What is Rasta?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
The Rasta lifestyle sometimes includes the use of cannabis.
The Rasta lifestyle sometimes includes the use of cannabis.

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:

"Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him."

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.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for , Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for , Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


Is it necessary to believe in the Emperor stuff to be a rasta? I don't really understand why people would consider a human as god? Because I am much more interested in the living as far as naturally possible, well that aspect of rasta....


My name is Meghan and I am writing with great interest in the Rastafari movement. I am currently in a religion seminar class which discusses various movements and compares them to what the general public believes is considered a "religion."

I am thankful to have found your website to read about the certain principles you consider to be a true Rastafarian vs. someone who may be interested in the movement but not follow all the principles. What I am interested in most is your opinion on whether or not Rastafari is considered a religion or cult. I am interested in this topic because to me it seems as if this group of followers is more of a "way of life" or freedom movement than either a cult or religion. It was formed in a compassionate and strong manner.

Through all of my research on the Rastafarians I believe that these websites hold the greatest importance of seeing a true follower at heart. I would love personal opinions on what this movement is defined as. Also, I welcome any further comments or education that might be beneficial for me to know in my research.


Well, you've all spoken well, I have read all the comments posted on the wall. I appreciate all opinions, may Jah help us all for clear understanding and a good faith. Amen.

Let's all live together as one. Peace and love!

Eric K. from Ghana-Kumasi


Who is Rasta? anyone? Jah (or God) can always hear I(you) even if I(we) can't always hear Jah. There are no real rules or guidelines except having honor (being good and not purposely making others lives harder). Jah tells us to bring peace to all four corners of the Earth, basically everywhere, not just Africa.

Freedom is not doing what you want to do, it is being able to make a choice on what to do with one's I man (one's innerself). I, personally, would like to point out the abject racism in thinking that Jah can only be Hebrew or whatever and not Ethiopian. Just because a dude is black and smokes weed, he is evil?

Ask yourself this about Jesus first, if Jesus appeared to you and was this almighty force that so many believe to be. Would Jesus not be able to snap the almighty fingers and become any race Jesus wanted? Now what is so hard to believe about him? Now you are seriously going to say God is limited to one body one form forever and ever? I thought God was supposed to be omnipotent!

Is it entirely impossible to have an "incarnation" of God on Earth? Would one incarnation of God be worth more then another just because of skin color? Would it matter if a body (an avatar in a video game is a good analogy) of Jah died somehow? Jah can't die as Jah is more then life and death. Jah is an axiom not something you can put on paper and prove or disprove. Jah is everything and nothing. Jah is best at and for everything. If you feel Jah then you know you are Rasta. I and I think be vital, one love.


If you are rasta you don't follow any rules, you live life freely and jah will grant you blessings in what you do because this is what rasta believe.

This is take strictly from the blogs preceding.

Does this mean if I feel led to rape, kill, enslave you, abuse you that my free spirit is excepted by jah?

The bible isn't something that you worship and follow if you take out the parts you don't agree with. God says either you are with me are against me.

I leave it to you you make that decision, but I'd rather follow the rules of God than suffer for eternity.


So i see that many here are rastafarians. i have been reading for three weeks, looking for a way to become rastafari and to learn more about it. can someone give me some info and don't just tell me it's in the heart. my question is the beliefs like where do i go, etc.?


Call your creator, Jah, Allah, Buddha, God. Do we really think Spirit is concerned about our religion politics? Be quiet and listen to your spirit and start living truth. You'll hear the difference. Maybe then will we learn that no individual is independent in mind.

A free mind is indeed a mind that questions (inner then exterior), and a basis of questioning is a basis of accumulating and a basis of accumulating is a basis of a less traumatic affair with the wonders of the world!

The eyes of the mind are in communication. Lets quit showing off how short-sighted we are. Yet again the majority of us remain in the dark, all because of refusal to listen.

Keep thyself in communion. All else will come to you just as you came to the world.


You people are prejudiced. You don't clearly interpret the bible. Rastafarian is a way of life -- alpha and omega, and as for selassie, it is regarded as god reincarnate. you're just against the color of selassie being black and ethopian. But it's fine. Wait until the fake rapture is unleashed. You will see the lies you worship. Blessings to all kings and queens. jah rastafaria.


I would love to be rasta, but I don't believe the stuff about the Ethiopian emperor.


I am a white british 16 year old girl. I am united under the love of Jah with my rasta brothers and sisters. Rasta life is personal. Rasta doesn't make any one follow any of the 'rules.' Jah sees what is truth in your heart. Have a blessed rasta day. One love.


its all in your heart. follow what you will, but rastas are not racist. You can be white or black. It's not your skin but in your heart you believe in that and your path will be revealed by jah.


anything that has a name is separation. we all know who we are.


Good people, let us not judge someone's way of life because we Rasta people, we know what we are doing.

We never in a single day criticize Christianity but why are we supposed to answer these fruitless questions. Haile Selassie came to fulfill the second coming of christ in his kingly character. The bible is there to prove whatsoever people think we are crazy. I`m writing this and now i`m busy drafting a document that will prove firstly to south Africans that party is not just a group.

Give thanks and praises unto Jah-- one love.


OK If they read the bible they will know that when Jesus comes for the second time, he will not touch the ground of earth until all the wicked are gone.


I believe that people have a right to be and live as they are and want to be. We as humans are in no position to judge the life of another so who are we to say that what someone does or says is wrong or ignorant.

If they want to be a certain way and if that way works for them and those that follow, then what business is it of ours to question? Let people be who they are and leave it alone.


Rastas are not racist, but believe in one love and that everything should coexist with one. another jah haile is no god but an icon. you look here to find an answer to become a rasta when the answer lies within. ~ B. Gong descent of marley. One Love.


everybody's way of life is different and it is not for anyone else to put down. it's really no one's business how some one chooses to live their life. if they are happy with what they choose, then that makes me happy, and I'm not about to call them on it. i myself do not see a problem with the way rastas live their lives. they are very healthy people and i think that maybe they might have something there, with they way they live and believe.


so do you have to be black to be rasta?


Why is everyone here all negative? c'mon guys. be happy.


so to be a rasta, you have to accept the ethopian guy as god? i think not. I accept God as God and Jesus as Jesus. i've also read that basically they're racist. that's not cool.


do you have to be vegetarian in order to be rasta?


sooo.. why again is ancient Israel connected to the rastafarians of Jamaica?


Haile Selassie himself stated that he is not Jesus... if people hold him so high, then why do they not follow his word?


My response to the first comment about Selassie being a man and not a god. Jesus walked the earth as a man as well, do you question him?


um, how can rastafari follow the Bible and allow Christ to be the Son of God, and then call an Ethiopian emperor god? It does not make sense. The Bible says, "Place your trust in no man, but only in God" That man is dead. Dead and buried and still in his grave, while Jesus is alive!


Being Rasta doesn't force anyone to follow vegetarian or vegan diet nor using cannabis. Some of the Mansions of the Rastafari culture, such as the Twelve Tribes of Israel, of which Bob Marley was a part, do not specify diet beyond that which to quote Christ "Is not what goes into a man's mouth that defile him, but what come out of it".

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • The Rasta lifestyle sometimes includes the use of cannabis.
      By: Boyan Dimitrov
      The Rasta lifestyle sometimes includes the use of cannabis.