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a member of an originally Jamaican religion that regards Ras Tafari (the former emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie (1892--1975)) as God
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


a BLACK movement, dating from the 1930s in Jamaica, but influential worldwide in the 1970s and 1980s, involving the ‘deliverance’ of black people to a new, free and sacred homeland in Africa. ‘Rastafarian’ is derived from Ras Tafari, the name of Haile Selassie I (Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1975) before he assumed his official title.

Rastafarian beliefs have their origins in the teaching and philosophy of Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) who organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association in the US at the beginning of the 20th century. He believed that integration with whites in the US was impossible and the foundation of a black homeland in Africa was necessary to restore the dignity and culture of black peoples.

Garvey's teachings were influential both in the US and the West Indies. His prophecies about a glorious kingdom and the return to Africa created interest in the crowning of Ras Tafari as the Emperor of Ethiopia. Followers of Garvey in Jamaica, though not Garvey himself, made connections between the prophecy of a black king (taken to be Haile Selassie) and the day of deliverance to a promised land (Ethiopia). They believed that Selassie was a Messiah who would organize the black exodus to Africa and end the domination of Western imperial powers. As such, the Rastafarian movement is often identified by sociologists as CULT-like, involving many of the features of millennial movements (see MILLENARIANISM AND MILLENNIAL MOVEMENTS).

By the middle of the 1970s Rastafarianism had become a potent cultural force in the West Indies and the beliefs became more internationalized, especially in parts of the US, UK and Australia.


Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000