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The Rastafari Movement – The Rise of Rastafari

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Haile_Selassie I and Rastafari

Makonnen Sankofa wrote the book The Rise of Rastafari to dispel the common misconceptions people have of Rastafari and highlight the core principles of Rastafari such as nation building, repatriation to Africa, resistance to white supremacy, and Pan-Africanism. The book The Rise of Rastafari gives key in-depth knowledge about the origin of Rastafari which is often untold. Highlighting the pioneers of the Rastafari Movement such as Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert, Robert Hinds and Archibald Dunkley. Out of the four early preachers of Rastafari, Leonard Howell was the most popular. Howell is regarded as “The first Rasta”. Following the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1930, these four men began preaching Haile Selassie I as a redeemer come to liberate black people from white supremacy and guide descendants of enslaved Africans in the diaspora back to their ancestral homeland Africa because they had been subject to 400 years of oppression in the Western world through slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism and cultural imperialism.

The Rise of Rastafari book points out the positive contributions Rastafari has made as a Pan-African movement which has helped identify Africans in the diaspora (descendants of enslaved Africans) with their ancestral culture, history and roots. You will find out by reading the book how Rastafari has taken different aspects of Africa such as leaders, tribes and culture and merged them together to create a Pan-African identify/culture. For example, Emperor Haile Selassie I (Ethiopia), Nyahbinghi (Uganda), African drumming, Ashanti tribe (Ghana), Mau Mau Warriors (Kenya).

This book is unique to other books on Rastafari because it is written from an Afrocentric perspective of Rastafari rather than many other books on Rastafari that are written from a religious view of Rastafari that uses reference to the Bible. The book emphasises on black empowerment and unity, something universal that all black people can identify with. The book is not to persuade anyone to become Rastafari. It is there as an educational tool to give a broad overview of the philosophy of Rastafari, provide an understanding to why Rastafari began, and to highlight the relevance of Rastafari from past to present.

Rastafari is a black nationalist and Pan-African movement that has a spiritual nucleus. It emerged in the 1930s as an anti-systematic movement against British colonial rule and white supremacy. The purpose of Rastafari is to uplift black people: socially, politically, spiritually, culturally, and economically. Rastafari is about liberating the minds of black people because we have been taught to think bad about ourselves, due to subjugation and brainwashing that has been imposed on us over the last five hundred years, which has come from slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and cultural imperialism.

Jamaica is a significant place because its where Rastafari emerged and because the majority of the population in Jamaica are descendants of enslaved Africans who were kidnapped from West Africa and brought to Jamaica during the transatlantic slave trade. A focal point of Rastafari is identity; it’s for descendants of enslaved Africans to reclaim our connection with Africa and to define our own sense of spirituality and culture. Rastafarians regard His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I as either an idol, God, or the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Rastafari has many different ideologies. Some of its adherents see Rastafari as a non-religious movement. However, there are others who see Rastafari as a religion. There are also others who regard Rastafari as a natural way of life, which is often called livity.

The Origins

Leonard Howell is accredited to being the founder of Rastafari. Leonard Howell opposed the colonial government of Jamaica and began to spread the word that Haile Selassie I was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 and that black people should denounce King George as their king and instead praise a black king, Haile Selassie I. Howell established Pinnacle, a safe haven for thousands of Rastafarians. Pinnacle was the most self-sufficient economically empowered community in Jamaica until it was destroyed by the government. The Rise of Rastafari: Resistance, Redemption & Repatriation book gives insight into the severe persecution and discrimination that Rastafarians have had to endure since its inception and how the government tried to suppress the movement. In 1963, the Jamaica Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante said: “Bring in all Rastas, dead or alive.” Rastafarians were often attacked in the streets, verbally abused, and even disowned by their own parents!

In 1927, it’s claimed that Marcus Garvey prophesied the crowning of an African king, who black people should look towards for their redemption. This prophecy was fulfilled when Haile Selassie I became king of Ethiopia in 1928. Two years later, Haile Selassie I became Emperor of Ethiopia “King of Kings”. Following Haile Selassie’s coronation, Leonard Percival Howell, Archibald Dunkley, Joseph Hibbert and Robert Hinds declared Haile Selassie I as the God-King of the black race.

Howell used to travel through the streets of Jamaica and show black people a picture of Haile Selassie I. He would tell the people that the person in the picture is their king and the ruler for black people. Howell detested the admiration that black people had for the British monarchs, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. Howell even told black people that they should not pay taxes to King George VI and he called Queen Elizabeth II a harlot (meaning a promiscuous women or prostitute). Howell also said that the Christian clergy were thieves and he told his followers that they should sing the national anthem with Haile Selassie I in mind instead of King George VI.

