Author Unknown


"Black slaves always felt an obvious affinity to the enslaved Hebrews; a few took this sympathy to its logical extreme and claimed to be, in fact, Jews. This movement probably existed in the U.S. during slavery times, and there was at least one Black convert in the synagogue of antebellum Charleston. The spread of information about the Jewish "Falasha" minority in Ethiopia contributed to the growth of Black Judaism during the late 19th Century, and Jewish sects emerged in the northern ghettoes alongside Muslim ones. A number of these, and similar groups of more recent origin, remain very active today.

There are bodies of opinion (some of which are anti-Jewish) that suggests that Jews are different from the Israelites of the Bible. Logically, one would see a greater affinity between Sephardic Jews and Afrikans than between Askenazi (European) Jews and Sephardic (Mediterranean) Jews. In fact, there is some support for the view that many of the patriarchs of the Old Testament were, in fact, black.

Rasta makes no claim to being Jewish, however we do know that we are Ethiopians in exile. That which the Bible speaks of as the lot of the Israelites is our reality.

These groups (a few of them very anti-Semitic in their claim of being "real Jews") are in some cases "Christian", although with an Old Testament emphasis. Frequently they claim that whites have distorted the text of the Bible, and there are attempts to "restore" the text.

One of these, of importance in this story, is the "Holy Piby", an occult bible allegedly translated from "Amharic" and emphasizing the destruction of white "Babylonia" and the return of the Israelites to Africa, the true Zion. The Piby was adopted by Rastafarians as the source of their liturgical texts.


The Marcus Garvey of history books is a mainly political leader interested in making the black race economically equal with the white. In oral tradition, however, he appears as a divinely annointed prophet, the Forerunner of Haile Selassie. In addition to many miracles and prophecies, he is credited with having predicted that a "mighty king" would arise in Africa and bring justice to the oppressed. When the Prince (Ras) Tafari of Ethiopia was crowned emperor to world-wide fanfare, many Jamaicans claimed the prophecy of Garvey had obviously just been fulfilled: the Ras Tafari Movement was born.

Absent from this is an overstanding of the conditions which gave rise to Rastafari. Mosiah Garvey was a catalyst for a reaction that was more than 300 years in the making and the the crowning of the Emperor had Biblical significance. As a descendant of King David through King Solomon and Queen Sheba, Biblical references that purported to refer to Jesus Christ (Eiasus Kristos), (who at the time was shown to have no relevance to Afrikans by virtue of being portrayed as white and whose purported words were the moral justification for enslavement), could take on greater meaning. As the Bible says in Genesis: "And God said; Let us make man in our own Image" This was crucial to popular support for the then heretical idea of a black Christ.

To this day, many people are uncomfortable with the idea of a black Christ, largely because of the way the word black is used as an absolute negative in the Bible. In contrast, the word white is used as an absolute positive in the same Bible. Rastafari, therefore, was not a knee jerk response to a political demagogue but a manifestation of Afrikan yearning for identity and re-integration with Afrika itself. In many ways therefore, Rasta is and continues to be "..the dream and the hope of the negro slave.."

Garvey himself was still alive, although his movement had largelycollapsed and he himself had been jailed on (subsequently disproved) allegations of business fraud. Garvey was no admirer of Haile Selassie, observing that slavery still existed in Ethiopia, and he attacked the Rastafarians as crazy fanatics. They, however continued to revere Garvey nonetheless, remarking that even John the Baptist had had doubts about Christ!

The slavery that existed in Ethiopia was different from the chattel slavery of the New World. In effect it was a kind of indenture that was markedly different from slavery in the Western Hemisphere, in that the "slaves" had rights that could not be extinguished. That is to say , that they were not owned as one would a cow or a sheep, as was the case in the Western Hemisphere. It was abolished by the Emperor in 1942 despite popular opposition and continued in remote areas long afterwards.

