It is Rasta, Not Gangster
Be honest and tell me what you think when you see someone with dreadlocks? Especially when it is a guy? Before you even talk to him so that you know much about him, how would you first describe them? Mostly a Rastafarian, right? That’s how also they are mostly nicknamed before anyone knows their real names. More of that, when asked about their vibes and likes, you might directly respond that they are reggae fans, and they are marijuana lovers. If you’re from the western coast, you might first assume he’s a revolutionary guy. If you’re from Africa, you would say if he’s not a jobless street guy, he’s an artist. Does the hairstyle define the personality and profession of someone? Do dreadlocks make someone strange or a threat in society? What’re your thoughts on Rastafari?
The emperor Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari) of Ethiopia in the 1960s
Origin, Culture, and Believes of the Rastafari
“Love the life you live, live the life you love,” said Bob Marley. This is an expression he made while he wanted to mean the simplicity we need to give life as in it’s about love. Rastafari, which derives from Ras Tafari (the pre coronation name of the Ethiopian emperor Hailey Selassie I), it’s a movement which was began in Jamaica in the 1930s and has been adopted by many groups around the globe combining Christians, protestants, mysticism, and other many religions. (Britannica, 2020). This Ethiopian emperor is considered as the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Conquering Lion in St George’s Cathedral, Abyssinia, because of his vast global knowledge, which has liberated many Africa hearts. (Thisisafrica, 2018) It was first developed by Jamaicans, who were African slaves taken from Africa. In early times of its creation, the mission was to have a real-life even through the difficulties of slavery they were going through but also living in harmony as brothers to overcome those challenges they were through at the time.
This is a movement that would be joined by anyone despite the color of their skin, and you just needed the love mentality. There were no rules settled to be part of this movement, and it was only some similarities that have been developed by the majority of Rastafarians so that they’d be uniquely represented. Rastafarians as a movement of different people, they have various beliefs but which all combine them and make them one. Their hairstyle mode of dreadlocks, which is very common globally, has a definite meaning in their opinions, which will be explained how. The use of cannabis, natural herbs is taken as a spiritual link connecting them to Jah (The name given to God the Almighty) and so many other cultural beliefs. And also, they are shared on reggae music as it has been famously spread by Bob Marley, a Jamaican singer who was a Rastafarian who covered much about love.
Real Life Experiences
His dreadlocks are not always meant to be Rastafari. With the question about the first impression on someone with dreadlocks, I mainly wanted to stress the bad reputation that people put on them, saying they are gang members or street jobless people. However, I want to remind you that despite the reasons people might decide to put dreadlocks on their heads, rasta does it for one thing. Traditionally, hairstyles used to be a fundamental tool that would describe the culture and beliefs (A divinity sign) of a particular society. (The Guardian, 2003). I’ve always considered dreadlocks are natural gifts given by God, and everyone has the right to use them to express themselves; however, they want. Rastafari and Africanism (Blacknism) have a tremendous cultural bond (The Guardian, 2003). Afro hair used to be a beautiful thing on black people as it would define how strong and beautiful they are. So it has been a continuous tradition when Rastafarians started to twist their afro for a long time to become long dreads.
Apart from dreadlocks to being familiar to Rastafarians, it has also been a traditional thing. Many revolutionaries have used it in Africa like Mau Mau, who was always in dreadlocks and so many other revolutionary leaders from the 19s. (Thisisafrica, 2018) This has inspired many Africans to continue wearing dreadlocks, as this was a sign of rebellion and victory as Africans. It has been rising while the Rastafari movement was growing and expanding around the globe. This would help people understand that rastas are not just gang members as they spread about revolution as it’s just from the revolutionary ideology from ancient leaders.
However, this is often seen badly in different societies, where some institutions could not hire people with dreadlocks saying that it’s not classy. Examples are banks (New Times, 2011). I understand every company has its policies, but again, I can take this as an unfair concept that is based on making some decisions. Having dreadlocks doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of doing what you can; it’s just a way of looking, which is different from what you can offer intellectually. So, it would be fair if everyone is allowed to unleash their potential regardless of their fashion hair mode.
