views updated May 14 2018



Following the 1930 crowning of Ras Tafari (18921975) as Haile Selassie (Power of the Trinity), Emperor of Ethiopia, several street-corner preachers in Jamaica (among them, Joseph Hibbert, Leonard P. Howell, Robert Hinds, Archibald Dunkley, and Paul Earlington) began asserting that Selassie was a divine personage or the reincarnated Christ. For these Jamaicans, Selassie embodied Marcus Garveys vision of black pride, self-reliance, and repatriation to Africa; signaled the restoration of Ethiopias ancient glory; and fulfilled the Bibles prophecies of a messianic deliverer. In proclaiming Selassie a messianic figure, they pinned on him their longing for liberation from the legacy of slavery and colonialism.

From the activities of these founding personalities there emerged a set of religious, social, and political beliefs known as Rastafari (or Rastafarianism ), the adherents of which are termed Rastas (or Rastafarians ). From its beginning, Rastafari represented a fundamental critique of the values and institutions of Jamaican society. Rastas declaration of adherence to a black messiah indicated their rejection of both European religion and the authority of the colonial state. By referring to Jamaica as Babylon land of exile, oppression, and exploitationthey expressed their conviction that this was a society with no redeemable values or institutions, and declared their intention to repatriate to their African homeland, from which they had been stolen. The Rastas explicit promulgation of black superiorityadmittedly, an overcompensation for centuries of denigrationsignaled not just a rejection of the ideology of white supremacy, but even more a reclamation of blackness and of Africa.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, conflict characterized the relationship between Rastafari and Jamaican civil authorities. The charismatic Rastafarian leader Leonard P. Howell exemplified this conflict in the early decades. For inveighing against the British colonial government, he was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned. Law enforcement also repeatedly raided Pinnaclethe commune he establishedand eventually demolished it in 1954. The authorities concluded that Howell was demented and committed him to a metal institution. After his release, Howell lived in relative obscurity until his death in the mid-1980s.

By the late 1940s or early 1950s, the House of Youth Black Faith (HYBF) had emerged as the avant-garde of the Rastafari movement. These young Rastas were even more radical than their elders. They elevated the smoking of ganja (marijuana) to a personal and communal ritual, which they believed aided them in the discovery of their spiritual and cultural identity by breaking through the mental confines imposed by Babylon. They adopted the dreadlocks hairstyle to accentuate their Africanness and to symbolize their rejection of European standards of beauty (favoring fine, straight hair). They are also credited with the development of dreadtalk, an argot that made their speech often unintelligible to outsiders. Furthermore, HYBF projected an aura of militancy through marches and street meetings, vitriolic language calling down blood and fire on Babylon and its agents, and the flaunting of laws against ganja possession and use.

For their marijuana use, dreadlocks hairstyle, and general insubordination, Rastas became subjected to the ire of the agents of social control and public opinion: They suffered frequent arrests on drug charges, scapegoating that saw them blamed for a range of criminal activities, and characterizations in the media as lazy, demented, and disposed to violence. When a few weapons were found in the compound of Claudius Henry, a Rastafarian elder, and when his son was implicated in an alleged plot against the Jamaican government, the repression escalated into indiscriminate harassment, arrests, and forced cutting of the locks of Rastas.

Though a 1960 study of Rastafari by University of the West Indies professors M. G. Smith, Roy Augier, and Rex Nettleford effectively debunked myths about the mental deficiency, laziness, and criminality of Rastas, negative views of Rastafari persisted. These prejudices reached a boiling point in 1963, when an attempt to keep Rastas out of the area surrounding the Rose Hall Great House (a tourist attraction) escalated into a virtual riot in which several people were killed. When the government found evidence of the endemic criminality of a West Kingston slum in the mid-1960s, Rastas again took the rap. In an attempt to deal with what it considered entrenched Rastafarian criminality, the government bulldozed the entire shantytown where Rastas and others had constructed shacks on an urban dump.

Though a negative perception of Rastafari persisted among many in Jamaican society after 1960, the Smith, Augier, and Nettleford study helped to influence Jamaicas political leadership to adopt a less confrontational approach to the Rastafarian phenomenon. In 1961 Norman Manleys People National Party (PNP) government sent a delegation of civic leaders and Rastas to West Africa and Ethiopia to determine which African countries would be willing to receive Jamaicans desiring to return to the continent of their ancestors. The official report indicated that these countries were only willing to welcome educated and skilled workers. The Rastas of the delegation issued their own report, however, painting a picture of African countries waiting to receive their diasporic children with open arms. Jamaica gained its independence in 1962 under a new Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) government that was less disposed to pursue repatriation for Rastas. Though some Rastas formed their own delegation to make another trip to Africa in 1963, no official repatriation ever took place.

