Rastafarianism, is it African or Jamaican in Origin?
On one of my previous posts, I showed some pictures of the awesome Rastafarians I met while at a street market in Colombia and referred to it as a religion originating in Jamaica. But a comment on my blog by a serial detractor who stated that I am an "idiot" who is "wrong about the globe and african cluture?" and "should close [my] mouth and just travel bruh" (spelling and grammar errors are his) for stating that Rastafarianism is from Jamaica. Well, lets see what the facts are, and if the criticism is justified.
My own image
Ironically, the reason I made this comment is because I actually did go to Jamaica, became quite obsessed with Reggae music for many years, habituated the couple of the Jamaican restaurants in my town, went to Reggae music concerts frequently, and wrote a paper on the history of Reggae in college. Since Reggae, Jamaica, and Rastafarianism are inextricably linked, I was quite well-versed on the subject, although hardly an expect, and didn't just say something random without first fact checking it.
Fact Checking Is Important
But I'm one to fact check, even when I believe I know something, so lets go through the evidence and see if we can get down to the facts and come to a conclusion. The comment that was made to me was, "rastafarian people are orthordox christians from ethiopia originally , Haile Selassie being the emperor of ethiopia, he was ridiculed by marcus garvey for his "tactics".
It's true, Haile Salessie, the object of the Rastafarian religion, was an orthodox Christian and the emperor of Ethiopia.(1), and was ridiculed by Marcus Garvey. So, there is no argument about those facts on either of our part. The point I dispute, however, and will seek to prove, is that Rastafarianism did, indeed, begin in Jamaica.
Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie?
Marcus Garvey was a black political leader in Jamaica and the US who advocated the return of blacks to their native African lands, and unintentionally sparked the Rastafarian religion with his comment:
"Look to Africa where a black king shall
be crowned, he shall be your Redeemer." (2)
Although some believe it was not Garvey, but Rev. James Morris Webb who made the famous statement that came to be prophecy, it's still widely attributed to Garvey (3). Not long after his statement, Haile Selassie was crowned emperor of Ethiopia taking the title "King of Kings, Lord of Lords and the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah" (5).
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
This was seen as a prophetic occurrence and sparked the Rastafarian belief that Haile Selassie was the returned Messiah come to deliver salvation.
At one point, Garvey did ridicule Selassie(4), however, this did not stop the Rastafarians from believing Selassie was their redeemer. Despite Garvey's criticisms, the Rastafarian religion turned Garvey into something of a prophet himself.(5) So, on this count too, there is no argument with the facts.
Did Rastafarianism Begin in Jamaica, or Africa?
It is on this point I will defend my initial comment that Rastafarianism did, begin in Jamaica. Although the confusion may stem from the fact that Haile Selassie is African from Ethiopia, and that Ras Tafari is the traditional title given to Haile Selassie upon his coronation as emperor, thus creating the Ras Tafari nation which led to the religion of Rastafarianism.
Haile Selassie Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
"Soon after the enthronement Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley, Robert Hinds and other members of the UNIA, decided to follow Emperor Haile Sellassie as his disciples, and established the RasTafari."
Notice the word 'established' the RasTafari. This is from the Diaspora African Rastafari Congress of the Americas Also by DARC is this statement about preacher Leonard Howell, "He was one of the first preachers of the Ras Tafari movement, and is sometimes known as The First Rasta."
I would consider DARC to be an authoritative website on the history of their own religion and if one is to claim that I am wrong, they would have to also claim that DARC is incorrect. More evidence for the Jamaicans being the original Rastafarians is from the introduction to the book Rastaman (Routledge Revivals): The Rastafarian Movement in England where it states, "...this book makes a detailed study of Rastafarianism. From its origins and development in Jamaica through to the growth of Rastafarian life in Britain."
The "origins and development in Jamaica" makes it pretty clear where the origin of Rastafarianism is, so I will rest my case with the caveat admission that it can be considered a debateable point as to whether it was started in Africa or Jamaica since the two are so inextricably linked.
One could make the argument that it was Haile Selassie who 'founded' Rastafarianism and thus it was started in Ethiopia, however, it seems to be a point on which it would be difficult to claim that one was incorrect claiming either Africa or Jamaica as the home of Rastafarianism.