Wednesday, December 07, 2005


I didn't think it was obscure, but just in case, this is what I was referring to in the title of my last post. It later occurred to me that the title seemed a little weird, if not inappropriately kinky or something. I think Saxe's little poem, and the parable on which it's based, are relatively well known. It seemed to me that this was the ubiquitous metaphor students in Religion 101 would whip out. In the dark. With their hands. On an elephant. It's really long and hairy, and it's used to pick up peanuts.

Okay, sorry. I'm back. I can barely get it together to compose a simple coherent blog entry. This post, continuing our Religions of the World theme, is about Rastafari beliefs.
Rasta, or the Rastafari movement of Jah people, is a religious movement that accepts Haile Selassie I, the former emperor of Ethiopia, as King of Kings, Lord of Lords and the Lion of Judah as a divine being. The name Rastafari comes from Ras Täfäri, the pre-coronation name of Haile Selassie I. The movement emerged in Jamaica among working-class and peasant black people in the early 1930s, arising from an interpretation of Biblical prophecy, black social and political aspirations, and the teachings of their prophet, Jamaican black publicist and organiser Marcus Garvey, whose political and cultural vision helped inspire a new world view. The movement is sometimes called "Rastafarianism"; however, this is considered improper and offensive by Rastas.

It's fascinating how Rasta influence has worked its way specifically into one genre of science fiction: cyberpunk. Many of you will recall the Rasta space colony "Zion" in William Gibson's Neuromancer. And of course, the film apotheosis of cyberpunk, The Matrix, is rife with Rasta influence. Again, a colony named "Zion", where the "real" humans are born through good old-fashioned dirty sex (probably after one of those Lambada raves they have down there) -- not in Babylon's machines. The "real" humans from The Matrix's Zion probably eat Ital food and smoke kind hydroponics when they're not rubbing their oiled bodies against each other.

It makes sense that Rasta was taken up as a "futuristic" religion. Rastafari beliefs seem to represent a rejection of the artificial; this provides a useful counterpoint in dystopias where the lines between humans and machines have been breached, and when all the world is an artificial construct. Also, at least in The Matrix, Rasta references served as a shorthand for postcolonial resistance, in the movie's case, against the oppression of the machines. In Rasta's case, against the dead hand of English colonialism.

Listening to reggae and dub, you are constantly hearing about "Babylon", "Zion", "Jah", and "I and I". I had vague ideas what these things meant, but I guess there are explanations.
Babylon: "Babylon" is the Rastafarian term for the white political power structure that has been holding the black race down for centuries. In the past, Rastas claim that blacks were held down physically by the shackles of slavery. In the present, Rastas feel that blacks are still held down through poverty, illiteracy, inequality, and trickery by the white man. The efforts of Rastafarianism is to attempt to remind blacks of their heritage and have them stand up against this Babylon.

I and I: This concept has become "the most important theoretical tool apart from the Babylonian conspiracy in the Rastafarian repertoire." Cashmore explains, "I and I is an expression to totalize the concept of oneness, the oneness of two persons. So God is within all of us and we're one people in fact. I and I means that God is in all men. The bond of Ras Tafari is the bond of God, of man. But man itself needs a head and the head of man is His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia."

Jah: The Rastafarian name for God is Jah. The presence of Jah in His children and in the world is the triumph over the tribulations of everyday life. Ethiopia specifically, and Africa in general, is considered the Rastas' heaven on Earth. However, there is no afterlife or hell as Christianity believes.
From Library of Univ. of Virginia.

The Rastas in Jamaica really did worship Selassie. Apparently, he was overwhelmed after his first visit to Jamaica on April 21, 1966:
His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, King of Kings, Conquering Lion of Judah, arrived in Jamaica yesterday afternoon to a welcome of superlatives. And he wept.

He cried as he stood on the steps of an aircraft of Ethiopian Airliner which had brought him from Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica and surveyed the vast and uncontrollable crowd which had gathered at the Palisadoes Airport to greet him.

The tears welled up in his eyes and rolled down his face. It will perhaps never be known whether he cried in sorrow at the uncontrollableness of the vast throng of Jamaicans who had gathered to meet him, or out of pure joy; but whatever it was, it was an emotional reaction to a highly emotional welcome.

Next time: Voodoo

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