Rastafarianism and Pan-Africanism in the Caribbean

Seminar Paper, 1998
19 Pages, Grade: 1,0


T a b l e O f C o n t e n t s


2.1 Pan-Africanism
2.2 Rastafarianism

3.1 Bible and Rebellion Among Slaves
3.2 Ethiopism, Pan-Africanism and the Awakening of the Rastafari Religion
3.2.1 Marcus Garvey and his Vision
3.2.2 Haile Selassie

4.1 Dealing with the Bible
4.2 The Rastafari Idea of God
4.2.1 The Name “Jah”
4.2.2 God In Us: “I – nity”
4.2.3 The Living God Haile Selassie

5.1 Rastafari Language
5.2 Exterior Signs of Rastafarian Culture
5.3 The Mystical Herb Ganja


List of Works Cited


1 Introduction

Writing a paper that is called “Rastafarianism And Pan-Africanism In The Caribbean” represents a great challenge to me. The two terms “Rastafarianism” and “Pan-Africanism” are widely unknown among Central Europeans and especially among native German speakers, and I had been no exception before I dealt extensively with this topic. Therefore, although this is a literary term paper, I will present historical, religious and sociological facts along with linguistic annotations as a basic background to my literary studies in order to inform the reader and give him a more or less detailed survey ON Rastafarian culture and society. I regard it as necessary to give short definitions of Rastafarianism and Pan-Africanism and their relations to one another in the beginning, for the simple reason that many readers will hardly ever have come across these two terms before, but I will keep them short, because everything will be discussed in detail further on, at the examples of literary texts. These literary texts will comprise mainly songs, because the main possibility of expression for Rastafarian spokesmen is their music – Reggae.

2 Definition of Terms

2.1 Pan-Africanism

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to provide a clear and precise definition of Pan-Africanism. Imanuel Geiss succeeded in proposing an acceptable one by stating three points I would like to quote. He says,

“By Pan-Africanism we understand:

- Intellectual and political movements among Africans and Afro-Americans who regard or have regarded Africans and people of African descent as homogeneous. This outlook leads to a feeling of racial solidarity and a new self-awareness and causes Afro-Americans to look upon Africa as their real “homeland”, without necessarily thinking of a physical return to Africa.
- All ideas which have stressed or sought the cultural unity and political independence of Africa, including the desire to modernize Africa on a basis of equality of rights. The key concepts here have been respectively the “redemption of Africa” and “Africa for the Africans”.
- Ideas or political movements which have advocated, or advocate, the political unity of Africa or at least close political collaboration in one form or another.”

(Geiss 4)

Even this definition is unsatisfactory and will not please everyone, but it will do for our purpose. Furthermore, only the first two points are important if we want to link Pan-Africanism with Rastafarianism, since the political unity and political collaboration of the single African countries are of minor interest to Afro-Americans, at least as long as they do not emigrate to the continent of their cultural roots. However, the statement that Pan-Africanists regard Africans and people of African origin as homogeneous and that this leads to a feeling of racial solidarity and a new self-awareness and causes Afro-Americans to look upon Africa as their real “homeland” (Geiss’ first point), is of utmost importance for our topic, since these ideas are the principle ones of the Rastafarian movement. I only mentioned Geiss’ third point to give a definition that is as complete as possible.

2.2 Rastafarianism

Because of special social and ideological developments, the followers and disciples of Rastafarianism have developed a unique form of religion and culture. Rastas are convinced that black people are reincarnations of the old Israelites and were exiled because of their evil deeds. They believe that the former emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is the living God and emperor of the world, that Ethiopia represents heaven and that the situation in Jamaica is pure hell. They are also of the opinion that black people are superior to white people and that they will be the rulers of the world soon. These are the principle points of Rastafarianism, detailed information will follow in the ensuing chapters.

3 Historical Framework

3.1 Bible and Rebellion Among Slaves

For British colonial lords, slaves were things or goods like sugar and corn. The fact that slaves were not baptised was also an essential part of slavery in the Caribbean, they were no members of the church and did not go to school either. Whoever wanted to shift these borderlines, was seriously attacking the social-economic security of the sugar plantations.

