REGGAE 101: RASTAFARI (Part 1) - The Root of Conscious Reggae

Inity Weekly uses conscious reggae as a vehicle to transport to you, the readers, our messages of cultural and social awareness; and because conscious reggae and the Rastafarian movement are so intricately intertwined, it only makes sense to discuss Rastafarianism and its relation to the reggae music we all know and love. We intend to do this in a three-part Reggae 101 series that is long overdue, so here goes… Nearly every revolutionary, groundbreaking movement throughout history was met with incredible scrutiny.  For instance, it took literally centuries for humans to accept the scientific movement that proved the earth is flat and revolves around the sun—and not the other way around.  Likewise, it probably will take the same amount of time for America to admit to its oil addiction. (But we digress).

The Rastafarian movement was yet another movement met with great scrutiny from the status quo shortly after its inception.  Often considered a radical movement incited by dreadlocked, rebellious dissenters in the Caribbean, the Rastafarian movement became one of the most profoundly controversial ways of life on the planet.  Others, however, would contend that the Rastafarian movement provides a necessary sense of Afrocentrism for its followers, and also has contributed to the DNA for arguably one of the last surviving, socially responsible musical art forms in the world—conscious reggae.

Rasta Origins

Rastafarianism is deeply rooted in traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs.  The most notable of beliefs is the resurrection of a divinely appointed savior of the people.  As Christianity spread throughout the Caribbean during the colonial/slavery period, so did the image of a Caucasian, European-based Jesus Christ.  This image of Christ was widely circulated among Christians in every nation but particularly became a hard sell for many recently emancipated slaves in the Caribbean, because most freed blacks associated the ubiquitous image with oppression and, more importantly, the institution of slavery.  Enter the new face of resurrection.

In the early 20th century, the white Christ’s idyllic recognition came to a screeching halt for a small group of blacks in the Caribbean who began subscribing to the belief that Jesus Christ was reincarnated in the form of a small-statured, up and coming Ethiopian Emperor. His name: Emperor Haile Selassie I.  In fact, the name “Rastafari” is taken from “Ras Tafari,” the pre-reign title of Haile Selassie I—“Ras” meaning “Head” and “Tafari” being Haile Selassie’s given name.

With Afrocentric beliefs as a basis, Rastafarians began to mold a set of beliefs around Selassie’s presence, which they accept was the second coming of the world’s most famous historical figure, Jesus Christ.  In particular, Rastafari’s main tenets include, but are not limited to:

  • the idea that peace and unity (or “i-nity,” as phonetically pronounced by Rastafarians) among the world’s people must be achieved;

  • a unified appreciation for nature and that which sustains life on Earth;

  • a general rejection of Western society’s infatuation with imperialism and “mental slavery”; and

  • the notion that Africa is the birthplace of mankind, and as such, Africans are the original people.

Although the Rastafarian ideology at its creation had noble intentions, it diametrically opposed what Rastas consider to be the “Western philosophies” of “imperialism” and “oppression.”  This led to an enormous backlash from government entities in the mid-20th century, which will be discussed Part 2. - Shomari Ward