Rastafari movement is an African-based spiritual ideology that arose in the 1930s in Jamaica. It is sometimes described as a religion but is considered by many adherents to be a “Way of Life”. Its adherents worship Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia (ruled 1930–1974), some as Jesus in his Second Advent, or as God the Father. Members of the Rastafari way of life are known as Rastas, or The Rastafari. The way of life is sometimes referred to as “Rastafarianism”, but this term is considered derogatory and offensive by some Rastafari, who, being highly critical of “isms” (which they see as a typical part of “Babylon culture”), dislike being labelled as an “ism” themselves.
The name Rastafari is taken from Ras Tafari, the title (Ras) and first name (Tafari Makonnen) of Haile Selassie I before the coronation. In Amharic, Ras (literally “Head”, an Ethiopian title equivalent to Duke), and Tafari or “Teferi”, which in Amharic means a man who is to be feared, or a hero. ‘Jah’ is the Poetical and Biblical name of God, from a shortened form of Jehovah found in Psalms 68:4 in the King James Version of the Bible. Most adherents see Haile Selassie I as Jah or Jah Rastafari, who is the second coming of Jesus Christ onto the earth, but to others he is simply God’s chosen king on earth.
Many elements of Rastafari reflect its origins in Jamaica, a country with a predominantly Christian culture. Rastafari holds to many Jewish and Christian beliefs and accepts the existence of a single god, called Jah, who has sent His Son to Earth in the form of Jesus and Selassie. Rastafari accept much of the Bible, although they believe that its message has possibly been corrupted.
The Rastafari way of life encompasses themes such as the spiritual use of cannabis and the rejection of the degenerate society of materialism, oppression, and sensual pleasures, called Babylon. It proclaims Zion, as reference to Ethiopia, the original birthplace of humankind, and from the beginning of the way of life calls for repatriation to Zion, the Promised Land and Heaven on Earth. Literally, moving to Ethiopia physically but mentally and emotionally repatriating before the physical. Rastafari also embrace various Afrocentric and Pan-African social and political aspirations.
Rastafari is not a highly organized way of life. Many Rastafari do not claim any sect or denomination, and thus encourage one another to find faith and inspiration within themselves, although some do identify strongly with one of the “Mansions of Rastafari”—the three most prominent of these being the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
By the late twentieth century, awareness of the Rastafari movement had spread throughout much of the world, largely through interest generated by reggae music, especially the major international success of Jamaican singer/songwriter Bob Marley. By 1997 there were, according to one estimate, around one million Rastafari faithful worldwide. In the 2001 Jamaican census, 24,020 individuals (less than 1 percent of the population) identified themselves as Rastafari. Other sources estimated that in the 2000s they formed “about 5 percent of the population” of Jamaica, or conjectured that “there are perhaps as many as 100,000 Rastafarians in Jamaica”.