Rastafarians - Sociopolitical Organization

Organizational Structure. As a whole, Rastafarianism is an acephalous religious movement, resistant to centralization and control. Most Dreadlocks belong to the House of Nyabinghi, a quasi group led by elders whose status derives from a combination of age, experience in the faith, and oral skills. The affairs of the house are run democratically, and all, including elders, are subject to the challenge of every Dread. Other Dreadlocks belong to one of two groups organized around a charismatic leader: the Twelve Tribes of Israel, led by Prophet Gad; and the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress, or Bobo, led by Prince Emmanuel. The Bobo are the only Rastafarians who physically separate themselves by living in a commune. They also distinguish themselves from other Dreadlocks by wearing a white or black turban.

Political Organization. Rastafarians eschew involvement in local politics, although since the mid-1960s there have been isolated examples of individual Rastafarians who have sought to mobilize a Rastafari vote in Jamaica, the better, so they argue, to bring about repatriation. On a number of Caribbean islands, however, Rastafarians have identified with political movements against the established political order. Rastafarians are proud of the tradition of resistance that has attended the rise and spread of their movement; in their view, resistance is the continuation of struggles against slavery. One of the founders, Leonard Howell, was imprisoned for preaching sedition; others were imprisoned for defiance of colonial authority. Today the Rastafari critique of society finds symbolic expression in dreadlocks, the Babylon metaphor, the use of ganja, and adoption of an African or Ethiopian identity. In Jamaica Rastafarians were among the foremost local supporters of the antiapartheid movement of South Africa.

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