Every person in the Caribbean knows one or more Rastas or has at least met one in person. But do we really know what Rastafari is truly all about?
My image of Rastas was formed through my observation of my Rastafarian uncles and their friends.
Growing up, I had three uncles who were Rastas. Nearly every evening I would come home from school to find them hanging out on the block, smoking weed, listening to reggae (or conscious music as they called it) and playing draughts or dominos. This was their thing.
My uncle Martin, the eldest of the lot, was the strangest one for me. He never used toothpaste. He used baking soda and coconut husk or a branch to brush his teeth. And worst of all, he never showered with soap or shampoo. Instead, he used limes as a substitute for soap and ratchet cactus for shampoo.
Like me, most people generally connect Rastafari with marijuana, reggae and dreadlocks. Some may associate this unique Caribbean movement with the colours of green, red and gold. But beyond that, many, myself included, have little knowledge of what truly constitutes the Rastafari movement.
My narrow view and limited understanding of Rastafari were forever changed through one unique experience that took place on November 28, 2017.
I had the honour and privilege of visiting the Rastafari Indigenous Village in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I spent half a day there and got the opportunity to see, first hand, the heart of Rastafarian culture and community; a masterclass in Rastafari as it were.
What I witnessed was community, conservation, creativity, cultivation, and a way of life that the whole world should emulate.
What I learned from that experience in the Rastafari Indigenous Village is that Rastafari is more than a style (dreadlocks; knitted red, green and gold rasta caps; smoking weed; listening to reggae). Rastafari is more than a religion. It is a holistic lifestyle; a different way of life.
The Rastafarian movement follows King Selassie I (King Selassie the first) of Ethiopia. Before becoming king, he was born Ras Tafari Makonnen. It is from the King’s birth name that the Rastafari movement takes its name.
Rastafari is more than a religion. It is a way of life that focuses in balance, respect for nature, community, naturalness, spirituality, family, the supremacy of life, and that the Divine is found in every human being.
Rastas believe in positivity and that words have power. For this reason, Rastas have developed their own variation of language to ensure that positivity is always in focus and negativity cannot even enter your mouth even by mistake.
For example, Rastas will never say “enjoy”. Instead, a true Rasta will say “full-joy” because they do not want to “end” their “joy”.
You might have noticed Rastas saying, “I and I”. Rastas prefer to use the first person singular instead of “you and I” or “we” because they recognise the oneness of each person in God. Each person is a reflection of the Divine and as a result each person is a reflection of each other. I see God in you and I see myself in you, therefore it is “I and I” for we are all one.
Many words are transformed to incorporate the sacredness of ‘I’. For example, “vitality” becomes “itality”; “creator” becomes “irator”; “unity” becomes “inity” for there is only “I” in oneness.
This is why reggae, in its truest form, is all about conscious messages and positive vibes.
Music is at the heart of the Rastafari movement. And their rhythmic vibrations and chants are patterned after the beating of the heart. Listen to this song below to get a feel for the chant of the Rastafarians. The song is entitled, “Rastaman Chant”. Notice the clear heartbeat rhythm expressly simulated on the drums.
One of the lessons that was most shocking to me was the way Rastas viewed women. Rastas see the divine in everyone but have a special reverence for women – the mothers that give birth to children or ‘wombwoman’ as she is called.
Christians refer to the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Ghost. For Rastas, this is absurd, that where the woman should be, Christians replace her with a ghost. The Holy Trinity for Rastas is Father, Son and Mother. The three core elements of the family; the three representations in the creation of human life.
Woman is divine. Woman is life. Woman is to be respected and revered.
The reverence for the Divine Woman, the Divine Mother, is also reflected in Rastas’ reverence for Mother Nature.
No one could be more environmentally conscious and aware than a Rastafarian. Living in unity with nature and the natural laws is a central teaching of Rastafari. To live in alignment with Mother Nature and with Planet Earth is to live in ‘at-one-ment’ with Jah (the name Rastas call God appearing in the Bible in Exodus 15:2 and 17:16, Psalm 89:9 and elsewhere).
