Religious Identity

Rastafari identities focus on trying to recreate themselves in their image of Africans. This means rejecting ways of living associated with Babylon and adopting those of Rastafari. It is an elite and exclusive identity; they are the chosen people and everyone who does not follow their ways is part of Babylon. One must have insight to accept the divinity of Haile Selassie. However, they do not have formal organisations or doctrinal orthodoxy which means that how individual Rastafari construct their identity has fluidity and openness. There are some accepted identifying characteristics. The most well-known and immediately recognisable mark of Rastafari identity is the cultivation of dreadlocks. Rastafari are forbidden to cut their hair, following the Old Testament law that prohibits trimming and shaving of the hair (the Nazarite vow mentioned above), and also of tattooing. For the Rastafari, dreadlocks are “a sacred and inalienable part of his identity” (Chevannes 1994: 145). The hair is called a crown, compared to the crown of Emperor Haile Selassie or the mane of a lion. In the early movement, dreadlocks were a challenge to the European colonialist constructions of race that deemed African hairstyles bad and European hairstyles good. They are a celebration and acceptance of Africanness. Rastafari identity is also expressed through speech by using ‘dreadtalk’, a way of speaking that distinguishes Rastafari from non-Rastafari. Some Rastafari study Ethiopian history and the Amharic language. There are also distinctive Rastafari diet restrictions (see below), the smoking of ganja, and wearing tams over their dreadlocks, which serve to separate Rastafari from Babylon, which can mean all non-Rastafari. Rastafari know who they are and carry themselves with self-confidence because of this strong sense of identity.

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