Rastafarians acknowledge that their religion is the blending of the purest forms of both Judaism and Christianity; they also accept the Egyptian origins of both these religions. In affirming the divinity of Haile Selassie, Rastafari rejects the Babylonian hypocrisy of the modern church. The church of Rome, and even the council of Rome, are considered to be particularly Babylonian: was it not from this city that Mussolini invaded the holy land of Ethiopia in 1935? Religions always reflect the social and geographical environment out of which they emerge, and Jamaican Rastafari is no exception: for example, the use of marijuana as a sacrament and aid to meditation is logical in a country where a particularly potent strain of 'herb' grows freely.

Marijuana: The Weed of Wisdom

In fact, the herb "ganja" (marijuana) was regarded as "wisdomweed," and Rasta leaders urged that it be smoked as a religious rite, alleging that it was found growing on the grave of King Solomon and citing biblical passages, such as Psalms 104:14, to attest to its sacramental properties: "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth."

"Ital" Diet and Dreadlocks

A set of dietary and hygienic laws were formulated to accompany the religion's doctrine. They urged their flocks to shun the ingestion of alcohol, tobacco, all meat (especially pork), as well as shellfish, scaleless fish, snails, predatory and scavenger species of marine life, and many common seasonings like salt. In short, anything that was not "ital," a Rasta term meaning pure, natural or clean, was forbidden.

They also outlawed was the combing or cutting of hair, citing the holy directive in 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 their flesh." Their nappy tresses were allowed to mat and twine themselves into ropy dreadlocks, so called to mock non-believers' aversion to their appearance. (The noun "dread" has also since evolved into a word of praise.)

Babylon Will Fall

The Rastas deny allegations by other religious groups that they were anti-white or anti-brown (mulatto) and invited all to repent and accept Jah (a shortened form of Jehovah). They vowed that at a secret hour known only to a devout few, converts would return to Ethiopia by an undisclosed means, leaving behind the tropical steambath of Jamaica, which they considered to be literally Hell on Earth. Until that time, Rastas would refuse to take part in the machinations of daily life and commerce in "Babylon," the sphere of temporal captivity of the spirit.

The poor flocked to the Rastas' call, since the cult's creed lent a certain nobility to their alienated status. As Rastas, they could now await with dignity the Judgment Day, when the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

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Photographs copyright Adrian Boot, 1997. Text from <a href="">CATCH A FIRE: THE LIFE OF BOB MARLEY,</a> rev. ed. by Timothy White © 1983, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996 by Timothy White. Used by arrangement with Henry Holt and Co., New York and the author.
Text also from <a href="">Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom</a> by Adrian Boot and Chris Salewicz. Text copyright © 1995, by Chris Salewicz.
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