Diversity within the tradition

Different denominations are called ‘houses’ or ‘mansions’ of Rastafari. Three of the oldest and most significant are the Twelve Tribes, Bobo Shanti, and the Nyabinghi Order. The Twelve Tribes of Israel call themselves the ‘real Jews’ or Israelites and trace their descent to the twelve sons of Jacob. There are twelve denominations within the Twelve Tribes each named after one of the sons of Jacob, membership of each tribe depending on one’s month of birth. They are more open to giving a role to women than some of the other mansions. Bob Marley was a member of the Tribe of Joseph.

The Nyabinghi Order (also known as the Nyabinghi House) takes its name from the East African resistance and spirit possession cult of the Kiga people against colonialism, which in turn was named after a famous queen of the Kiga. The spirit of Nyabinghi was female and championed the cause of the oppressed and exploited. The Nyabinghi Order was previously called Young Black Faith. It emerged in the late 1940s, founded by Arthur and Pan-Handle. It was the Young Black Faith who started wearing their hair in dreadlocks. They were more militant than the early Rastafari, taking their inspiration from the Mau Mau colonial resistance in Kenya. The Nyabinghi Order leadership is by elders and those who show the initiative and desire to lead; there is no formal structure for choosing elders beyond this form of self-selection.

The group founded by Prince Emmanuel Edwards are known as Bobo Shanti (or Bobo Ashanti, the Ethiopian National Congress, or Bobo Dread). Shanti refers to the Ashanti, the African tribe from which the majority of Jamaicans are said to descend. They are one of the strictest Rastafari mansions, forming more of a formal church than the others. Prince Emmanuel is regarded as a God, part of the trinity with Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey. The Bobo refer to him as ‘dada’. The Bobo see themselves as a ‘priestly order’ of Rastas. They have a more formal church structure, with a specific church building, services from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and they prostrate in silent prayer at meetings. They live in a self-sufficient commune on Bobo Hill outside Bull Bay in Jamaica. They wear their dreadlocks tightly wrapped in turbans and clothe themselves in priestly robes. After Prince Emmanuel’s death, they split into three groups, all of which live on Bobo Hill.

Some Rastafari groups exclude white people, viewing them as having no authentic connection with Africa. However, in recent decades there are white Rastas, as parts of the movement have moved beyond black supremacy to seeing all races as Jah’s children and the unity of all people of the world.

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