It is a religion in which a man is regarded as God incarnate and his prophet saw him as a coward.
This is a story of the Rastafarian religion, although its followers claim it is more a way of life than a religion.
“We are not like Christians who worship God once a week. We worship every day, it is about personally knowing God. You can sit anywhere and feel close to God without passing or going through someone to worship Him,” says Ras Thato.
He has been a follower of this religion for over ten years. “It involves soul searching,” he says.
Ras Jabulani Ncqube converted four years ago. His view is that it is what you believe in that makes it a way of life.
“It teaches you to treat the body like the temple of God,” says George Molome, who was converted three years ago. True Rastafarians are vegetarians.
They eat meat especially pork, drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes.
The story begins with the publication of an article dated November 8, 1930, in a Jamaican newspaper, The Black man, by Marcus Garvey.
He wrote: “The psalmist prophesied that the prince would come out of Egypt and Ethiopia would stretch forth her hands unto God…and it is for us of the Negro race to assist in every way to hold up the hand of Emperor Ras Tafari”.
(Courtesy of Jamaican.com) That was six days after Ras Tafari Makonen was crowned the new Emperor of Ethiopia.
During his coronation, he called himself “Emperor Haile Selassie 1, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah, Lord of Lords and King of Kings.”
The crowning was seen as fulfilment of the Prophesy by Marcus Garvey and thus Rastafarianism gained following and officially started in 1930.
One of his early Priests, Leonard Howell, gave the Rastafarians six principles to follow: hatred for the white race, black race supremacy, revenge for slavery, fighting for injustice caused by the Jamaican government, getting ready to go to Africa and acknowledge Haile Selassie as God and ruler of the black people.
However, lacking an overall leader, Rastafarians split into four groups or tribes and many remained in the sidelines and Howell’s principles got diluted with time.
Now Rastas are humble people eager to give a helping hand to a beggar in the street.
For example, Babylon, a term used to mean hatred for the white race, now means wickedness of the world and the lands of the African slaves were taken to.
What makes this 80-year-old religion or way of life so appealing to some people? What makes it possible for this mixture of Christianity, Judaism and African religion to still win converts?
“I was converted three years ago after reading the Bible and seeing what was happening in the world and also my close friends are Rastas,” says George Molome.
Ras Ncqube says his Christian upbringing did not touch on some of the issues that the Rastafarianism addresses such as worshipping God every day as opposed to doing it once a week.
Quoting from the Old and New testaments, Ras Ncqube says he saw the Rastafari light when he read Revelation 5:5
It talks about the Lion of the tribe of Judah being the root of David, Psalms 68:31 is the basis of Marcus’ Prophesy and Numbers 6:5 talks about the dreadlocks that is a dedication to Jah.
Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie’s ancestors are the Biblical Queen of Sheba and King Solomon.
Thato belongs to the twelve tribes of Israel, Ras George to Bobo Shanti and Ras Ncqube to the Nyabinghi and the Orthodox.
Each group has its own doctrine, with Bobo Shanti being the toughest to follow and George’s the most liberal.
But then, these doctrines are loosely followed or mixed because Rastafarianism strongly preaches the value of freedom and independence.
“Someone does not have to belong to a group. It is what you believe in. Just do not forget the ten commandments or your heritage,” says George.
“We have the calling,” Ras Ncqube says, “to bring people to God so that He can be victorious.”
The Rastafarian theology is derived from the Bible, Holy Piby, the Royal Parchment of scroll of Black Supremacy, the Promised Key and Kebra Negast.
None of the Rastas interviewed had, however, read any of these books except the Bible. They are quite knowledgeable about the Old Testament’s contents.
“I follow the Old Testament and read chapter by chapter. Once I have finished I go back to Genesis to learn more,” says George.
Unlike Bobo Shanti, who meets in the gathering, to George going to “Church” is talking about God. “God is everywhere. God is in your heart, not in a building,” he says.
The Bobo Ashanti followers like Ras Ncqube come together in temples to chant the psalms while beating the Nyabinghi drums on the Sabbath (Saturday). “We meet to meditate together and get closer to God,” says Ras Ncqube.
When Peter Tosh, one of the pioneering Reggae musicians, sung, “Legalise it Legalise it-don’t criticise it/Legalise it and I will advertise it”, everyone knew that he was talking about Marijuana.
This “Holy herb” is used for meditation, but not all Rastas take it. It is also used for medicinal purposes but never as recreational drug.
Rastafarians justify its use by citing Biblical verses that refer to an herb that Jah gave to man to eat: Genesis 3:18, Exodus 10:12, Proverbs 15:17 and Psalms 104:15.
What is known to them as ganja is cannabis in Botswana, an illegal substance. This herb has many names: blow, blunts, bob hope, bush, dope, grass, hemp, herb, Mary Jane, pot puff, spliff and many more.
How did a religion that sprung up in Jamaica find its way across the Pacific Ocean and Africa to reach Botswana? The answer is simple. Reggae music.
The Rastafarian religion was popularised in the 1970s by the legendry artiste, Bob Marley. There are two legends in this kind of genre of music. Bob is one and the other is Joseph Hill.
Rastas feel their music was truly spreading the gospel of their religion.
“Their music was highly spiritual with vices,” explains Ras George.
Reggae music is a medium for spreading the message. It spreads the culture and ensures the followers do not forget it.
However, not all reggae artistes can be said to be spiritual. Like almost everything else in this religion, it has gone secular too. Some of the artistes said to be spreading the message now are Sizzla, Capliton, Antony B, Luciano and Spice.
Secularism has plagued the religion that its personalities, colours and hairstyles have become nothing more than fashion icons; Marley, Haile and Marcus on T-shirts and dreadlocks becoming popular as a fashion hairstyle. The deadlocks are intended to make a believer to resemble the Lion of Judah. “They are both spiritual and for grace,” says Ras George.
For Ras Ncqube, deadlocks are a dedication to Jah. He says the Bible says that no razor could come upon his head and he will be holy and let the hair on his head grow (Numbers 6:5-6).
The Rasta colours are more than just colours thrown together: red for the blood, green for the land of Africa and yellow for gold, the riches of Africa.
“These colours are the banners of God and salvation,” says Ras George. “They surround God on the seat of judgement with 24 elders worshipping him.”
All religions have what you call a home: Mecca for the Muslims, Tibet for Buddhists and Rome for the Roman Catholics. For Rastas home is Shashemene in Ethiopia.
In 1948, Selassie gave the land, Sheshamene, to the movement. On April 21 1966, his plane touched down on Jamaican soil for the first time and the last time. He met some of the Rastafarian leaders and told them not to immigrate to Ethiopia until they had liberated the Jamaican people.
He also told them that from that day on, April 21 would be the holiday called Grounation Day.
Another story has it that the Jamaican Government invited him to talk to the Rastafarians, who were rioting in the streets of Kingston at that time, and tell them that he was not God. But when he met the leaders, he said: “I am who you say I am”.
Ras Ncqube disagrees with Ras George and Thato about the need to go to Sheshamene.
The former two feel that those who are in Babylon should be the ones to go because they have been living in the Motherland, Africa.
“I want to go there and stay with my brethren and learn the language,” says Ras Thato.
Generally, they believe those who die go to Zion (Ethiopia) where there is no darkness or need for candles because Rastafari is the light.
Ras George believes that if everybody in the world loved their neighbours as they loved themselves then there would be no sin.