Take a tour to St Mary’s Nyabhingi, the infamous Chaminuka Rastafari House, and marvel at their brightly painted stones and their eco-friendly ways preserving their idyllic location facing onto the river and forest.
Their ragged, crowned dreadlocks framed the portrait of a fraternity that, they say, has for years been misunderstood and held in suspicion by the wider society.
This is because they object to the classification of their movement as a religion. Their objection is based on the belief that the movement is more of a way of life than a religion.
This is in spite of the fact that the movement is grounded on religious principles which make non-Rastafarians view it as a religion.
And so here we were, in search of the Rasta faithful who would help demystify the 75-year-old Rastafarian movement.
“Most Zimbabweans think Rastafarians are about dreadlocks, reggae music and ghetto life. But it’s a natural progression towards self realisation, besides caring for humanity,” says Godfrey Chikonese, a Rastafarian for 15 years.
Like other Rastafarians, they believe in the “religious” value of marijuana, reincarnation and in Emperor Haile Selassie as a prophet and the only African linkage to “Yeshua” (Jesus Christ).
He explains: “Haile Selassie was God’s plan to free Africans, just like Moses did with the Israelites. Selassie set forth the way for the independence of African rights through the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and setting aside land in a place called Shashamane, Ethiopia, for the settlement of displaced Africans.”
Smoking marijuana – known variably as bangi, ngwai, boza, bomu, mbaga, ganja, holy herb or St John’s bread – is illegal and can land you in a jail in Zimbabwe. However, to this movement, it is a spiritual act. Really?
Says Chikonese: “It is a biblically sanctioned communion, though non-Rastas have abused it.”
He adds that the biblical King Solomon said that wine is good for the heart and chalice (read marijuana) is good for the soul.
“Rastafarianism is not a religion,” as Ras Faya (Godfrey Chikonese) puts it: “It is a consciousness of being and marijuana helps in prayer and meditation and has a rightful place in creation and no laws should hold captive a plant that can’t defend itself. Jailing a faithful for partaking a communion is evil triumph.”
Rastas believe their bodies are temples of God, and thus don’t worship in physical buildings.
Chikonese “Ras Faya” said churches are a form of commercialising spirituality and chaining the spirit, besides propagating class inequality through adoration of the West.
To them, the chosen few will live forever in their current bodies, which was why reggae maestro Bob Marley, according to them, never wrote a will, despite suffering from advanced cancer.
Curiously though, Rastafarians seem to have no problems with the emperor. He is known to have kept his lions’ beef supply steady when Ethiopians were starving in the early 1970s.
But why the absence of Rastafarian missionaries?
Nyamadzawo Murunganwa known in the shrine as Chaminuka, a Rastafarian for his whole life, said theirs is a way of life and “no one member is singled out to lead others to salvation, all Rastas are equal”.
Chikonese interjects, “Those who lay the Rasta foundation never came to Africa and the Rastafarian doctrine only spread through the global popularity of reggae music.”
Then there is the issue of hair. “Dread’ means fear and dreadlocks have always instilled fear,” says Chikonese. To Rastafarians, dreadlocks are a journey of the mind, soul and spirituality, achieved without a comb, which like the razor and scissors, are “Babylonian” (white) inventions.
“Dreads are the fullest expression of nature in man and a vow to fight for equal rights and class inequality,” says Chaminuka, the elder at the Shrine.
For justification, they quote the book of Leviticus 21 v 15, “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in the flesh.”
The men explained the significance of the colours of their movement as a sign of their total commitment to Garvey’s teachings, especially his back to Africa idea.
If you listen carefully to many Rastafarian reggae artists today, you will hear them singing about “going back to Africa,” said Chikonese.
They say red stands for the black martyrs’ blood that was shed around the world during their struggle for liberation, equal rights, and justice.
Yellow represents the wealth of the homeland, Africa, particularly the gold, whilst green represents the beauty and vegetation of their promised land, which they believe is Ethiopia.
The name Rastafari comes from Ras (Amharic for prince) Tafari, Makonnen, Selassie’s pre-coronation name whom Rastas believe is the black Messiah.
The movement spread globally, through immigration and interest generated by the ragged cadence of reggae music – most notably, that of Bob Marley. But interestingly enough, devout Rastas scorn at reggae as commercial music and a “sell-out to Babylon (the West).”
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