Another measure growing out of the 1960 study was a concerted effort by the Jamaican government to establish cultural and political ties with African countries. This included an invitation to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to establish itself in Jamaica, and an exchange of visits by Jamaican and African dignitaries. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church eventually established a congregation in Kingston in 1970, and has established further congregations in several other towns since then. Many Rastas identify with or have become members of this church, but they have often come into conflict with its orthodox teachings. The visitor exchange culminated with Haile Selassies three-day visit to Jamaica in April 1966. From his arrival until his departure, he was greeted at every public appearance by throngs of Jamaicans, including a multitude of Rastas decked out in their symbolic colors of red, green, and gold. Rastas were among the invited guests at the Vale Royal residence of the prime minister and at fancy hotels where events were held in honor of Selassie. According to reports, some members of the movement were even granted a private audience with the emperor. While Selassie publicly declared that he was not a divine personage, Rastas reported that he confirmed his divinity to them in private, and requested that they work for the liberation of Jamaica before repatriating. After Selassies visit, the phrase liberation before repatriation gained currency among Rastas, and the fervor for repatriation seems to have diminished accordingly. Despite the new emphasis on the need for liberation, the visibility and civility of Rastas at public and private functions conferred a measure of legitimacy on the Rastafarian movement.

By the late 1960s, signs of the changing perception and fortunes of Rastafari were becoming evident. One sign was the diffusion of Rastafarian perspectives and symbolism throughout society and particularly among young people and radical intellectuals. Young people, including many from middle-class families, assumed the Rastafarian mode of dress (knitted caps and the colors red, green, and gold), mode of speech, and ideological stance vis-à-vis the oppressive nature of Jamaican society. Many black intellectuals, who had adopted the black nationalism of the Black Power movement in the United States, found a vernacular expression of such nationalism in Rastafari and established dialogue with the movement. This is best exemplified by the Black Power radical Walter Rodney, a history professor at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

Another sign was the growing influence of Rastafari on local popular music. In the 1950s, Rastafari adopted an African drumming style that had been preserved in Jamaica by a cultural group called the Burru. Rastas made this style into their ritual music and regarded it as having mystical power for use in the fight against oppression. In the early 1960s, Count Ossie, a Rastafarian drummer, arranged and accompanied O Carolina, which became a hugely popular song in Jamaica. For the first time, Rastafarian rhythms were incorporated into popular music. After the recording of O Carolina, Ossies compound in East Kingston became a gathering place where local musicians congregated and participated in lengthy jam sessions, thus fostering the exchange of musical ideas.

These and other musicians began to incorporate Rastafarian rhythms into reggae music, and they eventually reproduced the whole range of Rastafarian rhythms on modern instruments.

The incorporation of Rastafarian rhythms into Jamaican popular music was followed by the insertion of Rastafarian spirituality and social criticism into the lyrics of popular songs. Lyricists, whether they were Rastas or not, tended to aim their barbs at the establishment, employing the verbal tools and the critical perspective of Rastafari. No one did this with more clarity and consistency than Bob Marley. His growing social consciousness and his proximity to his Rastafarian neighbors eventually led him to embrace Rastafari. In a short time, Marley made himself the public persona and international ambassador of Rastafari and reggae. Through his considerable repertoire, from Concrete Jungle to Redemption Song, Marley became the voice of the marginalized, expressing their critical assessment of the values and institutions of the West, their resolve and resilience in the struggle against extreme odds, and their determination to resist and rebel against their oppression.

Despite their activism around issues relating to poverty, the importance of African heritage, repatriation of blacks to Africa, and the legalization of ganja, Rastas have traditionally despised politics, calling it politricks, to indicate their belief that it was marked by deception and trickery. However, some members of the movement have made forays into Jamaicas electoral politics. Most notable are the candidacies of Ras Sam Brown in 1961, Ras Astor Black of the Jamaica Alliance Movement in 2002 and after, and members of Imperial Ethiopian World Federation Party in 2003. In all instances, Rastafarian candidates received minimal support at the polls. Nevertheless, Rastafarian ideas, symbols, and lingo and Rastafari-inspired songs have been tools of political electioneering in Jamaica, as was particularly evident in the 1970s.

During the lead-up to the 1972 Jamaican general election, the PNP leader, Michael Manley, presented himself as the champion of the poor masses. In doing so, he co-opted many of the ideas and much of the language used by Rastas in their criticism of Jamaicas sociopolitical establishment. Specifically, he painted the members of the ruling Jamaica Labor Party as agents of Babylon, and presented himself as Joshua (of Biblical fame), presumably appointed by God to beat down Babylon and establish justice for all. A central symbol in this political drama was a walking stick continuously brandished by Michael Manley. Manley claimed to have received the stick from Haile Selassie during a visit to Addis Abba. It was dubbed the Rod of Correction and portrayed as symbolic of Manleys authority, bestowed by Jah (God) or Selassie, to right the wrongs of Jamaican society.

