The Rastafari movement, or Rasta, is an Abrahamic spiritual movement that arose in the 1930s in Jamaica. Its adherents worship Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia (ruled 1930–1974), some as Jesus incarnate, the Second Advent, or the reincarnation of Jesus, others as God the Father. Members of the Rastafari movement are known as Rastas, or Rastafari. The movement is sometimes referred to as “Rastafarianism”, but this term is considered derogatory and offensive by some Rastas, who, being highly 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 pre-regnal title of Haile Selassie I, composed of Amharic Ras (literally “Head”, an Ethiopian title equivalent to Duke), and Haile Selassie’s pre-regnal given name, Tafari “Teferi” in amharic means a man who to be feared of or hero . Rastafari are generally distinguished for asserting the doctrine that Haile Selassie I, the former and final Emperor of Ethiopia, is another incarnation of the Christian God, called Jah. Most see Haile Selassie I as Jah or Jah Rastafari, who is the second coming of Jesus Christ onto the earth, but to others he is simply God’s chosen king on earth.
Many elements of Rastafari reflect its origins in Jamaica, a country with a predominantly Christian culture. Rastafari holds to many Jewish and Christian beliefs and accepts the existence of a single god, called Jah, who has incarnated on Earth in the form of Jesus and Selassie. Rastafarians accept much of the Bible, although believe that its message has been corrupted.
The Rastafari movement encompasses themes such as the spiritual use of cannabis and the rejection of the degenerate society of materialism, oppression, and sensual pleasures, called Babylon. It proclaims Zion, as reference to Ethiopia, the original birthplace of humankind, and from the beginning of the movement calls to repatriation to Zion, the Promised Land and Heaven on Earth. Rasta also embraces various Afrocentric and Pan-African social and political aspirations, such as the sociopolitical views and teachings of Jamaican publicist, organizer, and black nationalist Marcus Garvey (also often regarded as a prophet).
Rastafari is not a highly organized religion; it is a movement and an ideology. Many Rastas say that it is not a “religion” at all, but a “Way of Life”. Many Rastas 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 three most prominent of these being the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
By the late twentieth century awareness of the Rastafari movement had spread throughout much of the world, largely through interest generated by reggae music, especially the major international success of Jamaican singer/songwriters Peter Tosh (1944-1987) and Bob Marley (1945–1981). By 1997 there were, according to one estimate, around one million Rastafari faithful worldwide.
In the 2001 Jamaican census, 24,020 individuals (less than 1 percent of the population) identified themselves as Rastafarians. Other sources estimated that in the 2000s they formed “about 5 percent of the population” of Jamaica, or conjectured that “there are perhaps as many as 100,000 Rastafarians in Jamaica”.
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