Garvey had been wrongly convicted of mail fraud - which took nearly 50 years to overturn. While he may have been quoted by the Daily Gleaner (The oldest daily paper in the Western Hemisphere) as attacking Rasta as fanatics, one must realise that the Gleaner is the mouthpiece of the status quo in Jamaica and editorially, it was no fan of either Garvey or Rasta.

Given the chance of discrediting Rasta, no doubt the Gleaner jumped at it. Garvey being the lesser of two evils (namely forces that strongly advocated the empowerment of the Afrikan majority). The choice would have been simple. Garvey could be painted as a criminal at the worst and a confidence trickster at the least, hence he was effectively neutered, in their minds. Rasta, on the other had, had the distressing effect of causing normally "docile" people to question cherished beliefs... such as the Afrikan could never amount to anything. Hence the need to "kill the alligator while still in the egg". The newspaper was, later, a vociferous supporter of the policy of the government of Alexander Bustamante which urged Police and other enforcement agencies to forcibly trim Rasta. This undeclared war on Rasta was tacitly supported by all churches in Jamaica until the excesses grew too numerous to be easily hidden.

As an aside, it is important to note that despite the esteem in which Mosiah Garvey is held by Afrikan communities in Afrika and within the Diaspora, the Jamaican Establishment refuses to countenance the notion of promulgating the ideas of Garvey; which are generally aimed at bettering the lot of the Afrikan majority. This, in spite of the fact that Mosiah is a National Hero, albeit elevated posthumously. So, his reputed attack on Rasta must be seen in context. No doubt readers see this everyday, in the States (and to a lesser extent in Canada), where the classic Roman strategy of divide and conquer is used as a means of discrediting dissent.


From 1930 until the mid '60s, Rastafari was a local Jamaican religious movement with few outside influences. Several Garveyite leaders had independently declared that Haile Selassie fulfilled Garvey's prophecy, and the movement remained dominated by independent "Elders" with widely varying views. Not only did no Jamaica-wide "Rastafarian Church" develop, but there was not even agreement on basic doctrine or a canon ofScripture- both the Holy Piby and the King James Bible were used by various Elders, but were freely emended and "corrected".

This "anarchy" was considered a virtue by classical Rastas. Rastafari was not a religion, a human organization, or a philosophy, but an active attempt to discern the will of JAH (God) and keep it. Classical Rastas were mainly uneducated [in Western Terms] Third World peasants, but they approached Rastafari in an almost Talmudic spirit, holding "reasonings" -- part theologicaldebate, part prayer meeting-- at which they attempted to find the Truth.

Their attitude differed, however, from that of Protestants interpreting the Bible. They were certain that they would arrive, by divine guidance, at an "overstanding" (rather than understanding) of the Truth. The Truth cannot be known by human effort alone, but "Jah-Jah come over I&I", one can participate in the One who is Truth.


Early Rasta mystical experience emphasized the immediate presence of JAH within the "dread" (God-fearer). The doctrine of theosis was expressed with great subtlety (although not all Elders correctly distinguished essence from energy). Through union with JAH, the dread becomes who he truly is but never was, a process of self-discovery possible only through repentance. (For this reason, Rastas did not proselytize, but relied on compunction sent by JAH.) The mystical union was expressed by the use of the pronoun "I&I"(which can mean I, we, or even you, with JAH present) or simply "I" in contrast to the undeclined Jamaican dialect "me".

I&I (I-man Individual and Rasta in general) do not seek converts, because only JAH can speak to the heart of a one. Therefore, I&I cannot waste I time trying to save someone's soul. That one must meditate upon JAH and listen to the direct words of JAH so that his or her soul can be saved. JAH is a personal experience, not a portable high.


Many Rastas lived (and live today) in the bush in camps ruled by an Elder. Some of these camps are segregated by sex and resemble monasteries (down to the gong at the gate); more often, they are reconstituted West African villages. The dreads observethe rules of "ital", a dietary code based on the Pentateuch with various additions, and otherwise observe a spiritual rule. Males are usually bearded (uncommon in Jamaica during the classical period, and a cause of social and religious discrimination, so that Rastas who held jobs often were "baldfaces" who kept their affiliation secret.)