Probably the most effective electioneering tool in Jamaica in the 1970s was reggae music, with its Rastafari-inspired lyrics. Manley and the PNP adopted such songs as Better Must Come, Beat Down Babylon, and Dem Ha Fi Get a Beatin to convey to the masses that they intended to change fundamentally social conditions in Jamaica. Such Rastafarian terms as One Love, Peace and Love, and Hail De Man flowed from the lips of PNP politicians in a streetwise and populist attempt to woo the young and poor who made up the majority of the voting public. While the PNP referenced elements of Rastafari more extensively and managed to win the 1972 and 1976 elections, the JLP was also quick to invoke the vernacular culture deeply influenced by Rastafari. Its campaigners made liberal use of reggae songs, and its leaders, such as Hugh Shearer and Edward Seaga, gave speeches that were laced with Rastafari-inspired street lingo. By the 1980 election, which was won by the JLP, the overt use of Rastafarian references and language was clearly on the wane in political campaigning. Manley had become steeped in Marxist/socialist rhetoric, whereas Seaga, who had become the leader of the JLP, appealed more to the folk-Christian sensibilities of followers of Revivalism and Pentecostalism, religious movements that are even more pervasive in Jamaican society than Rastafari. Seaga had been a promoter of Jamaican folk culture since the 1960s, had done ethnographic research on Revivalism, and had been rumored to be a secret practitioner of its healing arts.

Though politicians may have been self-serving when they co-opted Rastafarian lingo and symbolism as electioneering tools, they unwittingly bestowed legitimacy on both. At the same time, reggaes status was on the rise. Artists such as Desmond Decker, Toots and the Maytals, and Jimmy Cliff gained international success, while Bob Marley and the Wailers achieved superstardom, making them the epitome of reggaes cultural ascendancy. Despite earlier misgivings, Jamaicans of all walks of life came to embrace reggae as Jamaicas cultural gift to the world. Marley was eventually awarded Jamaicas second-highest honor, the Order of Merit, and at his passing he received a state funeral. Since then, reggae and Rastafari have become a source of inspiration for artistic and cultural production in Jamaica, the Caribbean, and beyond.

From its inauspicious beginnings among the marginalized in Jamaica, Rastafari has blossomed into a global religious and cultural movement. Today Rastafari claims followers throughout the Caribbean, including Cuba; in West and Southern Africa; throughout North America and Europe; in Central and South America, especially Brazil; in New Zealand and Australia; and even in Japan. The spread of Rastafari has been facilitated by international travel and migration and by the worldwide distribution of reggae via the global music industry and communication technology.

The postWorld War II era saw the immigration of numerous Jamaicans, including Rastas, to England and North America. When many of the children of these immigrants looked to Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s for something to counter the alienation they felt in their parents adopted homelands, it was Rastafari that provided them with both a critique of alienating Western culture and a sense of self that celebrated their African heritage. Students from other Caribbean islands studying in Jamaica, and Jamaicans traveling to and studying in other parts of the Caribbean, were the main agents of the spread of Rastafarian ideas and practices throughout the Caribbean, especially to Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Over the years, Rastas have traveled far and wide throughout the world, taking their message with them, and visitors to Jamaica from around the world have also contributed to the dispersal of the Rastafarian message.

Probably even more important than travel and migration has been the spreading of the Rastafarian message through reggae music. Through the global marketing of reggae and the ubiquity of modern communication technology, even people who have never seen a Rasta in the flesh have come in contact with the message of Rastafari and have found resonances with their own experiences and aspirations in the music. Thus, we find reggae and Rastafari inspiring the struggles of people around the world: the Maoris of New Zealand, the Aborigines of Australia, the Punjabis in India, Native Americans, and the Palestinians.

The earliest studies on Rastafari tended to focus on its rejection of Jamaica, its call for repatriation, and its deification of Haile Selassie. Using a label commonly applied to new religious movements in colonial or former colonial societies, these studies identified Rastafari as an example of messianic millennialism (Simpson 1955; Barrett 1977; Kitzinger 1969). The next wave of studies tended to highlight the political dimensions and revolutionary potential of Rastafari and hence saw Rastafari as a call for social change in Jamaica (Nettleford 1970; Owens 1976). The third wave was more serious about taking an ethnographic approach and about exploring the character of the Rastafari movement. These scholars described the contours of the movement, highlighting its cultural, social, and spiritual beliefs and practices (Chevannes 1994; Yawney 1978). Into the twenty-first century, the output is almost too varied for categorization. The spread of Rastafari and its growing globalization have led to mutations and transformations. Most academic studies have built upon the second and third waves mentioned above. In addition, many Rastas have written accounts and interpretations of their experiences; numerous studies of reggae and its relationship to Rastafari have been published; biographies of Rastafarian reggae artists, chiefly Marley, abound; and various studies of Rastafari in a range of locations (Britain, West Africa, South Africa, Brazil, Trinidad, Dominica, Cuba) are now available.

SEE ALSO Garvey, Marcus; Reggae; Religion; Selassie, Haile


Barrett, Leonard E. 1977. The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press.

Bradley, Lloyd. 2000. This Is Reggae Music: The Story of Jamaicas Music. New York: Grove Press.

Campbell, Horace. 1987. Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Chevannes, Barry. 1994. Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Dawes, Kwame. 2002. Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius. London: Sanctuary.

Edmonds, Ennis. 2003. Rastafari: From Outcasts to Culture Bearers. New York: Oxford University Press.

Forsythe, Dennis. 1999. Rastafari: For the Healing of the Nation. New York: One Drop Books.

Kitzinger, Sheila. 1969. Protest and Mysticism: The Ras Tafari Cult in Jamaica. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8: 240262.

