By Wes Annac
Rastafari is a way of life that’s rooted in a few key concepts. One is that Haile Selassie, former emperor of Ethiopia, was and is an avatar of God or ‘Jah’. An avatar is basically God incarnate or a messenger of God, and Jesus is a popular example. Another common theme in Rastafari is rebellion against the persecution of lower class citizens by a corrupt ruling elite, commonly known by Rastas as Babylon.
Rastas praise Selassie and rebel against Babylon’s oppression (or ‘downpression’, as many of them call it), and they hope to one day witness Jah’s judgment, which they believe will bring about justice and signal the beginning of a new world.
Reggae pioneer Peter Tosh famously sang, “downpresser man, where you gonna run to? All along that day…” He was referencing judgement day, a day where Jah’s judgment of man finally brings justice.
But Rastas aren’t just waiting around for justice. They’re socially active, and many of them fight for the rights of suffering people all over the world. Rastas in the sixties and seventies were decidedly more active than the hippies in the west, and they weren’t as distracted by the ‘sex, drugs and rock n roll’ culture in which a lot of hippies were immersed.
A lot of Rastas do embrace music and herb (marijuana), both of which we’ll discuss later, but they never fell for the culturally engineered subversions that some hippies did in the seventies. They’re focused more on reclaiming their rights and being one with Jah, and they aren’t interested in the creature comforts that distract people from living a life of purpose.
Here, I’d like to share five things we can appreciate about Rastafari. It’s one of the most interesting and liberating religious movements out there, and it’s partially responsible for the widespread awakening taking place. Rasta music has definitely awakened and inspired me, and music will be our first topic.
- Rastafari inspires conscious, uplifting music
Most Rastas musicians don’t take music lightly, and to them, it isn’t just something fun that can make people feel good. It is and it can, which is one reason they play it, but it has a more meaningful purpose. It’s a tool to raise awareness and fight corruption while uplifting people, and while Rastas aren’t the only activists who use music to achieve their goals, the majority of Rasta musicians use their art to wake people up.
Beyond the fact that they can use wealth and fame for humanitarian purposes, they aren’t concerned with anything vain or ego-centric. They can help those who are suffering if they have extra money to give, and they can raise the world’s awareness of issues that matter with a higher level of fame. It isn’t about feeding the ego, but about waking up a world of sleepy people.
They see music, writing and other forms of creativity as the perfect way to do this, and the moving, uplifting melodies that come with the socially and spiritually conscious lyrics inspire not only them, but people of various faiths and cultures.
- Rastas are passionate about healthful eating
Most people probably don’t know that Rastas only eat healthy, natural foods that come organically from the earth. In their eyes, artificial food and food that’s grown with pesticides have been tainted by Babylon to create disease (from which our corrupt medical system profits), so they stay away from tainted food while letting the earth, and thus Jah, feed them.
Most Rastas also abstain from meat for obvious reasons, though some consume fish. Reggae legend and pioneer Bob Marley apparently drank fish tea, and his son Ziggy has mentioned in interviews that he eats fish. Beyond fish, Rastas abstain from meat, salt and other things most westerners probably couldn’t live without, and in their place is a variety of fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains (among other healthy things).
- Rastafari and herb smoking
Arguably the most recognized aspect of Rastafari is the spiritual and ceremonial use of marijuana, which is often called ‘ganja’ or ‘herb’. Like music, Rasta’s don’t take ganja smoking lightly. It isn’t just an intoxicant to them – it’s something that connects them with Jah and gives them divine visions. The consume the herb for meditative purposes – sometimes by smoking it and sometimes by drinking it in tea – and it gives them strength, expands their consciousness and enhances their creativity.
People like Bob Marley might only be known for using cannabis, but they’ve also raised awareness, strived for social justice and genuinely tried to make the world a better place. They’ve been inspired by the herb to share their truth with the world, and their herb smoking is about a lot more than getting high. It has a purpose, and maybe it’s a coincidence that some of the most inspirational, innovative world changers frequently use(d) marijuana.
The Rastas seem to be doing something right, because they have all of the ingredients for a worldwide spiritual revolution. Society might change its stance on cannabis in time, but for now, its users who’ve discovered its true purpose will continue to be stereotyped and persecuted.
- Rastas believe heaven is on earth
Unlike other spiritual communities, Rastas aren’t waiting to be taken to ‘heaven’ or a higher state of consciousness. They meditate so they can enhance their connection with Jah, but their version of the ‘end times’ doesn’t have as much to do with ascending into a heavenly higher dimension as other belief systems.
Their savior has already returned and passed on, and their salvation will come in the form of a repatriation to Africa. Africa is an important place for most Rastas, and they strive to see the day when Babylon can no longer stop them from returning there and living in harmony with each other, the land and their creator.
I appreciate this about Rastas, because it goes to show that we don’t have to renounce the material world to enjoy a higher state of consciousness. Heaven can be found right here on earth, and we just have to open our eyes to see that it’s been here all along. This world can be just as heavenly as a higher dimension, and it’s humbling to see that the earth has just as much to give.
- Rastas live consciously and fight corruption
I’ve already detailed some of the ways Rastas live consciously and fight corruption, but the fact that their religion inspires them to do it at all is noteworthy. Sure, every spiritual movement or belief system comes with a certain lifestyle, but Rastafari encourages a progressive lifestyle that’s rooted in love and conscious living.
Rastafari and a conscious lifestyle go hand-in-hand, which is why most Rastas carry themselves with at least a small sense of righteousness. They know they’re living in a way that keeps them healthy and helps them grow, and they feel that it’s their responsibility (and everyone else’s) to expose and bring down the corruption in the world.
I’d imagine there aren’t too many Rastas who deviate from a conscious lifestyle, because it’s become their life. They’re dedicated (or rather, livicated) to treating their bodies right, fighting corruption and raising the world’s awareness, and they have their spirituality to thank for it. They don’t stray from the path, because they’re fully focused on their mission to bring the world into the light.
I also want to mention that Rastas like to change words around to make them more truthful and empowering. You probably noticed the couple examples I gave here, like ‘downpression’ (oppression) and ‘livicate’ (dedicate), and there are plenty more. They’ve also created some of their own phrases, such as the popular “I&I” (which could’ve been around in Jamaica before Rastas gained prominence).
This phrase is meant to communicate unity between peoples of every nation and culture, and it’s one more reason to appreciate Rasta culture.
Rastas are more interested in bringing people together than separating us based on our external differences, and their invention of unique phrases reflects this. You only need to listen to music that comes from Rastas to hear more examples, and again, the idea is to make the words more empowering and reflective of the truth.
The Rasta way of life has been persecuted and stereotyped since its inception, but Rastas have a lot of positive things to offer the world and I think we should hear them out instead of denouncing or rejecting them. We don’t have to believe their philosophy 100% to get something out of what they’re doing, and a Bob Marley record can seriously enlighten you if you have ears to hear what he’s saying.
The same can be said about almost any Rasta musician, and the Rasta community is one of the most active and aware out there. The world benefits greatly from the truth they put out there, and thanks to all the great pioneers who introduced Rastafari to the world, we don’t have to go very far to find this truth. It’s all around, being preached by millions of dedicated world-changers (some of whom are Rasta), and we can all take part in the fun.