The famous "dreadlocks" were worn during the classical period only by a minority of dreads, mostly those who had taken the oath of Nazirite.Very recent historical research suggests that the dreadlocks were popularized by a monastic movement which opposed the unrestrained and potentially corrupting power of the Elders. These celibate and almost puritanical "nyabinghi warriors" objected particularly to "pagan holdovers" in Rastafari, the continued use by dreads of ritual practices associated with the voudoun-like folk religion of the Jamaican peasantry.

It is therefore neccessary to distinguish between the different schools of thought that fall under the umbrella of RASTAFARI. To name a few, there are Orthodox converts who attempt to bridge Rasta and Ethiopian Orthodoxy, The 12 Tribes of Israel who view His Majesty as the Christ Incarnate, Bobo Dreads (who view Prince Emanuel I as the Christ), and then there is Niahbingi .

Niahbingi Rasta are exclusively Nazirites (and therefore wear dreadlocks).


Another source of "pagan" thought in Rastafari was the religion practiced by the thousands of East Indian labourers imported to Jamaica after the abolition of slavery. Classical Hinduism is a major religious force throughout the West Indies, especially on Trinidad, but its influence on Rastafari has been little remarked. The dreadlocked, ganja-smoking saddhu or wandering ascetic is a well-known figure in India, and bands of saddhus often live in Rasta-style camps and smoke marijuana from a formally-blessed communal chalice-pipe. The Hindu doctrine of reincarnation is also advocated by many dreads, although often with a subtle twist: to say that (for example) today's Jamaicans are reincarnated Israelites, and even "I myself have felt the slave-master's whip", means to some dreads not that they personallyhave lived before, but that their solidarity with their ancestors is so great that there is a "oneness through time".

This is not an exclusively Hindu philosophy. There is a great deal of Afrikan Tradition which deals with the subject. Thus a one is not a separate entity with no roots, but rather, a link in a continuing chain that stretches from the beginning of time.


Among the few things all Elders agreed on were that Haile Selassie was "divine" (although what that meant was much debated) and that he intended to restore New World Blacks to Africa. Although a mystical interpretation of "repatriation" was advanced, there is no doubt that all early Elders (and most modern ones) expected outward literal return as well. This gave Rastafari an overt political dimension: the Rastafarians all, without exception, wanted to immediatelye migrate to Ethiopia. This was a situation with no analogue except Zionism, and was beyond the ability of the Jamaican authorities to deal with. Revolutionaries are one thing, but the Rasta slogan was not "power to the people", but "let my people go". As time passed, Rastafarian frustration at this unmet demand became explosive.

The situation grew especially tense after 1954, when the government overran a Rastafarian mini-state called the Pinnacle, ruled by Elder Leonard Howell in exactly the style of a traditional West African chief. Howell's followers migrated to the slums of Kingston, and the movement went from a rural peasant separatist movement to one associated with the ghettoes of the capital. In the late '50s and early '60s, a few Rastas in desparation rejected the non-violent teaching of all authentic Elders and mounted a series of increasingly violent uprisings, culminating in several deadly shoot-outs between Rastas and British troops.

With this violence, the existence of Rastafari came to (negative) worldwide notice; more positive publicity was brought by the popularity of Rasta-performed reggae dance music a few years later. The classical period of isolation was at an end.

The issue of repatriation is another between Rasta, Garvey and the Afrikan Diaspora. Garvey suggested and indeed advocated the PHYSICAL repatriation of Afrikans to the motherland, in keeping with the experiments in Liberia and Nova Scotia, in which Afrikans were given the choice of returning to Afrika.

To that end Marcus formed the Black Star Line Steamship Company, whose activities were later to become the centre of a charge of mail fraud.


I will now treat the issue of direct contact between Rastafari and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.


