Source – blackstarnews.ca
– “Most adherents see Haile Selassie I as Jah or Jah Rastafari, an incarnation of God the Father, the Second Advent of Christ “the Anointed One”, i.e. the Second Coming of Jesus Christ the King to Earth“
Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, Bob Marley, and the Origins of Rastafari
Rastafari is an Abrahamic religion which developed in Jamaica in the 1930s, following the coronation of Haile Selassie I as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. Its adherents worship Haile Selassie I, emperor of Ethiopia (ruled 1930�1974), much in the same way as Jesus in his Second Advent, or as God the Father. Members of the Rastafari way of life are known as Rastafari, Rastas, Rastafarians, or simply Ras. Rastafari are also known by their official church titles, such as Elder or High Priest. The way of life is sometimes referred to as “Rastafarianism”, but this term is considered offensive by most Rastafari, who, being critical of “isms” (which they see as a typical part of Babylon culture), dislike being labelled as an “ism” themselves.
The name Rastafari is taken from Ras Tafari, the title (Ras) and first name (Tafari Makonnen) of Haile Selassie I before his coronation. In Amharic, Ras, literally “head”, is an Ethiopian title equivalent to prince or chief, while the personal given name T�f�ri (teferi) means one who is revered. Jah is a Biblical name of God, from a shortened form of Jahweh or Jehovah found in Psalms 68:4 in the King James Version of the Bible. Most adherents see Haile Selassie I as Jah or Jah Rastafari, an incarnation of God the Father, the Second Advent of Christ “the Anointed One”, i.e. the Second Coming of Jesus Christ the King to Earth.
Many elements of Rastafari reflect its origins in Jamaica and Ethiopia. Ethiopian Christianity traces its roots to the Church of Alexandria, founded by St Mark, and its 5th-century continuation in the Coptic Church of Alexandria. Rastafari holds many Christian beliefs like the existence of a triune God, called Jah, who had sent his divine incarnate son to Earth in the form of Jesus (Yeshua) and made himself manifest as the divine person of Haile Selassie I. Rastafari accept much of the Bible, although they believe that its message and interpretation have been corrupted.
The Rastafari way of life encompasses the spiritual use of cannabis and the rejection of the degenerate society of materialism, oppression, and sensual pleasures, called Babylon. It proclaims Zion, in reference to Ethiopia, as the original birthplace of humankind, and from the beginning of the way of life calls for repatriation to Zion, the Promised Land and Heaven on Earth. This can mean literally moving to Ethiopia but also refers to mentally and emotionally repatriating before the physical. Some Rastafari also embrace various Afrocentric and Pan-African social and political aspirations.
Some Rastafari do not claim any sect or denomination, and thus encourage one another to find faith and inspiration within themselves, although some do identify strongly with one of the “Mansions of Rastafari”�the 3 most prominent of these being the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
By 1997 there were, according to one estimate, around one million Rastafari worldwide. In the 2011 Jamaican census, 29,026 individuals identified themselves as Rastafari. Other sources estimated that in the 2000s they formed “about 5% of the population” of Jamaica, or conjectured that “there are perhaps as many as 100,000 Rastafari in Jamaica”.
Bob Marley the Devoted Rastafarian
“Facts an Facts, an tings an tings; dem’s all a lotta fuckin bullshit. Hear me! Dere is no truth but de one truth, an that is de truth of Jah Rastafari” Bob Marley, 1978
Without Rastafari There is No Bob Marley?
To say that Bob Marley is the greatest reggae artist ever produced by Jamaica is a widely debated statement even among admirers of Bob Marley, however no one dares deny the fact that without Rastafari there is no Bob Marley. The dreadlocks and the philosophy are all due to the overwhelming and life changing philosophy of Rastafari.
In order to understand the revolutionary thrust of the music of Bob Marley there has to be an understanding of the time in which Bob Marley emerges, in particular the local and international influences that led to the turn to Rastafari. In addition there must be a discussion of the way that Rastafari transforms the musician into both an entertainer and prophet.
Bob Marley Devoted Rastafarian
It is important to first outline some of the important philosophical and historical elements of the Rastafarian.
It is extremely important to recognize the fact that Rastafari emerges out of the depressed social situation in which black people found themselves in the 1920s and 30s. It was during that period of the great depression that the world saw the rise of the greatest organizer of people the world, the late great Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
Garvey formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the People’s Political Party in Jamaica. Garvey laid the basis for the reconstruction of the African nation through the construction of a race-first political philosophy.
Important Elements in Garvey’s Philosophy
An important element in Garvey’s philosophy was racial sovereignty. Garvey believed that in order for black people to achieve a sense of self-pride they had to re-present themselves. A major aspect of the re-thinking of black people had to involve in many ways religion.
