Garvey and the Rastafari Connection

There is clearly a strong connection between Marcus Garvey and the Rastafari faith which has spanned decades. Though Garvey died over 80 years ago, this connection is still evident. Many Rastafarians not only quote Garvey, but many live by his ideologies. His philosophies and opinions provide the foundation for their existence, their way of life. One of Garvey’s most popular quotes was in fact made popular by another equally prominent Jamaican who was Rastafarian, Bob Marley. That quote, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery”, seems to embody a shared tenet of Garvey and the Rastafari faith which again highlights the connection. Another example of the Garvey-Rastafari connection is the fact that, every August 17, many Rastafarians make the trek to Liberty Hall on King Street, kind of like a pilgrimage, to commemorate Garvey’s birthday. There they have reasoning, chanting, drumming and sometimes showcase their wares. How did this connection come about though?

Garvey is thought of as the “father” of the Rastafari movement by some. Why? Maybe because it is believed that Garvey gave Rastafari their worldview and perspective on life. In addition, Garveyism was a major contributor to the rise of the Rastafari movement. According to I. Jabulani Tafari in his book, A Rastafari View of Marcus Mosiah Garvey: Patriarch – Prophet – Philosopher, Garveyism contributed to Rastafari on five levels.

  1. Spiritually – By Garvey’s controversial yet explicit statement that Black people should see the Divine Creator as Black. (Rastafari has Haile Selassie I as the Divine Head of the movement.)
  2. Historically – By Garvey’s constant and repeated references to ‘Ethiopia’ in place of ‘Africa’. (Rastafarians view themselves as exiled Hebrew Ethiopians (Israelites) in the West and see Ethiopia as the Holy Land.)
  3. Politically – By Garvey’s promotion of Pan-African unity and collaboration. Rastafari promotes international African cooperation.)
  4. Socially – By Garvey’s emphasis on physical repatriation ‘Back-to-Africa’. Rastafarians are strong advocates for repatriation to the motherland of Africa.)
  5. Culturally – By Garvey’s widespread use of the cultural arts as a primary tool for the re-education and re-socialization of the Black masses internationally. (Rastafarians use the cultural arts, particularly music, as the principal weapon in their struggle to liberate the minds and hearts of Black people worldwide.)      

  Another connection between Garvey and Rastafari is the fact that it is widely believed by many Rastafarians that Garvey predicted the rise of Ras Tafari Makonnen as Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia and subsequently, the divine head of Rastafari. The prediction is credited to Garvey saying, “Look to Africa, when a Black King shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near.” Consequently, Selassie’s coronation followed shortly after this prediction and seemed to be the fulfillment of Garvey’s doings and sayings in his mission to advance the Pan-African movement. For this, Garvey is highly respected by Rastafarians.

It should be noted, however, that not all Rastafarians admire Garvey. Firstly, there is a small number of them who condemn him for his criticisms of Haile Selassie I while the latter was exiled in England. Garvey questioned Selassie’s loyalty to Ethiopia because he had left when Italy invaded his country. There are others who criticized him for not accepting Selassie’s invitation to repatriate Black people to Ethiopia. Instead, Garvey sought to establish his “utopia” in Liberia. Others disapproved of his treatment of Garveyites who were Rastafari pioneers, such as Leonard P. Howell. It is said that Garvey presided over an alleged “unsympathetic hearing” for the supporters of the “new” Royalist doctrine. There are a few Rastafarians who are also upset that Garvey did not break from the colonial tradition of combing hair and did not grow dreadlocks.

Nevertheless, despite the few who harbour negative feelings towards Garvey, the majority of Rastafarians continue to revere Garvey and recognize his invaluable contribution to their movement. In fact, Rastafarians can be credited for being the main proponents of Garvey’s ideologies over the decades into present day. As a result, there will always be a connection between Garvey and Rastafari.           

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