Children of Africa: Systems of Symbols in Boboshanti Rastafarianism

Geertz defines religion as a system of symbols that motivates the way people live their lives. The Boboshanti use aspects of other religions to define their way of life. Most strikingly perhaps are their adherence to the Sabbath, their use of turbans, and their timed ritual that seems not to dissimilar from that of Islam. This seems quite strange as they try to dissociate themselves to the western world, yet they take aspects of their religions. However, they use them creatively.

Since Rastafarianism has strong ties to Judaism and Christianity, the Boboshanti observe the sabbath each sunday. A day of rest and relaxation, instead of working they socialize and observe the community. This is an example of routinization which is an essential part of their religion as they are not institutionalized. This picture shows a Rastafarian man enjoying Marijuana. Smoking Ganja, although it is uncouth in western society, is seen as a spiritual event and a sacrament that opens the mind. It is often accompanied by biblical readings and religious observance, this observance is a key to the sabbath which is a day of rest.

Another example of routinization is their daily timed rituals. They start at 3am, reconvene at 9am,  and 3pm. At these times they believe that the movement to Africa is upon them. “While half the world is still sleeping, we are up arising already getting other things done.” As they believe that Africa is their promised land, this ritual which betters themselves is a path to salvation preparing themselves mentally, physically and spiritually. This ritual is also a path to redemption and purification so they can be accepted to return to the promised land.

Their use of red turbans to tie back their dreadlocks symbolizes a crown. It takes them back to ancient Ethiopian routes. Many believe themselves to be former kings of Africa before their downpression through the slave trade brought them to Babylon i.e. Jamaica. Customarily they dress in the colors of the Ethiopian flag and as red is a regal and dominant color it could be interpreted as a crown. But it mostly brings them back to their Ethiopian routes. Although similar to the Sikh tradition of wearing a turbans, the Sikh turban represents courage, honor, and spirituality.

These symbols, although they adhere to some western practices, are really one in their own. Some may see it as a bastardization of other beliefs, but it is borne of faith, creativity, unity and routinization; putting a sense of community above all else, for one hope, one dream, a return to the promised land.


About mikecrusoe

I am an international student at Lawrence University. I grew up in London, England and I rather enjoy tea and crumpets but that is for another forum.
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