Just as Reggae emerged from the cultural union of African and European, Rastafari emerged out of the union of historical African religions and European Christian traditions. Out of West Africa came the folk religions of Obeah and Myal. Brought over in the minds of the slaves, these ‘religions’ were unlike anything seen in the western world at the time. Practiced wherever Afro-Caribbean communities gathered, these ‘religions’ used song and dance to celebrate their ancestors and pass down oral traditions to preserve their society for the future. Though understood by the Africans used to this kind of religious practice, their belief in spirits and use of spells and potions confused and frightened the European colonists who saw it as their duty to convert the enslaved Africans to Christianity. Therefore, for the preservation of the traditions, these communities practiced in secret, reappropriating Christian religious symbols for their purposes. These clandestine tactics continued for hundreds of years as the African communities attempted to preserve their society from the cultural proselytization of their European overlords.
When the abolishment of slavery in Jamaica came at the end of the 19th century, a huge number of newly free Africans fell through the cracks. Free from their former internment on plantations but unable to leave the island or make a meaningful income due to their lack of education or formal training, many former slaves resigned to work for pitiful wages doing manual labor Europeans didn’t want to do themselves, gathering in shantytown communities in remote areas of the island. From these shantytowns emerged Rastafarianism- a new, Afro-Centric faith combining elements of evangelical Protestantism with their traditional African religious practices. From humble and divided beginnings practicing their faith through song and dance practices similar to traditional African faiths, Rastafarianism was solidified and fused with Christian traditions around the turn of the 20th century due largely to one man; Marcus Garvey.
West African Religious Chanting