Mack, Douglas R. A. 1999. From Babylon to Rastafari: Origin and History of the Rastafarian Movement. Chicago: Research Associates School Times Publications.

Nettleford, Rex M. 1970. Mirror, Mirror: Identity, Race, and Protest in Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: W. Collins/Sangster.

Owens, Joseph. 1976. Dread: The Rastafarians of Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Sangster.

Simpson, George Eaton. 1955. Political Cultism in West Kingston, Jamaica. Social and Economic Studies 4 (2): 133149.

Smith, M. G., Roy Augier, and Rex Nettleford. 1960. The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University College of the West Indies.

Yawney, Carole D. 1978. Dread Wasteland: Rastafarian Ritual in West Kingston, Jamaica. In Ritual Symbolism and Ceremonialism in the Americas: Studies in Symbolic Anthropology, ed. N. Ross Crumrine, 154178. Greely, CO: Museum of Anthropology, University of Northern Colorado.

Ennis B. Edmonds


views updated May 23 2018

Rastafarian (ras-tă-fair-iăn) n. an adherent of a religious and philosophical movement, originating in Jamaica in the 1920s, that accepts the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie ( Ras Tafari Makonnen; 1892–1975) as its religious leader and god, who will return the members of the Black community who are living in exile to Africa. Many Rastafarians believe the chosen few will continue to live forever in their current bodies. Adherence to the particular set of beliefs, values, and practices that constitute their religion may be of great importance to patients and their families. It is therefore essential that nurses should acquire at least a basic knowledge of the most common religions in order to deliver holistic care that meets their patients' needs. Religious beliefs may have implications for diet, dress, and medication, as well as procedures followed at birth and death. The sections below are outlines of the most commonly encountered religions. They focus on elements likely to have relevance to nursing practice and are by no means exhaustive, being intended only as a guide to enable appropriate care to be given. Nurses are urged to check the details of their patients' religious practices and not to make assumptions.

Roman Catholics

recognize the pope, based in the Vatican City State within Rome, as the successor to St Peter, whom Christ appointed as the first head of his church. Like other Christians, they regard certain rituals - the sacraments - as having special significance, being visible signs of inner grace. Catholics accept seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, reconciliation (confession and penance), the Eucharist (or Holy Communion; receiving consecrated bread and wine), marriage, holy orders (joining the priesthood), and anointing the sick (formerly known as extreme unction or the last rites). Catholics are encouraged to attend an act of worship - Mass - at least once a week, during which participants may receive the Eucharist having made confession; they are under an obligation to do this once a year (during the Easter season). Catholics are usually expected to fast before receiving Holy Communion, but this may be waived for those who are ill. There is no objection to taking any kind of medicine before Communion. Catholics may take great comfort from the support of a priest and often wish to make confession or be anointed before an operation. Fridays are traditionally regarded as ‘fasting’ days, on which no meat is eaten; Catholics who follow the practice may eat a vegetarian or fish diet on that day. Fasting is also practised during the season of Lent. The faith endorses organ donation. The Church believes that using artificial methods of contraception is “intrinsically evil”, regardless of the consequences: Catholics are permitted to use only natural methods of birth control. Abortion is regarded as a moral evil whatever the reasons for it. Holding that human life begins at fertilization, Catholics are opposed to experimentation on human embryos and reject IVF treatment for couples who cannot conceive naturally. The Church considers it morally acceptable to refuse extraordinary and aggressive medical means to preserve life. It sees the refusal of such treatment not as euthanasia (which the Church regards as morally wrong) but as a proper acceptance of the human condition in the face of death.


are of the Christian faith; they include, among others, members of the Church of England and the other churches of the Anglican Communion, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists. Their beliefs and practices vary quite widely. The only generally accepted sacraments are baptism and Holy Communion: patients may wish to take Communion in a similar way to Roman Catholics. Access to a chaplain is important and some patients may wish to fast on Fridays or during Lent. Although most Protestants are opposed in principle to abortion, many accept that there are some situations in which it is indicated, as when the health of the mother would be severely compromised by continuing the pregnancy, when rape has led to the pregnancy, and when overwhelming disability has been diagnosed in the fetus. They generally regard suicide as morally wrong and do not support euthanasia.


- also known as the Religious Society of Friends - believe that there is something of God in everybody and that each human being is of unique worth. Most Quakers regard themselves as Christians; others see themselves as agnostic or prefer to avoid such labels altogether. They do not accept the sacraments, have no formal creeds or ceremonies, and refuse to take oaths. There is no clergy as Quakers feel that all believers can minister to one another; Quaker services may include readings and periods of silence. Quakers are divided as to whether animal experimentation should be allowed for medical research; they regard abortion as a matter of individual conscience.

Jehovah's Witnesses

are members of a Christian-based religious movement with an evangelistic approach. They refuse blood transfusions, including autologous transfusions in which a person's own blood is stored for later use in a medical procedure. As a result of this approach, children and young people under the age of 16 years who require a blood transfusion may need protection (under the legal system). Jehovah's Witnesses refuse military service and are discouraged from voting in elections. Abortion is regarded as murder, and IVF treatment is unacceptable as it involves the destruction of some embryos. Smoking, drinking alcohol, chewing betel nut, and taking other drugs for pleasure are not acceptable. Adherents are not strictly vegetarian but will only eat meat occasionally. They believe that God's intervention at the end of the world is imminent and may become upset at the prospect of dying before this event.

