What is the Rastafarian Movement?


The Rastafarian Movement is actually a monotheistic religion that was founded in the West Indies. It is based on the ideas of Marcus Garvey which call for a return to Africa of all black people and the establishment of a country governed solely by black people. Rastafarians identify themselves with the Israelites, or Chosen People, of the Old Testament. Ethiopia is considered the promised land, and all other countries outside Africa are termed Babylon, a place of exile. They follow a number of the biblical Old Testament laws, interdicting pork, shellfish, milk, coffee, and salt. However, some of their beliefs diverge sharply from other religious practice such as the use of marijuana and cannabis as a religious sacrament.

The Rastafarian movement includes the use of marijuana as a religious sacrament.
The Rastafarian movement includes the use of marijuana as a religious sacrament.

The principles of the Rastafarian movement are a conflation Abrahamic biblical tradition and a range of black power philosophies, most notably those found in black separatism, Black Nationalism, and Pan-Africanism. It also looked back to the Maroons and the 19th century religious movement Bedwardism for inspiration. These disparate sources were consolidated into the Rastafarian Movement when Haile Selassie’s ascended to the Ethiopian imperial throne in 1930. Adherents of the Rastafarian Movement understood this to be the fulfillment of a prophecy promulgated in 1927 by Marcus Mosiah Garvey, whose ideas are considered a formative influence on the Rastafarian Movement.

The dreadlock hairstyle is a symbol of the Rastafarian Movement.
The dreadlock hairstyle is a symbol of the Rastafarian Movement.

In 1927, Garvey had prophesised, "Look to Africa, for there a king shall be crowned." With Selassie on the Ethiopian throne, Rastafarians understood the prophecy had come to pass. Selassie, the Rastafarians believe, was the second incarnation of the god Jah, who came to earth a second time after the teachings of his first temporal manifestation, Jesus Christ, were corrupted by the iniquities of Babylon. Despite his death in 1975, many Rastafarians believe that Selassie still lives and one day will return to bring his followers to Zion.

Today, the Rastafarian Movement has approximately one million followers world-wide. In the 1970s the movement found new followers among fans of Reggae music, especially those of pop star Bob Marley. It is considered a more liberal, loosely structured religion than others in the Abrahamic tradition, and some followers insist it is more a way of life than a religion, as is evidenced by the movement finding adherents among nations as diverse as Japan, Russia and indigenous New Zealanders, the Maoris. However, common to all these Rastafarian groups is the use of cannabis, the wearing of dreadlocks, and the colors red, green and gold.

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Discussion Comments


@starrynight - I think you're right about music being able to popularize a message.

I also think that Rastafarians should be able to legally smoke pot in the United States. It is part of their religion, after all. I know the law makes exceptions for Native Americans to smoke peyote, which is illegal for everyone else. I think an exception should be made in this case also!


I think Bob Marley is probably the most famous Rastafarian. I've never heard of any of the people that actually originated the movement, but I've definitely heard of Bob Marley!

I'm not surprised that a musical style helped popularize this religion. A lot of people start listening to a certain type of music because they like the way it sounds. But I think most people also listen to the words, too. This makes music a pretty good vehicle for conveying an idea to a large group of people!

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