As an African country mentioned in the Bible and the only African nation to successfully resist colonialism, Ethiopia was always prominent in New World Black consciousness, but actual contact was minimal until the Second World War. In 1937, Haile Selassie's government in exile founded EWF to raisemoney and political support from Black nationalist groups in the West. After the war, the EWF continued to exist in various forms, some completely under local control but all providing at least some contact with Abyssinia.


In the 1940s, a Garveyite bishop named Edwin Collins set up what he said was a legitimate Coptic church under the Patriarch of Alexandria. However the Garveyite Coptics were tied more closely to the African Orthodox Church than to Egypt, and their canonicity was widely doubted. In 1952 the Garveyite Coptic diocese of Trinidad andTobago broke away and placed itself under Addis Ababa. Clergy were imported from Africa and a fully canonical church was organised in the islands. Trinidad is an Ethiopian Orthodox success story: native-born clergy (including old-time Garveyite leaders) were rapidly ordained and parishes were founded all over the country and in Guyana.


In 1959 the central Garveyite Coptic organisation in New York tried to improve its canonical status. The archbishop went to Ethiopia, where he was supposedly ordained chorepiscopos, and returned with a group of young Ethiopian priests and deacons who were to study in American universities. These clergy almost immediately broke with the Garveyites, however, and set up parishes more oriented to the needs of Ethiopian immigrants; the Garveyite Coptic church which had sponsored them went into an evidently irreversible decline. One of the young priests who came over at this time soon became Ethiopian Orthodoxy's main representative abroad. He is Laike M. Mandefro, now Archbishop Yesehaq, exarch of the Western Hemisphere and many would add Apostle to the Caribbean.


All of the above developments took place independently of the Ras Tafari Movement, which was still confined to Jamaica. An EWF chapter had opened there in 1938 and been almost immediately taken over by Rastafarians, in particular by the prominent Elders Joseph Hibbert and Archibald Dunkley. Both men were noted mystics and initiates of an all-Black "Coptic" Masonic lodge in Costa Rica; some might therefore find it ironic that they more than anyone else would prove responsible for the arrival of Orthodoxy in Jamaica!


Presumably because of the spread of the Ethiopian Church in Trinidad, Haile Selassie was invited to visit that country in 1966. Jamaica was then in the throes of an ongoing national social crisis in which Rastas were perceived by the establishment as a revolutionary threat which had to defused; a team of social scientists had advised the government that one way to do this was to foster close ties with the real Ethiopia. Accordingly, the Emperor was invited to make a stop in Jamaica.

On April 21 -- "Grounation Day" to Rastas ever since -- Haile Selassie arrived in Kingston. Contrary to the widely repeated claim that the Emperor was "amazed" or "bemused" upon "discovering" the existence of the Rastafarians (the greater number of whom by 1966 believed him to be God in essence), there is much evidence that Haile Selassie's whole purpose in visiting Jamaica was to meet the Rasta leadership. Greeted at the airport by thousands of dreads in white robes chanting "Hosanna to the Son of David", Haile Selassie granted an audience to a delegation of famous Elders, including Mortimo Planno and probably Joseph Hibbert. The precise details of this historic meeting cannot be reconstructed, and there exist countless variants in Jamaican oral tradition. Almost certainly, he urged them to become Orthodox and held out the possibility that Jamaican settlers could receive land-grants in South Ethiopia. Most traditional versions of the meeting specify that he also gave the Elders a secret message, very much in keeping with the Emperor's known policies on Third World development: Build Jamaica first."

While the Government of Sir Alexander Bustamente, given their prior and later treatment of Rasta, did have ulterior motives in inviting His Majesty to Jamaica; any semblance of control of the occasion quickly passed to the masses of Rasta and baldheads (non-rasta) who greeted HIM as they did.

The Daily Gleaner, grudgingly commented that no other head of state had ever been accorded the heartfelt outpouring of emotion that greeted His Majesty. Not even Elizabeth II, the Queen of England had ever had such an outpouring of welcome.

His Majesty was greeted by Niahbingi drumming and chants and a great many people waving coconut fronds (in lieu of palm leaves) and chants reminiscent of Eiasus Kristos' Palm Sunday welcome.