Christian Scientists

do not rely on conventional medicine but hold that illness and injury can be healed through prayer. The Church respects the work of the medical profession and does not forbid the use of medicine by its members, but many Christian Scientists prefer to rely on prayer. Those who choose to undergo medical treatment for a specific problem normally give up Christian Science treatment for theperiod of treatment. This is because one treatment approaches healing from a material and the other from a spiritual perspective, and the approaches areconsidered to be incompatible. Christian Scientists accept the use of material aids, such as lenses for vision correction, splints for broken bones, and dental services.


are members of a sect - the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints - who follow a nontraditional pattern of Christianity. They have no clergy and reject infant baptism. Mormons prefer to bury their dead rather than cremate them. They oppose abortion, the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, tea, coffee, and the use of illicit drugs and are primarily vegetarian. They fast each month (on the first Sunday) by going without food and drink for two consecutive meals. Some Mormons wear a sacred undergarment, which is only removed for hygiene and medical treatments and must be treated with great respect.


, whose followers are called Muslims, hold that there is one God - Allah - whose prophet is Mohammed. The most important Muslim practices are the Five Pillars of Islam, which are incumbent on all Muslims. They are: • shahadah - reciting the Muslim profession of faith• salat - reciting ritual prayers five times each day, facing towards Meccazakat - paying alms to help the poor and the needy• sawm - fasting during the month of Ramadan• hajj - a pilgrimage to Mecca that must be made at least once in a Muslim's lifetimeA copy of the Qur'an (Koran) should be available for Muslim patients. They may use a mat to pray and will need to know the direction of east so that they can pray towards Mecca.

Certain foods are prohibited, including pork and its by-products, blood, and the flesh of animals that have died without being ritually slaughtered and fully bled. Although Muslims fast during other times of the year, Ramadan is the only time when fasting during daylight hours is obligatory for every able-bodied adult Muslim. The rules for fasting and praying may be relaxed for ill people, the elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and those with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes. Insulin treatment for diabetics who wish to fast may need to be adjusted during Ramadan. Forbidden food and medicines are termed haraam; acceptable foods and medicines are described as halal. There may be issues of compliance if patients find that they have been prescribed life-saving but haraam medications (these may contain pork products, such as gelatine). Alcohol is forbidden.

Circumcision is not compulsory in Islam but it is an important ritual aimed at improving cleanliness. It is therefore strongly encouraged. Suicide and euthanasia are explicitly forbidden. Muslims regard abortion as wrong and forbidden but may allow it if continuing the pregnancy would put the mother's life in real danger.

Niqab refers to the piece of cloth that is worn by Muslim women to cover the face; women who wear it usually also cover their hands. Some Muslim women wear fullbody garments that only expose their eyes; some cover every part of the body except their face and hands. Some believe that only their hair and/or their cleavage should be covered, while others do not observe any special dress rules. Many Muslims consider that it is not permitted to touch an adult person of the opposite sex other than one's spouse. This means that some Muslim women may refuse to be examined by a male member of the medical staff, especially if no other females are present.

Muslims treat the dead body with gentleness and respect. The body is cleaned, scented, and covered with a clean cloth for burial, which should be performed - by Muslims - as soon as possible after death. Cremation is forbidden. Wherever possible, burial should take place within 24 hours of death.


holds that there is one God, who appointed the Jews to be his chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behaviour to the world. Orthodox Jews require strictly kosher food, i.e. food prepared according to Jewish dietary laws. Some hospitals provide both a regular kosher and a strictly kosher diet. It must be served in the original container, unopened if possible, so that the patient cansee the hecksher (seal of reliability). Pork and shellfish are forbidden, as is any food that has come into contact with prohibited food or the utensils used to cook or serve prohibited food. All meat must be killed in the approved way (shechita), and meat and milk must not be consumed at the same meal (meat must not be served in a cream sauce or milky drinks served after a meat meal). If Jewish patients are fasting, food needs to be available before sunrise and after sunset. The pork restriction may have implications for diabetes management: nonporcine insulin will be required. Orthodox Jewish men always wear a skullcap (a kippah or yarmulke). Every week religious Jews observe the Sabbath (or Shabbat), which lasts from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, and keep its laws and customs. Male patients will need to pray. Orthodox patients are forbidden to use or touch electrical appliances (such as light switches) or to carry anything during Shabbat. When dealing with patients of the opposite sex, avoid touching or other contact unless medically necessary. Women prefer to keep their bodies and limbs completely covered.

Circumcision for male babies shortly after birth is a religious and cultural practice that is considered to be fundamental to Judaism. However, not all Jews regard circumcision as an absolute requirement. All forms of contraception are permitted in Judaism in appropriate circumstances. Jewish law does not forbid abortion but does not permit it on demand; because the mother's life takes precedence over the life of the fetus, abortion may be performed to save the life of the mother. Jewish law forbids suicide and active euthanasia. Although organ donation is allowed in order to save lives, Orthodox Jews do not permit it.

