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The Seven Basic Principles of Rastafari
Rastafari have seven basic principles that should be known and understood by all who claim to live it.
One: the belief in H.I.M. Haile Selassie I as being the one whom the book of Revelations Chapter 5 spoke of; the Conquering Lion of Judah and the Root of David.
Two: that Marcus Mosiah Garvey was the prophet who led us to H.I.M. and should therefore be given the place of the prophet in the Rasta hierarchy.
Three: that we fight against black and white oppression.
Four: that Ethiopia is a Holy Land.
Five: is Repatriation; Africa for Africans at home and abroad.
Six: the Ital living, or natural way of doing things.
Seven: the principle of reasoning, or being reasonable.
This is not to imply that Rasta is a limited way of life, because there are many other components that combine together in the formation of this movement. Those combinations, however, have come together over the years and during the struggle for definition of our identity, and have emerged with these seven valid principles. This is an indication of the true and enduring power of our way of life. It is a testament to the fact that our forbearers knew that they were on the right path, for the purpose of establishing a strong foundation for our history, culture and belief.”
from Seven Principles of Rastafari
The Rasta Way
Rasta has firmly established itself as a fierce opponent of colonialism by seeking to overturn the vicious legacy left by the European colonialists. Colonialism has had a grave impact on the psyche of today’s generation; it is a legacy of brutality, discrimination, corruption and a relentless pursuit of material possessions. Rasta has sought to overcome this legacy by standing for and upholding the principles of Maat, which is truth, justice, righteousness and balance.
Rasta stands for universal love, a higher spiritual ideal that is not usually emphasized in the mainstream of Western society. To be a Rasta is to be a righteous person, continuously seeking to improve SELF. This process of self discovery is further clarified by the words of a St Lucian Rasta who said "The word Rasta as I understand it means purely, the power that lies within any man which enables him to do anything he wants… To be a Rasta therefore is to be conscious of that divine power, and to be developing one’s power potential for achievement… Rasta becomes therefore a philosophy of life fulfillment".
Rasta does not seek to conform to the norms of this society, which are steeped in racism, sexism, neo colonialism and injustice. The norm of this society is the relentless pursuit of carnal gratification and one doesn’t have to look hard to see where all this alcohol, sacred less sex, and materialistic living is taking us. It is taking our people down a wide road of great karmic consequences. Salvation cannot be found in worldly material possessions, but rather by experiences of divine proportions.
There is a misconception that Rastas are against technology and material things. Nothing could be further from the truth and this attempt to misconstrue what Rasta is about is often as deliberate as it is damaging. What Rastas are against is the misuse of technology and the overemphasis on material possessions, which in fact has caused great decadence of modern society.
Many people have heard of the term ‘Rasta’, but they can often only refer it to dreadlocks and reggae music. What is Rasta exactly? Rasta is not only listening to reggae music and having dreadlocks; Rasta is much more. Rasta is a way of life: to live from the heart.
The origin of Rasta can be found at the beginning of the 20th century and has arisen with Ras Tafari, better known as Emperor Haile Selassie I (1892-1975) of Ethiopia. His name means literally “Might of the Trinity”. As all his predecessors, Haile Selassie I is in the bloodline of King Solomon. In the old Ethiopian epos “Kebra Negast” (“Glory of the Kings”) it is written that in the 10th century BC the Ethiopian Queen Makeda (also known as the Queen of Sheba) visits King Solomon and gets pregnant of him. The child, named Bayna Lehkem (“son of the wise man”), becomes Emperor Menelik I. He is an Emperor of an Imperial Dynasty that will continue until 1974.
As an Emperor, Haile Selassie I introduced democracy, electricity, airplanes, schools and universities, and also thanks to him, Ethiopia is the only African country that has never been colonized and stayed independent. In 1963 he founded “The Organization of African Unity” (OAU), an organization that defended the independence of African nations. As a Christian, Haile Selassie I worked on the unity of peoples. Themes in his messages are love for each other and God, unity of all people, peace and justice. Haile Selassie I gave an example that inspired a lot of people and gave them hope and love: Rastafari. In the beginning most Rasta’s were Africans in Jamaica and in the 1970’s the message of Rastafari was spread around the world, due to Bob Marley.
Rasta is no religion, no sect, and no philosophical movement. Rasta is a way of life, a view of life. A Rasta lives with the 10 commandments in his or her heart, especially the first and second ones (see Matthew 22:37-40). A Rasta strives after perfect love and unity of all people and with God (“JAH” as called by the Rasta’s). A well known sentence is “One Love, One People, One Destiny”. A Rasta could be seen as a messenger of love and unity.