It is this event over all, that cemented the fact of Rastafari on the social scene in Jamaica. In 30 years the movement had already grown to substantial numbers of committed Rasta, in terms of wearing dreadlocks and far more people who were tolerant and protective of Rasta as well as agreeing with fundamental Rasta values. This Rasta-centric expression was later exploited by Manley and the PNP, and in the process paved the way for Reggae music to explode the way it did.

Sheshamane, the land grant in I-thopia, was claimed by a few Rasta who emigrated. Owing to the high cost of transport, however, it was effectively out of the reach of the ordinary Rasta, but the fact that it exists, is another link that Rasta has created with the homeland. Later political troubles in Addis Abeba have continued to frustrate the taking up of the Emperor's grant.


In 1970, at Hibbert's invitation, Abba Laike Mandefro began to evangelize the Rastafarians in person. In the course of a year he baptized some 1200 dreads and laid the foundation for the church's subsequent growth. He also encountered fierce opposition from those Elders who taught that Haile Selassie was Jah in essence and demanded "baptism in Ras Tafari's name". In Montego Bay, only one dread accepted Orthodox baptism; Laike Mandefro baptized him Ahadu -- "One Man".


A major crisis struck the young church in 1971 when a public service marking the ninth anniversary of Jamaican independence was held in Kingston. Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox (Greek and Ethiopian) clergy all participated in the service. The Rastas were scandalized that Orthodox would pray with representatives of "false religions"; hundreds of baptized members defected, and an entire parish was lost. Many of these persons no doubt joined the organized Rastafarian churches which were beginning to replace the traditional Elder system, and which soon incorporated widely varying degrees of Ethiopian Orthodox liturgical and theological influence.

As stated earlier, many of the clergy who were at the gathering tacitly supported the policies of the Government of Jamaica begun by Alexander Bustamante and continued by Donald Sangster and the then Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, of attacking Rasta by forcibly trimming our dreadlocks. These clergy stood and watched, while this happened. It is one of the reasons why the socialist PNP, led by Michael Manley would, less than a year later, go on to win the PNP's first post-independence mandate by an overwhelming landslide. Manley's victory hinged upon his adoption of Rasta symbology, chief of which was the "Rod of Correction" (makwamya -the prayer stick used by Ethiopian clergy) which purportedly came from the hand of His Majesty himself.


Besides the heretical syncretist groups, however, a legitimate Orthodox Rastafari Movement continued to flourish as the backbone of the Jamaican church. The EWF under the leadership of Dunkley and Hibbert had enormous prestige, being tied both to the roots of the movement in Garveyism and directly to Jamaica. The EWF retained the political and social aspects and the distinctive cultural features of classical Rastafari while advocating a rigorously correct and canonical Orthodoxy, venerating the Emperor as a holy living ikon of JAH but not worshiping him. The first steps toward Orthodox Jamaica were being taken -- albeit by people whose main secular goal was to leave the country as soon as possible!


Orthodox theology distinguishes

**several levels of divinity. Only the Uncreated is "God-in-essence"; humans
**can become "divine by participation"; ikons are visible channels through
**which divine energy enters the world. The question which divides the
**"canonical" brethren from non-Orthodox groups is which of these
**levels of divinity applies to Emperor Haile Selassie. The Orthodox say he is divine by participation and ikonicity, and thus merits "douleia"
**("veneration"); the Tribes say he is divine in essence and merits "latreia"**or absolute worship.}


This was also the time when reggae music was at the height of its popularity, and when explicitly religious lyrics were the norm within reggae. Many popular bands were Orthodox, notably The Abyssinians, a group with priestly and monastic connections. The family of reggae's "superstar", Bob Marley, were mostly Orthodox, although Marley himself was for most of his career a member of the Twelve Tribes sect. In his last years, dying young of cancer, Marley underwent a remarkable spiritual transformation (evident in his music also) culminating in his baptism; his Orthodox funeral in 1981 was attended by tens of thousands of mourners.

