The African Diaspora,
Ethiopianism, and Rastafari
Amharic One of the many languages
of Ethiopia; the language of the royal Ethiopian dynasty since the 13th
Babylon From a Rastafari perspective,
Babylon is the historically white-European colonial and imperialist power
structure which has oppressed Blacks and other peoples of color.
Diaspora (dispersion; a migration;
the dispersion of an originally homogeneous people). The mass dispersion
of peoples of a common culture or national origin is commonly referred to
as a diaspora. Historically, these movements tend to be forced or involuntary.
They may be the result military occupation, systematic persecution, servitude,
enslavement, or laws by which the dominant society defines an ethnic group
as marginal, undesireable, or subordinate. These movements also tend to
reflect pervasive regional or global forces that separate peoples of common
origin form their homeland (real or imagined), leaving them to think of
themselves as exiles. Such is the case of the African diaspora which began
in the early 16th century and displaced tens of millions of Africans from
their ancestral continent to various sites in the New World.
East Indian (Indo-Jamaican, Indo-Trinidadian,
etc.): In the Caribbean context, this term is used to refer to individuals
who came to the Caribbean (mostly Trinidad, Jamaica, and Guyana) during
the late 19th century as indentured laborers (see image
Elders The term given to individuals
of longstanding commitment in the Rasta Movement. In everyday speech, the
status of male individuals as elders is often acknowledged by use of the
term "Bongo" as an honorific (e.g., addressing someone as "Bongo
Hill" or "Bongo Ketu").
Ital The Rastafari term for a saltless
and vegetarian diet. Although not all Rastafari adhere strictly to such
a diet, it serves as a model for idealized lifeways of practitioners. During
Nyabinghi ceremonies (which last for up to a week), an Ital diet is part
of the ritual protocol observed by communicants.
Jah In Rasta speech, this term is
used as a synonym for Emperor Haile Selassie as the manifestation of the
Godhead. The term derives from the Old Testament where it appears as an
archaic form of "Jehovah" (see Psalm 68:4).
Maroons A term derived from the Spanish
word cimarron, meaning wild or unruly, used to refer to runaway slaves
in various parts of the Caribbean. In Jamaica, Maroon settlements formed
in the island's mountainous interior as early as the mid-16th century. While
small in number compared to the overall population in Jamaica, Maroons retained
strong African-derived traditions and remained proud of their cultural heritage.
In the 20th century, Rastafari culture has continued to carry forward this
African pride in Jamaica and other parts of the Black Diaspora.
Nyabinghi (Ni-uh-bin-gee) This term
has a series of overlapping meanings within the contemporary Rastafari Movement.
It refers variously to the island-wide religious gatherings of Rasta brethren
and sistren at which communicants "praise Jah" and "chant
down Babylon," to the three-part drum ensemble on which chants are
composed, to the African-derived dance-drumming style performed at these
events, and to the corpus of chants themselves. It also refers to the most
orthodox organization within the broader Rasta movement variously known
as the House of Nyabinghi or the Theocratic Government of Emperor Haile
Selassie I. The term Nyabinghi entered the movement in late 1935 during
the Italian Invasion of Ethiopia and is actually derived from an African
secret society which operated in the Congo and Ruwanda during the last quarter
of the 19th century.
Ras Tafari the pre-coronation name
of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Ras is an Amharic term equivalent to duke or
lord. And Tafari Makonnen was the family name of Emperor Selassie. Rastafari
is the same name taken by members of the Rastafari movement who regard the
Ethiopian Emperor as the reincarnation of Christ as well as the embodiment
of the Godhead.
Reggae Sometimes called "the
King's music" or "roots music", reggae is the Rasta-inspired
music of black protest which emerged in Jamaica during the late 1960s. Reggae
reflects the basic rhythmic influences of Nyabinghi drumming as well as
that of other African Jamaican musical traditions. During the 1970s, Rastafari-inspired
reggae themes became central to the emergent national consciousness of Jamaicans,
both Rastafari and non-Rastafari alike. During this same period, the music
developed an international following in Europe, the United States, and on
the African continent.
West Indian The term used to refer
to the peoples and cultures of the Caribbean archipelago and parts of the
Circum-Caribbean rimlands from present-day Belize to Jamaica in the Greater
Antilles to Trinidad and Barbados in the Lesser Antilles. Hence, Jamaicans,
Trinidadians, Antiguans, and others are often referred to collectively as
West Indians. This is a problematic term since it does not refer to a single
ethnic, linguistic, or national background. West Indian reflects the multicultural
and migrant backgrounds of the populations that comprise the Caribbean as
a cultural area.
Zion From a Rasta perspective, Zion
refers broadly to Africa and more specifically to Ethiopia as the ancestral
homeland of all black peoples. The symbols of Rastafari culture identify
with this domain in its various spiritual, cultural, and political connotations.