Although there were some early noble intentions to improve the situation, like Cromwell’s (1599 – 1658) demand to “change Jamaica into a stronghold of Protestantism in the New World (Arciniegas 248)”, it was not until 1754 that the first missionaries were sent to Jamaica by the bishop of London (cf. Loth 10). However, the most important contribution to the christianisation of the Afro-Jamaicans and their education to social emancipation was made by the religious non-conformists: the Methodists and the Baptists. As early as in 1783, the first black Baptist preachers arrived from North America, where independent “African” Baptist churches were existing before 1800. These black missionaries founded not only a black church in Jamaica, but also the first educational institution for black children. Moreover, the “native Baptists”, as they were called, brought with them the experience with religious autonomy, which led to demands for liberation of the slaves.

However, the most important point for their huge success was the fact that they were linking the Christian message to African spirituality. One example is that they were centring baptism – the submerging in the rivers, which are the homes of the protecting spirits, according to African views. Another example is that drums and dance were giving the churches a new feeling of liveliness, also in times like Christmas.

The slave insurrection of 1831/32, which was to become known as “Baptist War” later on, confirmed the massive influence of Baptists and native Baptists on the Afro-Jamaicans. Samuel (“Sam”) Sharpe, a charismatic slave, is supposed to have denied, with reference to the bible, that the white man had the right to keep the black man as a slave.

The Sam-Sharpe-Rebellion was violently suppressed, but entailed the slave liberation of 1834. Masses of slaves left the odious plantations and began to build a second Jamaica in the hills, while the white owners of the plantations were fighting for their possessions (cf. Loth 12f).

3.2 Ethiopism, Pan-Africanism and the Awakening of the Rastafari Religion

The symbolic power of Ethiopia began by using the bible, which, according to the black theologian F. S. Rhoades, comprises more than 80 references to blacks, which in his opinion is a proof for God being a God of the black peoples. In church history, the Early Fathers Origenes and Augustinus are mainly responsible for a “black theology” – they were concentrating on the passage in Song of Songs 1,5: “Dark am I, yet lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon.” However, not the attitudes of Origenes or Augustinus were to be relevant for the attitudes of the Europeans to the blacks, but those of the Early Fathers Ambrosius and Hieronymus, who believed Ethiopia to be the epitome of sin, the colour black is a representative for it (cf. Loth 18).

3.2.1 Marcus Garvey and his Vision

The crucial connection between Marcus Garvey, descendant of the Maroons[1] and Jamaica’s first black freedom fighter, and Rastafari arises from his prophecy, “Look to Africa where the Black King shall be crowned, the time of Africa redemption and deliverance will be near”. In the 1920’s, Marcus Garvey was able to organise the largest pan-African organisation in history under the slogan “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”(cf. Brynda 78).

Garvey’s movement, which had an estimated number of 3 million followers, the “Universal Negro Improvement Association” (UNIA), represented a remarkable political factor. In March 1924 he declared in the Madison Square Garden in New York: “The ‘Universal Negro Improvement Association’ embodies the hopes of the awakening Negro. Our wishes go out to one place in the world – not to disturb the peace of others, but to lay down our burden, to rest on the banks of the Niger, to sing our songs and to praise the God of Ethiopia with our hymns (cf. Loth 22)”.

He was arrested because of alleged tax evasion in 1925 and was deported to Jamaica in 1927; the movement of urban black nationalism was stopped by the resistance of the island’s white and coloured upper-classes. Garvey died isolated in London. However, for the Rastas, he became the apocalyptic reincarnation of John the Baptist, who, as everybody knows, pointed to the coming of the Messiah, according to John 1,7f. Yet in the opinion of the Rastas, this Messiah is Haile Selassie (cf. Loth 22).


[1] Rebellious slaves were called “Maroons” from the 16th century onwards

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Rastafarianism and Pan-Africanism in the Caribbean
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Martin Payrhuber (Author), 1998, Rastafarianism and Pan-Africanism in the Caribbean, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/190669


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