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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.

ISBN: 0-333-61694-4

Description: Hardcover, xxvi + 282 pages.

Contents: Acknowledgements, notes on contributors, introduction, 11 chapters, references, glossary, index.

Contributors: Jean Besson, E. Ellis Cashmore, Barry Chevannes, Roland 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, page 17)

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, pages 85-86)

Compilation copyright © 1995 – 2001 CSP

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