by Hayes Kali Thurnton
[Montreal Community Contact, November, 1998, p. 17]
Modern day Rastafarianism is a resistance and freedom movement that found its roots in the colonial, post-slavery, war-ravaged world of the 1930s.
Born out of desire by a people to maintain control of their history, their religion and their culture, the movement imposed itself on western societies and remained a solid point of reference for its members.
The decade that followed the establishment saw the emergence of several dominant figures who embodied the spirit of Rastafarianism.
First and foremost among these men is His Imperial Majesty Halle Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Ras Tafari Makonnen, born on July 23, 1892, had this all-powerful title bestowed upon him on Nov. 2, 1930 in an historical coronation that was the 225th in a royal dynasty dating back almost four millenniums.
His Imperial Majesty claims ancestral descendant from King David through King Solomon, extending right back to Jesus Christ himself.
As the Ethiopia's Imperial Leader, HIM Selassie I was a staunch and ferocious defender of the doctrine of independence, Africanism and the basic beliefs and principles of Rastafarianism. On the international political arena he commanded a high degree of respect from world leaders and delivered several renowned and and acclaimed speeches on behalf of the globally disadvantaged before the United Nations and its precursor the League of Nations.
During his lifetime, Selassie I and Ethiopia fought two grueling wars with the then fascist regime of Italy. To boost his country's flagging resources during these conflicts the king sent out many appeals to the global community for assistance to beat back this attempt at colonization.
Most of these appeals fell on deaf ears across the world, but the great leader and his people connected immediately with many under- privileged blacks in the Caribbean and the United States.
In colonial Jamaica especially, where the majority of the population are of African descent, images of dreadlocked Nyabinghi soldiers - Natty Dreads (the feared ones) with their fearless leader Ras Abebe Aregai (Ras means head, source) - regularly graced journals and no doubt influenced and attracted many young Jamaicans to the Rastafarian movement . That country became the spiritual and symbolic base in the West for the movement.
(However, it must also be noted that the Hindi Sadhus among the Indian migrant workers, brought to the Caribbean to subsidize Black labor after the abolition of slavery, also wore their hair long and matted. Some claim that it was they who introduced marijuana to the West.)
The modern Rasta movement as It is today in the Caribbean received a boost from the historic visit of His Imperial Majesty Selassie I to the region in April 1966.
To many, including this writer, it was a remarkable and surprising image seeing a Black king in the Caribbean because at that time, we had been inundated with visits by European royalty.
Other influences on the acceleration of the movement in the Caribbean was the explosion of Black activism and the expounding of the virtues Black pride during the 1960s.
But Selassie I remained the spiritual ground that kept Rastafarianism rooted. He died on Aug. 26, 1975. Today he remains the one recognized spiritual leader of Rastafarianism the world-over.
"God created you masters of your own destiny, masters of your own fate, and you can pay no higher tribute to your Divine Master than function as the man he created you to be". (Marcus Garvey)
During the reign of Selassie I, another prominent leader was also conducting his battle to improve the quality of fife of peoples of African descent all over the world And in so doing had profound influence on the development of Rastafarianism in the West.
This great leader, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, was born in St. Anne's Bay, Jamaica on Aug, 17, 1887.
He formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914 for the purpose of improving the conditions of Africans the world over through a strategy of self education and a self supporting economy.
In 1916, Marcus took his plan to the US acquiring citizenship there in 1921.
While In the U.S. Marcus began laying the ground work to move his dreams for peoples of African descent beyond the real philosophy and started putting in place a strategy for self improvement and even for repatriation to Africa. The UNIA purchased a steam liner"The Black Star Line"which at its time facilitated the migration of thousands of African- Americans back to West Africa. (At the height of its operation the UNIA boasted a membership of over one million.)
However, in the midst of' his plans to rally all Afro citizens, he was charged with mail fraud and sentenced to prison in Atlanta, Georgia at a time when lynching, the Ku Klux Klan, and US riots were killing and victimizing AfroAmerican citizens.
Marcus spent two years and nine months in prison, and was then deported to Jamaica. He later moved to England, where he resumed his work for the improvement of his people, but with his defamed character this task was difficult. His organization never fully recovered. He died in England on June 10, 1940.
Rastafarianism got its cultural and spiritual messenger in the person of Icon reggae performer, Bob Nesta Marley,
Bob was born on Feb. 6, 1945, and through his music became a representation of the theme of the 1960s: Peace, Love, and Ganja.
By that time, young Blacks, disillusioned by the pace of change and the lack of Jah (God) in the equation, sided and identified with this new view of Rasta, which had a new vehicle: Reggae.
However, more importantly, Bob used his music to give them a sense of awareness of history, religion, culture, and politics.
Bob Marley literally took reggae and the resistance movement to the world stage. Bob exposed Rasta and the Rastafarian message to the whole world for Whites and Blacks to see. Rasta was now universal. The impact of Bob on this world is undeniably clear through the individuals who have been set free. Marley died on May 11, 1981. Today the Legend of Robert Nesta Marley lives on spiritually through Rastafarianism.
Rastafarianism today has transcended national boundaries and color. It is the love in the heart of the believers.
Within the movement there are several closely related groups: The Twelve Tribes of Israel, The Nyabinghi, and Ethiopian Zion Coptic are the most prominent. However, all Rastas are bonded by the principles of One Love: I and I (one togetherness).
However, real Rasta (dreads) continue to suffer constant tribulation here on earth in this Babylon, as a result of their unconventional look.
Some endure this persecution for life because they believe this Roman Caesar System is Eurocentric and unjust. Many chose not to participate in the conventional institutions and remain closely affiliated to the land or to elements closer to nature. But through it all, their objective remains rooted in Love.
Hail JAH RASTAFARI.
[This piece is very interesting because it shows how Rastas continue to educate each other about their movement and their history. While not endorsing this as a purely accurate document (obviously, Solomon came before Jesus) and while I feel it may be a bit misleading (Selassie was not a Rastafarian, but an Ethiopian Coptic Christian) it does show how important educating new people is. -Alfred C. Snider]