There is spirituality in every culture and within every movement. Anything that deals outside of the human being and deals with a God or a deity, consciousness, the Universe and it’s cosmology, things that are unknown to the human mind or unexplained, is viewed as spirituality. There is no single agreed upon definition of spirituality, but what certain groups or individuals look towards as this consciousness or their conscious level of elevation, having to do with their journey or pathway through life, this is their spirituality – the search. When I was a little girl growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, I once asked my father why he didn’t pork, and he told me that because he was a Rasta man, and in my innocence, I asked him “but daddy, I don’t see any dread locks,” and his reply to me was “I am a Rasta Man in my heart, mi baby.” Every since that time and events after this, I have always been fascinated with this movement and it’s people. Their philosophy, the way they live their life, their community, their wisdom, their oneness with nature, and their back-to-Africa-movement.
Rastafarianism as a movement is indigenous to Jamaica and it’s people, coming from a need to connect with their ancestral homeland, Africa. Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who, to this date, has done the most for black people within the diaspora, found a way through his teachings and prophecies, to remove the slave mentality of worshiping a white Jesus by telling Jamaicans to “look to the East for the crowning of black King. He shall be crowned King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Not long after this prophecy, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was crowned the very same way. The opportunity it gave for a group of people looking for themselves and their God as themselves, in realizing that they could see in Haile Selassie what they saw in the Christ of the Bible began a positive movement now known Rastafarianism.
When I was a child growing up in Jamaica, I remember one day a Bobo Dread who was passing through the area selling straw brooms (This was a source of living for the peaceful groups of Bobo’s who resided in a community in Bull Bay, St. Thomas, (nine miles just outside of Kingston), stopped inside our gate to inquire if we needed to buy brooms. A Bobo Dread is one of the many sub-groups of Rastafarianism called Bobo Shanti, or Bobo Ashanti. He was neatly dressed in pristine white and as the picture shows above, Bobo Shanti’s always wrap their locks up neatly, never showing any hair. He stopped at our gate and respectively put his right hand above his heart to the left of him (this is the way they greet most often), greeted us with a slight bow, who were sitting on the veranda, and in a soft humble voice asked if we needed brooms to buy. Hilda Willis (Miss Will), a staunch (poco jumping, obeah working, undercover pimp, she pimped out her niece to the men in the church) Christian woman and my mother’s arch nemesis, a contentious virago and a hooligan at heart, one who hated Rastas and used to call them “dutty dread bwoy” shouted at him with dripping venom, driving him away from our gate and told him to “move wid him dutty tinkin’ broom.” The Rasta man bowed respectfully to an angry-faced foaming at the mouth Miss Will, blessed all of us with a waving of the hand, said “Blessing sisters, peace and love,” and he walked away. He had not a look of contempt, vexation, even annoyance on his face or any irritation imprinted upon him through his body language, he peacefully walked away.
I had never forgotten that day because although this Christian woman cursed foul language at this man, he never retorted and still blessed us as he turned and left. During these times in Jamaica, the Rastafarian movement was not accepted as it is today. Because of the peaceful quality of these people, many people began to emulate them in their dressings and how they carried themselves. But at the root of these impostors actions, were badness, gun slingers, thieves, rapists, criminals. So after a while, communities did not know who was the real Rastafarian from the impostors. Christians gave them a hard time, because of their looks (dreadlocks, and their way of dressing, it mattered not that they were peaceful and used the same bible as Christians did) they were called horrible names and often profiled by police who brutalized and even killed them.
Since I have been an initiate of the Ifa/Orisa tradition, I have gotten to know Orisa Shango, who is the Orisa which represents the aspect of nature which is Lightning and Thunder. He is the deity of fire. Shango, before he became King, as the story goes, had a brother whose name was Baayani, otherwise known as Dada. It is said that Dada, who is Shango’s older brother, was the original King on the throne. This is in Oyo State, Nigeria. Dada, who wore dreads and was peaceful and non-violent, he didn’t like war, he was a humble man, abdicated the throne, giving it to his junior brother Shango, who was said to be dreadful. When looking at Baayani’s (Dada’s) personality and dreads – I see the Rasta Man.
Not only that, but in Nigeria, among the Yoruba’s of which Dada and Shango are from that tribe, children who are born with dreads are called Dada. It does not matter if the parent cuts the hair, the hair will naturally lock up again. All children such as this must have this name in honour of Orisa Dada, Shango’s brother. I once asked my husband’s sister, whose little girl is also “Dada,” if she has ever tried to comb the hair for it to be normal, and she said no matter how many times they cut it, it grows back locked the same way, and this is with all children born with locks. It is said that any child born with locks such as these children in Nigeria, are not ordinary human beings.
Now reflecting back to real Rastas, and the original movement of Rastafarianism, not ONLY the locking of the hair but also their peaceful nature such as the Bobo Dread who came to our gate, non-violent, one’s who connected with nature and lived at one with their environment, who views their locks upon their heads as a crown (citing the reasons for never cutting their hair), their humble stance and loving, peaceful nature, in them I see Dada, Shango’s brother. The original King.
