Who Is Rastafari? A Spiritual Journey to the Heart of Jamaica’s Renowned Homegrown Faith
If you’ve ever been to Jamaica, you’ll know that the island is synonymous with Rastafari as a back-to-nature lifestyle and spiritual faith. But what you may not realize is that the teachings of Rastafari are a Christian-based philosophy with deep roots in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
The Rastafari movement was born in Jamaica in the 1930’s following the crowning of Haile Sellasie I as Emperor of Ethiopia in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Rastafari believe that Selassie, a direct descendant of Solomon and Sheba, is the reincarnation of God himself.
Followers of the faith are easily identifiable by their natty dreadlocks, a hairstyle since transcended to global popularity. These spiritual warriors follow a doctrine of anti-materialism, oneness with nature, peace, love, and the all-prevailing power of the Most High Jah Rastafari (God).
Before Reggae music legend Bob Marley appeared on the world stage in the 1970’s, little was known about Rastafari beyond Jamaica’s shores. But the growing popularity of Reggae and Bob –the most famous Rasta of all time and a global icon for peace and love– brought greater awareness of the faith overseas. It is estimated that there are now well over a million practicing Rastafari worldwide.
To bring you an in-depth understanding of Rastafari culture and spirituality, Vibzen has created an immersive, location-based exploration into this unique way of life. Starting with a visit to the Ethiopian Orthodox church, home of the oldest Christian-based religion in the western hemisphere, it’s then on to the famous Trench Town to “reason” (converse) with the well-respected elder mystic Brother Poli in his vegetable garden.
No contemplation into Rastafari would be complete without a look at Bob Marley’s life. After an authentic Ital (vegan) lunch at Ibo Spice’s “cookshop” downtown, a quick stop in at the museum at 56 Hope Road offers a view into conscious music creation with options to shop for souvenirs or savor a natural fruit juice.
Then it’s off to the foothills of the city to meet with spiritual guide and community leader, Ras Haile Malekot of the Debre Zeit Rastafari Community. An original son of these hills, Ras Malekot holds sway over the village from a delightful little shopfront perched on a mountainside. His warm personality and infectious smile belie the religious fervor with which he imparts his teachings as a true oracle of the faith.
A short walk up the street and around a corner brings you to steep earthen stairway that zigzags down the mountain. About 100 meters below, a flowing river meanders between giant slabs of gray rock. The hillside is dotted with small wood and stone dwellings hidden in the brush, and tall, ancient-looking cotton trees with long hanging green moss stand majestic in the background.
This is Debre Zeit’s community pass, a V-shaped river valley edged with small green ferns and river bamboo. Colorful residents traverse the natural bridge made with carefully placed stepping-stones. One minute there’s a tall, well-dressed man in office slacks, a tie and a Rasta tam; the next, it’s a university student with locks and a backpack lugging a stack of books up to the main road.
The pass bears a scene reminiscent of the good old days of simpler living in harmony with nature. Sounds from a small waterfall with bubbling spring bestow a further sense of calm on this sacred spot. Ethiopian Orthodox baptisms are regularly performed here, in the river’s largest pool just under the falls. Birds flutter and chirp in the distance, and tiny fish dart back and forth beneath the surface of the clear water pools.
A troop of Rasta drummers stacks their homemade instruments on a large slab of rock on the riverbank and the drumming begins. Then through chanting, poetry, and light-hearted reasoning with Ras Malekot, the message of Rastafari is imparted and ganja chalices are lit as a holy sacrament.
Relax by the river, sink into nature and take in the sights and the teachings. You’ll be sure to leave the Rastafari experience enriched, enlightened and more in tune with your spiritual side.
-First published by Jamaica Experiences in Jamaica Experiences Magazine, Summer 2017
-Click to book: Who Is Rastafari?