hebrews who were exiled in Babylon. The Rastafarian name for God is Jah. Ethiopia specifically, African in general, is considered the Rastas' heaven on earth. There is no afterlife or hell as Christianity believes. Babylon is the Rastafarian term for the white man's world, as the present day Babylon of greed and dishonesty. The Bible is considered a sacred text, apart from those sections that have been written and changed by Babylon. Also of sacremental significance is ganga, or marijuana, the sacred herb, reference to which can be found in Genesis 1:12. Many Rastas outlaw the combing or cutting of the hair, citing Leviticus 21:15: 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, which has now become synomomous with the movement and is its chief medium of communication with Blacks around the world. in turn reggae became a chief avenue of Rastafarian self-expression. Reggae artists such as Bob Marley - who became a prophet of Rastafarianism in 1975 - and others like Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Toot and the Maytlas, Big Youth, Inner Circle and Third World, were responsible for the phenomenal growth of the religion.
The Rasta movement has been very succesful in the Caribbean. Six out of ten Jamaicans are believed to be Rastafarians or Rastafarian sympathizers. It also spread quickly in Barbados and was hugely attractive to the local black youths, many of whom saw it as an extension of their adolescent rebellion from school and parental authority. The period of the most phenomenal growth for the Rastafarian Movement has been from 1975 on. As of 1988 the total following was believed to be around 700,000 worldwide, obviously it would be more now.
The Afrocentric Experience - Rastafarianism Excellent intro
The Roots Culture Page has been created for the masses of Ethiopians at home and abroad that seek Inlightenment, Insight and Inspiration.
Jah Rastafari Haile Selassie I Ethiopia
RASTAFARIANISM - good short intro
Haile Selassie I - short bio
Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey
THE DREAD LIBRARY - heaps of fascinating on-line documents
The Rastafari - by Maria Baptist
Judiasm and Rastafarianism:- A study of the Falashas by Edward Bardfield - presents the thesis that the Falashas are the bridge between the Jews and the Rastafarians.