The Rastafari do not have a formalised structure with anointed leaders. Elders are generally given respect; this is considered something they earn through living the Rastafari way for many years. As such, there are few figures who are held above others as ‘successors’ of the original preachers. Prince Emmanuel (Charles) Edwards (1915-1994) founded the group or ‘mansion’ of Bobo Shanti in 1958 in Bull Bay, Jamaica (see ‘Diversity’ below). It was then that he called the first Nyabinghi in 1958. These are communal celebrations of Rastas (see ‘Religious/Ritual Practice’ below). Edwards lived in the Back-O-Wall commune in Kingston until 1966 when his group was driven out by police. He claimed that he ‘appeared’ in St Elizabeth in 1915, that he had no father or mother, and that he was the reincarnation of the biblical Melchizedek. He was a key figure in the confrontations with the Jamaican government in the 1950s and 1960s. He led an attempted repatriation in 1959 that failed.
The reggae musician Bob Marley is a prophet and poet for Rastas and for Jamaicans more generally. As a teenager, Marley was apprenticed to a Rastaman and adopted the beliefs and ways of living himself. His music uses the rhythms of traditional Rastafari drumming. Many of his famous songs include Rastafari teachings. As a member of the Twelve Tribes (see ‘Diversity’ below), Marley’s understanding of the livity was fairly unusual; however he became widely popular among Rastas. Marley was to the 1970s English and American Rastas what Marcus Garvey was to the 1930s Jamaican Rastas: a prophet and an inspiration. He was instrumental in the spread of Rastafari to the UK and the USA in the 1970s through disseminating Rastafari ideas and themes throughout the world using his music. While not every Rastafari sees him as a prophet, he has been very influential for the movement. He became a symbol of the archetypal Rasta after his death in 1980. He was posthumously given the Order of Merit, the third highest honour in Jamaica, and buried with a state funeral.