Rastafarians - History and Cultural Relations



The Rastafari movement began shortly after the coronation, in November 1930, of Ras (Prince) Tafari Makonnen as Emperor Haile Selassie. Claiming descent from King Solomon of Jerusalem and the Queen of Sheba, Selassie took the imperial titles "King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah," which a few Jamaicans saw as proof that the messiah had returned to redeem the Black race. The new doctrine, however, has to be understood against the background of Garveyism, which focused on a positive Black self-image and Black ethnicity and thus predisposed early adherents to interpret the coronation event the way they did. The doctrine appealed mainly to Jamaica's urban poor—the rural migrants and the unemployed living in the slums of Kingston. Relations with the state, which were at all times generally bad—Rastafarians were subject to arbitrary victimization and harassment—reached their lowest ebb in 1960, when Claudius Henry and a small group of his followers were cited for treason. Out of that crisis came a study by a team of university scholars and an unofficial government mission to investigate the possibility of migrations to several African countries; both activities contributed to a more positive evaluation of the Rastafari. A state visit by Emperor Haile Selassie himself in 1966 also served to enhance the legitimacy of the movement. By the end of the 1960s, nearly all the major popular artistes were Dreadlocks, and by 1975 the majority of urban youths and a growing section of the middle classes were either adherents or sympathizers. During this period, reggae artistes became, through their recordings and tours, the main missionaries of the Rastafari movement in other parts of the Caribbean and Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, where the cult provided the descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean with a sense of Black identity.


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