This religion traces its inception to Marcus Garvey (born in 1887), whose philosophical ideologies were the catalyst that would eventually grow into the Rastafarian movement in 1930. Rastafarianism is often associated with the black impoverished population of Jamaica. It is not just a religion to them but a way of life, a struggle for their rights and freedom.
In the early 1920's, Garvey an influential black spokesman was founder of the "back-to-Africa" movement. He spoke of the redemption of the black people through a future black African king .
"No race has the last word on culture and on civilization. You do not know what the black man is capable of; you do not know what he is thinking and therefore you do not know what the oppressed and suppressed Negro, by virtue of his condition and circumstance, may give to the world as a surprise."( Speech, June 6, 1928, Royal Albert Hall, London. Quoted in Adolph Edwards, Marcus Garvey) While Garvey tried to give blacks their rightful place he reversed the roles of the races. Garvey called the white religion a rejection of black culture, insisting that blacks must leave "Babylon" (the Western world) and return to their homeland of Africa. The first Universal Negro Improvement Association international convention (UNIA) opened at Liberty Hall in New York’s Harlem under the leadership of Marcus Garvey . 25,000 delegates from 25 nations attended. Garvey began to exalt African beauty and promote a "back to Africa" campaign with a plan for resettlement in Liberia (Liberia was first African colony to gain independence) He promoted a steamship company that would provide transportation for blacks to return to Africa. In 1920 Liberia rejected Marcus Garvey’s plan for resettlement of U.S. blacks, fearing that his motive was to foment revolution. Garvey was convicted the next year of fraudulent dealings in the now-bankrupt Black Star Steamship Co. he had founded, President Coolidge commuted his 5-year sentence. Garvey was then deported back to Jamaica in 1927.(reference used: The People chronology.)
Rastas believe that all people of the world are equal, bound together by one god, Jah. They also believe their ancestors offended Jah in some way, which brought them into an exile of slavery in Jamaica. To them blacks are still suppressed through poverty and illiteracy and deceived by the white man's system, which is Babylon.
In 1927 Garvey proclaimed, "Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King, he shall be the Redeemer" (The Rastafarians, p. 67). A few years later his prediction was considered fulfilled by Ethiopia's new king, Haile Selassie.
Hale Selassie seems to have been very educated and was not a Rastafarian, and some claim there is some evidence that he was a devout Christian (Coptic Christian).
There is no statement of what he thought of the whole Rastafarian movement.However he did say: "Today man sees all his hopes and aspirations crumble before him. He is perplexed and knows not whither he is drifting. But he must realize that the solution of his present difficulties and guidance for his future action is the Bible. Unless he accepts with clear conscience the Bible and its great message, he cannot hope for salvation. For myself, I glory in the Bible." (Selassie I)
On November 2, 1930, Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned king of Ethiopia, king of kings at Addis Ababa. Upon his coronation, he claimed for himself the titles of "Emperor Haile Selassie I (Power of the holy Trinity), Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God and King of the Kings of Ethiopia."(The Lion of Judah represents Haile Selassie, the Conqueror, the King of Kings as a lion, the king of all beasts; some apply it to the dominant movement). Some Rastafarians believe the Bible teaches that God is a spirit which was manifested in and represented by the King, H.I.M. (Emperor Haile Selassie I). Many claim he is the messiah (the son) in psalm 2; it is he the nations of Babylon conspire against. To those awaiting deliverance, they saw the new Emperor as the fulfillment of Garvey's proclamation. (specifically Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley, Leanord Howell and Robert Hind believed this).
He was reported to be the 225th descendant and restorer of the Solomon's Dynasty, deriving his lineage from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. His throne represented the throne of God on earth, established by the covenant between God and King David as recorded in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 7). God had promised that through the seed of David, the tribe of Judah, He would set up His promised Kingdom on earth, which would be a light to the world. His people would be returned to their land and no more would they suffer.
Unfortunately these titles already belong to one who alone deserves them and has proved himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Isa.9:6 the child born is of a virgin Isa.7:14, Mic.5:2 and he is from eternity, God himself, the creator. It is this son, the only begotten Son of God, who would have a everlasting kingdom. He would die for the sins of the world and be resurrected (Acts.2:22-36) The scripture makes it clear it would be the messiah, Jesus Christ, who would sit on David's throne not a man but the God/ man.