Howell was very vocal about how he detested British colonialism and white supremacy. For that reason, Howell and his followers were persecuted by the British colonial government in Jamaica. There was a systematic attempt to destroy Rastafari in its early infancy. Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley, and Robert Hinds were all put in prison at some point.

Reggae Music

Reggae music has been used as a vehicle to spread the message of Rastafari in songs. Whilst doing this, reggae has become one of the most popular types of music in the world! For many, reggae was their first introduction to Rastafari. You can go to all corners of the world and you will find someone familiar with a Bob Marley song. Like Rastafari, reggae also began in Jamaica. Roots reggae is a subgenre of reggae music which expresses black liberation, the everyday realities of life, history, culture, identity, and spiritualty. This form of reggae has been influenced the most by Rastafari.

Repatriation to Africa is one of the main pillars of Rastafari which is spoken about in lots of roots reggae songs. In the track “Rastaman Chant” (1977) by Bob Marley, he said: “Fly away home to Zion… Fly away home… One bright morning when my work is over… I will fly away home (to Africa).” In the song “Hurry Up and Come” (1996) by Cocoa Tea, the singer said: “I home is not in Babylon, Mount Zion is I home… Calling all Rastaman, no more will I and I roam… Hurry up and come because Babylon done.”

In the UK

Many people from Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean moved to England during the Windrush Era between 1948 and 1970. These immigrants and their children were treated very hostile by the white English society which was racist towards them. Groups such as the Teddy Boys and the NF use to beat up black people in the streets. The police targeted young black males. It was common for white landlords to refuse to rent accommodation to black people. Black people were put in the lowest skilled jobs. Because of this hostile environment, many youths gravitated to Rastafari as a means to protest against racism. Rastafari would become a powerful force of black nationalism in England, offering these black youths an identity and racial pride.

Rastafari isn’t as popular amongst today’s black youths in England compared to how it was in the 60s, 70s and 80s when Rastafari was at its peak in England. However, there are still Rastafari groups and individuals that are influential to black communities in England. In 2015, Rastafari Movement UK was one of the main groups that organised a march for slavery reparations to be given to people of African heritage because of the role Britain played in the transatlantic slave trade. Since 2015, the reparations march has become an annual event which takes place on 1 August.


In Jamaica, police used to harass Rastafarians and arrest innocent Rastafarians under false charges of possession of ganja. Rastas had to be careful when travelling around in the streets because people from the public would verbally abuse them, attack them and try to cut off their dreadlocks. This forced Rastas to travel around in the gullies. Rastas were denied travelling on airplanes with their dreadlocks and beards. So, Rastas had to trim if they wanted to go abroad. Businesses would refuse to give jobs to Rastas if they had locks. Rastas were even disowned by their own parents because their parents were Christians who held prejudice views about Rastafari. The persecution against Rastas by the society, is what caused many Rastas to relocate to live in secluded areas in the hills of Jamaica.

The persecution of Rastafari goes beyond the borders of Jamaica. Rastafarians have been persecuted and ostracised in other Caribbean islands. In Dominica, the Dread Act was enforced between 1974-1981. When the Dread Act was enforced, it was legal for citizens to shoot on sight citizens that had dreadlocks (Rastas). In England, the Rastafari Movement was very popular amongst black youths in the 60s, 70s and 80s. But their parents were prejudice against Rastafari, which is how they were in the Caribbean before they came to England. Many Rasta youths were kicked out of their parent’s house, especially once they grew locks on their head. The harsh actions by their parents (who were those of the Windrush Generation), left their own children homeless and vulnerable to the extremely racist English society at the time.

The Rise of Rastafari: Resistance, Redemption & Repatriation book highlights the life of Haile Selassie I from birth until his ‘mysterious demise’. The great works of Emperor Haile Selassie I include founding the Organisation of African Unity (now known as the African Union), supporting Nelson Mandela with the apartheid struggle in South Africa, leading Ethiopia to victory in Ethiopia’s war against Italy, turning his palace into Ethiopia’s first University, establishing Ethiopia’s first airlines, making 2 constitutions during his time in power, the rapid development of schools in Ethiopia, and introducing new developments into Ethiopia that drove the country into the 20th century. Haile Selassie I achieved great things in Ethiopia and for the African continent in general. He played a crucial role in world history at a pivotal time for black people. Ethiopia to this day is the only African country that has never been colonised. Haile Selassie I is a symbolic figure of independence, royalty and resistance to colonial rule.

  1. The Rise of Rastafari: Resistance, Redemption & Repatriation

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This page was last updated on 09, May, 2022

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