No other group of people has faced more persecution in the Jamaican society than the Rasta man. From the Coral Gardens massacre, to the denial of basic social services, to the frivolous charges for ganja possession, to the blatant discrimination and scorn by the larger society, to the destruction of Pinnacle, the Rasta man have truly suffered at the hands of the Jamaican society.
Ironically while Rastas are largely treated with great disdain inside the country, Rastafarianism is also the very basis on which the Jamaican culture is packaged and sold around the world. Jamaicans are known for many things, we excel in many areas and the island is breathtaking but the country is known more for Rastafarianism, ganja and reggae music than any other single thing.
Throughout its existence, Jamaica has experienced numerous revolutions, riots, and various forms of social unrest. These efforts to make a change have created a Jamaican religion called Rastafarianism and with it came a very powerful means of transporting its message: Reggae music. These two forms of expression formed in the context of oppression have contributed greatly to the ideologies, attitudes, beliefs, and actions of the people on the island. The ideology of the Rastas is based on views put forth by leaders, such as Marcus Garvey and Leonard Howell.
Haile Selassie was born Tafari Mekanon in the late 1800's in the African country of Ethiopia. He was crowned king or "Ras" Tafari in the 1930's, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Marcus Garvey decades earlier "look to the east for the coming of a black king." Marcus Garvey is looked at in the Rastafarian movement as the biblical Moses since he was not only one of the greatest advocates for black repatriation in the Western World but also since he prophetically introduced and announced the coming of the Messiah. When the early Rasta's heard of the crowing of King Selassie - they knew that Marcus's prophecy was fulfilled. Rastafarianism emerged as a native religion, a way of life rather, which addressed issues that affected the majority of the black population. Rastafarianism is a call from the people for freedom -- freedom from religious, economic, social, and political domination. Rastafarianism is a religion based on social change, and reggae is the means of spreading these beliefs.
History of Rastafarianism in Jamaica
Early Rastafarians were not accepted by the Jamaican population at large. They were looked at as dirty and grimy men that lived in the hills and used drugs, mainly Ganja, spoke against the government and believed in Jah Rastafari over Jesus. Many early Rastas where persecuted by their Jamaican countrymen for their religious beliefs. Rastas were also targeted by the police and government officials since they did not follow the "clean cut" majority. Early accusations were made against the Rastafarian's in the 30's and 40's as criminals "black heart man". Many robberies, murders, rapes and other crimes were pinned on the early Rastas without any proof. Discrimination continued throughout the ensuing decades as family ties were broken when members joined the Rastafarian movement. The Jamaican police were known to kidnap Rastas, cut their dreadlocks off and return them to their homes with shaved heads. Many of these persecutions were manufactured and supported by the Jamaican government.
Rastas, though, where peace loving, and positive people, who practiced more moral good than many Jamaicans who discriminated against them. Strict Rastafarian's do not use alcohol, they do not eat meat, and they honor their women and love their brothers. These men practiced a lifestyle that is similar to the biblical tradition of the Nazarenes where they would take abstinence against many of life’s pleasures. As the 1950's approached Jamaica - Rastafarianism was becoming more and more popular and soon the Nyabinghi warrior sounds that were being chanted in the hills of the island was making an entry to the city and Jamaican pop culture and soon the world.
Rastas emerge through Reggae
It was through the Reggae music of Jamaica that the Rastafari movement was to spread its message around the world in the form of a musical prophet the world knows as Robert Nesta Marley. Bob Marley began his musical career before he converted to Rastafarian. But it was through his spiritual transformation that his music took a serious shift and headed to the direction of international stardom and associating Jamaica, a little known island in the Caribbean, as being the birthplace of reggae and the birthplace of Marley.
Marley's ability to sing and unite harmonious rhythms of voice, beats and instrument had millions of people wondering if he was indeed sent by Jah to inform the people. Like a messenger from God Marley would sing to his fellow man songs of joy, songs of love, songs of pain, and songs of freedom.
With the infiltration of reggae music by Bob and other followers of the faith such as Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Dennis Brown and many others - the world started to take notice of Jamaica. The Rastas used reggae music as an important means of transporting vital messages. And as the reggae messages crossed international borders, it appealed to many people of all ethnicities because it dealt with themes that cut across all aspects of humanity.
Rastas in present day Jamaica
The Rastafarian religion is widely spread throughout the island today; it has been cited as one of the fastest growing religions among Jamaican youth. The group has grown to include many in the upper echelons of society, lawyers, doctors, those in academia and media. The Rasta image is used all over the world to sell brand Jamaica. No other image is used more than that of Bob Marley. Almost 100% of the memorabilia purchased by tourists on their trip to Jamaica are products associated with the Rasta culture. The Rasta tri-color of red, green and yellow is associated with Jamaica more than the actual colors of the Jamaican flag of green, black and gold.
But, though, Rastas are now ingrained in society, they are now able to attend high schools and they have access to same basic services as any other Jamaican citizen – they are still discriminated against by the larger population. Rastas are still not represented in Jamaica’s political parties and their contributions to the Jamaican culture is still not acknowledged on the scale that it should be, historical sites that mark the birth of the movement is not being preserved and their demand for reparations for social injustice that was carried out in the early years have largely been ignored.
The main goal of this is article is to provoke discussion. Why do we continue to hate these people who have done nothing but preach universal peace and love? Why we have such contempt for the people who promote a natural healthier lifestyle that the world now embraces? Where have they failed us as a people? What have they done that is worthy of continuous discrimination?
I think we need to take a closer look at ourselves as a society because it seems the oppressed have now become the oppressor and the cycle of hatred is a wheel that spins relentlessly until it finds a target. I cannot help but wonder, where will the needle point next?
This is a page of protest against all forces that threaten the freedom of our people at home and abroad. We will not allow the media to condition our minds and influence our actions. We demand "Emancipation from Mental Slavery".