Garvey had recognized that many of the religions black people were practicing were un-healthy and Garvey looked at issues such as the Hamitic myth. The religious element of Garvey’s movement naturally led to black people creating their own indigenous forms of worship.
It is out of Garvey’s philosophy that thinkers such as Leonard Howell, Ferdinand Ricketts and Joseph Hibbert emerge to create new religious and cultural movements.
It is based on the writings of Marcus Garvey that inspires the emergence of Rastafari.
In particular the repeated statements by Garvey to “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near” were seen as prophetic when Haile Selassie was crowned in 1930.
Haile Selassie’s title was Ras Tafari in addition to Lord of Lords, King of Kings and Conquering Lion of Judah all led to the belief that he was the reincarnation of god.
Leonard Howell was crucial in the development of Rastafarian movement in Jamaica. Howell had started to build the movement in St.Thomas and after a brief stint in prison came out and formed the Ethiopian Salvation Society.
It is through the Ethiopian Salvation Society that Howell able to purchase Pinnacle Estate in the 1940s in order to establish a settlement for the Rastafarian brethren.
The establishment of the settlement was linked with the view that black people needed to have economic self-reliance and it also symbolized a detachment from colonial Jamaica.
The aim of Pinnacle Estate in many ways was to develop a state within a state, an attempt to establish a zone of sovereignty for the black man.
From these humble roots led to the development of the Ethiopian World Federation under the leadership of Malaku Bayer and this led to a host of groups emerging on the scene.
Some of these groups were Ethiopian Youth Cosmic Faith, the African Cultural League, United Afro-West Indian Brotherhood, Ethiopian Coptic Church and the Brotherhood Solidarity of United Ethiopians.
It is during this period that the philosophy of Rastafari starts to become crafted and refined. Intellectuals such as Dr.L.F.C Mantle were important in locating the importance of Ethiopia in the bible and with this came the claim by Mantle and Howell that black people were the real chosen people.
In many ways Rastafari has been able to rediscover their connection with Africa through the same vehicle that enslaved black people.
This is a tradition that holds true in the life of Bob Marley due to his appeal to the western world he was able to use that exposure to light a fire for black people all over the world.
It is Important to Note that Rastafarian Movement was Met with Severe Social and Political Opposition in Society.
In both public ridicule and state coercion Rastafarian has suffered immense injustice. From the establishment of Pinnacle Estate the police constantly assaulted the members of the community as they were beaten and forced to serve long jail sentences.
Due to all of this opposition there developed an inner strength and resolve, which sustained all its members. It is this spirit of resistance and inner strength that Marley would develop as he personally grew within Rastafari.
Philosophy of Rastafari have been Woven Together in Song so that the Knowledge of Rastafari is Spread to all People all Over the World.
During the musical career of Bob Marley the sounds of reggae music have been playing worldwide and millions of people and the lyrics to the music have reverberated throughout the hearts and minds of listeners.
Songs such as Chant Down Babylon, Jah Live, Natty Dread, Rastaman Chant, Rastaman Vibration, and Rasta Man Live Up have been a part of a long line of work in which the philosophy of Rastafari have been beautifully woven together in song so that the knowledge of Rastafari is spread to all people all over the world.
Rex Nettleford in discussing the importance of Bob Marley to Rastafari argues that at the beginning of the 21st Century people are recognizing “that intellectual activity has to be informed by the arts of the imagination”.
Bob Marley has been able to do what many intellectuals sympathetic to Rastafari have not been able to do and that is to articulate the ideas of the Rastafarian community to the wider world.
Marley is a part of a generation of Rasta’s who sought to promote a positive image of Rastafari and fight the stereotypical notions of the Rastaman as the “Black Heart Man”.
The Historic report commissioned by Jamaica’s Premier Norman Manley during the period 1959-1960 on Rastafari saw intellectuals such as Rex Nettleford, M.G. Smith and Roy Augier going into the inner city communities, which was the domain of this excluded and ostracized section of the Jamaica.
The outcome of that project led to the famous Report on Rastafari, which sought to describe the scope and nature of the movement. It is important however to focus on the moment rather than the actual findings of the report because they speak to an attempt by members of the Rastafarian community to break ground and move beyond the scorn and reach out to rest of the society. The paranoia concerning Rastafarian at that time is seen in the fact that there were times when secretaries would run from their offices when they saw a Rastafarian approaching.
Through the natural populism of musical expression Marley has been able to break through the misunderstanding and articulate the vision of Rastafari to the wider Jamaican society and the international community. Marley has to be seen as one of the great “Communicator’s” in history.
The ability of Marley to Communicate the Ideas of Rastafari can Only be Understood by Recognizing That he Had an In-depth Understanding of Rastafari.
Marley was an important member of Twelve Tribes and gained valuable insight of Rastafari through the great Rasta elder Mortimmo Planno.
