The Rastafari movement or Rasta is a new religious movement that arose in Jamaica, at the time a purely Christian culture, in the 1930s. Its adherents worship Haile Selassie I, former Emperor of Ethiopia (1930–1974), as God incarnate, the Second Advent, or the reincarnation of Jesus. Members of the Rastafari movement are known as Rastas, or Rastafari. The movement is sometimes referred to as “Rastafarianism,” but this term is considered derogatory and offensive by some Rastas, who dislike being labelled as an “ism.”
The Rastafari movement encompasses themes such as the spiritual use of cannabis and the rejection of western society, called Babylon (from the metaphorical Babylon of the Christian New Testament.) It proclaims Africa (also “Zion”) as the original birthplace of mankind, and embraces various Afrocentric social and political aspirations, such as the sociopolitical views and teachings of Jamaican publicist, organizer, and black nationalist Marcus Garvey (also often regarded as a prophet). Another theme is Royalty, with Rastas seeing themselves as African royalty and using honorifics such as Prince or King in order to give royalty to their names.
Rastafari is not a highly organized religion; it is a movement and an ideology. Many Rastas say that it is not a “religion” at all, but a “Way of Life.” Many Rastas do not claim any sect or denomination, and thus encourage one another to find faith and inspiration within themselves, although some do identify strongly with one of the “mansions of Rastafari“ — the three most prominent of these being the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
The name Rastafari is taken from Ras Tafari, the pre-regnal title of Haile Selassie I, composed of Amharic Ras (literally “Head,” an Ethiopian title equivalent to Duke), and Haile Selassie’s pre-regnal given name, Tafari. Rastafari are generally distinguished for asserting the doctrine that Haile Selassie I, the former and final Emperor of Ethiopia, is another incarnation of the Christian God, called Jah. Most see Haile Selassie I as Jah or Jah Rastafari, who is the second coming of Jesus Christ onto the Earth, but to others he is simply God’s chosen king on earth.