When you think about the word “Rastafarian”, you probably imagine a Jamaican man with dark skin and dreadlocks… as a matter of fact, you probably think about Bob Marley. This wouldn’t be an inappropriate association, after-all, Bob Marley is probably the most internationally recognized practitioner of Rastafari. However, not all rastas these days are from Jamaica, and there is even a small but growing population of Caucasian practitioners. No, I’m not talking about teenaged skateboarders who smoke marijuana and listen to reggae music; I’m talking about real, deeply religious, white rastas. Now, depending on how much you know about Rastafari, you’re either wondering, “How does a White person join the Rasta faith?” or you’re wondering, “What’s the big deal?”. I think it may be wise to first address the latter.
Let’s start with a little history of the religion. Rastafari is a relatively new religion, which finds it’s beginnings in the early 1930s, surrounding the coronation of Haile Selassie I as the Emperor of Ethiopia. The word “Rastafari” actually comes from his pre-coronation name: Tafari Makonnen (”Ras” is an Ethiopian title, literally translated to “head”, but more precisely equated to “Duke”).
Rastafari began when it was suggested that the coronation of Haile Selassie I as the Emperor of the only fully independent African State fulfilled Biblical prophecy. People of the Rastafari Faith believe that Haile Selassie I is God incarnate, and refer to him as HIM or His Imperial Majesty. The faith is deeply Afro centric, and maintains that Ethiopia is “Zion”. For a short period of time near it’s origin, the faith was not only afro centric, but Black supremacist. This notion of racism towards whites didn’t last very long, as Haile Selassie himself publicly condemned racism. Rastafari is also well known for the practice of smoking Ganja as the sacrament, which drives many people to wonder, are white rastas real people of faith, or are they just in it for the marijuana?
Well, there’s no question that many people are attracted to the prospect of a religion where marijuana use is not only accepted but widely encouraged. However, A person can’t just dreadlock their hair, smoke ganja, and call themselves a Rasta. Rastafari is a real faith which is earning respect in the theological world as a religion that pulls a lot of weight. It was a beacon of Hope to the poor population of Jamaica in the 1930s and has continued to minister to the under-privileged today.
It teaches solid values such as Positivity, Faith, Meditation, and “overstanding”, the Rasta word for understanding which was changed to have a more positive connotation. It warns against the potential danger of corrupt “Babylon” society, and has been instrumental in driving political change. It’s been just as influential in Jamaica as Christianity, and thanks to the Rasta influenced Reggae music of Bob Marley and other popular artists, It’s increasing in global influence.
Rastafari sounds like a fine faith, why is it so strange that a white person would want to be part of it? Bottom line is that it’s not. It may seem strange from the outside, seeing as the majority of Rastas are black. Many people would also argue that because it is an afro centric religion, white people have no place in it. Well, according to that logic, all Christians should be middle-eastern. The truth of the matter is that, in theory, even a White man could preach Afro centrism. While most white men weren’t physically “taken” from Africa, and forced into slavery, modern science fairly universally supports that all life started in Africa. Given the power of that statement, it isn’t hard to see how Africa found its place as the center of Rasta faith.
The question is though, In a faith which preaches the rejection of corrupt white culture, how are white patrons received? There seems to be conflict in the Rasta community. Many rastas are sceptical when they meet or hear of a white person who claims to be Rasta. They assume, naturally, that they come to Rasta through listening to reggae music, or worse, as a way of justifying their misuse of the sacrament. There also seems to be a fundamental distrust of white people, and historically for good reason. A true Rasta would say that all man is equal, and every body, white and black, came from Africa, so it is only natural that All people, regardless of race or colour, turn to Rastafari for the “highest truth and overstanding”.
However, the common sentiment among rastas is that whites cannot understand the “black struggle”, As they were never taken from their homeland and enslaved. But surely, anyone who really cares about the human race on the whole can appreciate the need to stop violent acts like this. After all, Rastafari itself teaches that all people are one with God, Or “Jah” as they say (Derived from jahweh of the old testament).
In modern Rastafari, especially more contemporary sects such as the Twelve Tribes, White rastas are welcomed. Anyone who believes that there needs to be a fundamental change in the way society treats the “down-pressed” and in the way man views and interacts with one another is encouraged to join the faith. Real rastas are peaceful people who understand the need for equality in the world, and so they extend that principle even to the faith itself, All men are equal in Rastafari. Some Jamaican rastas are even excited to meet white rastas, as they bring a new point of view to the reasoning sessions, and also because they stand as a symbol of whites acknowledging the wrongs of their ancestors and rejecting “Babylon”.
All in all, white Rastafarians are out there, and they’re no less devoted to Rasta than the first rastas of Jamaica. So next time you ask a white man his religion, and he tells you he is Rasta, don’t laugh, it may not be a joke.
About The Author
Tim Jenkins, is a guest writer for Myweku première online resource for the review, analysis and promotion of African Culture in its entirety.