Reggae evolved from Jamaican music styles called ska. It also was influenced by American rhythm and blues and calypso music.( Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat ") Reggae music is known to be uncomplicated music with a springy (skank) repetitive rhythm bass chink sound. Its lyrics are filled with references to the message and religion of Rastafarianism.
Reggae music's most famous and popular prophet is Bob Marley . Most consider Marley responsible for merging Reggae music with Rastafarian beliefs, making it the popular sound that it is today. It is said Hale Selassie wore a ring with the Lion of Judah that was given to Bob Marley at the time of his death. Toots and the Maytals are also attributed to the popularity of Reggae's distinct sound.
Marley's band rose to worldwide acclaim in the 70s. His songs were filled with themes of freedom from political oppression as well as his crusade to legalize ganja (marijuana). Marley died of brain cancer in 1981. He was said to smoke enormous amounts of ganja. His son, Ziggy, and the band the Melody Makers continue his father's Reggae message. Other top reggae bands include Jimmy Cliff (The Harder They Come, 1972 ) and Peter Tosh (Equal Rights, 1977) . Songs lyrics are "let's get together and feel allright." Newer bands include Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, UB40, and Big Mountain . Among the youth the older artists are still the most popular, and have become icons to several generations.
The message sung is peace, love, unity and brotherhood of all mankind . This becomes the message of hope for a new tomorrow. They sing about one love and one world. Clearly the message is man-centered as we can come together and do this despite our different beliefs. This is reminiscent of the building of the tower of Babel, which is interesting since they think Babylon is the establishment. Babylon is the term used for the white political power system that has held the black race down for centuries. Rastas strive to try to remind blacks of their heritage and have them stand up against the Babylon system.
Some Reggae messages are positive and upbeat, but most are politically- oriented messages. Music themes of oppression, poverty, Slavery, apartheid and human rights are often the music's message. Reminding them of their plight to gain freedom. These are not just religious or political ideas, but global problems for all. This is not just about the struggle of the black people, but of all who are oppressed. In this way their music speaks to people outside the Rastafarian movement.
Reggae has its appeal to young people who are found in the drug culture. It offers religious justification for smoking the weed. They teach it opens one up spiritually to hear from God.
Those who enjoy Reggae Music are usually influenced by the lyrics to further pursue the Rastafarian religion. This has made this culture popular among the youth. It stands for rebellion against the status quo of society, In much the same way as acid rock did in the 60s and early 70s. Some think that Rastafarianism and Christianity are essentially the same. Reggae music which carries the Rasta's message is essentially non-Christian even though it mentions scriptures and has elements of their principles, it is far removed from historic Christianity. There are also Christian Reggae bands that use this style of music, Christafari. Music by itself is neither good or evil but it can be an influence for either, depending on the lyrics as well as the beat. The repetitive beat can put someone in an altered state of consciousness. This is something to be aware of.
Ganja had become identified as the Rastafarians religious ritual. A commune was founded In the early 1940's by Leonard Howell, who was one of the leaders of the Rastafarian movement.
Howell had openly acknowledged Emperor Haile Selassie I as the supreme being and the black people's ruler . He was charged with inciting rebellion of the Government of Great Britain and was sentenced to two years imprisonment. When he was released in 1940 he established the "Ethiopian Salvation Society," recruiting a sizeable following, and established a commune named Pinnacle in the hills overlooking the city of Kingston. This gave them the freedom to adopt smoking ganja as a religious ritual. It wasn't long after that the police (1941) broke up the commune and many of the people moved to Kingston.
Ganja has been used by native herbalists in different countries as medicine, and in teas and smoked with tobacco before it was identified with the movement. With the Rastafarian movement smoking "de herb" took on new significance. It symbolized a protest against the oppression from Babylon, which had made its use illegal.This is not much different than Americas hippie movement in the 60's. Both were used in rebellious movements but for different reasons. It also was believed by some to give a revelation of uniting them with God as well as black consciousness identifying them with the movement .
Ganja is used for religious purposes for Rastafarians. They smoke "spliffs of ganja "-marijuana cigarettes religiously. This is illegal in Jamaica as well as in America, but they believe it is their religious privilege. Rastas believe that smoking "de 'erb" is considered to be the `holy herb' found in the Bible,a holy sacrament. This also influences them to apply their own interpretations to the bible's teachings. God created the earth and since it was all good, all can be used. They find Its use in the Bible in Psalms 104:14, "He causeth the grass for the cattle, and herb for the service of man". The use of this herb is widly used among the Rastas not only for spiritual purposes ( Nyabingi celebration) but also for medicinal purposes such as for colds. They find it usage mentioned in several Biblical texts. Their logic is Ganja is given by Jah, he gave us the herb:"... thou shalt eat the herb of the field " (Genesis 3:18). After the fall of Adam and Eve the ground was cursed by God; it was no longer sustaining the same state he created it in that he formerly pronounced as good. There are plants that are medicinally good and others that are not. We should consider the bibles actual interpretation before using the bible to validate what it really forbids .
