A religious and political movement that began in the 1950s among the descendants of African slaves on the Caribbean islands of Jamaica and Dominica and later spread around the world, although its adherents remain fairly small in number. Rastafarianism rejected both the Europeanized culture and the forms of Christianity that predominated in the Caribbean and was organized instead around a specialized interpretation of messianic Judaism. Rastafarians worship Hailie Selassie I, who was emperor of Ethiopia until his country was conquered by the Italians in 1935. Known as Ras (Prince) Tafari, before becoming emperor, Hailie Selassie went on to become a focus of both anti-imperialist and pro-African movements. Rastafarians believe that he was a divine being and the messiah of the black peoples. They hold furthermore that they are the descendants of the ancient Israelites, condemned for their sins to live under white domination for centuries. Their hope is to one day return to Africa, their true home. In this the Rastafarians were apparently influenced by the Back to Africa movement led by the American Marcus Garvey in the 1910s and 1920s. In time the Rastafarian movement splintered into several groups. Their focus was less on a return to Africa than on more militant forms of black activism, or alternatively, mystical spirituality. During the 1970s Rastafarianism became widely known thanks to the reggae music of proponents Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and others; when Marley died in 1981, he was given a reggae state funeral in Jamaica. Most Rastafarians today, outside of the Caribbean, are West Indian immigrants to the United States, Great Britain, or other countries, although the movement has had some appeal to other groups, such as the indigenous Maori of New Zealand. There is also a small community of Rastafarians in Ethiopia. The Rastafarian lifestyle encourages vegetarianism and the wearing of dreadlocks. The smoking of ganja, or marijuana, is also a common practice. SEE ALSO: Afro-Brazilian religions; AfroCaribbean religions; new religious movements, Western The World of Literature: Rastafarianism: The facts .
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