In the first half of the 20th century, in Jamaica, the Rastafarian spiritual movement was born, a movement that today is quite known for its music, its conception and its peculiar symbology. Read on and learn more about the Rastafarian symbols and their meaning.

According to the Spanish dictionary of the University of Oxford, the word rastafari means “religious, social and cultural movement of Jamaican origin that defends the freedom of people of African origin and who believes in the divinity of Ras Tafari, former emperor of Ethiopia“. For his part, in the 1930s, Marcus Garvey, considered a reincarnation of Saint John the Baptist, inspired the Rastafarians with the social and cultural vision of the black slave descendants to return to Africa; consequently his phrase “Africa for Africans” would be the slogan of the movement.

So this movement states that the descendants of the black race, who were spread around the world as slaves captured by the white man, must return to Africa and reach maximum development in their homeland. Likewise, Jah is the god that makes up the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and Haile Selassie I who was Emperor of Ethiopia, was believed to be the third reincarnation of the god Melchizedes and Jesus.

At first, Haile Selassie, before being recognized as such, was called Ras Tafari Makonnen, in which Ras meant Head and Tafari Creator (creator head); but in the Amharic language, it is translated as “that who deserves respect” in such a way that the movement remained with that original name. Rastafarians are monotheistic and believe in Yahweh who for them is Jah and is within the human being, hence the phrase they often mention “I & I” (me and me), which means that the Rastas have Jah Ras Tafari in the heart, inside each one. 

However, because it is a very syncretic religion, there are many differences between them regarding the conception of faith, so each one is dependent on how to manifest it and there is no established and generalized rule, only some aspects. They also talk about the promised land that is called Zión. The rastas have specific ways of wearing their hair, colors and clothing, this being part of their symbolism that will be seen in detail below.

Now, there are five main symbols that are the most representative in the Rastafarian movement, according to the order of importance, the first one is the colors of the flag. Each one has a meaning, green symbolizes the vegetation fields in Ethiopia; yellow refers to the richness of the earth and red reminds the spilled blood of the African martyrs.

Likewise, the sacred herb, cannabis or marijuana, is widely used as incense and also to consume, to smoke it, since it allows one to meditate to find the direct connection with Jah and the wisdom that he can give. Another important symbol for this movement is the black star, which represents the head, arms and legs of the black man, that’s why it has five points.

The conquering lion, who makes references to Jah; to Emperor Selassie or to Africa itself, is the representation of the struggle against Babylon; but what does Babylon mean?

Babylon is the white patriarchy that has always humiliated and oppressed the black race by subjecting it to slavery for centuries. Next, the so-called dreadlocks, which symbolize the clinejas of the lion, the force and the fight against Babylon; this way of wearing the hair is almost a command of the book of Leviticus in which the prohibition of showing baldness and the refusal to shave the beard is read. In short, the dreadlocks style is close to the figure of the Lion of Judah that is part of the Ethiopian flag. The Rastas’ hair symbolizes the mane of the Lion or the Nazarite vow.

Likewise, besides the spun hair, they wear typical hats, clothes made with vegetable fibers that are very wide and comfortable with the typical colors that refer to the mother earth, Ethiopia, as already mentioned. Another characteristic of the Rastafarians is that they are vegetarians, they do not consume processed products, either with preservatives, spices or salts. They absolutely look for the natural, they do not drink liquor, coffee, milk and soft drinks. In some cases, there are rastas that consume meat, but it cannot be pork, or crabs, prawns, or lobsters.

They also wear the tunic and turban as a symbol. The members of Bobo Shanti wear them inspired by their boss Emmanuel. With regard to music, many think that Rasta music is reggae, but it really is not like that. Reggae is more of a Jamaican tradition, it is part of the music of the nation that is sometimes used by rastas as a social protest, but the music most representative of them is Nyabinghi music, which is played at ceremonies and celebrations. This genre includes songs of praise that use the recitation of psalms and variations of known Christian hymns; and prayers for cannabis use. Drums are also used.

Although the closest thing to the Rastafarians is the Nyabinghi genre, reggae, ska and jazz are part of the country and the Rastafari Conception, because of the number of Rasta musicians who interpret it as part of the movement. As for the drums, which are very important as a symbol of their music, the traditional Jamaican Kumina drums and Burri and Akete drum stand out. 

So it is stated that “Rastafarian music is the union between the world of the sacred and the secular world. Nyahbinghi music is more exclusive, because it focuses on faith, while reggae is more inclusive, because faith is diluted by more humanistic feelings, claims and protests from oppressed peoples as victims of the system molded in and out of Jamaica.”

Finally, the Rastafarian spiritual movement, as well as some other religion or philosophical conception that seeks truth, the approach to god or enlightenment, is full of representative symbols and full of meaning worth knowing.