Hope, Golding examine Rastafari
Rastafari, the spiritual movement birthed in Jamaica in the 1930s, has made significant progress over the last century. Despite several attempts to silence and wipe out the movement, it has grown to become one of the most significant spiritual movements of the 21st Century.
Persons who follow the faith maintain that Rastafarianism is not a movement but a religion and point out the progress which has been made over the past century. That was the long and short of the discussion held at the Bob Marley Museum on Saturday, as part of the celebrations marking the 71st birthday of the iconic Rastafarian reggae singer Bob Marley.
The significance of Rastafarianism to Jamaican culture and the world by extension, formed the basis of the discussion, held under the theme Rastafari Today. Presenters Dr Donna Hope and Stephen Golding spoke on the issue from different angles, agreeing that Rastafarianism has not only grown in numbers (in terms of followers), but has also grown in prestige globally to become a fairly respected religion.
Hope sought to establish the latter by highlighting the significance of Rastafari's representation in the 21st century marketplace, using Tommy Hilfiger's 2016 Rasta-inspired Spring Collection as the basis for her argument. Hope recalled the buzz the collection received last December. "Tommy Hilfiger is a top-tier designer and the fact that he paid attention to the Rasta culture, so much that his entire collection was inspired by it, did not go unrecognised around the globe," Hope said. "People saw it and they loved it. Mesh merinos are now fashionable and in-demand, and there has been a shift in the global sensitivity and cultural value/appeal of the Rasta religion."
Hope pointed out that had it been in the 1930s - '60s, such a collection would not have materialised, yet alone make it to one of the biggest shows in fashion history. "The New York Fashion Week is one of the biggest fashion platforms in history, so to have Rasta represented there on such a large scale is testament to the progress the religion has made," Hope said.
She went on to cite other examples to support her point, including marijuana. Hope said since the establishment of the religion, marijuana has 'stepped up in life'. "Not only have several countries around the world decriminalised marijuana for specific purposes, but it has become commercialised," she said. "People now view marijuana as a lucrative business and have built a brand from selling the substance and its by-products."
She credited marijuana's upward movement on the social hierarchy to reggae music and advocates such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and others, all Rastafarians. "Reggae music gave Rastas a platform and they have used that platform to turn around how people view the religion," she said using the Marley Natural brand and the recent cannabis launch as example to strengthen her point. The Marley Natural brand of marijuana was launched on February 6, Bob Marley's 71st birthday.
Hope pointed out that even though the religion and its culture were birthed in Jamaica, Rastafarianism has now garnered so much prestige that people across the globe have begun to latch on to the benefits. "Many countries are now hitching on and benefiting from the Rasta culture," she explained. "Others are using the culture in a new way, even more than Jamaica itself, and they are seeing the benefits."
Speaking on the progress Rastas have made since the 1930s, Stephen Golding sought to give the audience a history lesson. Golding reminded the audience that from the 1930s up to the 1960s being a Rasta meant being persecuted. He reminded the audience that during the earlier years, Rastas were burnt, beaten and wrongly imprisoned because of their way of life. Golding said unlike today, finding a European Rasta in the 1930s or '40s would be hard.
"The Rasta religion was born out of Ethiopianism," he said. "Because of this, people didn't want to follow the teachings even up until the '70s. Back then you would've found it hard to find a white Rasta - not so today."
Golding told the audience that the transformations within the religion would continue because with each era comes change.