Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews.
Chevannes, Barry. (Editor). (1995).
Basingstoke, Hamps., England: Macmillan and The Hague: Institute of Social Studies.
xxvi + 282 pages.
notes on contributors, introduction, 11 chapters, references,
Besson, E. Ellis Cashmore, Barry Chevannes,
Littlewood, H. U. E. Thoden van
Velzen, Wilhemina van Wetering.
Note: The primary focus
of this book is the relationship between the Rastafari and other
African-Caribbean religions, not the use of ganja per se.
Excerpt(s): Since its
founding the Rastafari movement has gone through three distinct
phases of growth. The first phase lasted through the 1930s and
most of the 1940s. Theologically , the main impetus
was given to propagating the idea of a Black God among a people
whose image of God was of a bearded White father in the sky and
of a White man on a cross. (page 11)
The second phase began among second-generation converts
who entered the movement in the 1940s but who were in revolt against
practices they thought were compromising. The innovations and
practices they instituted were to become the hallmarks of the
new image of the Rastafari: dreadlocks, ganja-smoking, Rasta talk
... (Barry Chevannes, Chapter 1, Introducing the Native Religions
of Jamaica, page 12)
For the majority of Rastafari members rituals
are of two kinds; reasonings and the `binghi', both sometimes
referred to as a `grounding' or a `grounation', from which has
come the verb `to grounds', meaning to get along well. The reasoning
is an informal gathering at which a small group of brethren share
in the smoking of the holy weed, ganja, and in a lofty discussion.
As the brethren sit around in a circle, the host cuts up the ganja,
mixing into it a small quantity of tobacco from a cigarette. The
matter is stuffed into the chillum of a water pipe (called a `huka'
by the East Indians), from whom the whole ganja complex
was borrowed, but called a chalice or cup by the Rastafari, who
compare it to the sacred communion of the Christians.
He whose honor it is to light the pipe, or chalice, pauses and
recites a short prayer before, while all participants bare their
heads. Once lit, the chalice is moved counter-clockwise around
the circle, until all have `supped'. Reasoning ends, not formally,
but when the participants one by one don their tams or caps and
depart. (Barry Chevannes, Chapter 2, New Approach to Rastafari,
As ganja trading and smoking came in for increased
suppression by the police, some Rastafari groups tried to restrict
its use. Hinds, for example, had strict rules, which forbade bringing
it into his Mission, let alone using it there, while allowing
members the private use of it. Youth Black Faith, however, decided
on a different course. Seizing on the name herbs, and reasoning
that it had divine sanction, so that Government's attempt to suppress
it was tantamount to an attempt to suppress the people, the Warriors
and the Dreadfuls led the House into adopting ganja as an integral
part of their movement, Wato explains:
We don't count ganja as a criminal offence. We show
the policemen at all times that we rather if you destroy us. For
God says, `The evil things 'pon this earth is the hand-made things'.
These are the things that brought up falsehood 'pon the people,
those is the things that destroy the people. So this is not the
things that hand-made, this is God's natural creation, and it
always virtuous to show the man the Bible and Revelation 22: `The
herbs that bear the various fruits, the leaf of it shall be the
healing of the nation'. And in Psalm 104 him says;
`All the herbs that bearing seeds upon the land is made for man'.
So this is the chief argument we always confront them whenever
we have an attack by the police.
And to make sure that their use of ganja was explicitly
religious, Wato said that the Youth Black Faith instructed
members of the House not to carry it on their person, so that
police action could be targeted not at the individual but at the
whole assembly of the faithful:
If the policeman intervene in our congregation, him
couldn't find no other charge. The Father say: `When they persecute
you fi other things it is not; but when them persecute you fi
the word, I Jehovah God is with you'.
Thus they did not try to hide ganja or hide their
use of it. But by giving it ritual sanction they were in effect
expressing their contempt for the state and society. (Barry Chevannes,
Chapter 4, The Origin of the Dreadlocks,
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