Reggae’s popular explosion led to more than global recognition. For a century, Rastafarians have used the same religiously inspired symbols as expressions of their culture.
In the 16th chapter of Judges in the Bible lies the story of Samson. A hero of the ancient Israelites, Samson’s abnormal strength lay in his long hair- if he ever cut it; he would lose his strength and favor with God. In his example, the Rastafarian people wear their long in dreadlocks.
Along with their hairstyles, the Rastafarians wear the traditional colors of the Ethiopian flag- red, yellow, green, and black- in recognition of the promised land of Zion/Ethiopia and deference to their spiritual leader, the Ethiopian king, Halie Selassie I, the “Lion of Judah”.
In addition to their physical symbols, the Rastafarians maintain their identity by rejecting ‘Babylon’- namely any facet of Western culture and capitalism. To rebellious western youth, these foreign symbols and anti-western culture were a breath of fresh air.
Swiftly adopting Marley’s dress, style, and ideology, western culture appropriated these symbols for their own uses and forgot their origins in Rastafarianism.
Though Reggae’s popular explosion changed western culture is very evident ways, there was an equal, if not greater effect on Rastafarian culture as well. As Rastafarian images and culture became more popular, the Jamaican government, historically relying on agriculture to drive the economy, began embracing Rastafarianism as a sort of cultural ‘fad’ they could market to increase tourism profits. Selling the image of the happy-go-lucky Rastafarian reggae singer smoking on a beach, the Jamaican government had a huge hand in changing the foreign perception of reggae. “In the travel guide Access Caribbean, tourists are encouraged to dance to the ‘rhythms of a reggae band’ and adopt the Jamaicans’ unofficial motto: ‘Don’t worry, Be Happy’” (King 125)
This in turn led to the broad commercialization of all common symbols-
- Anything with Marley’s persona
- Anything with Ethiopian symbols
- Anything related to marijuana
- Dreads are a style, not a religious observance
But, isn’t embracing western capitalism totally against Rastafarian traditions?