Rastafarian: Happy Ethiopian New Year!

Meskel daisies—Ethiopia’s national flower—are in full bloom on New Year’s Day, indicating the end of a long rainy seasonSUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Happy New Year—Ethiopian style! Since Rastafarians consider Ethiopia their spiritual homeland, both Rastas and Ethiopian citizens give thanks for a fresh year today. The official name for the New Year is Enkutatash; celebrants attend church, eat traditional flat bread and stew (try your hand at Wat stew with this recipe), and the young earn money while the elderly share hopes for the New Year. Perhaps most importantly, the New Year marks the end of the rainy season, and Ethiopians in villages across the country dance and sing with joy. Historically, the Queen of Sheba returned to Ethiopia after a visit to King Soloman and was welcomed home with jewels: Enkutash means “Gift of Jewels.” (Visit Rastaites.com for more.)

American Rastas have drawn criticism in recent years for holding grand parties on such a somber day in recent American history, but the Ethiopian New Year was in place for centuries before the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The Orthodox Julian calendar, followed by Ethiopians, consists of 12 months of 30 days and a 13th month of four or five days, depending on the presence of a leap year. (Wikipedia has details.) This calendar follows Christian tradition, beginning on the Annunciation of Jesus and having the four years of the leap year cycle named after the four Evangelists: John, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Rastafarian: Think black history for Garvey’s birthday

The flag of Ghana. Kwame Nkrumah named the national shipping line of Ghana the Black Star Line, in honor of Marcus Garvey.WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17: Rastafarians may believe that Haile Selassie is their Messiah, but it’s the philosophies of Marcus Garvey that have largely shaped the Jamaican movement—and today is the birth anniversary of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. Garvey spent a lifetime promoting economic and social empowerment for blacks, and besides pushing Black Nationalism, he firmly believed that Africans of the Diaspora should return to Africa and claim it from European powers. (Wikipedia has details.) For Rastafarians, Garvey is looked upon as a prophet—some say a reincarnation of John the Baptist—because he preached of a black king that would be crowned for deliverance. Garvey spoke of the black king in 1920, and 10 years later, Haile Selassie I was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia. (Read more at the BBC website.)

Marcus Garvey garnered as much criticism as he did support during his career, but his influence has spread worldwide and continues today. Rastas celebrate the prophet’s birthday today, and several schools, roads, buildings, statues and more exist worldwide in Garvey’s honor. (Get the whole scoop at MarcusGarvey.com.) Today in New York, the Marcus Garvey Annual Family Fun Day offers performances, African and Caribbean cuisine, children’s activities and a soccer tournament to raise awareness of Garvey’s influence.

Rastafarian: Play reggae for Haile Selassie’s birthday

Emperor Haile Selassie ISATURDAY, JULY 23: It’s a Rastafarian-style birthday celebration today, as Rastas worldwide mark the birth anniversary of Haile Selassie I. Born July 23, 1892, Selassie—originally Tafari Makonnen—was Emperor of Ethiopia for 44 years and is still heralded by Rastas as the returned Messiah. Rastas believe that since Selassie likely descended from King Solomon, he is the incarnation of God. (Learn more at Rastafarian.com.) It’s held that he will unite all Africans of the Diaspora and lead them to a golden age.

Haile Selassie I helped Ethiopia become a charter member of the United Nations and supported multilateralism; he was condemned for thwarting the modernization of his country, although Rastas in general reject Westernization. (Wikipedia has more on Selassie’s life.) The Bible’s Old Testament is central to Rastafarianism, as are ways of life such as an appreciation for reggae music. What began in Jamaica in the 1930s has led to a worldwide religion with an estimated 700,000 to 1 million members.

Haile Selassie’s birthday remains one of the holiest days of the Rasta year.

NEW DOCUMENTARY RAISES CIVIL RIGHTS DISCUSSION IN JAMAICA: “Bad Friday” is not available to American audiences, so far, but the documentary is prompting headlines in Jamaican media. The film looks at a crucial clash with police in the early 1960s as a watershed in the struggle for Rastafarian civil rights. ReadTheSpirit will bring you news about “Bad Friday,” when it does become more widely available—much like we did in our reporting on PBS’ “Freedom Riders.” Care to read more about “Bad Friday” now? Here’s a news story from Jamaica’s Gleaner newspaper on the documentary’s opening in Jamaica.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

Anniversary, Rastafarian: Mark 30 years since Bob Marley

WEDNESDAY, MAY 11: Turn up the reggae and pay tribute to Bob Marley today, as fans worldwide mark 30 years since the death of the music legend. Born in a tiny Jamaican village in 1945 and raised Catholic, this Jamaican musician would bring reggae and the Rastafarian faith to an international audience as no other artist has done. (Learn more at BobMarley.com.)

Despite his meager beginnings and an early death at age 36, Bob Marley left an impression on the world in a legacy that will soon outlast his lifespan. (The Guardian covered his death in 1981.) 

Bob Marley’s life began in a culturally and socially corrupt Jamaica, and several of his later hits—including “Get Up, Stand Up”—would stem from his early life experiences and political views. As the son of a white Jamaican man and Afro-Jamaican woman, Marley would also liken his identity as an interracial man to a mission to unite people of all races. (The Vancouver Sun has a tribute article with more.)

