Values and Commitments

Understanding how moral values and a sense of obligation can come from beliefs and experience;

 

Evaluating their own and others’ values in order to make informed, rational and imaginative choices.

 

 

Moral Issues

Rastafari oppose abortion and contraception, which they see as a colonial strategy to suppress the African population. Some Rastafari women do still use contraception, however. Medicines can be a problem, Rastafari do not use patent medicines, instead they use herbal remedies from folk traditions if they can. Consumerism dominates Babylon, so Rastafari turn away from materialist consumerist things and try to live ‘naturally’. They reject consumerism and materialism as colonialist wastefulness. Entrepreneurial activity is a way to independence from the colonial system. They prefer self-employment to dependence on wage labour even if the income is lower, because wage labour is seen as a form of slavery.

Ethical Guidelines

Marijuana has been smoked since the time of the Pinnacle commune in the 1940s. The specific form of marijuana smoked is known as ‘ganja’ in Jamaica. It is a sacrament for the Rastafari. It was seen as a way of opposing colonial society and asserting their own authentic form of freedom. Since it is illegal in Jamaica, smoking ganja is a way of showing freedom from the laws of Babylon, although recently it was decriminalised in small amounts for religious use by practising adult Rastafari. Furthermore, it is believed that ganja enhances spiritual states and reduces stress, produces visions, brings unity and communal feelings, and bestows tranquillity to the dispossessed. Ganja has become a dominant symbol of the Rastafari, who call it ‘callie’ and ‘iley’. Ganja is seen as a natural product or herb, not as a drug. For the Rastafari, the free smoking of ganja is a religious right and an issue of religious freedom; however it is seen as criminal activity by most governments. One of the reasons Rastafari in the 20th century were associated with criminality by authorities is their connection with growing and distributing marijuana.

Rastafari have a strict diet called Ital, or ‘natural’ food, which means the essence of things or things in their natural states. Ital refers to “a complex of lifeways that offer an alternative to the unnatural man-made Babylon system” (Christensen 2014: 142). The Ital complex came from the I-gelic House mansion who lived in the hills beyond the Kingston ghetto in the mid-1950s to mid-1960s. Ital food is mostly fruit and vegetables, grown without fertilisers. Rastafari are not allowed to consume alcohol, milk, coffee, salt, animal oil, cigarettes, heroin, or cocaine. Vegetarianism is preferred, but those who do eat meat avoid pork, shellfish, scaleless fish or snails, and fish over 12 inches long. This is similar to the Jewish Kosher diet, and Rastafaris are following the same Leviticus dietary and hygiene rules. Additionally, pig and cod are associated with slave food. Pigs are taboo animals. Rastafari prefer food from their own plantations and avoid food from unknown sources. They follow the principle of naturalism in personal care as well, washing hair with only water and locally grown herbs. They avoid chemically processed goods, they do not use soap or shampoo. Dreadlocks form when hair is left alone and unbrushed, but some do comb and groom them. Herbs and things from the earth are good. They also follow Old Testament prohibitions on trimming or shaving the hair, tattoos, and cutting flesh in any way, as mentioned above. Women do not wear makeup, use hair chemicals, or wear immodest clothes. Some women observe menstrual taboos and cannot cook for their husbands while menstruating. Rastafari reject war as the destructive practice of Babylon and tend to be pacifists.

Individual Responsibility

There is a dominance of individualism among Rastafari. ‘I and I’ is a philosophy of radical individualism. Jah dwells within each person. Each person is held responsible for him or herself as an outcome of the belief that each person is an incarnation of Jah, the divine, which means each. This means their practices have a freedom of association and participation. There are no institutional commitments required for Rastafari. Being Rastafari comes from individual conviction. Most Rastafari are not affiliated with institutional forms like Bobo Shanti or the Twelve Tribes. They are an atomised population with no network of structured contact. They prefer self-reliance to handouts. Individual autonomy is particularly important as part of rejecting the legacy of slavery.

Community Support

The individualism of Rastafari is balanced by an ethic of unity. This is a way of bringing Rastas together for communal purposes. All black people are thought to descend from common ancestors in Africa that were separated by slavery. Rastas act as self-conscious members of a brotherhood and sisterhood, sharing with each other, especially amongst the poor. They call each other ‘brethren’ and ‘sistren’ to emphasise spiritual kinship. They emphasise the kinship of humanity under the fatherhood of Jah. Spiritual brotherhood does not necessarily mean racial exclusivity, however, although black supremacy is an aspect of the Rastafari movement. Rastas as brethren try to work together to harness individual spiritual power and create a positive, life-affirming philosophy for self and community. One way this is done is through one-to-one teaching by brethren and sistren, summed up in the phrase “each one teach one”. State education is seen as indoctrination in the colonial or post-colonial system, called ‘head-decay-shun’. Camps and yards are centres of learning the Rastafari way of seeing the world.

