Primarily practiced in Jamaica, Rastafarianism is an Afro-centric religion that infuses black empowerment and elements of the Judeo-Christian canon. Brought to worldwide attention by Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley in the 1970s, Rastafarianism is a belief system that promotes purity, harmony with nature and African roots. Though not a regimented religion such as Catholicism or Islam, Rastafarianism has its own rituals, beliefs and practices.
Inspired by a combination of Christian beliefs and the teachings of Marcus Garvey, the Rastafari movement started in the 1930s in Jamaica, a former British colony. Garvey preached black power and spearheaded the back-to-Africa movement, which strove to return displaced Africans to their homeland. Though Garvey placed great emphasis on hatred of whites, this focus has diminished over time. The Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, who reigned from 1930 to 1974, is the spiritual figurehead as he was a powerful and wealthy black king whose name was originally Ras Tafari.
Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie I, who they refer to as Jah, is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Thus, Ethiopia and, more broadly, Africa itself, are viewed as the divine kingdom of God. Rastafarians believe that Africa represents heaven and former colonies such as Jamaica are hell for the descendants of enslaved Africans. Rastafarians believe that they will return to Africa to enjoy the riches and heritage of their people. The human body is a temple for Rastafarians, as they believe that God is in every person. The Earth and its bounty are also holy for the Rastafari movement, so the natural world should be respected.
Rastafarians uphold their beliefs through some basic practices and rituals. Though Rastafarians don't have formal churches or sacred texts, they have many traditions. Rastafarians don't cut their hair and style it into dreadlocks. To maintain purity of the body and harmony with nature, Rastafarians don't eat meat or consume alcohol. Marijuana is a crucial substance used to bring Rastafarians closer to Jah. They smoke the plant as spiritual practice in a form of group meditation called reasoning sessions. Rastafarians also participate in group rituals called grounding, during which they chant prayers.
The lion is a symbol for strength that represents Jah, who is referred to as the Lion of Judah. In addition to Haile Selassie I, Bob Marley's image is frequently used in Rastafarian imagery and artwork as he brought the religion to the world. The four primary colors associated by Rastafarians are red, representing the blood of colonized Africans; green, symbolizing the Earth's bounties; black, the skin color of Africans; and gold showing the wealth of Africa.
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