History of Rastafari

Reggae musician Bob Marley did much to raise international awareness of the Rastafari movement in the 1970s.

Rastafari emerged out of the Atlantic slave trade legacy, in which over fourteen million Africans were transported and enslaved to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries CE. Here, they were mercilessly sold to European planters and made to work as forced laborers on the plantations. Around 1/3rd of transported Africans were shifted in the Caribbean, with under 600,000 being settled primarily in Jamaica. In 1834 CE, Brits abolished slavery in Jamaica after the British government passed the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 CE. Racial discrimination sadly remained prevalent across Jamaican culture. The majority of Jamaica’s legislative council was white during the 19th century CE, and those of African origin were interpreted as second-class citizens. This gave birth to a new community among the lower class that followed a different faith.

Evolving Rastafari

Rastafari’s primary appeal was among the lower classes of the Jamaican community. For its first twenty years, Rastafari was in a conflictual relation with the Jamaican officials. Jamaica’s Rastas declared contempt for many features of the island’s society, viewing the police, government, professional classes, bureaucracy, and churches as instruments of Babylon. Relations between the police and practitioners were strained, with Rastas often being arrested for cannabis dependency. During the 1950s CE, the movement proliferated in Jamaica and spread to the United States, other Caribbean islands, and Europe.

In the 1940s CE and 1950s CE, a more aggressive brand of Rastafari began. The leader of this was the House of Youth Black Faith, a society whose members were largely living in West Kingston. The backlash against the Rastas arose after a follower of the religion killed a girl in 1957 CE. In March 1958 CE, the first Rastafarian Universal Convention happened in Back-o-Wall, Kingston. After the event, militant Rastas unsuccessfully attempted to seize the city in the name of Haile Selassie. Later that month, they tried again in Spanish Town. The growing militancy of some Rastas resulted in alarm about the religion in the Americas, especially in Jamaica.

In the mid-1970s CE, Reggae’s global popularity erupted. The most prosperous reggae artist was Bob Marley, who, more than any other person, was responsible for organizing Rastafarian concepts, themes, and demands to a fairly universal audience.” Reggae’s popularity led to maturity in “pseudo-Rastafarians,” people who listened to Reggae and wore Rasta clothing but did not share its entire belief system. Many Rastas were indeed angered by this, believing it commercialized their faith and religion.

The Fall

The death of Bob Marley likely dampened enthusiasm for Rastafari in 1981 CE. During the 1980s CE, the number of Rastas in Jamaica terribly declined, with Charismatic Christian groups and Pentecostal proving more prosperous at drawing young recruits.

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