Everything that is against the vision of love and unity is called Babylon or Babylon System by the Rasta’s. This comes from the Biblical Babylon. Rastas see Babylon as the cause of slavery, downpressors, apartheid, war, destruction of nature, etc., so mainly the Western society of today. Song texts in reggae music are often about the destruction of Babylon. Rastafari wants to re-establish the unity and love on earth and therefore Rasta’s want to leave Babylon and go to Holy Mount Zion. Mount Zion is also a Biblical term and stands for the Promised Land, a place of beauty and love. To some Rasta’s Zion is in Ethiopia, to others it is the new earth or heaven.
Rasta can be without doctrines, so among Rasta’s there are many different visions. Many Rasta’s have dreadlocks and a beard as a sign of their devotion to JAH. This is after the nazirites (see Numbers 6:5). Dreadlocks have become some kind of fashion trend; 10 years ago you could call someone with dreadlocks a Rasta, today many people with dreadlocks don’t even know what Rastafari exactly is. Many Rasta’s have a diet, the so-called Ital diet that consists of fresh food (no additional chemicals) without salt, meat and milk. This is often in combination with teetotalism, but there are also Rasta’s who drink alcohol, smoke tabacco, eat meat and use cannabis for meditation or inspiration. Some say that you have to have a clean and pure body, others say that salvation is not in a diet or in dreadlocks, but it is in the heart.
Some Rasta’s joined a church or Christian organization. Bob Marley, for instance, was a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel organization, before he was baptized in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Other Rasta’s have their own meetings, the so-called Nyahbinghi’s. During these meetings, which can continue for 1-3 days or even a week, songs are chanted, music is made and reasoning takes place. Within Rastafari, there are several orders, like the Bobo Shanti, Twelve Tribes, and the Nyahbinghi, but there are also a lot of Rasta’s that have their own vision. But in spite of that, Rasta’s have Respect for others and there is a unity.
Today, Rastafari is still growing and there are millions of Rasta’s scattered over the world. Rastafari has its own language, signs and symbols, like a lion (the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, see Revelations 5:5) and the colors red, gold and green (the colors of the Ethiopian flag). Rasta’s say, for example, “I and I” in stead of “I”, “me” and “my”. “I and I” literally means “me and JAH”. This is not strange, because a Rasta always walks in unity with JAH. A Rasta is conscious in his/her language, without having to act like a prophet or saint.
You can get to know more about Rastafari by listening to the texts in reggae music. Reggae is a way for Rasta’s to express their visions and feelings of unity and love. Besides unity and love, there are also other themes like strength, equality, freedom, Haile Selassie I, Babylon System, conquering evil, and the exodus to Zion. Some well known reggae artists are: Burning Spear, Ijahman, Sizzla, U-roy, Israel Vibration, Jah Shaka, Culture, Alpha Blondy, Beenie Man, Garnett Silk, Luciano, Capleton, Misty in Roots, The Meditations, The Mystic Revealers, Ras Michael & The Sons of Negus, Yami Bolo, Itals and Max Romeo, just to mention a few.
"Rastafari means to live in nature, to see the Creator in the wind, sea and storm. Other religions pointed to the sky, and while we were looking in the sky, they dug up all the gold and diamonds and went away with them" (Jimmy Cliff)
"We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations, but to our fellow men within the human community." (Haile Selassie)
"Do you ever see the rainbow in the sky? Do the colors fight amonst themselves? Then why should mankind fight amongst themselves trough their different colors? The whole world is a garden and all the people in it are his flowers and we all beautify this garden with all our different colors. As the rainbow is in the heavens so are we, as rainbow people in his earth. Jah made all colors so all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderfull he made them all. Each little flower that opens, and each little bird that sings he made their glowing colors and he made their tiny wings. So remember: What does it profit a man to gain the whole word and lose his soul. So wey dem a go do wid it?" (Ras Michael)
"Life is one big road with lots of signs, so when you riding thru the ruts don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy
Don’t bury your thoughts; put your vision to reality." (Robert Nesta Marley)
"I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself." (Aldous Huxley)
"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and the world will be blind and toothless." (M. Gandhi)
"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/ None but ourselves can free our minds." (Robert Nesta Marley)
"Many discouraging hours will arise before the rainbow of accomplished goals will appear on the horizon." (Haile Sellassie I)
What can be said about Rastafari that would be true for all Rastas?
Some Rastas interpret the Bible literally.
Some interpret the Bible metaphorically.
Some reject the Bible altogether.
Some study various spiritual and religious traditions.
Others think this is blasphemy.
Some Rastas worship Haile Selassie as JAH, as God.
Some worship Jesus Christ, or see these two as having a single identity.
Some worship neither.