Marley’s interest in music began early, and after dropping out of school at 14 to produce music, he went on to record his first major album with friends in 1973. Interestingly, reggae’s best-selling album—a compilation entitled “Legend”—was released after Marley’s death, selling 25 million copies worldwide and going 10 times Platinum in the U.S. (Wikipedia has details.)

Marley converted to the Rastafari movement in the 1960s and, as Wikipedia points out in its overview of the movement, it’s hard to name a more prominent evangelist for the religious group. Although he died in 1981 and the current detailed outline of Rastafari doctrines was only codified in the 1980s, much of Marley’s music became hymns of the developing movement.

Though some debate the nature of his influence on Jamaica’s youth today, the reggae star has hardly faded: Visitors continue to flock to his house, now a museum, and numerous shirts, mugs, albums and other memorabilia are still sold bearing his face, music and message. This week, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” will pay tribute to Marley with five musicians—Ziggy, Chris Cornell, Jennifer Hudson, Jakob Dylan and Lenny Kravitz—performing Marley songs throughout the week. (Entertainment Weekly has an article.)

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

Orthodox Christian, Rastafarian: Welcome the Nativity

Traditional sports are common on Christmas Day in EthiopiaFRIDAY, JANUARY 7: The majority of Christian churches ended the Christmas season with Epiphany yesterday—but some Churches are celebrating the Nativity of Christ today. Orthodox Christians who follow the older Julian calendar will be exchanging Christmas greetings today, and Rastafarians worldwide will be joyfully shouting “Melkam Yelidet Beaal!” or “Merry Christmas!” in traditional Ethiopian tongue. Nativity fasting comes to an end today for Russian Orthodox Christians overseas, and for those and Serbian Orthodox Christians, Christmas means a table with white cloth; straw strewn on the dinner table to symbolize Christ’s bed; and candles lit to represent Jesus as the light of the world. (Wikipedia has details.) Today is a day of peace and unity.

Perhaps the only place where a Nativity scene can be set up with Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Wise men, collectively, is in some Armenian Apostolic churches; today combines both the Nativity and the Feast of the Epiphany into one. Coptic Christians across Africa sing carols today, and because Ethiopia is considered the spiritual homeland of Rastas, the followers of Haile Selassie I celebrate Christmas today, too. (Find more Julian dates on a site for the Coptic Christian Church.)

The hundreds of millions of Christians in Africa observe Christmas rather differently than Christians on other continents do. Due to the poverty in Africa, few gifts are exchanged at Christmas; rather, many use extra money on a new outfit to wear to Christmas liturgies. African children often play carols in a community using homemade instruments, and feasts including various meats are hosted. (Rastafarians eat vegetarian feasts in compliance with Rasta food laws.) As Africa is hot, many families go to the beach, barbecue and enjoy time outside on Christmas! Some worshippers will celebrate the Nativity in ancient buildings carved from volcanic rock.

Rastafarian: Reggae and a Haile Selassie anniversary

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2: Get into the groove and feel the rhythm today as Rastafarians honor their messiah—and noted Reggae influence—Haile Selassie I. It was 80 years ago today that Emperor Haile Selassie’s coronation was held in Ethiopia, and Rastafarians haven’t stopped celebrating. (Get the Rasta perspective at Rasta-ites.com.)

Most Rastas believe that Selassie was Jesus incarnate, but some believe he was only a divinely anointed king. Still, any Rasta—and anyone who appreciates Reggae music—can join in the festivities today. This year, the 80th anniversary of the coronation was cause for a special tribute at the recent Reggae Culture Salute in New York. (Even Junior Wedderburn, mast drummer for Broadway’s “The Lion King,” will be present at this event, giving an educational performance of Reggae’s traditional nyahbinghi drumming. Read the full article in the New York Daily News.)

Rasta beliefs have evolved through the years, and a religion that was once strongly anti-White has become a religion focused on the divinity of mankind and Earthly salvation. Still, a central element remains: Haile Selassie. (Wikipedia has details.)

Rastafarian: Happy New Year from Ethiopia

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Hinduism and Islam won’t be the only two religions in the spotlight today—for the small group known as Rastafarians, today is Enkutatash. Enkutatash is actually the Ethiopian New Year. Rastafarians believe that the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie is Jesus incarnate. (Wikipedia has details.) Because Selassie was from Ethiopia, Rastas regard Ethiopia as their spiritual homeland—and therefore celebrate its observances. (American Ethiopians introduced Californians to some of their traditions at a recent Enkutatash festival.)

Enkutatash commemorates the Queen of Sheba’s return from her visit to King Solomon, a time when tradition says that chiefs gave her plentiful jewels. The Ethiopian Orthodox Chuch claims to possess the Ark of the Covenant, passed down through this holy line. Selassie, too, was a member of this bloodline.

Enkutatash is a time for Ethiopians and Rastas to send greetings, visit one another, rejoice in the end of Ethiopia’s rainy season and delight in the fertility of a new year.