An Indian Influence on the Rastafari Culture

Colonial subjugation lasting well over a century leaves deep scars in the culture and the soul of a community. Ironically, it also facilitates the intermingling of cultures, two oceans apart; in a way that one couldn’t possibly imagine. At the turn of the 19th century African slaves revolted against the slave owners in the Caribbean and emancipated themselves. As the movement gained momentum, indentured Indian immigrants were shipped to Jamaica in 1845, to work on the sugar plantations in Clarendon. This sparked a cultural intermingling, Indian culture and Hinduism helped shape the Jamaican culture and the early stages of the Rastafarian movement.

The use of curry in Jamaican cuisine is a direct result of Indian culinary influences.

Hinduism brought with it the recreational use of ganja, the backbone of Rastafarianism. The Hindus used ganja for spiritual and medicinal purposes, mystical religious practices and for recreation as well.  A historian studying the rastafarian revolution, elaborated on why ganja appealed to the natives the way it did; saying, “The native Jamaicans were stripped of all their freedom, but the one freedom they had complete autonomy over, the one freedom no one or nothing could take away, was of the mind.” Ganja facilitated this liberation of the mind. Perhaps that is why, afraid of liberation in any form, the colonisers declared ganja illegal in 1938.

Rastafarianism is regarded as both a religious and social movement. It came into its own around the 1930s. The movement has its roots in Abrahmic religion, based on specific interpretations of the bible. It believes in the existence of one God, referred to as ‘Jah’.  Hailejah Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia between 1930 and 1974, is regarded as Jah by many rastas, or as the Second coming of Jesus Christ. Heres where it gets interesting, according to many scholars, Leonard P Howell, one of the founding fathers of Rastafarianism, was inspired by the Hindu practice of worshipping many ethnic Gods such as Kali and Krishna. This motivated him to go looking for an ethnic God of his own to propel and unify the Rastafari movement.

Bob Marley, the face of reggae music that facilitated the popularization of the Rastafarian movement, had the nickname ‘Tuff Gong’. The word ‘gong’ is derived from the Hindu word ‘gangunguru’ which means ‘great king’ or ‘king of kings’.

Inspired by Indian forms of expression and mass communication like folk dance, ethnic music and slogans, and theatrical performances, the early rastas began spreading their movement through similar mediums.

The Indians revered their religion through singing bhajans(devotional songs) and kirtans( musical offerings to their deity) in Hindi and Bhojpuri. In awe of the power of these practices, rastas deliberately modelled their forms of reverence and worship in a similar manner.

©️ 2020. Gut and Flow Media Pvt. Ltd.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *