«Jewish Observer»
April 2002
5762 Iyar

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It is difficult to define exactly what the Rastafarian movement is like: a marginal profaned Judaism, Messianic sect, people's religious movement, syncretic cult, substitute of the Pan - African ideology, movement for the cultural identity, political antiracist movement, slum lumpen subculture or youth fashion. Over 70 years Rastafarianship has undergone astonishing metamorphoses. It has absorbed the history of African Diaspora, religious heresies, problems of spiritual decolonization and rock - music. Black slaves often realized their similarity to ancient Jews converted to slavery. Some of them brought this thought into life having declared themselves true Jews. Adherents to this idea resided in the USA as early as the times of slave - ownership. The news about the Judaic minority "Falashi" residing in Ethiopia undoubtedly influenced on the growth of "Black Judaism" late in the XIX century.

The Rastafarian movement, having spread nowadays practically all over the world, was generated among the black population of Jamaica early in the XX century. This movement uniting numerous groupings is extremely diverse, that's why it is quite difficult to define whether it is political or religious. Though, the Rasta (as they call the Rastafarian adherents) themselves assess this diversity of ideas inside the movement rather positively. Rastafarianship for them is not a religion or philosophy, not an organization but a "Totality of the entire life experience", an active attempt to put to life the will of Dzha (as the Rasta call the God).

The inspirer of this movement was Markus Harvey, one of the most eminent Negro leaders, who advocated the return of the black population of the USA and Caribbean Islands to Africa, onto the historic motherland. The personality of Harvey, who was born in 1887 in a small settlement in Jamaica, has acquired a Messianic significance for his countrymen and supporters. In 1918 Harvey created the world organization for the improvement of the black population's situation. Initially his activity met resistance on the part of the official colonial authorities. Moreover, the black population was in the state of deep apathy after the failed rebellion and was not particularly enthusiastic about Harvey's idea to create the Earth's black population brotherhood. Realizing he would not succeed in implementing his dream in Jamaica Harvey left for the USA in 1916.

Being himself a black Catholic, he put forward an original idea having declared the Christ, Adam and all blacks in general "Black Israelis" and Ethiopia - "true Zion". Namely this idea inspired Harvey's followers. Besides, he predicted the appearance in Africa of a mighty king able to bring freedom to all blacks. Harvey grounded his prediction with the psalm words;

"Grandees shall come from Egypt; Ethiopia shall stretch its hands to God" (Ps. 68:31) Ras (that is "prince") Tafari Makkonnen, who had mounted the throne of Ethiopia in 1930, was declared such king.

That's why this year is considered the foundation year of the Rastafarian movement (hence its name). It was believed that not just another monarch had been coronated in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian throne had been taken by His Emperor Majesty Haile Selassije I, King of Animals, God of Masters, Lion from the House of Judain, the Chosen One, Torch-Bearer of Peace, King of Zion.

It was calculated that a new monarch was the 225th ruler in the dynasty of King Solomon. The Rasta accepted Haile Salassije not only as a black Messiah and fighter for justice, but also as a live God - Dzha. Ethiopia became for the Negro population of Jamaica what Jerusalem is now for the Jews. The Rasta saw the Emperor of Ethiopia as a prophet of the predicted repatriation of the blacks to the motherland, to the Promised Land (Jesek. 37, Isaiah 43, Jeremiah 23, 33). Later the Rasta often recollected that Harvey, leaving for the USA, said in his farewell speech (long before the coronation of Haile Selassije), "Direct your looks at Africa coronating the black king; he will be the Savior". In 1930 the life of the Negro population in Jamaica was desperate which created favourable conditions for spreading of Harvey's ideas. Haile Sellassije received a divine status. The God of Ethiopia, Harvey had talked about, appeared in flesh. Now everybody coveting salvation could get it from the mightiest ruler in the world, who was admired by all kings. The blacks in the entire world could only call his name, and the "lion from the tribe of Judaine" would break all tatters.

Initially, the movement's leaders were only preaching this happy news. Soon, however, the Rastafarian movement became so strong that the colonial authorities got alarmed. The period from 1930 to 1933 can be called the incubation period of the movement in the slums of Kingston. At that time one of the biggest groupings was headed by Leonard Howell who had traveled much around the world, had participated in the war in Ghana and knew several African languages. Howell greatly contributed to radicalization of the Rastafarian movement. In December 1933 he formulated his famous 6 principles, which remained valid for a long time:

1) Hatred towards the white race;

2) Absolute superiority of the black race;

3) Revenge to the whites for their atrocities;

4) Non-recognition of the government and official authorities of Jamaica and struggle against them;

5) Preparation for the return to Africa;

6) Recognition of Haile Sellassije the superior living being and the only ruler of the blacks.

