The origins of Rastafarianism are based on the philosophy of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who promoted the Universal Negro Improvement association in the 1920’s. Garvey’s mission was to restore the dignity of blacks which was lost due to slavery and European oppression by completely severing ties with the white world.
After spending nearly a decade in the United States and Great Britain, Garvey returned to Jamaica in 1927, where he spread his political views among the black working class.
In 1930, Prince Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned the new Emperor of Ethiopia. Upon his coronation, he claimed for himself the title of Emporer Haile Selassie (Power of the Trinity) I. This announcement was a monumental event that many blacks in Africa and the Americas saw as the fulfillment of Garvey’s views years before. After the crowning of Selassie, the Rastafarian movement gained a following and officially began.
Initially, there were at least four Rastafarianism groups active in Jamaica, and while each group exemplified different styles of worship and emphasized different aspects of the Rasta doctrine, there were common themes uniting these groups. All four groups condemned Jamaica’s colonial society, believed repatriation to Africa was the key to overcoming oppression, advocated non-violent struggle, and worshipped the divinity of Haile Selassie.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Rastafarianism became increasingly political, as its leaders intensified their opposition to the colonial state by defying the police and organizing street marches. By the mid-1950s, the Rastafarians were viewed by many in Jamaica as bearded drug addicts, a national eyesore, or a “cult of outcasts.”
The Rastafarian image went through a significant transformation in the 1970s. Whereas in the 1960s Rastas were perceived negatively, in the 1970s they became more of a positive cultural force, contributing to Jamaica’s art and music.
Rastafarianism consists of six fundamental principles: hatred for the white race, complete superiority of the black race, revenge on whites for their wickedness, the negation of the government of Jamaica, preparation for the return to Africa, and the acknowledgment of Haile Selassie as Supreme Being and only ruler of black people.
There are also three core concepts that are fundamental to Rastafarian beliefs: Babylon, which is a Rastafarian term for the white political power structure which hold the blacks down; I and I, which is the concept that God is in everyone, and all people are one; and Jah, which is the Rastafarian name for God.
Rastafarians came to the United States in large numbers as a result of the general migration of Jamaicans in the 1970s. Currently, the Rastafarian movement has official branches in England, Canada, the Caribbean islands, and America, as well as members in most of the civilized countries, with nearly one million active members.