A guide to Rastafarian Jamaica

Rastafarianism first became a major force in Jamaica in the 1930s, when influential political activist Marcus Garvey became a dedicated and dynamic advocate. By the time Haile Selassie I – known as the ‘Conquering Lion of Judah’, and deemed by many a Rastafari god – paid a visit to the Island in 1966, Rastafarian Jamaica had become a reality: 100,000 Rastas lined the streets, wearing their hair long and twisted into dreadlocks to represent the mighty lion’s mane.

Rastafarian Jamaica

Reggae music is an important part of Rastafarian culture © Visit Jamaica

Today, Rastafarian devotees across Jamaica subscribe to a total belief system that codes every aspect of their daily life, from what they eat and drink to how they love and procreate. Visitors holidaying in Jamaica will discover that Rastafarianism considers topics such as health, relationships and spiritual awareness highly important, with most following a diet free from cigarettes, alcohol and meat.

Restaurants serving Rastafari (Ital) cuisine have sprung up all over Jamaica in the last three decades; menus are vegetarian, though fish is sometimes included, with dishes cooked without oil, salt and sugar.

Rastafarian Jamaica

In Rastafarianism, dreadlocks to represent the mighty lion’s mane © Visit Jamaica

At Port Antonio, for example, be sure to order the Ital breakfast at the Town Talk to sample boiled green bananas with fist-sized bread-fruit dumplings and a bowl of delicious callaloo (a traditional dish made with leaf vegetables). In Ocho Rios, what looks like an unremarkable Italian trattoria is, in fact, an Ital pasta joint called Evita’s. Patron Eva may not be a native Jamaican, but she grows her own organic herbs and serves many of her Italian dishes the Ital way.

In and around Negril, a number of vendors sell Ital snacks (nuts, berries and stuffed peppers) from bamboo huts brightly painted in Rastafarian colours on the edge of the road. These are popular hangouts when the Rasta Rootzfest is in town, and the booming pulse of rhythmic rasta reggae echoes across Long Bay Beach Park. The three-day festival in mid-November is popular with committed Rastafari and curious visitors alike, with plenty of stalls promoting Rastafari ideology, “livity“, foods and culture.

Rastafarian Jamaica

Jamaican-born Bob Marley, brought Rastafarianism global recognition © Visit Jamaica

When it comes to the world of work, Rastafarianism calls for a simple life uncomplicated by possessions, money or material aspirations. An important part of Rasta culture is helping the poor and those in need, for life is eternal. Rastafari often earn just “˜what they need’, making household possessions such as furniture, and often gather together to work collectively at a ‘base’ (the rasta word for a meeting point), sometimes a cafe or a street corner, but more often a workshop at a private home.

The Bob Marley Museum is a landmark ‘base’. In recent years, the number of high-quality Rasta-owned handicraft and artisan stalls close to the entrance (next to the juice bar/Ital diner) has doubled. Visitors here will find plenty of opportunities to snap up beautifully made woven bags, rugs, necklaces and hammocks in Rasta hues.

Rastafarian Jamaica

There are a number of Rasta-owned handicraft and artisan stalls at the Bob Marley Museum © Visit Jamaica

Mindfulness and a greater state of consciousness is a concept that’s promoted in Rastafarian Jamaica through meditative practices: an experience that can be heightened by chanting, drumming and burning incense – look out for the handmade signs that advertise Rasta meditation sessions in Montego Bay, Negril, Port Antonio and Kingston.

Rastafarians also promote the ritualistic inhalation of marijuana for atonement and wisdom, but not intoxication. At the Rasta Rootzfest in Negril, nightly concerts showcase upcoming reggae artists and Jamaica plays host to the Jamaica Cannabis Cup. Various cannabis strains grown by Jamaican farmers island-wide are gathered for the contest. Marijuana, now decriminalized in Jamaica, is sampled gourmet style by Jamaican connoisseurs, who report back with a rating – much like tasting a fine wine.

Rastafarian Jamaica

Many plants are grown at the Bob Marley Museum, including Fever Grass and Aloe Vera © Visit Jamaica

Playing nyahbinghi or reggae music is considered an important part of Rastafarianism. Indeed, it is reggae that has introduced millions of music fans to aspects of the Rastafari tenets and ideology. Lyrics that centre on world peace, racial harmony, and social, economic, and political reform have captured the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

In the 1970s, the world’s best known Rastafarian, Jamaican-born Bob Marley, brought Rastafarianism global recognition. His face and his slogans remain synonymous with the island, as do the Rasta colours – red, for the blood lost during the struggles of Jamaica throughout history; green, for the shoots of hope for the eradication of black suppression; and gold, a symbol of the wealth of Ethiopia, the spiritual home of Rastafarianism.

Rastafarian Jamaica

The lion is an important symbol is Rasta culture © Visit Jamaica

Visit Jamaica in February to pay your respects to Bob Marley on his birthday – a great time to experience Rastafarian Jamaica. The island throws a big party in his honour every year, and visitors will be treated to authentic reggae, great sizzling Ital foods and creative Rastafarian arts.

The Bob Marley Museum also offers lots of information about Rastafarian culture and Bob Marley’s powerful writings, poems and lyrics, which endorse love, honour, peace and respect. Another fantastic draw for tourists is the Rastafarian Indigenous Village in St James, a peace-loving Rasta community along the Montego River that welcomes holidaymakers keen to learn more about the Rastafarian way of life.

 

Virgin Atlantic operates direct flight to Jamaica from London, making it easy to explore the cultural history of the Island.

 

Have you experienced Rastafarian Jamaica? Have you visited any of these Rastafarian sites? Let us know in the comments section below.

About Sarah Woods

Award-winning travel writer, author & broadcaster Sarah Woods has lived, worked and travelled in The Caribbean since 1995. She has visited resort towns, villages and lesser-known islands where she has learned to cook run-down, sampled bush rum, traded coconuts, studied traditional medicine, climbed volcanoes and ridden horses in the sea. Sarah is currently working on a travel documentary about the history of Caribbean cruises.
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