Dying patients should not be left alone and their relatives may wish to stay. After death, the body should be touched as little as possible: it is traditionally regarded as sacred and should not be damaged in any way. Orthodox Jews do not permit post mortems unless required by law. Relatives may wish to keep vigil over the body. If death happens during the Sabbath, the body should be left and burial should take place within 24 hours if possible.


is a religious tradition that originated in the Indian subcontinent. It is a diverse and ancient religion in which a variety of deities are worshipped in temples and the home. Of central importance is the belief in reincarnation, resulting in a profound respect for all forms of life. Most Hindus are vegetarians (those who do eat meat abstain from beef and pork) and many avoid dairy products. Onions and garlic are avoided by many Hindus, as is alcohol. Fasts take place at various prescribed times. The cow is considered to be sacred, which may have implications in the treatment of diabetics (nonbovine/nonporcine insulin should be used). Hinduism is generally opposed to abortion except when it is necessary to save the mother's life. Cleanliness and modesty are features of the religion. Decisions about organ donation and transplantation are left to individuals to make, but there are many references in Hindu scriptures that support the concept.


believe that God is one, the ultimate and eternal guru who provides enlightenment and understanding for the disciple who sets his or her heart on finding him and serving him. Male Sikhs are distinguished by their adoption of the five ks:• kesh (uncut hair)• kangha (the comb that is used to keep hair clean)• kara (a metal bangle)• kaccha (knee-length underwear)• kirpan (a dagger)There are no strict dietary requirements but many Sikhs are vegetarians or avoid beef. Those who eat meat should not eat halal meat (meat killed according to Muslim law). Sikhs believe in reincarnation and therefore death may not be perceived as threatening or frightening. Their passing may be supported by readings from the holy texts and the attendance of family and friends. After death, religious symbols should not be removed from the body and the family should be asked about last offices.


is based on the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha (the Buddha) in the 6th century BC and focuses on personal spiritual development. Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods or adhere to a fixed set of doctrines. Traditional Buddhists reject abortion because it involves the deliberate destruction of a life; however, they may be willing to review this belief if abortion appears to be the lesser evil in the circumstances. In general, Buddhism prohibits the eating of all meat, because the killing of animals violates the First Moral Precept and because meat is considered an intoxicant to the body, which violates the Fifth Moral Precept. Alcohol is likewise avoided.


accept Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia, as the living God incarnate. Many adhere to the dietary prohibitions in the Old Testament and will not eat pork or shellfish. Others are vegans or strict vegetarians and avoid any foods containing artificial additives. Some Rastafarians also reject synthetic or extracted drugs, insisting on purely natural remedies.


views updated May 21 2018


ETHNONYMS: Dreadlocks, Dreads, Nati Dread, Rastafari, Rastas


Identification. Rastafarianism is a Black-nationalist religious movement; founded in Jamaica, which affirms that the late emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is the returned messiah, Jesus Christ; that God is Black; and that like the children of Israel, all people of African descent in Jamaica and throughout the Americas, live in enforced exile. Repatriation to the ancestral home will bring redemption and freedom from the system of White oppression, which Rastafari identify as "Babylon." The majority of Rastas are highly visible owing to their matted hair, or dreadlocks, which they hold to be sacred and which they sometimes cover under woolen caps colored red, gold, and green (representing blood, gold, and land). They regard the herb ganja (Cannabis sativa ) as a special gift of Godfirst found on the grave of King Solomonand smoke it as part of their sacred ritual discussion, using a hookah, or "chalice."

Location. Although it maintains its highest concentration of adherents in Jamaica, Rastafarianism has spread to all islands of the Caribbean and to Black populations throughout the hemisphere and in Europe. Rastafarians are also found in many African countries, including South Africa, and in Australia and New Zealand. It would appear, however, that the belief in Haile Selassie is not as pronounced in countries outside Jamaica, although the focus on an African identity remains.

Demography. There are no reliable estimates of the number of Rastafarians in Jamaica or elsewhere. Official Jamaican censuses so far do not recognize Rastafari as a legitimate religion. Even if they did, however, the results would still be uncertain, owing to Rastafari hostility toward cooperation with Babylon. Nevertheless, rough estimates put adherents in Jamaica at between seventy thousand and a hundred thousand, or 3 percent to 4 percent of the population.

Linguistic Affiliation. Dread talk, an argot of neologisms, homonyms, and inversions, is used to express certain basic philosophical concepts, the most prominent example being the use of the pronomial I to express one-ness and divine immanence.