Some Rastas embrace Selassie’s Christianity
Others are not so comfortable.
Some Rastas see the roots of Rasta in African spirituality.
Some know nothing about African spirituality.
Some Rastas are Garveyites.
Some are pan-African activists.
Some Rastas are other sorts of political activists.
Some say activism is a waste of time in Babylon.
Some Rastas believe in a Rasta priesthood and Rasta churches.
Some do not.
Some Rastas believe in physical repatriation to Ethiopia, seeing it as Zion as described in the Bible.
Some do not.
Some Rastas view ganja as a sacrament.
Some do not.
Some Rastas wear dreadlocks.
Some do not.
Some Rastas adhere to a strict dress-code.
Some do not.
Some Rastas belong to specific orders, like Bobo Ashanti, Nyabinghi, Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Some do not.
Some Rastas reject the idea of whites claiming Rasta.
Some do not.
Some Rastas believe women are lesser beings and have special rules for their behavior and participation.
Some do not.
I am sure others could add to this list. So the question is, obviously, what is Rastafari and what is a Rasta?
Rastafari as a movement began in one of the poorest, blackest, places in the world, in Jamaica, inspired by Marcus Garvey as a call for Black unity, Black identity, and Black empowerment. It drew on the imagery and worldview of Christianity, which is the prevalent religious orientation in Jamaica, and viewed social and political revolution in terms of the Christian revelation.. Some of the first Rastas saw in Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia the final return of Jesus Christ to usher in a New Heaven and New Earth, to break the chains of racism, injustice, oppression. To "set the captives free."
The Rasta ‘trod’ in life is very often described in terms of the Exodus out of Egypt, the return from Babylon, the return to Zion, the return home. What is envisioned is a restoration of the original intention of creation, just as the Bible describes.
Some interpret this literally as a return to Ethiopia, Selassie’s home, the world’s oldest Christian kingdom. Others see this ‘repatriation’ as an internal process of reconcilement, the breaking of the bonds of ‘mental slavery’ so that one’s true self can be revealed, one’s true vision restored. So in Rastafari you have existing side by side mystics, who see man/woman and God as one, and ‘stricter ‘ones who seek to adhere to the letter of Hebrew law and read the Bible literally. Now it is quite an achievement that Rastas of such radically different orientations can tolerate one another.
I think that this tolerance exists because the real battle is the battle against the forces of white supremacy and global domination. These are the forces against which the first Rastas asserted Black identity and Black unity.
And here is why so many whites, ironically, are attracted to Rastafari. It is a way of expressing their own resistance to the ‘Babylon system’, even though they were born into it and partake, willing or not, of its privileges. As much as Rasta gives Blacks a way to deal with the historical pain of being born black, it offers Whites a way to deal with the pain of being born white. It offers a vision of unity, in which blacks and whites together can work to dismantle systems of global ‘downpression’. Rastafari also offers whites a way to reconcile with their own heritage, to be Jewish or Christian, to return to a religious ideology many felt had to be rejected because of the way it has been used as an instrument of oppression against nonwhites. Rastas speak of being the ‘real Jews’, the ‘real Christians’ of this time, feeling that they have gotten to the heart of the Bible’s teachings about justice, unity, and love.
The concept of "I and I", which is so central to Rastafari, reflects a radical identification of man in God, God in man, and the unity of all beings: "One Love". From "I and I", it is not far to travel to "I am God". In the same way that Selassie (and Jesus) is both man and God, so may I be, with the proper conduct in my life, the true livity. And this reconciliation of humans and God, of spirit and flesh, takes place here, in history.
As the 20th century proceeded, and much forgotten or distorted history was unearthed, and as archaeologists discovered more, a far different view of the world has emerged than the one which was so prevalent in the 1930’s, when Rastafari as a modern movement first began. A compelling case has been made by many scholars that the source of Judeo-Christian mythology and theology (not to mention Hindu and Buddhist), and the Greek Civilization, Europe’s mother-culture, is indeed African to a large degree. It is easy to see that the vast achievement of the Egyptian civilization in particular accounts for the dissemination of African values throughout the world. More and more scholars agree that the monolithic cultures of Northern Europe (which are found on the sea-coast of the Atlantic) and South and Central America must be attributed to the influence of sea-going ancient Africans.
And even further, most geneticists and archaeologists now agree that we are all African in origin, every human being, and that every human being lived in Africa as little as 40.000-60.000 years ago. "The whole world is Africa". (Black Uhuru)
These discoveries have shaken the world as we know it, and the full implications have yet to be felt. More and more Rastas are rejecting the Judeo-Christian worldview in favor of their own, indeed of our own, far-older, and in most cases, far more subtle and refined, indigenous African traditions.
