Rastafarian Religion: Beliefs And Practices

A Rastafari church in Ethiopia.
A Rastafari church in Ethiopia.

Rastafarianism is one of the Abrahamic religions practiced around the world. The religion places Emperor Haile Selassie at the center of the religion, and is considered by some followers as Christ-reincarnate while others see the Emperor as a prophet sent by God (who is referred to as “Jah”). Members of the Rastafarian religion are known as Rastas while the beliefs that they prescribe to is called Rastalogy. The Reggae genre of music is inspired by Rastafarianism and was instrumental in the global popularity of the religion. There are an estimated 1 million followers of the religion around the world, and majority resides in the western hemisphere.

History of Rastafarianism

The origin of the Rastafarian religion can be traced back to the early 20th century in Jamaica, which was then a British colony. The religion grew from the impoverished black community in Jamaica who were inspired by earlier ideologies and movements such as Ethiopianism. The reverence of Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie started soon after his coronation in 1930 after influential clergymen stated that the Emperor’s crowning fulfilled a prophecy in the Bible. Rastafarianism gained global popularity in the 1970s after global reggae superstars such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, who were devout Rastas, became the religion’s global ambassadors. However, the popularity and following of Rastafarianism tumbled in the 1980s after the deaths of Emperor Haile Selassie and Bob Marley. The media attention the religion received through music was also suppressed by the emergence of new genres such as dancehall.


In the Rastafarian religion, the different denominations in which the religion exists are known as mansions. This term is used about a passage in the Bible where Jesus of Nazareth stated that heaven has “many mansions.” These mansions defer in doctrine and beliefs. There are three principal mansions that makeup Rastafarianism and these are the Bobo Shanti, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and the House of Nyabinghi.

House of Nyabinghi

The House of Nyabinghi is the oldest of the three mansions and represents the earliest form of Rastafarian religion. The House of Nyabinghi is also the largest of the three mansions based on number of followers. Followers of the House of Nyabinghi follow strict rules and are extremely anti-white, with some critics even viewing the mansion as racist.

Bobo Shanti

The Bobo Shanti is a mansion which was founded in 1958 by Emanuel Charles Edwards who established himself as the Christ. It is one of the strictest mansions, with adherents following a strictly vegan diet, as well as following other dietary restrictions and with regular fast days, wearing long robes and turbans over their dreadlocks, and separating women from men.

Twelve Tribes of Israel

The Twelve Tribes of Israel is the most recent of the three mansions. The Twelve Tribes of Israel is considered as the most progressive and liberal of the three mansions and its beliefs and customs closely resemble those practiced in Christianity. The mansion was founded in 1968 by Vernon Carrington who proclaimed himself as the reincarnation of Gad, a son of Israel.

Key Figures

Haile Selassie

Haile Selassie is the main figure of the Rastafarian religion. Haile Selassie was a 20th Century Emperor of Ethiopia and was the last monarch in a dynasty that ruled the country for hundreds of years. The dynasty is believed as the descendants of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, two royal figures from the Bible. The Rastafarian religion is founded on Haile Selassie who is believed by Rastafarians as the divine manifestation of God (Jah). The religion derives its name from Selassie’s name “Ras Tafari” as Haile Selassie was formerly known as Ras Tafari Makonnen before his coronation in 1930. It is from Selassie’s name that Rastas derive the term “Jah Rastafari” which refers to “God.” During his coronation, Haile Selassie was also given the title, “King of kings, Lord of lords. Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah”, a title which Rastas hold with high esteem and believe signified the divinity of Haile Selassie. Haile Selassie had knowledge of the Rastafarian religion and the divinity the religion believed he possessed. However, in one interview Haile Selassie discouraged Rastafarian members from worshipping him as a deity as he was a staunch Christian and a mortal human being. Haile Selassie once visited Jamaica and was received at the airport by huge crowds of Rastafarians that were so large that the Emperor was not able to disembark from his official plane. This day is marked by Rastafarians as a religious holiday and is observed annually on April 21st. Haile Selassie was overthrown by a military coup in 1974 and was later executed in 1975, an event that caused great panic among Rastafarians. Several theories were then developed as an explanation of Selassie’s death with one being that only the body perished, but Haile Selassie survived as a spirit.

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth is a key figure in the Rastafarian faith. Jesus of Nazareth was a 1st century Jewish preacher and teacher from Judea who became the fundamental pillar of the Christian religion which is founded on his teachings. Jesus is held in great esteem among the Twelve Tribes of Israel, a major denomination of the Rastafarian religion. Followers of this denomination share the Christian belief of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Other denominations see Jesus of Nazareth as an important religious figure, but disagree in his modern depiction of being white, but rather believe that Jesus Christ was himself a Rastafarian and a black African.

Marcus Garvey

Another key figure in the Rastafarian religion is Marcus Garvey. Marcus Garvey was a 20th Century leader who believed in racial separatism whereby he called for the repatriation of black people from the Americas and Europe back to Africa. According to Garvey, racial integration was a futile endeavor as black people were destined to live in Africa. Marcus Garvey organized for the repatriation of thousands of black people from the Caribbean as well as North America back to Africa in the early 20th Century. Many Rastafarians regard Marcus Garvey as a prophet based on his declaration where he told people to “look to Africa for the crowning of a black king.” The statement which predates the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie is thought by Rastas to have signified the crowning of Haile Selassie.


The Rastafarian religion does not have any administrative structure as such. Rastafarians believe that God lives within every individual, therefore negating the need to have any bureaucratic hierarchy. One of the denominations or mansions of the religion, The Twelve Tribes of Israel, does have an executive council which leads its proceedings. Before the executive council was established, the Twelve Tribes of Israel was led by its founder, Vernon Carrington.


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