The term “Rasta” refers to the the Rastafarian movement that emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s and originally started among black members of the poor and peasant classes. It is both a philosophy of life and a religion. Central to the religion is Haile Selassie I, who was the last emperor of Ethiopia. In Rasta, Selassie is accepted as Jah, which is the name for God. The term Jah is a shortened version of the name Jehovah used in Psalms 68:4 of the King James version of the Bible:
In Rasta, Jah is accepted as part of the Holy Trinity and, as the messiah, is expected to return.
The term “Rastafari” comes from the combination of a term of honor and a name. Ras means “Chief” and Tafari was the first name of Haile Selassie I prior to his coronation. Some individuals see Rastafarianism as a political movement, a sentiment that is offensive to many members of the religion.
The Rastafarian movement did, however, gain power and popularity through many social and political aspirations of key Jamaican individuals. Publicist and organizer Marcus Garvey, who is regarded as a prophet by many members of the Rasta faith, used his cultural and political vision to inspire a new world view within the group.
Jamaican-born reggae musician Bob Marley, along with other musicians in his genre, also helped to spread this religion around the world. Much of Marley’s music spoke of the Rasta life and practices. In the year 2000, there were more than one million members of the Rastafarian religion throughout the world. Furthermore, upwards of 10% of the Jamaican population identify with it.
The Rastafarian lifestyle can include keeping a vegan or vegetarian diet. More to the point, dietary guidelines focus on natural, non-chemically-treated foods. The dietary laws are drawn from the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It should be noted that there are many individuals of different religions and belief systems that use the dietary suggestions of the Bible in different ways. The Rasta lifestyle also may include using cannabis, but not for recreational purposes, rather for religious or medicinal purposes.
In the eight decades since its inception, Rasta has gained a great deal of notoriety and a healthy following. It is still supported within the reggae community. Soldiers of Jah Army (also know as SOJA) is a modern reggae band that supports the lifestyle and belief system.