Almost stereotypical of the Rastaman is the use of herb. This needs to be set straight: not all Rastas smoke marijuana. Reggae great Lucky Dube, for example, says that if God wanted us to smoke, he would have created us with chimneys. The majority of Rastas, however, prefer to smoke ganja. Ganja is seen not as a ‘drug’ or something to get ‘high’, but as a spiritual aid. It gives Rastas insight and helps meditation. Marijuana is sometimes referred to as the “Holy Herb” and Rasta legend states that it grew on King Solomon’s tomb, perhaps the wisest person from the Bible. Norman Hugh Redington protests the Rasta stereotype in his “Sketch of Rastafarian History” that “pious Rastas do not smoke marijuana recreationally” but rather smoke, as Macka B sings, “fe good meditation.”
There is a strong connection between the Sadhus, or Hindu holy men, and the Rasta use of ganja. Similar to these saints, Rastas often smoke communally from a chalice (as above), which is considered proper and even holy among the more conservative Rastas. This East-Indian influence on the West Indies derives from the influx of cheap Indian labor following the abolition of slavery in the English colonies.
Rastas are often targeted by the police and other law enforcement officers as potential users, and it is even reported that police use dreadlocks as probable cause to search someone. Rastas are often the victims of Babylon’s attempt to keep them from the “Healing of the nation.” Marijuana is viewed as a plant capable of uniting a whole country. It gets rid of the useless garbage that Babylon tries to teach us and allows us to focus on Jah. Babylon is denying us rights proclaimed to us in the Bible —
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; (Psalm 104:14)
Rastas are by no means accepting of drugs, however. A righteous Rasta will abstain from heroin, LSD, cocaine, etc. Many even abstain from tobacco and alcohol. The main reasoning behind this preference is that those drugs are man-made or adapted with chemicals. Herb, for the most part, is a natural substance that Jah has created for use, as described in the Bible —
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” (Genesis 1:29)
Some argue that tobacco is also a natural substance, but it is clear that any commercial, pre-packaged cigarettes that one can find in most places will contain numerous harmful chemicals that the tobacco certainly didn’t grow naturally. Some like to roll spliffs in tobacco leaves that have been freshly picked, or even roll spliffs with fresh tobacco mixed in it, and that is certainly permissible. The tobacco and alcohol issue is also part of what many Rastas live by and call Ital.Ganja Almost stereotypical of the Rastaman is the use of herb. This needs to be set straight: not all Rastas smoke marijuana. Reggae great Lucky Dube, for example, says that if God wanted us to
Here’s why you should be celebrating 4/21, not 4/20
Senior reporter, law & politics, DC.
Rastafarianism is a religion, an idea, a sociopolitical movement, and an international pop culture phenomenon. For adherents, it’s a black-power Abrahamic faith with a reverence for ganja inspired by reefer houses of 1920s Harlem.
There are different strains of Rastafarian belief—it’s a necessarily loose and anti-authoritarian faith—but all identify symbolically with the twelve tribes of Israel and share one prophet: Ras Tafari, the given name of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, crowned in 1930, the monarch of Africa’s only independent nation at the time.
His crowning fulfilled a prophecy, evidenced in verses in Psalms, believers say, that a king would come from Africa to lead black people everywhere—ultimately, to a return to Zion, the Promised Land in Ethiopia, which represents all of Africa. Some Rastas believe the emperor was a reincarnation of God, like Christ, and others that he was a destined emissary. Either way, the Ethiopian monarch is known to Rastas as His Imperial Majesty, or HIM, and revered universally.
The idea that the black king fulfilled a prophecy was supplied by Marcus Garvey and inspired by biblical verses. Garvey, a Jamaican writer and activist living in New York, began the black nationalist movement in the US. In 1928, he famously said, “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand.”
Leonard Percival Howell, a Jamaican preacher who worked in Harlem reefer houses as a teenager and then opened his own shop before being deported in 1932, was swayed by Garvey’s call but dismissed from the flock. Howell rented a space for his teahouse from Garvey’s organization in New York but the latter was alarmed by the reefer smoking and ejected Howell from his building and group.
Back in Jamaica (then under colonial British rule) Howell fused Garvey’s call for empowerment with a black Abrahamic faith he called “Rastafari”—not quite Christian, replete with Jewish symbols—and went door to door preaching to poor villagers and finding followers. For upper-class islanders, however, the religion’s disdain for the status quo was frightening. Howell was arrested and imprisoned in 1933 and his doctrine was deemed devilish.
He continued to write while incarcerated, and after his release in 1936 kept gaining followers. In 1940, the preacher established Pinnacle, a community of about 1,000 Rastas who followed a special vegetarian diet, shirking seasonings but for the sacred herb, marijuana. They grew ganja among their yams and greens.
In religious rituals, discussion groups called “reasonings,” they smoked cannabis, a holy weed which they believed grew on the grave of King Solomon and conferred wisdom. Howell preached that marijuana was encouraged in the bible, for example in Genesis 1:29:
And the Earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
What was not so good, in the eyes of authorities, was the fact that Howell’s people sold weed all over the island. In 1941, he was again arrested, this time in a raid on Pinnacle’s marijuana plants.
Some Rastafarians say that a group of Howell’s guardsmen grew dreadlocks then, to symbolize their warrior status. But there’s no proof of that, at least not in photos, and Howell kept his hair short after his release in 1943. Nonetheless, locks became synonymous with Rastafarianism and with fighting the power. Raids continued through the next two decades—but the religion persisted in spreading. In 1962, when Jamaica gained independence from Britain, Rastafarianism was gaining ground with people.
On April 21, 1966, came the big day for Rastafarians. That’s when their prophet, emperor Haile Selassie, returned to Jamaica. He was greeted by an overwhelming crowd of believers at the airport, and was moved, some say to tears, by their fervor. The Ethiopian monarch—a symbol of black power and freedom—refused to walk on the red carpet rolled out for him, walking on the ground instead like a common man to the delight of Rastafarians. On that visit, he honored the religion’s leaders, awarded them a land grant in Ethiopia, and helped to give them legitimacy in the newly independent nation. The Ethiopian never said he was their messiah, not publicly, but he also didn’t deny it.
Around that time, the man who would make Rasta go global was converting to the faith. Bob Marley, the charming emissary and musician, would, in the 1970s sell the world on reggae, dreadlocks, poetic political formulations in a Jamaican accent, and of course, marijuana.
On 4/20—when Americans celebrate cannabis—there’s likely to be lots of Bob Marley and the Wailers playing as spliffs are smoked. But Rastas don’t honor 4/20, despite their love of marijuana. So in the name of a musical legend and freedom itself, smoke the holy grass on 4/21, which is celebrated by Rastafarians as Grounation Day—the return of their prophet to Jamaica.
It is a tradition. As the Jamaica Observer reported last year, Grounation Day in 1966 was a momentous occasion, with ganja in the air and the authorities in a rarely forgiving mood about marijuana. “Man a smoke herb all over the place,” Rasta Michael Henry told the paper. “I hear a police seh, ’lef dem. Fi dem day dis’.”
In other words, people were smoking weed freely and even the cops said, “let them be just this one day.”Rastafarians know that the real marijuana holiday is April 21 ]]>