It ought to be said that the word " reggae " was not coined by an identifiably Rasta figure as far as popular perception of what is Rasta goes. Toots Hibbert of Toots and The Maytals is credited with coining the word which was then spelled "REGGAY"


Haile Selassie was reported dead in 1975 (to the disbelief of many Rastas even today). The Ethiopian church, like many Orthodox churches under communist rule, endured terrible persecution which it survived partly by compromise with the persecutors. The Marxist regime in Addis Ababa was very unenthused that an emperor-venerating and/orworshiping cult was flourishing in a part of the world otherwise ripe for revolution.

In addition, I have the impression that some of the increasingly numerous and often middle-class Ethiopian emigres in the West looked down on Rastafarians. The pious suspected their Orthodoxy (no doubt often rightly; that many "Orthodox" Rastas continued to secretly harbor heretical views is quite likely); the staid resented association with an impoverished and reputedly criminal Black underclass. The latter consideration was especially strong in Britain, where all forms of Rastafari spread rapidly among the West Indian minority in the '70s. (It is important to add, however, that England's Ethiopian community also provided legal and other support for Rastas subjected to racist and police harassment during this period, especially in the Handsworth section of Birmingham.)

For whatever reason, in 1976 all Orthodox Rastas were required to cut their locks and to make an elaborate formal repudiation of heretical emperor worship. Whatever its long-term wisdom, this decree forced people who were "growing into an overstanding" by the slow traditional process to make a sudden decision; the cutting of locks, a purely external issue, seemed to many a repudiation of the movement's history.

A one can be dead, even if he/she is breathing; while a next one can be alive even though the carcass is buried. I&I am more than I flesh and so, if I&I follow the precepts; I&I will live forIver. Therefore I&I shall live forevermore. There is, therefore, nothing wrong in the assertion that HIM is alive, since life is not confined to the flesh alone.


In spite of these not-inconsiderable conflicts, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has spread through the Caribbean thanks to the RasTafari movement. While only a minority of Rastas have actually become Orthodox, nearly all have been influenced by Orthodoxy. Them akwamya (the prayer stick used by Ethiopian clergy) is ubiquitous among dreads; items of clerical garb are also frequently adopted. Rastafarian painters have been heavily influenced by ikonography. Syncretism is particularly evident in the organized sects which have partly supplanted the charismatic Elder system.


(unrelated to the various Black Hebrew churches of the same name) are probably the largest and most famous of the sects. Founded in 1968 by Vernon Carrington (the Prophet Gad), the Tribes hold that Haile Selassie is Jesus Christ returned in majesty as King: the Second Coming has already happened. Their coherent theology and tight organization have won them many converts, including most of the famous reggae singers of the '70s. Something of the syncretistic feel of later Rastafari is conveyed by the cover art on the album "Zion Train" by Ras Michael (a brilliant hymnographer and one of the Ras Tafari Movement's more impressive living spokesmen). The painting shows two clerically-turbaned dreads before the open Royal Doors of an ikonostasis -- beyond which, however, is only a view of mountains against a red sky


founder of another prominent sect, was a famous Elder of the classical era, responsible for convening the first "Nyabinghi" or Rastafarian general synod in 1958. The Prince was already a controversial figure who claimed to be one of the Holy Trinity along with Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey; presumably, he hoped the Nyabinghi would recognize this claim (which it did not). Thereafter the Prince began transforming his large band of worshipers into an organized church, complete with dogma, liturgy, hierarchy, and a kind of monasticism. The group's priests, some of whom have actually been to Ethiopia, wear Orthodox vestments. Prince Emmanuel has continued to be one of the most influential Rasta voices in Jamaica. While there is great difficulty with his claim to divinity by most Rasta, it must be stressed that he and his movement are seen and have always been seen to be Rasta. Differences have always arisen, but I&I know that with reason comes overstanding, even if there is no agreemeant.

