Rastafari Practices



Rastafari Practices

Rastafarians are perhaps best known for their religious use of marijuana, which grows plentifully in Jamaica. Rastas know it as ganja, the holy herb, Iley or callie, and believe it was given by God. Scriptural support is found especially in Psalm 104:14: "He causeth the grass for the cattle and herb for the service of man." Other texts interpreted to refer to cannibis include Genesis 3:18, Exodus 10:12, and Proverbs 15:17.

cannabis plant
Cannabis plant

In addition to ritual use, Rastas also use marijuana for medicinal purposes, applying it to a variety of ailments including colds. The marijuana leaf is also a primary symbol in rastafarianism. (See Rastafarianism symbols here.)

Marijuana is used primarily during the two main Rastafari rituals: reasonings and nyabingi. The reasoning is an informal gathering at which a small group of Rastas smoke ganja and engage in discussion. The ritual begins when one person lights the pipe, or "chalice," and recites a short prayer while all other participants bow their heads. The pipe is then passed around the circle until all of the people have smoked. The reasoning ends when the participants depart one by one. (Also see Marijuana and Religion)

The nyabinghi, or binghi for short, is a dance held on Rasta holidays and special occasions (see below). These dances can last for several days and bring together hundreds of Rastafarians from all over Jamaica. They camp in tents on land owned by the host Rastas. Formal dancing takes place at night in a tabernacle especially set up for the occasion. The Rastas sing and dance until the early hours of the morning. In the daytime, they "rest and reason." (See Rastafarianism overview here and Rastafarianism history here.)




Other holidays in Rastafarianism

There are several Rasta holidays, most of which center around events in the life of Emperor Haile Selassie. The most important celebrations are:

  • November 2 - the coronation of Selassie
  • January 6 - ceremonial birthday of Selassie
  • April 21 - Selassie's visit to Jamaica
  • July 23 - Selassie's personal birthday
  • August 1 - emancipation from slavery
  • August 17 - Marcus Garvey's birthday

Dreadlocks in Rastafarianism

One of the most visible practices of Rastafarians is the wearing of one's hair in dreadlocks. Dreadlocks have several purposes and layers of meaning for Rastafarians, including:

  • the biblical command not to cut one's hair (Leviticus 21:5)
  • the appearance of the lion's mane, representing strength, Africa, Ethiopia, and the Lion of Judah
  • naturalness and simplicity, which are associated with Africa
  • the Rasta's roots in Africa

Ital in Rastafarianism

The most observant Rastas follow a dietary law called Ital. Ital food is food which is completely natural (not canned and free of chemicals and preservatives) and eaten as raw as possible. Old Testament prohibitions against pork and shellfish are part of Ital; most Rastafarians are vegatarians or vegans. Coffee and milk are also rejected as unnatural.

Rastafarians reject the use of alcohol, since it is a fermented chemical that does not belong in the temple of the body and it makes a person stupid, thereby playing into the hands of white leaders. This is contrasted with the holy herb of marijuana, which is natural and believed by Rastas to open their mind and assist in reasoning.

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References & Sources
  1. "Rastafarians." Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions
  2. "Haile Selassie." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service (accessed August 2006).
  3. "About H.I.M. Haile Selassie." Jamaicans.com
  4. "The Holy Piby: The holy text of the Rastafari" - BobMarley.com
  5. "Rasta's Symbolism" - The Afrocentric Experience
  6. B. Chevannes, Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews (Rutgers University Press, 1998), 17-18.
  7. "The Rastafarian Orders/Sects." Jamaicans.com