Imagine eating a meal that was cooked on an open-air flame, with no salt, no oils, no artificial or man-made ingredients, no added sugar, no trans fat, no MSG, totally vegan and completely natural. That’s how true Rastas eat every day. This is what Rastas call Ital food. (Ital means vital in Rastafari lingo – see above section – Positive Vibrations).
The meal I received consisted of roasted breadfruit, fresh herbs, an assortment of steamed organic vegetables, all served in a calabash shell and washed down with freshly picked coconut water. No animals were killed to prepare this meal. And they hadn’t even made a trip to the supermarket. All ingredients were from the garden they cultivated themselves.
The Rastafarian way of life sheds a light on the dark, unjust, irreverent, ignorant and selfish ways of modern society. This is what Rastas refer to as ‘Babylon’ – the way of life, the institutions, the corporations and governments that are in opposition to Jah’s will.
Rastas live life in a manner that is near zero carbon footprint. They do not eat meat (for the most part); many are in fact vegan; they do not live lavish lifestyles; they do not use artificial and harmful chemicals in farming; they treat their bodies as temples and are careful of what goes into it; they respect nature, the environment and people. As such, their way of life is completely diametrical to the materialistic, capitalist, consumeristic, harmful and unbalanced way of living of modern society.
If everyone were to live like a Rasta then climate change, oceanic pollution and over consumption would be non-issues. Terms like ‘zero carbon footprint’ or ‘carbon neutral’ probably wouldn’t even exist because they would not be necessary.
Is it possible that Rastas in the Caribbean have been persecuted and prosecuted for decades simply because of the light they shine? Could it be that those in power (Babylon) feel shame and thus lash out at Rastas because of the light they shine on their dark and erroneous way of life?
Have a look at this article on the environmental footprint of a Rasta and the injustices of the rich.
Rastas do not view marijuana as a drug. For them, marijuana, a natural herb, created by Jah as a means to open their minds, increase their spiritual awareness and evoke enlightenment.
Bob Marley would often smoke a spliff before writing his music. He was firm in his belief that “herb was the healing of a nation”.
Let’s face it! The Rasta way of life is an example for the world. Let’s consider for one moment some of the key principles we can learn from Rastas:
– A sense of community
– Respect for women
– Reverence for the environment
– Living a simple lifestyle
– Healthy eating and clean living
– Low environmental footprint
– Positive vibes
– Don’t worry. Be happy.
– No need to look for God in some far-away heaven. He’s within us all.
– We are all one.
– One Love
– And a little ganja won’t hurt either
If we all apply those principles to our everyday lives, imagine the difference they would have on the world. With so much trouble in the world today – climate change, Covid-19, crime, consumerism, and capitalism – don’t you think that the world needs a little Rastafari? This song by Bob Marley sums it up nicely – So Much Trouble in the World.
So, if you were to take away just one aspect of the Rastafarian way of life, you’d be doing your part to make the world a little better. You see, Rastafari isn’t about red, green and gold or donning dreadlocks or smoking a spliff. It’s about love and unity (I mean inity). You don’t have to have dreadlocks to be a Rasta. All you need is to love and be loved. Here’s another lesson from Bob Marley – Could You Be Loved.
Rastafari Livity began among the black urban poor of Jamaica in 1930, when Selassie was crowned “the Lion of Judah, King of Kings” in Ethiopia. The movement quickly spread in Jamaica and to other parts of the Caribbean. To date, there are approximately 1 million Rastas worldwide, many of whom are located in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. They can also be found in significant numbers in the USA and Britain. 
Rastafari is another example of how the Caribbean is leading the way in sustainable development.
 Edmonds, Ennis B. (2012). Rastafari: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kevon Wilson, is a premier researcher and strategist. He has more than 16 years’ experience in research and digital marketing.
He is co-author of many of Leve Global’s research publications such as Big Data – Delivering the Big Picture to Drive Competitiveness, Everything You Need to Know About Internet Marketing, and The Top Ten Emerging Markets.