It is to his and his movement's credit that "Bobo" dreads are to be seen all over Jamaica. Mainly associated with the broom industry [some of which are used to rid houses of ananses :)], these often celibate Rasta are respected for their spirituality and their withdrawal from society. Their encampment can be seen in all its splendour in the Bull Bay area of St. Andrew.


"zion_coptic a semi-moribund Garveyite Orthodox denomination, was revitalized by white hippie converts in the '60s; despite its partly foreign leadership, it enjoyed explosive growth among Black Jamaicans disillusioned with the canonical church's approach. Although the "Coptics", as they are called, insist that they are a legitimate Orthodox jurisdiction and even publish tracts on such theological issues as the _mia physis_ and the Council of Chalcedon, they also engage in some very questionable speculations verging on Gnosticism. To their credit, they have gone much further than the canonical church in incorporating the best of classical Rastafrian culture into church life, and their retention of dreadlocks, nyabinghi drumming, etc. has helped them gain many converts. This success is reflected in their great material wealth, for which they have been criticized (they are supposedly among the largest landholders in Jamaica). One aspect of their "reverse syncretism" has caused much controversy, as well as a landmark church-state case which landed the Coptics' leadership in prison: their gnosticizing theories are used to justify ritual consumption of marijuana.


Contrary to popular belief, pious Rastas do not smoke marijuana recreationally, and some (the canonical Ethiopian Orthodox and also the followers of certain classical Elders) do not use it at all. Most Rastafarian teachers, however, have advocated the controlled ritual smoking of "wisdomweed" both privately as an aid to meditation and communally from "chalice" pipes as an "incense pleasing to the Lord". The argument is that ganja is the "green herb" of the King James Bible and that its use is a kind of shortcut version of traditional ascetical practice. The Ethiopian Church, of course, strongly discourages this: Orthodox monks have learned over centuries of experience that such shortcuts are at best dangerous and at worst soul-destroying. The issue, however, has been much sensationalized by the press, in keeping with the racist stereotyping of Rastas as stoned criminals.


I believe that the Rastafarians have been greatly underestimated by the outside world, including, to some extent, many elements in the Orthodox community. The classical Rastas were sophisticated theological and philosophical thinkers, not cargo-cultists worshiping newspaper photos of an African despot. They had discovered many sophisticated theological concepts for themselves, and had retraced many of the Christological and other debates of the early Church. They brought a truly rich cultural and artistic legacy, including some of the twentieth century's most moving hymnography.. While Abuna Yesehaq, at least, certainly seems to recognize this, in practise Rastas often seem to be told by the church that they must become Ethiopians in order to become Orthodox. Many are willing todo this, so great is their thirst for Truth and so acute their sense of having lost their true African culture. More, however, are not--and in a way rightly so. The Church is the poorer to the extent it does not incorporate what is good about the Rasta experienceand instead tiresomely emphasizes the "heresy of emperor-worship" and "herbal sorcery". What is forgotten is that the existence of the Rastafari movement is a miracle: a forgotten people and a lost culture bringing itself by "reasonings" to the very edge of Orthodoxy. Surely this is a supernatural event, and so the Orthodox Rastas see it.

An anonymous nyabingi chant goes:

Michael going to bring them, bring them to the Orthodox Church.
No matter what they do, no matter what they say.
Gabriel going to bring them, bring them to the Orthodox Church.
Raphael going to bring them, Uriel going to bring them,
Sorial going to bring them, Raguel going to bring them,
Fanuel going to bring them, bring them to the Orthodox Church.

I will conclude with a song by Berhane Selassie (Bob Marley), written around the time he was converting to Orthodoxy from the Twelve Tribes and summing up the whole Orthodox Rasta "seen":

Old pirates, yes, they rob I

Sod I to the merchant ships,

Minutes after they took I

From the bottomless pit.

But my hand was made strong

By the hand of the Almighty.

We followed in this generation, triumphantly.

Won't you help to sing these songs of freedom?

Cause all I ever have: redemption songs,

These songs of freedom.

This was the last song on the last album Marley released beforehis death.