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In the Rastafarian movement, as in other prophetic and millenarian movements, dream experience represents an important source of religious inspiration. Dreams have played a considerable role in the production of Rastafarian ideology, which is based on potent biblical imagery and on the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican father of Pan-Africanism.
The Rastafarian movement—named after Ras Tafari (better known as Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia)—is a predominantly black form of social protest that originated in Jamaica in the early 1930s. This movement was a response to racial discrimination and to the manifestations of capitalist-imperialist domination that was the legacy of plantation slavery.
A fundamentalist approach to the Bible characterizes Rastafarian religion, which can be regarded as a form of black Zionism, with a strong emphasis on the ideology of Ethiopianism. According to Rasta, black people are to be considered the true Israelites, and have awaited the return of the Messiah, Jah Rastafari—manifested in the person of Emperor Haile Selassie I—to repatriate them to Africa. Africa is viewed in biblical terms as the ancestral Zion, which is opposed to Babylon, the white-ruled world.
The principal form of Rastafarian ritual activity, known as “reasoning,” during which elders attempt to formulate truths about a variety of social situations, is generally accompanied by the sacramental smoking of ganja—marijuana—which induces active imagination, allowing the Rastaman to be “far seeing” and to participate in a form of inter-subjective visionary communication. Besides a variety of sacred symbols, central to the speech code used during each performance is the pronoun “I,” with its sound symbolism related to “high,” “eye,” and to the idea of vision. During the communicative event of reasoning, dream experience is among the various subjects of speculation, such as historical and contemporary events and biblical prophecy. In particular, elders can draw upon recent as well as long-past dreams in order to authenticate their tutorial role.
In his 1992 report on visionary communication in the Rastafarian movement, J. Homiak discusses three dialogues that include dream accounts, interpretations, and resultant social actions undertaken by Ras Mobutu, a leader in the Jamaican Rastafarian movement. These dialogues, collected in the context of reasonings, contain a number of powerful rhetorical statements and considerable insights into the sociopolitical realities of colonial exploitation. Ras Mobutu’s visions, which illuminate specific points in Rastafarian history, are incorporated into an oral tradition in which understandings are shared by participants and consequently cannot be approached as separate from the social contexts and ritual processes through which the ideology is reproduced.