Rastafarians have always been at the frontline of social changes in Jamaica, as the voice of the under privileged and under represented. They have molded the identity of Jamaica worldwide, as the images many have of Jamaica is that of the colors “Red, Green and Gold”, dreadlocks and Bob Marley. The future of the Rastafarian looks mixed based on the developments in the past few years.
Recently Jamaican courts have recognized the rights of Rastafarians in prison to practice their religion within the limits of the law.
In February 2003, the Constitutional Courts of Jamaica recognized Rastafari as a religion for the very first time in an out-of-court agreement. This out-of-court agreement states under the Constitution of Jamaica, that Rastafarian prisoners are entitled to have their church conduct acts of worship with them.
Also included in this agreement was the stipulation that the recently formed Church of Haile Selassie I has the right to have access to inmates and conduct acts of worship with them. The agreement gives Rastafarian prisoners the same rights afforded to inmates of other religions. The agreement does not allow the use of marijuana as a sacrament.
The Rastafarians in Jamaica at the turn of the century, have gained a major new ally in Government. Jamaica’s first Public Defender Howard Hamilton, Q.C., since being in office in 2000 has been an advocate of the rights of Rastafarians and the right for them to be recognized as a religion.
There are also some divisions on the worship of H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I as the Messiah within the three main Rastafarian sects. This was evident in a1997 interview on IRIE FM in Jamaica when, Vernon ‘Prophet Gad’ Carrington, founder of the premiere Rastafarian sect, the Twelve Tribes, declared that they are shifting their faith to Jesus Christ.
Vernon is quoted as saying. “And even after His Majesty say, him saved not by the man character but by the blood of Jesus Christ.”
In recent years many of the more prominent Rastafarians have left Rastafari and now follow Orthodox Christianity. Those include music promoter Tommy Cowan, I-Three singer that backed up Bob Marley and the Wailers, Judith Mowatt and singer Carlene Davis.
There are also many disputes between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Rastafarians. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was commissioned by Emperor Haile Selassie after his visit to Jamaica. The goal was to convert Rastafarians to Orthodox Christianity and redirect them from their worship of Emperor Haile Selassie. The Rastafarians and the church have had some major differences, including their refusal to baptize in the name of Emperor Haile Selassie. This led to the formation of a church by Rastafarians called the Church of Haile Selassie. Many Rastafarians still remain members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
The first Rastafarian political party was launched in October 2001 by Ras Astor Black. His campaign platform was to rid Jamaica of “economic and political terrorists” and abolish the current constitution and colonial monarchy. The goal was to create a government with greater allegiance to Africa and Jamaica. Even though his candidacy for the North West St. James Constituency fell short, it paved the way for the next Rastafarian political party. In 2002 members from the Church of Haile Selassie formed the Imperial Ethiopian World Federation Incorporated Political Party IEWFIPP. Rastafarians face an uphill battle in politics, as the majority of their most likely support base, the Rastafarian community, does not vote. Being active in politics to most Rastafarians is seen as accepting Babylon. The formation of political parties has been criticized by some in the Rastafarian communities. One of the most well-known Rastafarian to oppose this was entertainer Beenie Man. He, however, has been criticized by others as not being a true Rastafarian because of statements he made in support of another Jamaican political party.
Rastafarians held their first International conference on July 17th, 2003 to discuss issues affecting the group and to unite.
Rastafarians has always been at the forefront of the legalization of marijuana. This is evident in the many songs by Rastafarian reggae artists. The have always pushed to show the benefits for medicinal uses, which is now being discovered by medical scientist worldwide. Many countries around the world have either decentralized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes or have cases in court in favor of such legislation.
There are also new challenges faced by Rastafarians as a group of Christian apologists in Jamaica led by Dr. Clinton Chisholm, who have been challenging many of the teaching of Rastafarians as it relates to the Bible and Emperor Haile Selassie. With the evidence now found in archeology on the dark skin color of many of the figures in Bible, many of these Christian apologists have been appealing to Rastafarians on the basis that there is no need to create a black Messiah and they should only worship the God worshipped by Emperor Haile Selassie.
The main goal of Rastafarians when it was formed was to be repatriated to Ethiopia. The population of Rastafarians repatriates who did move to Ethiopia has dwindle from over 2200 to just 250. As the times changed, Rastafarians have realized that this goal or repatriation is unrealistic and have begun to assimilate into Jamaican society. If recent actions are any indications of what is to come the trend of assimilation will continue.
Once Bob Marley died, the voice that brought the Rastafarian religion to the world was gone. The search for a leader to be the voice of the Rastafarians continues.