People with hearing reggae are not necessarily Rastafarians. Aligned with the rise of Jamaica, Bob Marley has made a considerable contribution to the manifestation of dreadlocks. As a famous artist, a songwriter, and singer through his songs full of revolutionary love, and unity among people, he has gained popularity, which influenced people who liked them. He gave reggae a perfect rhythm, which has given rise to many other music sections. His fame has increased the reputation of the movement as he was every time talking about it in speeches, songs, and his real lifestyle. He preached and sang about love, positivity, unity, etc. Someone said, “Rastafari is not a religion, it’s a lifestyle” This was to mean that it’s not a religious thing; instead, it’d practiced in real life through love.
That marijuana does not necessarily define Rastafari. Jamaican rastas use marijuana as a connection tool to Jah the Almighty. (AllAfrica, 2018) Jamaica, as a country that has legalized marijuana because of how it is taken in its homeland, people are still using it daily but has a few restrictions. (Cannaconnection, 2019) In Jamaica, cannabis is considered as a natural herb gift given by Jah so that it can connect them to him the Almighty. They discovered this plant that makes them go high to connect with God spiritually.
This has been confusing people who have dreads or who smoke cannabis, saying that they are gangsters or do harm to others. In Rwanda, where marijuana is illegal, rasta does many other good things in arts, for example, which shows how impactful they are instead of portraying them as gangsters. (NewTimes, 2011) They always speak and believe in peace, so that can’t do any harm unless someone’s personality causes it. But still, we shouldn’t blame all of these on Rastafarians or people with dreadlocks.
Lucky Dube, A SouthAfrican Rastafarian artist who sang more about peace, love, and unity.
The presence of Bob Marley as a famous artist smocking on stages and different platforms as his way of life has increased the number of young people who started using cannabis. All of this has resulted in having many young people who started music careers as they’d consider Bob Marley as a legend and a role model. But also there is this mentality that has grown among the youth that they can do the same things as Bob Marley. Young men and women started calling themselves rastas after putting on dreadlocks and smoking marijuana as Bob used to do. It is mostly said that this brings them a bad life, but instead, I think it gives them the confidence to start thinking about what they can do to make themselves happy and successful. I confirm this because when you go through the journey of prominent artists, they might tell you how they used to have this Rastafari mindset of hustling but having a love of what they do and who they do for.
I’ve never been duped by thinking that rasta s are drug-addicted, who is always into reggae music. However, if you listen to most of their speeches, you might find too much wisdom and love that they speak. In their free time, they hear reggae songs that are constructive and knowledgeable to unite people through love and peace.
As the human race, we should all recognize the diversity of cultures, beliefs, traditions, backgrounds that people have regardless of the indifference. Rastafari as a movement or a lifestyle shouldn’t be penalized due to their ideology. Different human rights advocated might take a step forward to fight against any distinction among people due to the look or thinking of someone. Rastafari defines a way of life; dreads, reggae, and cannabis do not determine it.
- The New Times | Rwanda. 2020. Society Debate: How Has Rastafarianism Influenced The Youth?. [online] Available at: <https://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/97612> [Accessed 8 May 2020].
- Cannaconnection.com. 2020. Legal Status Of Cannabis In Jamaica – Cannaconnection.Com. [online] Available at: <https://www.cannaconnection.com/blog/14761-legal-status-jamaica> [Accessed 8 May 2020].
- Encyclopedia Britannica. 2020. Rastafari | History, Beliefs, & Facts. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Rastafari> [Accessed 8 May 2020].
- the Guardian. 2020. Dare To Dread. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2003/aug/23/features.weekend> [Accessed 8 May 2020].
- This is Africa. 2020. Look To The East: Haile Selassie And The Rastafari Movement. [online] Available at: <https://thisisafrica.me/african-identities/look-to-the-east-haile-selassie-and-the-rastafari-movement/> [Accessed 8 May 2020].