Although Rastafarianism first achieved global prominence in the 1970s thanks to its most famous practitioner, Bob Marley, the spiritual movement’s roots date back to the 19th century. Enslaved persons in the Americas, inspired by Biblical passages, came to view Ethiopia as a symbol of an idealized Africa. In the early 20th century, Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey further developed these ideas through his Pan-Africanism, predicting that a “redemptive king” would emerge from Africa. When Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in 1930, many Jamaican preachers took this as evidence of Garvey’s prophecy. Rastafarianism came to view Selassie as the embodiment of God, and the spiritual movement of Rastafarianism developed. Today there are over 1 million Rastafarians throughout the world.
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The Holy Piby is a theological text that is central to Rastafari belief. The Holy Piby was written by Robert Athyli Rogers in the 1920s as part of his efforts to establish an Afro-Athlican Constructive Church. Comprising four books, the Holy Piby details how Africans, called Ethiopians, are God’s Chosen People. The Holy Piby, along with the Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy, is one of the key 20th-century Rastafari texts.
THE KEBRA NAGAST
The Kebra Nagast is a much older literary work revered in the Rastafari tradition. Dating to the 14th century, the Kebra Nagast (meaning “Glory of the Kings”) is a collection of legends. These legends tell the story of Emperor Menelik I, the mythical first emperor of Ethiopia. The Kebra Nagast was used to validate Ethiopia’s emperors’ claims of a Solomonic Dynasty by identifying Menelik as Solomon’s son with the Queen of Sheba. Rastafarians refer to the Kebra Nagast to support their interpretation of Haile Selassie as the culmination of this Solomonic dynasty.
EMPEROR HAILE SELASSIE
When Ras Tafari Makonnen became Emperor Haile Selassie, he was named “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and King of Kings of Ethiopia.” Many of these titles are used by Rastafarians today when referring to Selassie. The aforementioned Solomonic ancestry of Ethiopia’s emperors, coupled with other signs, such as the deference of the English Duke of Gloucester to Selassie, led to a belief in Selassie’s divinity.
The Rastafari movement is not a monolith. There are different subgroups of Rastafarians, known as Mansions, that differ on certain theological issues. Among these Mansions are The Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Nyahbinghi Order. The Bobo Ashanti, founded by Prince Emmanuel Charles Edwards, is a Mansion characterized by their adherence to Mosaic Law (defined as the law as given to Moses in the Old Testament.)
Grounation Day is a holy day in the Rastafari movement, second only to Coronation Day (the anniversary of Selassie’s coronation) in terms of importance. Grounation Day occurs on April 21st and celebrates Selassie’s 1966 visit to Jamaica. During the visit Selassie did not publicly rebuke the Rastafarians for their belief in his divinity, as many expected he would. He did, however, encourage Rastafari leaders to not emigrate to Ethiopia until they had liberated the people of Jamaica. This encouragement became a doctrine of Rastafarian belief, known as “liberation before repatriation.” ***
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
The name “Grounation” comes from a word meaning “Foundation” in the Lyaric dialect. Learn more about Rastafarian terminology here.
Read this article to learn more about the evolution of Rastafari thought concerning Haile Selassie.
Want to read more about the different Rastafari Mansions? We have you covered! Check it out here.
“Nyabinghi” refers to a communal celebration of Rastafarians. Music, especially the music of drums, is essential to Nyabinghi.
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