Do I dare wonder that regardless of the explanations given, why the founder of Bobo Shanti, Prince Emmanuel Charles Edwards, was also called Dada? Also like Miguel Collins, aka Sizzla, High Priest of the Bobo Shanti order, is also known as Dada? How wonderful is our Genetic Memory.
When the world looks at the Rasta Man or looks to the Jamaican Rasta Man, they see a cool set of people with knotty dreads wearing the colors Red, Green, and Gold, at one with nature, but what they see the most is the chilom pipe, ganja smoking, group of people, thus believing that ganja is the pivotol point of this movement. Now, there are Rastafarians who do not smoke and yes most Rastas do smoke ganja, but the concepts and the reasons behind ganja and Rastafarianism sits within the spirituality of the movement – not from getting high. Haile Selassie, who is revered by the Rastas as the returned messiah, is said to be of the bloodline of King David, father of King Solomon, who is said to be the wisest man. According to the Rastas, the herb, ganja or marijuana was found growing on King Solomon’s grave. Now, they had it to say that Solomon, who was the wisest man, and with ganja growing on top of his grave, this was a sign that the herb as they call it, when smoked, could be used to place them into a medatative state, thus rising their consciousness, in other words taking them out of human form to a higher state of consciousness. This raises their spiritual vibration and enhances wisdom as it did, perhaps, for King Solomon. This concept also can be found among Amazonian tribes and also Native Indians, where they would smoke herb or use a hallucinogenic drug for them to enter the spirit realm while still in human flesh. This explanation really takes away the idea that Rastas are “stoners,” people just smoking to get high. The herb is used to gather wisdom.
In everything there needs balance and through the Rastafarian movement and their study, research, of the herbs (ganja) and all things of nature, have brought them to this revelation on how to raise their conscious level so that they can use nature to heal themselves and each other. Now, this also points me back to Orisa worship, which is a nature worship tradition, and Orisa Shango along with Dada are from nature itself. Shango was known to be very powerful and extremely magical, now this is not to say that the Rasta Man way of life is rooted into Orisa or the Yorubas, this is just my observation as a spiritualist, seeing this powerful Orisa Dada within the whole concept of Rastafarianism.
When the Rastas hold their Nyabinghi sessions, there is always a fire burning while the drums are beating. Now, I am a spiritualist and I view everything from a spiritual perspective, and as I wrote before about seeing Dada within the culture, the movement, or even the imagery of the Rasta, as how it is within the Yoruba tradition, Shango, the younger brother of Dada, is the ruler of fire – this is also evident in Capleton calling himself King Shango and also the Rastas using fire as the purification of all things. Fire being the power of Shango, who is Dada’s brother. So the reflection of Shango and Dada, two Orisas of the Yoruba Pantheon, stands strong within the Rastafarian movement.
With fire being the purification of everything, is as I’ve written before, one of the philosophies of the Rasta Man. But in our traditional practice of Ifa/Orisa and during certain initiations, the fire, set ablaze as it is done at a Nyabinghi session, must be present as a purifier. How wonderful is our genetic memory? How wonderful is our ancestors? Those who come to show and lead the way. When a person has opened themselves up to the Universe in search of who he or she really is as a spiritual being having his human experience, something, some spirit, will come to teach him and show him the way. What many of us do not know is that all our lives and who we are is already apart of our consciousness waiting to be unlocked, it becomes unlocked when we begin to stir awake. It manifests itself through how we speak, our actions, our behavior, our organizations, what we embrace, what we have as culture. All of this is owing to our genetic memory.
Another awakening among the Rastafarian movement is not only the fire as a purification but also the fire as Light, as is the Sun, coming from Kemet (Egypt) and their worship of Amen-Ra, the Sun God. Rastafarian’s are known to “block reverence” to the Sun, and this is by turning to the East where the sun rises, holding an order, (which is having the two index fingers touching and the two thumbs touching, making like a diamond shape) and praying. From a spiritual perspective, to block reverence to the sun, as I see them do, I identify this as sourcing the suns energy. The sun itself being the source of energy for the earth and it’s inhabitants, so when the prayer is turned towards the sun’s direct rays, this is actually trying to connect with the power of the sun and all that it radiates, so that the prayers are received and sealed through the words that are used in the prayers, the breath which activates (light is placed on every word), the thought and intent behind the prayers. Praying towards the sun seems more powerful when it is being done, it is almost as if the divine source is staring back at you with open arms, receiving every word.
From his headdress, to his clothing, to his respect and reverence of his empress, to his livity, mediation, oneness with his God and nature, to his love for humanity, respect for all and his vital living – the Rasta Man and his spirituality embodies all of his ancestral consciousness.
Obara Meji is a spiritualist, Ifa-Orisa practitioner, and teacher of metaphysics. Since 2011 she has used her online platform to share her personal experiences to those seeking answers about spirituality. Her teachings will expand into short stories, novels, and public speaking to continue her mission of bringing enlightenment to the world.