Misconceptions of Rastafarianism

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Sam Cook
12/1/2012
Rhetoric of Reggae
Tuna (Professor Snider)

Common Misconceptions of the Rastafarian People

When an average person hears the word Rastafarianism, several things come to mind. Some examples would be the stereotypical images of dreadlocks (long braids or natural locks of hair), the smoking of ganja (marijuana), the busy streets of Trenchtown, and the reggae rhythms of the one and only Bob Marley. Unfortunately, those things are not necessarily the makings of what truly embodies the Rastafari culture.

With the growing international popularity of reggae in the 1970’s, the Rastafarian movement gained headway in Jamaica. Yet this came as both a blessing and curse for the Rastafarian, because it created divisions within the movement and gave birth to a number of “pseudo Rastafarian” groups embracing only the superficial symbolism. (King) Jamaica’s Prime Minister at the time, Michael Manley, helped weave the Rastafarian imagery and common themes right into the heart of Jamaican political rhetoric. After seeing a lot of exposure and feedback, reggae and Rastafarianism became Jamaica’s claim to fame. Moral of the story is that music can do a lot for social movements. However, sometimes there are boundaries that people need to follow or else movements such as Rastafarianism are subject to criticism and the creation of misconception.

Following the talk I had with friends about Rastafarianism, and asking random people about what they believe it means to be a Rasta, I put together a small list of common misconceptions people had believed. The first misconception is that all Rastafarians smoke weed. That’s not the case by any means. There are plenty of Rasta’s who do not partake in smoking weed, but do understand its significance to the Rastafarian culture. As a Rastafarian, you are not forced to smoke weed however, many Rasta’s faithfully see ganja as a sacrament that helps in the discovery of the “I in I”, which is the true form of Jah. (Brodber) It’s important to respect the right of others to do as they choose. The saying “to each its own” heavily applies to that aspect of the Rastafarian culture.

This misconception also has people to believe that since almost all or most Rastafarians partake in smoking weed, obviously do not work, failing to hold a decent job. One because most jobs require employees to get drug tested, and two because smoking weed can make people lazy and unmotivated. Therefore, people believe that Rastafarians must not be contributing to society, due to laziness and the opportunity to mooch off of the government. This could not be farther from the truth, and sadly, is what many people of the Westernized culture believe.

Another big misconception I found was that people believed that All Rastafarians wear dreadlocks. The decision to grow dreads is a personal choice, and is based on an individual’s spiritual journey in relation to their beliefs and or Jah. For the most part, when Rasta’s do decide to dread their hair, it’s a commitment and really helps them identify one another as a culture. Rasta’s believe that dreadlocks are comparable to a lion’s mane, and that “identification with the lion – its roar, its hair, its body strength, intelligence, and total movement…” defines the beginning of pride in blackness. (Duncan)

Along with the judgment of Rasta’s, you may have a man or woman coworker who is a Rasta and have no idea. In fact, your best friend may be a Rastafari, and you may have no clue. There is no physical requirement to become a Rastafarian. There is no dress code, no logo, and or badge needed to participate in the Rasta faith. To truly identify a Rastafarian, one should never check the external dress but should always check for the heart. Rastafarians are not Christians. Some are, some are not. Some Rastafarians view HIM (His Imperial Majesty) Haile Selassie I as the reincarnation of God and thus the savior of...
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