"... eat every herb of the land " (Exodus 10:12) "Better
is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith" (Proverbs
15:17). The problem is that the word for herb mentioned is used for vegetables and there
is no mention of lighting it up and smoking it.
There is much to be said in scripture that would counter the idea of using Marijuana for non medicinal purposes. Plants have a history of being used in spells and religious rituals and ceremonies or for ones own pleasure . Smoking herbs for spiritual use and recreation brings this under the heading of pharmakia.This practice can be traced to the ancient Babylonians, as well as other nations that practiced it in various degrees and ways. ( Isa.47:9-13; Eze.21:21-22; Dan.2:2,10; Rev.9:21, 18:23). The bible classifies this as magic, wizardry or sorcery, along with other practices. So instead of giving justification for it, scripture says the very opposite.
Gal.5:19-21 gives a list of practices from the fallen nature of man that are condemned. One is called witchcraft (sorcery). This word in the Greek language is pharmakia where we get our word pharmacy. This includes things used to put people under an outside influence, helping them enter an altered state, a state not natural to the mind or body but prompted by a foreign substance. This is called sorcery in the Bible and is just as forbidden as drunkenness caused by another foreign substance, alcohol.Paul calls these "the works of the flesh," sinful.
True Rastafarians are also vegetarians . Most are strict vegetarians who use no salt, some eat meat, but most will not eat pork. Fish is a staple I-tal food; however, no crabs, lobster, or shrimp are eaten as they are scavengers of the sea (following the Levitical law). No liquor, milk, coffee, or soft drinks are to be consumed, as they are unnatural. This of course is not followed as strictly as the food requirements.
The physical feature that sets the Rastafarians apart from all other groups is their hair style, called dreadlocks. "Dreadlocks were inspired by a biblical injunction against the cutting of one's hair" (Magical Blend, June/July 1994, p. 76). The hair is grown as long as possible and styled in braided like individual clumps and curls . The way the hair is made into dreadlocks has symbolism. It is symbolic of the spirit of the Lion of Judah. It also represents the Rastas' roots, distinguished from the straight blond hair of the white man and his establishment. The Bible verse used for this is Leviticus 21:5, "They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh." This has also come to symbolize rebellion against the Babylon system. There are schools that have problems with the dreadlocks hairstyle and are trying to outlaw it.
Rastafarians read the Bible and will use the scriptures for guidance as long as it it agrees with their own pre-concieved ideas and understanding. But the way it is interpreted is highly questionable. Like many other new religious movements, the Rastafarians accept the Bible within thier own iunique in terpretation. They favor those passages in harmony with their own unique doctrines and reject others that are not. Their view of the Bible is that much of its original content has been deliberately distorted during its translation into the English language. By interpreting the Bible according to by their own standard, they come to their own specific conclusions and alter its meaning.
No hermeneutics are applied to ensure consistency in interpretation. Most often an allegorical approach to Bible interpretation is used. Like other esoterists they claim that the Scripture should be searched for "hidden meanings." Spiritualizing the text is a common practice. For example each month represents a tribe, like Ruben represents April and Simeon represents May. The Bible as well as the astrological signs are used to interpret meanings. For example, Haile Selassie I was born on July 23, in the astrological sign of the Lion. His titles are made to refer to the only man on earth "worthy to open the sealed book and to loose the seven seals" in Revelation chapter 5. But this scripture makes it clear that this is Jesus, the same one who died for our sins 2,000 years ago and rose from the dead. Smoking the weed while reading the scripture does not help in receiving from the Lord, but actually hinders from coming to a correct interpretation. They also do not believe in a afterlife or hell as Christianity believes. So in this they do not accept the bible's plain and clear meanings.
The King James version is the translation almost unanimously used. This actually conflicts with their position on Babylon, since it was translated by a committee of mostly white men from universities issued under the mandate of King James. It represents all that they are against.
There is no unified Rasta "church" or fixed set of beliefs, no set doctrine of what Rastas believe. Numerous different sects of Rastas all have the freedom to believe many different things. Women's role in the Rastafarian movement are a subordinate one, but not in an abusive position.
Being patriotic, they wear the colors of the Ethiopian flag red, green and gold. These colors seem to have their source in the Garvey movement. The color red stands for the Church Triumphant which is the church of the Rastas. It also symbolizes the blood that martyrs have shed in the history of the Rastas. The yellow represents the wealth of the homeland. Green represents the beauty and vegetation of Ethiopia, the promised land. Sometimes black is used as an alternative to represent the color of Africans, from whom 98% of Jamaicans are descended.
Overall we empathize with the oppression of the blacks in Jamaica or Africa and their struggle for human rights. But there is no justification for many of practices they do or their use of the Bible or the name of God.
Resources used: various written materials TV broadcasts, Encyclopedia of American Religions , the Rastafarians , assorted literature