As the Rastafarian movement grew it identified the Hebrews as black. God became identified with blacks, and the Christian faith was no longer the monopoly of white missionaries. Any reference to Ethiopia in the bible took on great significance for the movement. Rastas believe that Selassie was the true Jesus found in Christianity. That the white man tricked the world into believing that he was not a black man. Leonard Howell taught the Rastafarians hatred for the white race, and that the whites are inferior. This was an overreaction to oppression. Teaching included the idea that the devil is actually the god of the White man and that the black race was superior. Emperor Haile Selassie was to be recognized as the Supreme Being and only ruler of Black people. ( similarities to the Nation of Islam are striking in some areas.)
The Hebrews are not of the black race but Semitic. Abraham came from Mesopotamia: he was not black. And the bible points out that Moses married Zipporah, who was a Ethiopian woman. Acts 17:26 tells us God has made from one blood every nation of man. In Christ there is no black, white, brown, or red. Rev.5:9 tells us God has redeemed us by the blood of his son from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. The bible teaches that no race is superior to any other race( Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). To teach otherwise is to go against the scriptures and the teachings of Jesus Christ. He gathers all people to be one in himself, both Jews and gentiles, black, white, red, and yellow etc.
Haile Selassie visited Jamaica on April 21, 1966. This became an important historical event in the Rastafarian movement. Selassie persuaded the Rastafarian brothers that they "should not seek to immigrate to Ethiopia until they had liberated the people of Jamaica." (The Rastafarians, pp. 158, 160). Rastafarians continue to celebrate April 21 as a special holy day because of his visit . One of the key doctrines of Rastafarians had been their expectation that they would one day return to Africa, "the Zion which would be restored to them after centuries in the Diaspora." Many Rastas believe that Ethiopia is their promised land, a heaven on earth.
Rastafarians believe, "God revealed himself in the person of Moses, who was the first avatar or savior. The second avatar was Elijah. The third avatar was Jesus Christ. Now the advent of Ras Tafari is the climax of God's revelation." (The Rastafarians, p. 112) Some Rastas believe Haile Selasie is Almighty god, (a god who died not for sin but because of sin!) They worship him as the living God. Some believe he is the second coming of Christ prophesied in the Bible.(no kingdom is set up, nor will he be the one to vanquish evil and judge the nations.) Some believe he is Christ-like, tracing his lineage to Christ . They even teach that Jesus predicted the coming of Haile Selassie (The Rastafarians, p. 106). Rastafarians point to the scriptures, saying it prophesied of him as the one "the hair of whose head was like wool (this is the matted hair of I black man) whose feet were like unto burning brass ( black skin),"(Rev. 1:14-15). His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire, His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters." Is a reference to the ancient of days in Daniel. Dan. 7:9: "I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; his garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire."This is a vision of God the creator in heaven, Selassie hardly qualifies since it says this person is the ancient of days, an idiom for saying he is the eternal one.
In 1974 Selassie was deposed by an army coup, and ( according to the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia) on August 27, 1975, Haile Selassie died under mysterious circumstances. When Selassie died, many Rastas could not accept it at first. His death prompted rationalization from Rastafarians. some believed it was a media trick; some looked at his death as a fabrication. Some Rastas believe that true Rastas are immortal, and Selassie's divinity did not die with him. To explain his death some said that his atoms were spread through out the world and became part of newborn babies, so his life was never ending. Current belief is that Ras Tafari lives on through individual Rastafarians. Groups which claim allegiance to Ras Tafari are the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church and the Ethiopian World Federation (not in the Ethiopian Coptic church).
Within this movement they have their own vocabulary. I and I refers to God in all or the brotherhood of mankind. Since all people are totally equal and are bound together by the one god, Jah, we should not use you and I. There seems to be a conflict between their music message of oneness of mankind, and others that hold to the original message of Garvey and the black people. Essentially the movement stands for equal rights and justice.
There are reportedly 250,000 Rastafarians in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Their current membership is over 700,000 (as of 1988), although many more experiment with its lifestyle and are influenced by it more than those who actually join. T-shirts, and bumper stickers continue to promote a movement that has its Reggae music carry its message to the world.