Several weeks after these principles had been made public Howell was arrested and sentenced to two years of imprisonment. On leaving the prison he and his followers got settled in the mountains, requisitioned a small plot of land in a difficult for access locality approximately 20 miles from Kingston. The Rastafarian mini-state was named Pinnacle (I.e. "top"). The community was established in accordance with the "African style" as Howell saw it: he was the chief and, they say, had 13 wives. The community existed, being periodically devastated by the police, till 1960 when it was finally destroyed. The followers of Elder Howell moved to the slums of Kingston, and in this way the peasant rural separatist movement took roots in the ghettos of the capital. The Rasta created an entire complex of own myths and rituals. Six "grounds of faith" put forward by Howell were reconsidered and updated. All Rastafarian groupings recognize the following Rasta provisions:

- It is forbidden to profane human looks with cuts, shavings, tattoos, body distortions.

- It is necessary to observe vegetarianism, though it is sometimes allowed to consume meat except pork, shell-fish and others.

- Everybody should worship only Rastafarian and no other gods having outlawed all forms of paganism; though treat all other believers with respect.

- It is indispensable to love and respect human brotherhood but, in the first turn, to love the sons of Ham.

- Everybody shall reject hatred, jealousy, envy, fraud, treachery, betrayal.

- The Rasta are called to create a world order based on brotherhood.

- The Rasta observe the ancient laws of Ethiopia.

The abovementioned is an excerpt from the "Genesis" which opens the "Complete Rastafarian Bible" published in Great Britain in 1982. The Rasta are sure that white preachers have distorted the essence of the Bible teaching. That's why the attempts have been made to "restore" the Bible text that resulted in publishing the "Holy Peby" - the occult Bible allegedly translated from the Amhar language. It describes the history of the Babylon captivity, that is the blacks' enslavement in the countries of the West, and predicts the destruction of the "white Babylon" and return of "black Israelis" to Africa, to a true Zion. The Rasta consider the "Holy Peby" the source of the liturgical texts. The Rasta have no prayer-houses, but they hold meetings rather often.

The classical Rasta hold theological arguments, prayer meetings in the spirit of Talmud with the aim of acquiring the Truth. The Rasta believe that humans only cannot discover the Truth. Complete understanding may come only with the help of God - Dzha every human being has links with. The mystical experience of the Rasta underlines the importance of direct contacts with Dzha. The unity with the God is carried out in the process of self-revelation, most often through repentance. The Rasta express the mystic unity with the God they are so striving for through the expression "I and I", which means "I in the presence of the God". All actions become equivalent while observing Dzha, that's why there is no special time and place for worshipping. Some Rasta's communities are divided after the sex principle and look like monasteries. But the majority of the Rasta lead a usual life not escaping the society. The orthodox Rasta are strict vegetarians, they reject even fish. Exception is made only for the fish less than 25sm long because the bigger fish is considered the "Babylon food", i.e. the food of the white society where people "devour" each other. Besides, the true Rasta do not consume alcohol, do not drink milk and coffee. They prefer tea made of different herbs and plant roots.

Contrary to a widely spread opinion that all Rasta smoke marijuana, the orthodox communities do not consume it at all. This false impression became the result of the following events. Under the colonial times smoking the forbidden marijuana (called "hanja" in Jamaica) was considered a kind of protest. Some communities allow smoking the "grass of wisdom" to reach define meditative conditions or as "to please the God with fragrances". The "grass" for a Rastaman is a subject of religious worshiping. Any mentioning of flora in the holy texts is understood as the "grass" with the reference to the Holy Scripture (Life. 1:12; 3:18; Exodus 10:12; Ps. 104:14). Many Rasta will not fail to remind you that according to the legend the first plant to grow on the King Solomon's grave, the wisest man in the world, was namely cannabis, the "grass of wisdom".

At present the Rastafarian movement which popularity is growing largely due to the music "raggy" and, especially, to Bob Marley, stands, in general, on the pacifist positions. It is not by chance that the Catholic Commission on Racial Justice has recommended all Catholic churches and civil organizations "recognize the Rastafarian movement a full-fledged religion", treat all Rasta with respect and render them any assistance. Whereas little is known about the attitude to Rastafarianship on the part of the representatives of the "classical" Judaism. In any case, the Jews who keep in their memory centuries-old persecutions should well understand the psychological motives that caused the appearance of such original and, at the same time, such ancient conception of Exodus and of acquiring one's own identity.


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