Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator
Disillusioned with the 'system' and embracing the freedom it offers, more Jamaican men are turning to the Rastafarian faith. According to the 2011 Population and Housing Census released last week by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, over a 10-year period there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of Rastafarians.
That sees the number of persons who say Rastafarianism is their religion moving from 24,020 in 2001 to 29,026 in 2011.
Of that figure, 25,325 were males, compared to 3,701 females. "From my observation, more young men are turning to Rastafarian than ever before because they are disillusioned with the 'system' and have this reluctance accepting the traditional way of understanding things," dub poet and talk show host Mutabaruka told The Sunday Gleaner.
"The men have become disillusioned with not just the political system, but also the religious system. They keep hearing about Jesus Christ and the Bible and they see that the people who are following that are the same culprits who are oppressing the people.
"Plus they see their grandparents for how long talking 'bout Jesus and still can't pay their bills and not getting anywhere, them not better off," added Mutabaruka
He said these were the same reasons that led him to join the faith as a teenager more than 40 years ago.
"Back then there was no African element in the whole educational system, nothing about myself or black people. To me, Christianity was only offering a colonial thinking and so I saw Rasta as the alternative, and I think it's the same thing for these youth now."
The Rastafari Movement was started in Jamaica in 1932 by Leonard Percival 'Gong' Howell to help lift the spirits of black men and women, who were struggling.
Marcus Garvey's declaration to "look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned, he shall be your Redeemer" became the foundation of the movement.
Using Judaism as its guide, the religious movement created its doctrine, which has evolved over the decades.
According to Mutabaruka, today's youth are attracted to the freedom that the 80-year-old religion offers as it allows them to find their own identity.
He said the youths have latched on to and embraced the cultural expressions such as the eating habits, lifestyle, music, smoking of the herbs, and growing their locks.
"They have the freedom to think and not being bogged down in guilt of anything they do. To them, the Christian faith keep telling them God is going to punish or kill them, sex is wrong," he stated.
"Rasta is not going around telling people these things, it is more about sharing a cultural expression, which almost look like fun to a lot of youth.
"The youth also want their share of the pie now, not when they're dead. Rasta gives them something now and tangible, Christianity is telling them they have to wait until they're dead to enjoy it."
Muta noted that the Jamaican society has become more tolerant of Rastafarians.
Today, several prominent persons in high-profile positions are professing Rastafarianism or just sporting the dreadlocks hairstyle.
"In fact, I now find a lot of educated youth turning away from Christianity. And because they are in Jamaica, the next alternative is Rasta, which is providing them that escape," said Muta.
He said of interest was that more professionals in the banks, security forces and teaching vocation were also professing Rasta.
"They will say, 'bwoy Muta, not because you see me baldhead yuh nuh, but me a Rasta'. So you have a lot of Rastafarians who don't necessarily wear dreadlocks," he said.
"To the youth, if this is a Christian society, then something is totally wrong with Christianity, to the level of things they are seeing. Jamaica has one of the highest crime rate and we are suppose to be this Christian country."
Addressing the finding of the census that the male to female ratio in the Rastafarian faith was almost seven to one, Mutabaruka said unlike Christianity that attracted more females, Rastafarianism traditionally attracted males. However, he believes that gradually there will be a transformation.