Twelve Tribes and Mortimmo Planno were important forces in the Rastafarian movement particular during the 1960s and the 1970s as they provided an important thrust in the practical application of the pan-African principles inherent in Rastafari philosophy.
This was the age of a highly intensified political atmosphere, which was founded on the belief that a new society could be built that was fashioned by the people.
Bob Marley the Revolutionary Leader
Marley became a part of that generation that believed that change was necessary in the society and sought to articulate a space that would have the most impact.
It is within this context that the music of Bob Marley is linked with the project of Rastafarian to build a new society for black people.
Thus songs such as Chant Down Babylon, Exodus, Buffalo Soldier, Redemption Song, and War (a musical rendition of Haile Selassie I Speech to the UN) appeal to the soul of the black man to ask serious questions about society and is call to action.
Marley saw himself as a revolutionary stating “Mi see myself as a revolutionary. Who don’t have no help and take no bribe from no one and fight it single-handed with music”.
Marley as a Rastaman was an extremely reflective person who constantly looked at the world and himself with the aim of making a difference and it comes through in the music, that have become as Carolyn Cooper argues the literary text of an oral tradition.
Brent Clough in discussing Marley’s work states:
“For so many people all over the world Bob’s lyrics and music began a process of self discovery, of self awareness. But equally important he offered clues and advice for each person to build a future, different from the one they expected to inherit.”
There is an extent in which Marley was able to broadcast to the world the very personal and reflective group reasonings that have become a part of the tradition of knowledge production developed by Rastafari.
The lyrics of Marley were the musical productions of years of thought developed by the Rastafarian community.
Thus Rastafari is not only a passing influence in many respects it is the defining characteristic of his life. Marley would often say to the admirers of his work “I’m not special this is Jah works and whatever I’m doing is for Jah”. The deep personal commitment that Bob felt about Rasta was only equaled by his love for creating music.
Bob Marley is Responsible for Moving Rastafari From Obscurity Into an Internationally Recognized Movement.
Bob Marley has become not only product of Rastafari but was able to become a prophet of Rastafari and place his own stamp of the movement. In many respects Marley is responsible for moving Rastafari from obscurity into an internationally recognized movement.
Marley through the music has been able to not only bring the philosophy of Rastafari to the world but was able to provide the space for new followers of Rastafari. By stressing peace and togetherness Marley was able to put forward a philosophy of humanity, which all can follow.
It’s his philosophy of humanity that must be credited with making the philosophy of Rastafari relevant to the various peoples of the world.
Was Bob Marley a Prophet of Rastafari ?
Many people will question the assertion that Marley was a prophet of Rastafari however Janet Decosmo explains the nature of Bob’s philosophy that requires that Bob be given the title of prophet.
Decosmo argues that Marley had the prophetic command to demand Justice from owner elites, spoke on the theme of exile and return. In addition the idea of tolerance, rather than judgment or condemnation, of the shortcomings of those individuals who were not part of the power structure.
Marley had the fierce hatred of injustice and temperament to guide people. Marley’s lyrics spoke to the heart of the socially depressed and were able to instill a sense of pride and strength in the face of countless challenges.
Marley not only entertained the masses but also was able to inspire the heartless and depressed using the philosophy of Rastafari as the tool. Marley has been able to subvert the dominant value structure of societies through the guise of entertainment.
One of the examples of the way that Marley used music to inspire people in particular the Rastafarian brethren is seen in the song “Rastaman Live Up”. In the song Marley beckons on his brethren to continue the struggle singing:
Rastaman Live Up.
Bongo Man don’t give up
Congo Man live up,
Bingi Don’t Give Up
Keep your culture; don’t be afraid of the vulture
Grow your dreadlocks. Don’t be afraid of the wolf pack
The lyrics speak to the need for Rastafari to maintain the struggle for cultural and political acceptance in society.
While Bob Marley has special recognition in Rastafari there are various interpretations among the Rastafari brethren over the actual place of Marley in the legion of hero’s of the movement. For many Rasta’s, Marley is the quintessential philosopher of our time, while others would dispute that claim and question the nature of the revolutionary content. For many Rasta’s Bob Marley failed to live up to the revolutionary character of the movement and believe that he became a part of the system that he sought to oppose.
While the political content of Marley’s music and life may be disputed, the basis of Marley’s recognition stems from the fact that he helped to put Rastafari on the international map.
Throughout his career never denied the fact that he was just a humble Rasta Man from Jamaica. There is a great sense of pride that Rastafari has for the fact that it was able to produce one of the greatest musicians of all time.
One of the ironies of the story of Bob Marley and Rastafari is that both have been scorned by the Jamaican population and have now become the defining characteristics of the Jamaica internationally. If you are a Jamaican there is nowhere in the world you can go where they wont ask about Bob Marley and Rastafari. This is a testament to the will and belief in self demonstrated by the vast majority of grassroots people who helped to develop the movement.