The Rastafari movement or Rasta, more of an ideology than a religion, evolved out of the poverty and despair in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica in the 1920’s and 1930’s. With no apparent way out of their precarious situation within grasp, the slum dwellers were inspired by the ‘Back to Africa’ philosophy of Marcus Garvey – his espousal of black self-empowerment fed off the belief that local culture was being destroyed by white imperialism. Garvey firmly believed that those blacks who had been forcibly removed from African soil, originally as slaves, should once again ‘Look to Africa’ and their ancestors for a solution to their plight.
Garvey declared that this ‘promised land’ of Africa would be “where a black man shall be crowned king, for the day of deliverance is at hand!” The people of Jamaica recalled Garvey’s prophecy when, in 1930, a black African became emperor of Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie I, with the pre-regnal given name of Ras Tafari, declared himself to be a direct descendant of King David. Jamaicans, with Garvey’s prophecy still ringing in their ears, labelled themselves as Rastafarians, hailing Haile Selassie I as the final Emperor of Ethiopia and another incarnation of the Christian God called Jah or Jah Rastafari.
Early Rastafarians were radical and hostile to white people and viewed their culture as “Babylon” – tainted, selfish and avaricious. Despite moderation in the movement’s beliefs in later years, particularly with the advent of the Twelve Tribes of Israel movement of the prophet Gad, whites can never become Rasta leaders. The Rasta movement was rocked by the death of Haile Selassie in 1974, many of the elderly folk believing his death to have been some form of white conspiracy. Oddly enough Rasta culture not only survived this critical point but emerged as a stronger force than previously. Jamaican music, with Bob Marley at the fore front, was used to both express the joy of Jah and highlight the many injustices the people of Jamaica had to endure.
Many Rastafarians are instantly recognized by their long dreadlocks which represent Rastafarian manhood or the ‘Lion of Judah’. Followers of the movement generally speak their own form of English and believe all men are equal – symbolized by their saying ‘I and I’ instead of ‘you and I’! Their diet is principally vegetarian, consisting of I-tal food (without the addition of any chemicals and preservatives). The use of alcohol is totally forbidden whilst coffee and salt are frowned upon.
Certainly one of the most controversial aspects of the Rasta movement is the belief in the spiritual use of cannabis or ‘ganga’ – Rastas believe they become one with Jah when they smoke their strong strain of Indian hemp. In 1993 a group of Rastas banded together to form a community in the Nekkies area in Knysna – this Rasta community has blossomed over the years and Judah Square in Nekkies has evolved into the administrative Rasta capital of the Southern Cape.
The Square hosts the annual “Rasta Earth Festival” that lures Rastas from far and wide to Knysna. The 2011 festival kicks off on Friday 22 July and runs through until Monday 1 August. This showcase of Rasta ideology and culture includes 7 days of Nyahbingh (church services), a 3 day Music Splash (arts, crafts and music) and closes with the Emancipation Celebration (celebrating the abolition of slavery).
For a fascinating insight into the little understood Rasta world, Bamboo guests should not miss out on this rare opportunity to see and enjoy the Rasta philosophy and culture. Visit http://rastaearthfestival.co.za