Exploring the impact of religions and beliefs on how people live their lives;
Understanding and responding critically to beliefs and attitudes.
Rastafari is more about a way of living than an acceptance of doctrine. An early codification of morality was written as ten principles by the Jamaican Rastafari elder, Sam Brown (1925-1998), who was the first Rastafari to run for political office:
1. We strongly object to sharp implements used in the desecration of the figure of Man; e.g. trimming and shaving, tattooing of the skin, and cutting of the flesh.
2. We are basically vegetarians, making scant use of certain animal flesh, outlawing the use of swine’s flesh in any form, shell fishes, scaleless fishes, snails, etc.
3. We worship and observe no other God but Rastafari, outlawing all other forms of Pagan worship yet respecting all believers.
4. We love and respect the brotherhood of mankind, yet our first love is to the sons of Ham [black people].
5. We disapprove and abhor utterly hate, jealousy, envy, deceit, guile, treachery, etc.
6. We do not agree to the pleasures of present-day society and its modern evils.
7. We are avowed to create a world of one brotherhood.
8. Our duty is to extend the hand of charity to any brother in distress, firstly for he is of the Rastafari order – secondly, to any human, animals, plants, etc.
9. We do adhere to the ancient laws of Ethiopia.
10. Thou shall give no thought to the aid, titles and possession that the enemy in his fear may seek to bestow on you; resolution to your purpose is the love of Rastafari. (reproduced from Barrett 1977: 126)
In general, Rastafari try to live in a way that defends the poor and oppressed, a worldview inherited from the early movement. The white race is seen as oppressive, but not all white people are evil, they accept individual white people on merit unless they are found guilty of racism. Rastafari became less concerned with racial separatism and aggression after the 1960s. There is, however, no uniform view on race. While there is a general principle that Jah is in everyone, Rastafari view themselves as a people apart. For many the sense is that they are a ‘covenant people’ like the Jews with special responsibilities rather than being a superior race, as early Rastafari preachers claimed. This means striving towards the ideal way of life including living off the land, growing their own food, not using the land for commercial profit, and eating only clean ital food (see ‘Ethical Guidelines’ below). This is seen as living in a natural ‘African’ way. This is phrased as being a ‘conscious’ not a ‘careless’ Ethiopian (using Ethiopian as a symbol for all black people). Those who are careless do not follow the Rasta way, the conscious do, and salvation comes from being a conscious Ethiopian.
‘Reasonings’ are “a ceremony of varying degrees of formality in which participants access the spirit through the ritual smoking of herb (ganja) and the use of word/sound/power for the purpose of gaining clarity about spiritual, philosophical, political, and social truth claims” (Christensen 2014: 61). The discussion is cooperative not competitive, with the aim to reach consensus about the implications of a particular insight. There is a democratic atmosphere in which each member is given time for full and free debate on all subjects. Everyone has the chance to speak for as long as necessary. Participants tell each other about revelations they had in dreams and meditation. Reasonings are a form of ritual discussion that can also include daily prayers, meditation, drumming, chanting, hymns, lyrics, and poetry. Another name for the sessions is ‘groundings’. Monthly meetings begin in the early evening, last the entire night, and involve dancing, smoking and eating. Such meetings often begin with Psalm 122, then a Rastafari prayer, scripture readings, comments, and end with the Rastafari national anthem. This is followed by drumming and singing for fun for a few hours.
Larger celebrations are called Nyabinghi. In Jamaica, members from all over the island join celebrations; these are held in various parts of the island, like a convention for Rastas. Nyabinghi last for one to three days or for a whole week. The word ‘Nyabinghi’ comes from East Africa, where it denoted a religio-political resistance movement to colonialism from the 1890s to 1928. The term in Jamaica meant “death to the Black and White oppressors” prior to its association with Rastafari ceremony. It is a gathering of brethren for inspiration, exhortation, feasting, smoking, and social contact. Nyabinghi is also called ‘Groundation’ or ‘Grounation’. The first one was held in March 1958, called by Prince Emmanuel Edwards in Bull Bay, Jamaica. It is the central communal ritual of Rastafari. It originated as a ritual burning down of Babylon. The drumming, dancing, building and tending the fire were meant to unleash cosmic energy pervading the universe to eliminate the forces of imbalance. While they can be held spontaneously, they are routinely held on holy days and on days commemorating significant events in Rastafari history. Anyone can hold a Nyabinghi; first they get the support of their immediate group, then they announce the time and place for the gathering, then other Rastas arrive early to set up a tabernacle (see ‘Places of Worship’ below), prepare food, socialise, and then the ceremony begins at sunset. Drumming, chanting, dancing, and smoking ganja continues throughout the night and can last for several days. Proper dress for women is a long skirt, a top with long sleeves, and a covered head. Women traditionally cannot attend if menstruating.
• Ethiopian Christmas on 7th January. Ethiopian Christmas is observed on the date of the Orthodox Church celebration of the birth of Jesus, usually on or around the 7th January, using the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar to calculate the date of his birth. Ethiopian holy days are observed because of their importance to Haile Selassie I, who was an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.
• Groundation (or Grounation) Day on 21st April. This is the date when Haile Selassie I visited Jamaica in 1966.
• Ethiopian Constitution Day on 16th July. The date commemorates the proclamation of the first modern constitution of Ethiopia by Haile Selassie I.
• Birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie I on 23rd July.
• Marcus Garvey’s Birthday on 17th August.
• Ethiopian New Year’s Day on 11th September. In leap years on the Gregorian calendar this falls on 12th September.
• Coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I on 2nd November.