History and Cultural Relations

The Rastafari movement began shortly after the coronation, in November 1930, of Ras (Prince) Tafari Makonnen as Emperor Haile Selassie. Claiming descent from King Solomon of Jerusalem and the Queen of Sheba, Selassie took the imperial titles "King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah," which a few Jamaicans saw as proof that the messiah had returned to redeem the Black race. The new doctrine, however, has to be understood against the background of Garveyism, which focused on a positive Black self-image and Black ethnicity and thus predisposed early adherents to interpret the coronation event the way they did. The doctrine appealed mainly to Jamaica's urban poorthe rural migrants and the unemployed living in the slums of Kingston. Relations with the state, which were at all times generally badRastafarians were subject to arbitrary victimization and harassmentreached their lowest ebb in 1960, when Claudius Henry and a small group of his followers were cited for treason. Out of that crisis came a study by a team of university scholars and an unofficial government mission to investigate the possibility of migrations to several African countries; both activities contributed to a more positive evaluation of the Rastafari. A state visit by Emperor Haile Selassie himself in 1966 also served to enhance the legitimacy of the movement. By the end of the 1960s, nearly all the major popular artistes were Dreadlocks, and by 1975 the majority of urban youths and a growing section of the middle classes were either adherents or sympathizers. During this period, reggae artistes became, through their recordings and tours, the main missionaries of the Rastafari movement in other parts of the Caribbean and Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, where the cult provided the descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean with a sense of Black identity.

Sociopolitical Organization

Organizational Structure. As a whole, Rastafarianism is an acephalous religious movement, resistant to centralization and control. Most Dreadlocks belong to the House of Nyabinghi, a quasi group led by elders whose status derives from a combination of age, experience in the faith, and oral skills. The affairs of the house are run democratically, and all, including elders, are subject to the challenge of every Dread. Other Dreadlocks belong to one of two groups organized around a charismatic leader: the Twelve Tribes of Israel, led by Prophet Gad; and the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress, or Bobo, led by Prince Emmanuel. The Bobo are the only Rastafarians who physically separate themselves by living in a commune. They also distinguish themselves from other Dreadlocks by wearing a white or black turban.

Political Organization. Rastafarians eschew involvement in local politics, although since the mid-1960s there have been isolated examples of individual Rastafarians who have sought to mobilize a Rastafari vote in Jamaica, the better, so they argue, to bring about repatriation. On a number of Caribbean islands, however, Rastafarians have identified with political movements against the established political order. Rastafarians are proud of the tradition of resistance that has attended the rise and spread of their movement; in their view, resistance is the continuation of struggles against slavery. One of the founders, Leonard Howell, was imprisoned for preaching sedition; others were imprisoned for defiance of colonial authority. Today the Rastafari critique of society finds symbolic expression in dreadlocks, the Babylon metaphor, the use of ganja, and adoption of an African or Ethiopian identity. In Jamaica Rastafarians were among the foremost local supporters of the antiapartheid movement of South Africa.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Rastafarians believe in the existence of one supernatural spirit, whom they call Jah and associate with Haile Selassie. They hold that Jah exists in every Rastafarian, who thereby shares in his divinity. They eschew salt, pork, and processed foods, a practice called ital, and many exclude all meats and fish from their diet. Rituals are of two kinds, the reasoning and the binghi. In the reasoning, small groups gather to take part in informal discussions of matters of faith, and the ceremonial smoking of the sacred herb. Participants sit in a circle, uncover their heads, pray before the chalice is lit and passed in a clockwise direction. The binghi is a celebration of a liturgical event that lasts several days; it involves reasoning by day and drumming, singing, and dancing by night. Binghis are held to commemorate the coronation of Haile Selassie, Ethiopian Christmas, Haile Selassie's birthday, and Haile Selassie's state visit to Jamaica.

Religious Practitioners. Unlike other forms of religion in Jamaica, Rastafarianism does not have a priesthood.

Arts. Rastafarians have been closely associated with Jamaican folk and popular art, particularly reggae music, which rose to prominence nationally in the 1960s and internationally in the 1970s, and intuitive painting and wood carving.

Death and Afterlife. In keeping with a philosophy that celebrates life, many Rastafarians deny the possibility of death, except as a consequence of sin, and believe that the doctrine of the existence of, and reward in, the afterlife is the White man's teaching aimed at deflecting Blacks from the pursuit of their just rewards in this life.

See alsoJamaicans.


Barrett, Leonard (1977). The Rastafarians: The Dreadlocks of Jamaica. London: Heinemann.

Nettleford, Rex (1972). Identity, Race, and Protest in Jamaica. New York: William Morrow. Originally published as Mirror, Mirror: Identity, Race, and Protest in Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Collins Sangster, 1970.

Owens, Joseph (1976). Dread: The Rastafarians of Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Sangster.



views updated Jun 11 2018


Rastafari began in Jamaica in the 1930s, but most scholarship recognizes its connection to earlier Jamaican folk religions, such as Revival. Rastafari started as a poor person's religion, drawing its membership from young unemployed men migrating from Jamaica's rural to urban areas. Because of their class origins and the persecution they faced, Rastafari developed a distrust for instituted authorities and the status quo (which it frequently refers to as "Babylon"). Though not necessarily an activist movement, Rastafari continues to have a strong concern for the oppressed and an acute awareness of racial and status inequality. At the same time, the movement is typically patriarchal and has been criticized for its treatment of women.

Rastafari emerged from at least four relatively separate strands associated with early founders Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley, and Robert Hinds. These leaders all shared an association with Marcus Garvey's Pan-Africanist movement and a concern with Ethiopia, a traditional symbol of African power and respectability that became even more important after the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930. Experiences of marginalization, migration, and migratory labor further shaped the early worldviews of these founders, three of whom are known to have spent time outside of Jamaica.