Rastas learn that the ‘ras’, the crown of uncombed locks, was seen as a sign of wisdom by that ancient Egyptians. The Pharoahs even wore wigs of ras to symbolize their recognition of the wisdom gained by those who went into the wilderness seeking wisdom, and came out with matted, long hair. The Hindu ‘saddhus’ retain the tradition to this day.
Some Rastas still remain in the ‘strict interpretation’ camp, adhering to the Bible, while others are exploring the ways in which all spiritual/religious expression on the earth is one, and springs from a single source, which is Africa. I think it is inevitable that more and more Rastas will allow themselves to come around to this worldview, especially since the most fervent Rasta call is for global One Love and unity. In African history we have a striking confirmation of the possibility that all humankind can come together as one in a recognition of our common ‘roots.’
The idea of ‘Roots’ has always been an essential component of Rasta, roots as in original humans living in a natural state of oneness with each other and the earth, roots as in history, roots as in the oneness of all under JAH in creation. This idea of the rediscovery of one’s roots in terms of Blackness, in terms of history, as a way to break the chains of 400 years of physical and mental slavery, has naturally led Rastas back to Africa with new eyes, and has transformed Rasta itself.
Looking at Rastafari inspires ones to question the ultimate purpose of all religious thought. Some religions teach that the fleshly world is depraved, fallen, and illusory, and that true unity and reconciliation can only come after death, or at the end of history, when God returns to intervene. In many ways, Christianity teaches this, and though it may draw strongly on Judeo-Christian images and conceptions. Rastafari looks to reconciliation and unity and the rule of justice right here on earth, and in this time.
Rastas are for the most part not revolutionary in the activist sense, but rather view revolution as a process that first takes place within, a turning over of conceptions that people, particularly Blacks, hold that oppress them, ideas, of their inferiority and lack of personal power to move to transform the outer world according to spiritual principles of love, unity, and right conduct.
It seems that through Rasta, many have been inspired to look beyond religions to the underlying natural principles that govern all human movement from birth to death and beyond. Perhaps in this time of crisis in human history the true purpose of religion is revealed. Maybe the purpose of religion is to take humans beyond religion. to a common recognition of the one Divine Energy, which moves and informs everything and everyone, from which we have life and love and the power to create a world more and more of us are convinced is our birthright.
In the African worldview, the ancestral worldview of all humans, everything is marvelously alive. The entire earth is a sacred place, of one essence, to which all refers and will in time return. This is the One Love and One Inity of the Rasta. It is the same expression.
I think now we can return to question of what is powerful and abiding about Rastafari as a movement. There are things upon which I believe all Rasta can agree.
There are many sects and denominations of Rasta, but most Rasta do not affiliate with any of them. I think I have shown some of the widely-diverse worldviews that exist in what is still able to be called ‘Rasta.’ One thing that is unique and powerful about Rasta is in part this very diversity, and the way Rasta resists attempts to congeal into just another religion, with a single set of doctrines and rules.
I believe that what unites all Rasta is a common concern for justice in this world, and the importance of personal conduct in bringing that justice about.
Rastafari presents a unique vision of global transformation through personal spiritual transformation. Rastas speak of livity, which is defined as personal lifestyles and personal habits that reflect the sort of world they believe is possible for all.
Most Rastas reject the idea that Rasta is religion. Instead they say it is a way of life, a livity. This again reflects an African worldview, which is in fact our common indigenous worldview, as we all came from there. There is no division between spirit and flesh, and the whole world is sacred.
Rastas also have a common understanding of the enemy, which they call Babylon. Babylon is conceived as the global systems of racism and oppression,
"A vampire….sucking the blood of the sufferers…building church and university…deceiving the people continually." –Marley
And as Bob Marley sings in "Babylon System", truth is the ultimate weapon. "Tell the children the truth"…the truth of history, the truth of the results of history on bloody display all around us, and the truth of our purpose here on this earth.
I remember feeling so relieved when I first encountered Rasta, because here at last were people unafraid to call wickedness wickedness.
All Rastas embrace the unitarian values of Rasta: One Love, Unity, and moral conduct.. They embrace a vision of a just world, a peaceful world, and freedom for all without regard to race, culture, or economics. They see that the unity of humankind will come as people embrace spiritual values and see that our common purpose here is to live harmoniously, joyfully, and well.
Rastafari is now a global movement that originated as a call for black unity out of the heart of the African diaspora. That nonblacks have taken up the call is not surprising, but it is not possible to have a "colourless Rasta movement."
"We mostly lonely down here……but if we lucky then we have some nice pictures to take wid us."
If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.
No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!