Rastafarian: Chant and pray for Groundation Day

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 21: Rastafarians remember the date that Haile Selassie I, the Ethiopian emperor who they believe to be the second manifestation of Christ, visited Jamaica. Called Groundation Day, Rastafarians typically chant, pray, feast and create music in celebration. As the sounds of reggae music rise from believers’ households, the Rastas remind the world that they, too, are members of an Abrahamic religion. (Here is the PDF of a flyer for this year’s London celebration.)

To many Rastas, the drumming associated with reggae music is a tool used to immerse themselves in their spirituality, primarily during faith or “Reasoning” sessions. This type of music is referred to by followers as “Nyabingi,” a mixture of 19th-century gospel music and African drumming. (For more on The Reggae Movement, visit this site.)

Marijuana also plays an important role in these Reasoning sessions, and Rastas regard smoking as a religious experience of meditation and deeper contemplation. Rastas even cite biblical encouragement of marijuana usage, such as this passage from Psalms 104:14: “He causeth the grass for the cattle, and the herb for the services of man.” (The BBC has a page on Rastas’ practices and traditions.)

Rastafarians take the long form of their name from the pre-regnal title of Haile Selassie: Ras Tafari. They generally claim to reject Western culture, and believe Western society to be a modern manifestation of Babylon’s ancient excess. Still, it was Bob Marley who greatly spread the religion throughout the world, and Marley’s music certainly became popular in Western culture. A famous reggae artist of today is Sizzla, a Jamaican native who tours frequently and speaks openly about his religion in his songs. Wikipedia has a page on him, and YouTube features a video of one of his songs, “Be Strong.”

Now, for the question of the day: Why Haile Selassie I? As Rastas see it, Haile Selassie was foretold as an auspicious descendant of David, as was Jesus. (Read details about the Rastafari movement on Wikipedia.) Within this tradition, followers hold that Ethiopia was founded by the son of Soloman and the Queen of Sheba, and Rastas regard Ethiopia as Zion. King Soloman is the son of King David in the Bible—and, in Rasta teaching, Haile Selassie’s bloodline is in keeping with his status as the One of the Second Coming.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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