Factors Responsible for the Changes and Development Among Religious Groups in the Caribbean

10 October 2016

The movement was founded by Leonard Howell in 1933 modeling Marcus Garvey’s philosophy of black consciousness (Mustapha, 2009). During this time period ‘blackness’ was something looked down upon and the mindset of white superiority was prevalence is almost every aspect of Jamaican life, even religion. The contemporary Christian church at the time, namely the Roman Catholic and Anglican church viewed God in a Eurocentric point of view. They depicted Jesus Christ was the quintessential Caucasian male thus only stressing the supposed superiority of white people.

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Howell rejected that ideology by claiming that Christ was black. He also believed that Marcus Garvey’s prophecy of a black king had been fulfilled with the crowing of Ras Tafari Makonnen or Haile Selassie II of then Abyssinia and that he should be revered and worshipped. Also, the 1930’s was a time of great social unrest. The then majority lower class Afro-Caribbean workers were rebelling against the unfair labour laws which disadvantaged them and the poor standard of living the West Indians were experiencing.

The Rastas used this as a selling point to emphasize that the white men are the ‘downpressors’ and that black people should emancipate themselves from mental slavery. Rastafarianism was developed to give an identity to a people without an identity. Howell like Garvey promoted ‘black consciousness’ and encouraged black people to be proud of their heritage, Garvey through the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and Howell through Rastafarianism.

In short, Rastafarianism took shape in the 1930’s admist the negative mental psyche that had developed among the African community (Chevannes, 1998). Rastafarians or Rastas believe in a god-spirit named ‘Jah’ who manifested himself in the form of Ras Tafari Makonnen or Haile Selassie I, the then emperor of Ethiopia thus making him God on Earth(as taken from http://www. jamaicans. com/culture/rasta/believe. shtml). They believe that Selassie is a direct descendant of King David and the Queen of Sheba and is the rightful successor to the Solomonic dynasty.

They also believe that black people are the true Israelites and they once lived in their Promised Land of Africa but were exiled by to the Caribbean for their many transgressions and as such they believe that the Emperor will arrange for them to soon be repatriated to Ethiopia which they consider ‘Heaven on Earth’ from the Hell that is Jamaica. Rastas do not believe in church buildings as they see their bodies as the True Church and as such they strive to live healthy life adhering to a strict diet known as ‘Ital’.

They also believe poverty is the cause of misery and degradation which is a result of the cruelty, selfishness and wickedness of the white man who are aided by black traitors. More orthodox followers believe that white people are devils and are to be hated and that black people are the superior race however for the most part these sentiments have died. For one to official become a member of a Rasta sect or ‘mansion’ one must take a vow or oath to affirm their membership.

Though recommended, it is not required for a Rasta to grow dreadlocks. Those who do it do so because they believe that every man should be like Samson of the Old Testament who drew his strength from his hair and as such the dreadlocks to the Rastafarians is a physical testament that they have the great spiritual strength. Because Rastas believe that their body is a temple they strive to keep it as healthy as possible by adhering to a diet known as ‘Ital’.

The Ital diet is a strict vegetarian one which does not allow for the consumption of meat (some schools of thought allow fish and/or eggs ) or salt as they believe by eating meat they turn their bodily temple into a ‘cemetery’ of dead flesh. Rastafarians believe that they must reject the ‘Babylon’ system and denounce high profile people. Babylon being a Biblical metaphor for the government who they believe is trying to oppress or ‘downpress’ black people through the use of the police and other tactics.

The smoking of cannabis or ‘ganja’ is seen as sacrilegious as they believe that it will aid them in becoming closer with Jah and finding their inner self. Followers of the faith believe that the Maccabees version of the Bible is the most accurate form of the holy book. The Rasta social behaviour was one which was looked down upon until the advent and international notoriety of reggae music thanks which has made their culture somewhat of a cult following in Jamaica and the world.

Both men and women tend to sport turbans around their locks and sometimes add the Amharic honorific of ‘Ras’ to their name. They have developed their own vernacular dubbed by linguists as Rasta Vernacular English and by the rastas themselves as ‘lyriac’ or ‘Livalect’. This form of speaking includes the omission of the person pronoun ‘me’ and replaces it with ‘I and I’ and the prefix ‘di-’ with ‘liv-’. Rastafarian men generally do not believe in monogamous conjugal relationships as they tend to have more than one partner or ‘empresses’.

Unlike most other religions Rastafarians do not believe in growing up their children in the faith as they believe that it should ultimately be the child’s or children’s choice on whether or not they adapt the religion as their own. In conclusion Rastafarianism in Jamaica is simply one of the many syncretic religious which was created for a purpose. It is a religion which changed the commonly held belief of who and what God is and placed a historically disenfranchised people at the forefront. This is just a typical example of the evolutionary nature of society and how the Caribbean region experiences this change. ?

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