Rastafarianism’s Antistate Beginnings: It’s More Than Just Bob Marley’s Music
Despite its humble origins in 1930s Jamaica, Rastafarianism has evolved into a global liberation movement. Rastafarianism’s impact on popular culture has been phenomenal, its message of resistance resonating with people across the globe. Even in death, Bob Marley, probably the most famous symbol of Rastafarianism, continues to inspire the world with his revolutionary music. Today, anthropologists officially recognize Rastafarianism as a religion.
But outside the hallowed halls of academia, few appreciate Rastafarianism’s antistate ethos. Rastafarianism emerged in direct response to the injustices perpetuated by a colonial state in Jamaica. Blacks constituted most of Jamaica’s population, yet they were consigned to a life of penury. In 1898, fifty years after emancipation, there was just one doctor for every 19,400 Jamaicans, and although people classified as paupers were entitled to free healthcare, this privilege was never expanded to poor blacks.
Life for black Jamaicans, who primarily resided in rural areas, was drudgery. So, to abate their harsh living conditions, many relocated to urban settlements in the 1920s. However, opportunities for social mobility were marginal, and by the 1930s, the Great Depression had compounded the hardships of West Indian life. Sugar prices plummeted, businesses folded, and workers transitioned to unemployment. Moreover, the government’s handling of these crises, with scant regard for human suffering, exacerbated hardships.
To illustrate colonial authorities’ indifference, historian James G. Cantres shares the damning findings of the Moyne Commission:
There is not nearly enough accommodation for the children who attend school … accommodation is frequently … in a chronic state of despair and insanitation … teachers are inadequate in numbers … not well paid … training is largely or non-existent.
In Jamaica and the British Caribbean more broadly, a growing consciousness of social injustice led working citizens to agitate for better labor conditions and living standards. The genesis of Rastafarianism must be understood in the context of the oppression that plagued Caribbean societies. Leonard Howell, who is credited with founding Rastafarianism, designed the movement as an alternative to the oppressive narrative of colonialism.
Howellian thought falls in a venerable tradition of anticolonial critique by Caribbean intellectuals. As a young man in the 1920s, Howell became acquainted with Garveyism and joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Marcus Garvey’s philosophy of black economic empowerment mesmerized people of Afri
Article from Mises Wire