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Garveyism and Rastafari:

Helping to Establish the Anti-Establishment

In the twentieth century two movements have emerged out of Jamaica in protest of black physical and mental slavery by the white European establishment. The first to emerge was Garveyism, founded by Marcus Garvey after World War I. The second is Rastafari founded by Leonard Howell during the depression in the 1930s. Each movement founded by unknown figures and each committed to freeing blacks from social and political oppression. However, Rastafari contains a spiritual side from which all the major differences between the two arise. Although Garveyism had a profound impact on Rastafari, both movements are separate in their foundation, followers, and ideals.

The life of a Jamaican in the early twentieth century was not pleasant. Poverty stricken and continually controlled by a eurocentric world, Jamaicans were looking for a leader and a way out. Marcus Garvey was the first to provide such a plan with a rallying cry of “Africa for Africans at home and abroad.” He enlightened audiences of Jamaican petite bourgeois and peasants by giving them hope for a new future where a united Africa would rises up as a formidable world power and a home for the people of Jamaica.

In Haile Selassie coronation as king of Ethiopia Garvey saw a “reign based on modernity, within the framework of Pan-African solidarity.” Garvey urged blacks to go back to Africa in an effort to create a strong African state. Garvey valued the achievements of Western Civilization while rejecting the racial assumptions which came with the white world. He proved to be more interested in the social and political abilities of Africa and Ethiopia in particular by denouncing Haile Selassie for his ineptitude during the World War II invasion by Italy.

Garvey?s quest for black independence did not go unnoticed. His movement actually gained acceptance in Harlem before Jamaicans took to its ideals. As a social and political reformer, Garvey established the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914 which helped to institutionalize his movement and gain wider appeal. In the 1920s the UNIA was the largest Pan-African movement and represented the Black Nationalist leadership that mobilized masses around a program of cultural, economic, and political modernity. Garveyism appealed to the petite bourgeoisie ideals; although Garvey worked towards black independence, he did not preach anti-establishment rhetoric.

Garveyism declined in the 1930s, but its influence had already spread throughout the United States and Jamaica. It had sown the seeds for a new movement ? Rastafari. Rastafari framework was as afrocentric and prideful of being black as Garveyism. Rastafari, too, grew out of the political and social struggles of the Jamaican people and understood the necessity of economic and political reform. However, Rastafari did not found itself on secular reform, but stood as a new spirituality for the Jamaicans. The religious aspects of Rastafari set it far apart from Garveyism because religion comes not from the outside world of law and politics, but from the heart of a person and changes a person?s attitude and outlook on the world. Garveyism said the world should be different; Rastafari says the world is different if you see it differently.

The impact of the Rastafari movement on the spirit of the Jamaican people can be understood as specific world events are seen through a Garveyite?s eyes versus a Rasta?s eyes. Both movements are afrocentric; however, Rastafari conceived of the coronation of Haile Selassie on a grander scale. He was not only the leader of a new Africa, but the Lord of Lords. He had come to lead his people as the Scriptures had professed. The Jamaicans in all their suffering as slaves and as the impoverished felt a kinship to the Israelites of Biblical times. Haile Selassie was a direct descendant of King David; thus he fulfilled the prophesied messiah in the Book of Revelations: “Who is worthy to open the scroll, and loose the seals thereof?…and one of the elders saith unto me, ‘Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll, and to loose its seven seals.” An irony for Marcus Garvey who saw Haile Selassie as a political leader not the messiah, but planted the seeds for the Rastafari belief in Haile Selassie?s divinity by quoting from the Bible to describe the rise of the Ethiopian empire.

The spirituality also created another fundamental difference between Rastafari and Garveyism. Although both were committed to political and economic independence for blacks, the Rastas did not view the independence as Garvey did. Garvey saw western civilization?s accomplishments as the ideal for the rising black nation. However, this is still an acceptance of white culture and views of wealth and power just by blacks. The Rastas wished to remove themselves from the establishment altogether. Leonard Howell created the Pinnacle, a commune for Rastas in Jamaica, where people could live freely and away from the European world. Rastas also took to wearing their hair in dreadlocks as a statement against a white culture of flat-hair blondes ? an ideal, literally and figuratively that could never be attained by blacks. The Rastas never wished to reach such goals.

Rastafari also suffered for its anti-establishment attitude. A movement which is much more strongly rooted in the lower class takes much more time to reach the upper elements who controlled society than a movement like Garveyism which had wider appeal from the onset. The movement was not recognized institutionally, as Garveyism was, for decades. Rastafari found the acceptance among the middle class in Jamaica in the 1960s when it became a university study. It also gained wider acceptance when Prime Minister Michael Manley took a political interest in and sympathized with the Rastas. The reggae explosion of the 1970s further ensured Rastafari?s place in world culture.

Garveyism and Rastafari are both important movements for Jamaicans and blacks alike. Garvey spoke up for a people who were without a voice in the European, white world. He cried for solidarity and pride in Africa and abroad. Garveyism paved the way for political and social change by establishing the UNIA which showed the world that reform is necessary and possible. Rastafari found a jumping off point for an even larger movement which gave hope not only in the political and social aspects, but a new hope within the people of Jamaica and Africans everywhere. The spirituality of Rastafari sets it part from Garveyism in profound ways exemplified in the differing stances on Haile Selassie?s inauguration. For Garvey?s part in Rastafari, he is seen as a prophet; however, Garveyism never looked to change the hearts of the Jamaican people, only the minds.



“Rastafarianism,” Key Word: Rastafarianism, Web Page: Student Advantage Research, http://research.studentadvantage.com, 2000.

Lewis, Rupert, “Marcus Garvey and the Early Rastafarians: Continuity and Discontinuity,” In Chanting Down Babylon, Eds. Murrell, Nathaniel, Spencer, William, and McFarlane, Adrian, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998, 146.


Lewis, 148.

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