Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican who was an articulate spokesperson for black pride. Garvey encouraged black people to unite and establish their own nation in Africa. In 1916, Garvey left Jamaica to carry his message to America. Upon leaving, he is reported by some people to have said, “Look to Africa for the crowning of a black king, he shall be the redeemer.”

In 1930, a man named Ras Tafari was crowned king of Ethiopia. He took the name Haile Selassie, which means “Might of the Trinity.” The news of a black African king traveled to Jamaica, where Leonard Howell and other Jamaican ministers began to preach that Garvey’s prophesy had come true.

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey (1887 – 1940) was a Jamacian black nationalist. Garvey is considered by Rastafarians as a prophet, but Garvey was never a part of the religious movement.

Neither Garvey nor Selassie were involved in what became known as the Rastafarian movement. Garvey was nearing the end of his life and living in London, England when Rastafarianism developed in Jamaica in the late 1930s.  Haile Selassie visited Jamaica in 1966 and witnessed four days of exuberant worship.  The Ethiopian king later said, “I have…met certain Rastafarians. I told them clearly that I am a man, that I am mortal, and that … they should never make a mistake in assuming or pretending that a human being is emanated from a deity.”

Rastafarians see themselves as the true Israelites exiled to Jamaica because they offended God.  They believe white Christian preachers and missionaries perverted the Scriptures to conceal that Adam and Jesus were black. The Rastafarians believe they were exiled from Ethiopia to Jamaica because they offended their god and consider Ethiopia to be heaven on earth. Their rituals sometimes include the use of marijuana. Rastafarians do not believe in cutting anything on the body. This includes their hair, which they wear dreadlocks. Reggae singer Bob Marley became the most famous Rastafarian. He died at thirty-six because he would not allow his cancerous toe to be amputated.

Haile Selassie


Haile Selassie I (1930 – 1974) was the ruler of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie to have been a living God, but the Ethiopian ruler was not a member of the Rastafarian movement. Haile Selassie was an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian throughout his life.

The Rastafarian movement began in the slums of Jamaica, but it spread to the middle class. There is no exact count, but it is estimated that there are as many as one million Rastafarians.  Most live in Jamaica, but there are Rastafarians throughout the Caribbean.


Download this lesson as Microsoft Word file or as an Adobe Acrobat file.

Bob Marley - Rastafarian


Singer Bob Marley (1945 - 1981) was the most prominent member of the Rastafarian movement.