Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

identify their own situation and plight as oppressed blacks with that of lower- class Jamaicans. Many also view the Africans' transportation to and exile in the New World as analogous to what befell their own forefathers who, after being seduced by promises of high wages and a "better life," abandoned their homes, families, and traditional ways of life to settle in an alien, European-dominated society ( Hawkeswood 1983:135-36).

As is so typical of Rastas everywhere, adherents in New Zealand face strong opposition to their beliefs and practices from the media, the police, and the general public. Although typically branded as dope-smoking, lazy, and violent "cultists," a great many are in fact involved in activities aimed at improving the quality of life among the nation's poor. For example, one group of Rastas established a youth center in Auckland that catered to the needs of young men belonging to local street gangs, many of whom subsequently abandoned their criminal and antisocial lifestyles and joined the local Rasta community ( Hawkeswood 1983:8, 84, 182).

Rastas here often cite the more universalist aspects of the movement--its anti- colonial and anti-imperialist stance, espousal of a return to a more natural and traditional way of life, and condemnation of the Christian Church and Western civilization--as justification for their adoption of the faith. Many also defend the emphasis they and Rastas everywhere place on the study of African history and culture by explaining that since mankind evolved on the African continent, all humans, regardless of race and ethnicity, can ultimately trace their ancestry back to Africa. And while some have taken this argument a step further by insisting that the only real solution to their present predicament is African repatriation, the majority have instead chosen to focus on more practical goals such as working to change the social, economic, and political structure of New Zealand society and to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of their own indigenous traditions and culture ( Hawkeswood 1983:114-29).


Conclusion

It is my belief that the global appeal and spread of the Jamaican Rastafarian movement can be linked to a number of elements or factors. The first is the preeminent position the Bible holds in Rastafarian ritual and ideology. Second, the stress Rastas place on healthy, natural living and their subsequent rejection of Western artificiality in the realms of food, medicine, social relationships, etc. Third, Rastas' outspoken condemnation of the hypocrisy, corruption, injustice, and white biases inherent in colonial and neocolonial societies and institutions. Fourth, Rastas' exhortation to the colonized and subjugated peoples of the world to take pride in their ancestral heritage and culture and to look to their own indigenous traditions for guidance and support. Fifth, the amorphous and decentralized nature of the movement, which gives adherents everywhere the freedom and flexibility to select and interpret specific aspects of Rastafarian religion and culture in a way that is best suited to their own needs and situations. And finally, but perhaps most importantly, the powerful links that exist between the move

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