The Rastafarian Religion
Although a minority,
Rastas have become the island's
most recognizable image.
Dreadlocks, often looking like a lion's mane, are a symbol of the rasta faith, which in essence is a peaceful protest against their oppression, particularly by whites.
Basically a non-violent movement, members believe in the divinity of Ras Tafari Makonnen who assumed the throne of Ethiopia as Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God and Emperor of Ethiopia.
Rastas, as they call themselves, base their belief on one quotation of Haile Selassie's in particular: "Until the philosophy that considers any one race superior to another is finally and absolutely challenged and discarded, until there are no longer first-class and second-class human beings, the dream of a lasting peace will remain an illusion."
Rastas believe they are a people in exile, that one day their God, "Jah," will lead them back to Ethiopia, their promised land, also called Zion.
Jamaican hero Marcus Garvey, who prophesied the ascendance of Haile Selassie, is considered the religion's major prophet. Garvey, who is recognized internationally as an early leader in creating black awareness and unity, suggested the formation of a black homeland in Africa as early as 1916.
In 1929, Garvey predicted "Look to Africa where a king would be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near."
Poverty-ridden Jamaicans, who had given up on whites and Christianity, were ready to welcome Rastafarianism. When Haile Selassie I was named Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930, that was divine sign enough to embrace the Rasta religion, which was defined by Jamaican educator George Beckford as "originating in Africa but distilled in Jamaica."
Haile Selassie, viewed by Rastafarians as the manifestation of god, took note of the Jamaican religious movement. In 1955, 500 acres of his personal land in Shashemene, 170 miles south of Addis Ababa, the capital, were offered to "black people of the West" to settle on. The first arrived in 1971.