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Jamaica: The Rastafarian Movement

Introduction to the Rastafari Phenomenon
By Nathaniel Samuel Murrell Seldom has such a relatively small cultural phenomenon as Rastafari attracted so much attention from young people, the media, and scholars in the fields of religion, anthropology, politics, and sociology. The signature long, natty dreads on the heads of Rastafarians, who fearlessly chant down Babylon (Western political and economic domination and cultural imperialism) with the help of reggae music, make Rastafari a highly visible movement and "one of the most powerful cultural forces among youths in Jamaica" and in countries around the world where one least expects to find elements of Afro-Caribbean culture. Between the 1930s and the 1950s, few people bothered to study the significance of the political and ideological concepts in Rastafarian culture. Even Jamaicans who may have understood the philosophy of the movement regarded Rastafari as another passing fad, which would die a natural death once the novelty wore off. Former Rastafarian and practicing psychologist Leahcim Tefani Semaj noted that during this phase of the movement, the dominant public opinion toward the Rastafarians was "The damn Rasta dem, wey de Rasta dem want, we just put dem in a damn boat and put dem out in the sea and sink the boat-say dem want go Africa!" Prior to the 1970s, images of the unsanitary-looking, marijuana-smoking "Natty Dread" with unkempt dreadlocks, often controlling crime-infested streets of Kingston, New York City, or London were the most common perceptions of Rastafarian culture. These stereotypes still persist today among some people in the Caribbean, the United States, and Great Britain. Since the early 1970s, however, Rastafari (the movement's self-styled name) has been recognized not only as one of the most popular Afro-Caribbean religions of the

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