“I an I”
The Way of Rasta
I have always been intrigued by people who have embraced every core aspect of a faith or religion. In these modern times, we find ourselves needing to segment and compartmentalize our lives in order to maintain a steady degree of balance. Very rarely however, an idea – or in the case of the Rastafarianism – a way of life emerges that has quite literally drawn followers from every nation on earth.
Much of what we understand about the origins and mechanisms which subsequently describe the inner workings of a multi-faceted approach to beliefs that were founded on suffering and colonial oppression, have found their way into popular culture. However, there is a deep understanding and sense of benevolence which is practiced by true Rasta, and this is the foundation.
In the previous segment, we began to unravel the tapestry of influences which have successfully woven the defining character that is the Rastafarian beliefs. With its political and spiritual branches aligning along sound biblical principles, followers of Rasta tend to seek a higher state of existence, one which essentially denies the influence of Babylon, the system of evil.
Choosing the path of Rasta is a commitment of both body and spirit.
Where many churches exercise dogmatic customs on select occasions, Rasta have incorporated the principals of faith into their daily lives. To fully understand what these principals entail, we will take a look at some basic Rastafarian teachings and customs.
Manners, respect and etiquette are as important to Rasta as the vegetarian diet they adhere to, and these components are what members of faith refer to as “livity”.
Contrary to what public opinion has attached to the practice of the true Rastafarian faith, there is still much we can learn about these devoted people. There are a number of important and founding ideologies that give the Rasta faith a sense of simplicity, and yet the structure and components which act as avenues of practice are amalgamated into every action and recourse. Followers are said to take on responsibility and suffrage as a way of life.
Respect and etiquette form one of these supporting pillars and as a humble people, this in itself forms the basis of their beliefs.
Traditionally, members of Rasta faith will greet each other with embrace, including reference and acknowledgments of The Power of the Holy Trinity. This is represented by the three iconic godheads within the faith.
Marcus Garvey, Prince Emmanuel and Emperor Haile Selassie make up The Holy Trinity and birthed what we understand as Rastafarian faith presently.
Individuals of special importance or elders are recognized through reference to “The lion of Judah”, or “The conquering lion”. Both are affirmations referring either to the national symbol of Ethiopia, or by association of its use to denote the Ethiopian Emperors of the past. The lion has traditionally been used as an image representative of kingship, strength and sovereignty among African lands. In particular, the Rastafarian people.
Thank and praise to Jah, God and creator, is reverberated in every word by Rastafarian people. The name itself is believed to invoke God’s protection. The faith essentially follows monotheistic systems where belief in a single god exists. Rasta also embrace a communion which solidifies the idea that a part of Jah resides in all of us. Formal greetings in Rastafarian faith are very important, and in communities it is observed not only during ceremony, but rather as an integral part of social standard.
Linguists have termed the manner and slide of the Rastafarian language “dread talk”, or more formally “Iyaric”. It is in fact a manner and dialect of English, and has its roots in the struggles and impact of colonial oppression. The diminishing prevalence of African indigenous languages gave rise to a need for identity in a time when imposing Western ideals took precedence over heritage.
The Nyah Binghi order in particular are renowned for the intricacy and poetic nature of greetings and salutations, i.e.:
“In the name of the most-high Emperor Haile Selassie I. King of kings. Lord of lords. Concurring Lion of Judah and his beloved wife Empress Menen!”
The modified dialect associated with dread talk envisages the desire of Rasta to find progression in faith, and engage an active resistance to the effects of Babylon.
Negative connotations and phrases that refer to the persecution of Rasta, or tend to have associations with death, are subsequently aligned with the positive nature of Rastafarian teachings. Common words which have been adapted in order to diminish their pragmatic definitions are words such as “I-sire”, which is the Rasta word for desire; and “vampay” – an individual who claims to follow the Rasta faith, but disregards the rules and principles thereof.
Whenever greeting or conversing with any individual of Rastafarian faith, it is important to regard their intrinsic belief in following a specific set of religious rights according to strict doctrine. One of the most significant and compounding values, is an unwavering commitment to abiding by the morals and values set out in biblical scriptures (King James version), as well as the words and teachings of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie 1.
Among the varied Rastafarian orders, there may also be emphasis and notation made with regards to the wearing of dreads or dreadlocks. This is considered the physical manifestation of holy vows and signifies a concise acceptance, and choice to serve the Rastafarian way of life.
With a strong emphasis on the African diaspora, the traditions of this faith have changed little, even prior to the formalization of groups within the construct of Rasta. Clothing and adornment of “sistren” is simple and conservative, as women follow strict biblical guidelines concerning gender roles. Rastafarians do not eat meat, as it is considered a sacrilege unto Jah. They have developed a vegetarian diet which induces a cultured diverse mix of flavours. The word “Ital” describes this diet, and the word itself stems from the English word ‘vital’. Eating pure, chemical free food provided by Mother Earth is considered a sacred duty by Rasta. Tied closely to the teachings of ‘livity’, both spiritually and physically, consuming Ital food promotes a good state of health and clarity of mind. Carcinogens present in meat cause many health problems, and in long standing Rasta communities, one often finds people of advanced age still leading healthy and productive lives.
To Rasta, the primary objective is to expand their sense of levity through intense prayer, meditation and lifestyle. The use of cannabis has become synonymous with dreadlocks, and unfortunately, this practice of using cannabis as a sacrament in faith, is simply stigmatized by misinformed individuals. Cannabis is sacred, and the use and consumption thereof, although frequent, is strictly controlled in the Rasta culture.
More casual greetings and conversations take on similar patterns as formal anecdotes, however I must warn you, it does become fairly tricky when things speed up! So then how and what would be appropriate to say when greeting a Rastafarian casually?
“Bredren, wa gwaan” – translated in plain English, means: “Brother, how are things going?”
It’s more about the phrasing of words than the accent.
You may note the use of the words “I an I”, and this heralds great significance to Rastafarian people. It signifies the belief that a part of Jah exists in every individual. “I”, being the presented and the second, a sign to the spirit of Jah.
Never forget, it’s not skin colour, or wearing of dreadlocks that make you Rastafari, but rather a transcending sense of unity and love among all living things. This is the true path of Rasta!
– “Glory be to the father, and to the maker of creation… Rastafari, JAH!” –
By Bruce Coetzee