Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Have any Rastafarians ever visited your Orthodox parish? Have you heard of the growing numbers of Rastafarian converts to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church since the 1960s? Have you ever wondered what in the world is the connection? Perhaps this can help
1) Hand Drums:
The center of worship in the Rastafari tradition is the hand drum. It is the instrument which drives all other worshipping hymns and music. The drum was so powerful that during slavery in the Caribbean, which is the crucible of Rastafarian culture, playing the drum could carry a death sentence! It is one of the distinctively pan-African traits amongst the Americas, and the Rastafarians in particular. This kind of music is called Nyahbinghi
, which is a mysterious word whose origins have been lost to oral history but loosely today is translated as "death to all oppression" in the spiritual sense. There are specific drum patterns for different purposes and occasions, and all are considered the sacred culture of "chanting." These gatherings around the drum are called a "grounation." Through the drum, Rastafarians find our place in the world. In the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition, the Kebero
(a kind of kettle drum) is also a center of worship. The kebero drum
is not used in the Divine Liturgy proper, but is the hallmark of Mezmur (hymns) and the Mahalet (Vigil) services. Ethiopians have been making a raucous in Jerusalem
every Easter and Christmas for at least the past thousand years. When Rastafarians come to the Ethiopian Church, the drum immediately brings them to a sense of being at home.
The Fasting culture of especially the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar makes Rastafarians feel right at home. Rastafarianism aspires to a diet and lifestyle called "ital" (I-speak for "vital" as in "I am vital") in which animal products, alcohol, and certain spices are strictly taboo. The extensive fasting culture of the Ethiopian tradition makes veganism a ready fit for Rastafarians, who elsewhere seem to have a rather peculiar diet. Rastafarians consider food a sacred gift, and maintain a culture of respect and gratitude regarding eating. Food is always carefully considered and prepared. In the fasting culture of the Ethiopian Church, Rastafarians find a way to exchange recipes.
3) Head Coverings:
Rastafarians emphasize head coverings, especially for women but even for men as well. Women generally have their heads covered not just at Church but at most occasions. This is not just modesty but culture. In Rastafari culture, many women are equally conservative and keep their heads wrapped or covered most of the time, but always in worship and public. When women are present for chanting, hymns, or worship in Rastafarian tradition, the services can't start until the "all clear" is sounded after all the women properly cover themselves if they weren't already. Men as well, under dreadlock culture, tend to keep their heads wrapped or covered also. Those who specifically wear turbans are from the Bobo Shanti dread culture which exclusively keep their heads covered in public at all times. Rastafarian men and women then both feel at home when they come into the Ethiopian Church were Ethiopian women are similarly covered and where monks and priests wear turbans.
4) Rigid Gender Roles
The Rastafarian culture has rigid gender roles strictly in place. Women and men have mutually exclusive roles and functions within the community. Women are called "Queens" or "daughters" and men are "Kings" or "Princes" to emphasize the dignity inherent of all humans created in the image of God. When Rastafarians address each other ("sight up") in royal titles, it is to also mutually respect the dignity of each other according to the Golden Rule, and to overpower the negative affects of slavery and racism which only alloted pejorative appellations for black men and women. In Ethiopian Orthodox, gender roles are also strictly in place. In the Church, in the household, on the job, at school, on the road, gender rules are the norm. They are sometimes demeaning, sometimes empowering, but always present. Sometimes the Church is wrongfully misunderstood as being chauvinist by outsiders, because women are not clergy, but we in the Church know that women's roles are often MORE important! Women raise the family in the Tradition. Women hold it down the most at Liturgy. Women light all the candles, set up the Church for worship, prepare the meals, mind the children, take care of hospitality for visitors, women are the glue that keep the Church together and the gears that keep the Church moving forward. Further, there is little demonstration of public affection between the genders. This is the same with Rastafarians. In the old school Rastafarian dance halls, the men danced with the men, and the women danced with the women. At worship services, gender segregation is strictly enforced, just as in the Church men and women stand separate.
5) Emphasis on Old Testament Imagery and Symbolism
The Ethiopian Church is absolutely saturated in Old Testament imagery and symbolism. The Church building, the vestments and dress of priests and laity alike, the iconography, the ritual symbols, the incense, the bells, the lyrics to the hymns. The Tabot culture of the Ark of the Covenant is especially resonating with Rastafarians. The Tabot (Ethiopian Altar stone) is the center of the Ethiopian Church. No Liturgy can be celebrated without one, and a Church is merely an empty building without its presence. We have processions with our Tabotat (plural) which are the continuity of the Ark processions from the days of King David and Samuel. Rastafarians, coming from the crucible of slavery, like many black peoples of the American Experience, also readily draw upon Old Testament symbols. The Old Testament is a symbol of liberation for Rastafarians, and it saturates the daily life of Rastafarian people and the Rastafarian mind and world view. When Rastafarians see so much of the Old Testament in the Ethiopian Church, it seems like a living fulfillment and embodiment of the Old Testament.
There are so many more links in this chain, but I think for now these are some of the biggest and most tangible connections.