The Environment

Rastafari endeavour to live in harmony with nature, as part of the oneness with Jah. ‘Mother Nature’ or ‘Mother Earth’ is divine and to be revered as Jah’s creation. ‘Sitting in the dust’ means remaining close to earth, the primary manifestation of nature and developing an understanding of how to live in harmony with nature’s laws. Babylon destroys Mother Earth, by making weapons, especially nuclear weapons, to destroy everything.

Global Vision

Rastafari has extended beyond Jamaica, to the UK and USA in particular. There are also smaller Rasta populations in Japan, New Zealand, Brazil, and other countries. Some Rastas have no ethnic link at all with Afro-Caribbean people; not only are there white Rastas but also Rastas of Native American background, and Japanese background, among others. Rastafari spread internationally through the migration of Jamaicans and the popularity of reggae music. Rastafari symbols of colour, hair, language, and Ital diet have become symbols of identity for Jamaican and non-Jamaican youth more generally. Rastafari symbols became associated with gang violence in Jamaica and then the drug trade in cocaine with US. However, those who adopted the symbols often did not also have the religious values of the Rastafari. This, alongside the sacramental use of ganja, associated Rastafaris with drugs and as addicts in the US, which many Rastafari felt was an unfair and inaccurate association. In the UK, Rastafari was taken up by second-generation immigrants from Jamaica and the Caribbean from the 1970s onwards. It has become more common since then for young people in particular to dress as Rastas without following the religious values.

Websites

Information on Haile Selassie’s home during his exile in Bath, UK: www.fairfieldhousebath.org

Article on Haile Selassie’s exile in the UK: https://discoversociety.org/2014/07/01/focus-when-britain-loved-rastafari/

‘Jamaican Religions’ on The Pluralism Project: http://pluralism.org/religions/afro-caribbean/afro-caribbean-traditions/jamaican-religion/

‘Rastafari’ on BBC Religion: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/rastafari/

‘What Do Rastafarians Believe’ on Jamaicans.com: http://jamaicans.com/believe/

‘Rastafari’ on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rastafari

‘Understanding Rastafari’ on the Jamaica Gleaner: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20150509/understanding-rastafari-part-ii

Article on Rasta community in Shashamane, Ethiopia: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28059303

Bibliography

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Campbell, H. (1985) Rasta and Resistance: from Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney. London: Hansib Publishing.

Cashmore, E. E. (1979) Rastaman: the Rastafarian movement in England. London: Unwin Paperbacks.

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Chevannes, B. (1991) ‘The Rastafari of Jamaica’, in Miller, T. (ed.) When Prophets Die: the postcharismatic fate of new religious movements. Albany: State University of New York Press.

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Christensen, J. (2014) Rastafari Reasoning and the RastaWoman: gender constructions in the shaping of Rastafari livity. Lanham: Lexington Books.

Clarke, P. B. (1986) Black Paradise: the Rastafarian movement. Wellingborough: Aquarian Press.

Edmonds, E. B. (2003) Rastafari: from outcasts to culture bearers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Garvey, M. (1967) Philosophy and Opinions. 3 vols. London: Cass.

Hall, S. (1985) ‘Religious ideologies and social movements in Jamaica’, in Bocock, R. and Thompson, K. (eds.). Religion and Ideology: a reader. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 269-296.

Howell, L. (undated) ‘The first chant: Leonard Howell’s The Promised Key’, in Murrell, N.S., Spencer, W. D. and McFarlane, A. A. (eds.) Chanting down Babylon: the Rastafari reader. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, pp. 361- 389.

Murrell, N. S. (1998) ‘Introduction: the Rastafari phenomenon’, in Murrell, N. S., Spencer, W. D. and McFarlane, A. A. (eds.) Chanting down Babylon: the Rastafari reader. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, pp. 1-18.

Murrell, N. S. and Williams, L. (1998) ‘The black biblical hermeneutics of Rastafari’, in Murrell, N. S., Spencer, W. D. and McFarlane, A. A. (eds.) Chanting down Babylon: the Rastafari reader. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, pp. 326-348.

Owens, J. (1979) Dread: the Rastafarians of Jamaica. London: Heinemann.

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