Rastafarian: Happy Birthday, Marcus Garvey—and St. John?

TUESDAY, AUGUST 17: Ready or not, here he comes: it was 123 years ago today that Rastafarian prophet and controversial leader Marcus Garvey was born, a man who would go on to ignite black pride around the globe and, at the same time, startle cultural leaders, clergy and laypeople alike. (For a full biography and more, visit MarcusGarvey.com.) By making statements that challenged the Christian God—who, Garvey said, had “failed to soften the hearts of whites and improve the lots of negroes—he inspired the Nation of Islam and exerted his primary influence on the Jamaican Rastafari movement. Garvey’s ideas were central to the Rasta movement, but it was when Garvey spoke of a great king and savior who would rise to power in Africa that he truly cemented his place in Rastafarianism. (Wikipedia has more on Garvey’s role in Rastafarianism.) When Haile Selassie I took the throne in Ethiopia, shortly after Garvey’s prediction, many Africans—in the Diaspora, too—saw Garvey as a prophet. Some Rastas believe Garvey was the reincarnation of St. John the Baptist, and all Rastas view Haile Selassie as the Messiah. (Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner featured several articles on Garvey today. This is one of them.)

Ironically, many of Garvey’s religious influences and devotions were born out of Western Christianity: Garvey was raised a Methodist and later became a Catholic. After arriving in America with little money and knowing few people, Jamaican-born Garvey spent four years working hard—and became, arguably, the most talked-about black man in America and the West Indies.

A documentary about Garvey’s influential life was produced in 2000 for PBS’ “The American Experience” feature collection. The documentary was entitled, “Marcus Garvey: Look For Me in the Whirlwind.”

(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.”)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email