This summer while in Ghana, I befriended a group of Rastafarian drum makers and performers. The Rastafarians became the good friends and highlight of my study abroad group’s time in Ghana, but I remained skeptical. The day that I first met the Rastas was a day in the market. I am an avid (extreme amateur) hand drummer and was drawn to their drum stand in the National Market for Art and Culture in the capital of Accra. Well these Rastas became our good friends and guides around the city we were constantly warned by others to be wary because Rastas are known to steal your things and women. I remained wary as the talks of their beliefs did not match up with their actions. I began to wonder what exactly were the beliefs of a Rastafarian and why? Why did they always seem high with happiness and love? “One love” was their favorite phrase. They would always tell us that we were all brothers ans sisters, no matter the color of our skin because we bleed the same underneath and we had the same color pupils. While many told us to be wary others revered the Rastas for the skills that they shared and the knowledge they imparted. With the great rhetoric they spoke, there always seemed to be an underlying end goal.
Upon returning to Ghana I immediately jumped on the knowledge train that we call the internet to learn more about the Rastafarian movement. Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I is considered God incarnate and also as the Messiah of the Holy Trinity (in the Bible), since he is the only black leader of an independent African country. Rastafari comes from the Ethiopian term “Ras” which means head or the equivalent of duke. The religion employs the spiritual use of cannabis and a number of afrocentric teachings, inspired by the works of Jamaican, Marcus Garvey well known for his “Back to Africa movement in the US, 1920s. The Rastafari movement gained popularity through reggae music and well known artist, Bob Marley (his wife still lives in Ghana). The “first Rasta,” Leonard Howell, built a commune that grew to over 5000 in Jamaica.
The teachings of Rastafari focus on love and respect for all living things. Born of an oppressed people, forced into slavery, Rastafari is seen as a response to the racist negation to black people. It gave cause for black people to have pride in themselves and their heritage. Stressing closeness to nature ganja, dreadlocks and ital foods are common characteristics of Rastas. Well there is a lot more to the belief systems of the Rastafari, one of my favorite teachings is the rejection of -isms because they have created so many schisms in modern society.
Back to my experience in Ghana – I saw some of these teachings espoused by the Rastas we met. However there was a gap in the actions and it seemed there was an undertone of making a profit off of the American students and getting close to the American ladies. But I cannot say that I have met anyone who has abided by the creed they profess in the lives they lead. No Christian, Muslim, Rastafarian, or any other follower of a doctrine (that I have met) has never swayed from their belief system. So well the Rastas in Ghana may have seemed to be shady individuals, they really taught me more than I could have imagined. From drumming and advice in Ghana, to my later pondering back in the US.
Index of blog post series on Ghana.