In its early years, Rastafari's distinctive belief was in Haile Selassie as God ("Jah"). Through the 1960s, Rastafarianism developed other traits and practices for which it became well known and somewhat notorious. These include discussion ("reasoning") as a central ritual, ritual use of marijuana, wearing of matted hair ("dreadlocks"), bans on taking sharp objects to the body (e.g., no shaving or piercing), food proscriptions (e.g., no pork, alcohol, or things with blood in them), avoidance of the dead, development of an argot, and belief in repatriation to Africa. Several of these practices are rooted in Rastafari interpretations of Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, which continue to be authoritative but are subject to idiosyncratic interpretations in the "reasoning" process.

More recently, popular culture has been instrumental in the development and spread of Rastafari. Reggae music made Rastafari more acceptable to mainstream society; by the late 1960s Rastafari had moved beyond its lower-class origins and was attracting a new membership, especially on college campuses and in West Indian diaspora communities. Rastafari has spread to the United States primarily through migration and music.

Rastafari beliefs continue to evolve in new ways. The focus on Haile Selassie, still central in some groups, was weakened following the Ethiopian revolution of 1974 and Selassie's death in 1975. Now a primary concern is with recognition and liberation of the "I," a Rastafari notion of the self that is explicitly linked with a divine "I." The concern with repatriation to Ethiopia ("Zion") has also been mitigated and now is heard in general calls for a just world ("Zion"). Concern about race, though still present, is also less of a focus in contemporary Rastafari. Finally, the importance and visibility of women in Rastafari is increasing. This trend, combined with the increasing globalization of the movement, will decisively impact on how the movement develops in coming years.

See alsoAfrican-American Religions; Ritual.


Barrett, Leonard E., Sr. The Rastafarians. Rev. ed. 1988.

Chevannes, Barry. Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. 1994.

Chevannes, Barry, ed. Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews. 1998.

Hepner, Randal. "Movement of Jah People: Race, Class, and Religion Among the Rastafari of Jamaica and New York City." Ph.D. diss., New School for Social Research, New York. 1998.

Murrell, Spencer, and McFarlane, eds. Chanting DownBabylon: The Rastafari Reader. 1998.

Richard C. Salter


views updated Jun 27 2018

Rastafarians. Members of a messianic religio-political movement originating among unemployed, landless, young men in Jamaica in the 1930s. It began under the influence of the Jamaican black nationalist, Marcus Garvey, and his ‘Back to Africa’ movement, which identified blacks as the true biblical Jews, superior to whites, and surviving either in Ethiopia (see ETHIOPIANISM) or in Jamaica, where they had been exiled as a divine punishment. When Crown Prince (Ras) Tafari was crowned Ethiopian emperor in 1930 as Haile Sellasie, this was a sign that the sentence was completed, the millennium was at hand, and the return to Africa would begin. In 1955 he gave 500 acres of land for black people wishing to return, but in 1970 there were only twenty people living there. His dethronement in 1974 and death in 1975 had little effect on Rastafarians. Deputations touring Africa in the early 1960s, seeking acceptance, were unsuccessful, and more recent tendencies have been to find ‘Africa’ in Jamaica and replace repatriation by rehabilitation.

The movement first became visible in the 1930s when members formed peaceful communities living on the Kingston garbage dumps, and established distinctive modes of language, music, dress, ‘dreadlock’ hair forms, crafts, and lifestyle. European culture and Christian churches were rejected as ‘Babylon’. They made their own selections from the Bible, eliminating the distortions introduced by its white translators, and adopted ganja (marijuana) as the sacramental herb for healing and meditation experiences. By the 1970s middle-class youth had begun to identify with the Rastafarian ideology and with the reggae music that carried this around the world, especially through singer Bob Marley and his band. Despite its wider influence, it is essentially a Jamaican movement.


views updated May 21 2018

Ras·ta·far·i·an / ˌrastəˈfe(ə)rēən; -ˈfärēən/ • adj. of or relating to a religious movement of Jamaican origin holding that blacks are the chosen people, that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was the Messiah, and that black people will eventually return to their Africa.• n. a member of the Rastafarian religious movement. Rastafarians have distinctive codes of behavior and dress, including the wearing of dreadlocks, the smoking of cannabis, the rejection of Western medicine, and adherence to a diet that excludes pork, shellfish, and milk.DERIVATIVES: Ras·ta·far·i·an·ism n.


views updated May 18 2018

Rastafarian a member of a religious movement of Jamaican origin holding that blacks are the chosen people. Rastafarians believe that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (who from 1916–30 was known as Ras Tafari) was the Messiah, and that black people will eventually return to their African homeland. They have distinctive codes of behaviour and dress, including the wearing of dreadlocks.


views updated May 23 2018

Rastafarianism West Indian religion focusing on veneration of Ras Tafari (Haile Selassie I). The movement was started in Jamaica in the 1920s by Marcus Garvey. He advocated a return to Africa in order to overcome black oppression. Followers of Rastafarianism follow a strict diet, and are forbidden various foods including pork, milk and coffee.