Rasta: The Movement, The Culture.

Damian "Junior Gong" Marley
Damian Marley

“Plead my cause JAH Rastafari. Strife with those that strife with I and fight against those that fight against I.” – Psalm of King David

Rastas are from the lineage of the real king David through the Union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

There are three major sects to Rastafarians: Twelve Tribe, Nyabinghi and Bobo Shanti. There are numerous smaller sects also, such as the Ethiopian Orthodox, but even the smaller sects will roll up under one of the three major sects.


Nyabinghi and Twelve Tribes are very similar in their beliefs and practices. They are both very free sects, meaning their orders are not very strict. Twelve Tribe are free to attend a church of their choice and they also have a free diet which could include meat. Bob Marley and Dennis Brown were both members of the Twelve Tribe. Twelve Tribe and Nyabinghi have as their trinity; Haile Selassie I, Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley. Twelve Tribe and Nyabinghi also share the same flag. Their flag is actually the Ethiopian flag, with the lion of Judah in the center.

Nyabinghi flag
Nyabinghi flag

Notice that the red which signifies blood is at the bottom of the flag and the lion’s paws are in the blood. Nyabinghi uses this flag because they are warriors and are willing to walk in the enemies’ blood when necessary, which is what the lion paws in the blood represents. The original Ethiopian flag had the red (blood) at the top of the flag. It was not until the fascist Mussolini and his band of criminals attacked and occupied Ethiopia for five years before they were driven out, that the red went to the bottom to signify Ethiopia’s independence, victory and them walking in the blood of their enemies.
By default all Rasta are warriors when necessary, just like the Maroons of Jamaica were. So in a way, Bobo Shanti and Twelve tribe are also Nyabinghi. If you remember, Capleton who is a Bobo Shanti, sung the following:

“Beat the binghi (Nyabhingi) drum and beat down Rome
A pure froth John Pope Paul must foam
Queen Elizabeth all a weep and moan
One thunder ball hit her off the throne”

So even Bobo Shanti beat the Nyabinghi drums, which can be drums of love or drums of war.

While Rasta is not a religion per se, many of their beliefs are similar to Christianity. Christianity in its simplest form is the belief in Christ. The Christ is not necessarily “Jesus Christ” in the New Testament but it is the Christ prophesy in the Old Testament book of Isiah, who is called by the name “Immanuel”. Of course to Rastas, this Christ / Immanuel would not look like the one hanging in most living rooms throughout the western world but more like the one Marcus Garvey spoke about:

If the White man has the Idea of a white God let him worship his God as he desires. We have found a new ideal. Because God has No color, and yet it is HUMAN to see everything through one’s own spectacles, and since the white people have seen their god thru their white spectacles, we have only now started to see our God thru our own Spectacles. But we believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God; God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy One, the one God of all the Ages; that is the God of whom we believe but we shall worship HIM thru the spectacles of Ethiopia.

Twelve Tribes are the closest to today’s Christianity as we know it. In fact, when a Twelve Tribe greets you, he/she will say:

“Greetings in the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, who in this day reveal himself in the personality of Emperor Selassie I, Kings of Kings, Lord of Lords, conquering lion of the tribe of Judah elect of God, and light of this world.”

Nyabinghi on the other hand will greet you as follows:

“Greetings in the name of his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I, Jah Rastafari.”

When Nyabinghi and Twelve Tribe are in their place of worship, the men are not allowed to wear hats or any coverings on their heads, much like a Seventh Day Adventist church. So if a Bobo Shanti visited a Twelve Tribe or Nyabinghi place of worship, he/she would be required to remove his/her turban.

Of all the Rastafarian sects, Bobo Shanti has the strictest orders. Bobo Shanti is the sect that wears the turban, so it is sometimes easy to differentiate between a Bobo Shanti and any other Rasta sect. Not all Bobo Shanti wear a turban however. A turban is acquired once you understand all the orders of Bobo Shanti. So someone just starting out in the Bobo Shanti path may not yet have the knowledge of the orders to don the turban.

Bobo Shanti also have strict orders of dressing and their appearance must always be comely. Bobo Shanti shirt must always be neatly tucked into their pants and a belt must be worn to keep trousers firm around the waist.

The color black can never be subjugated to any other color in Bobo Shanti dressing. This means that black article of clothing can be worn below an article of another color. That is the reason you will seldom see a Bobo Shanti in a black shoes. If they ever wear black shoes, every other article of clothing must be black. You will never see a Bobo Shanti in a white shirt and a Black shoes.

While Bobo Shanti believes that all race should be treated with love, honor and respect; they do not support race mixing. In this area, like in most other areas, they adhere strictly to the teachings of Marcus Garvey:

Back in the days of slavery, Race mixture, Race miscegenation all occurred BECAUSE THE AFRICAN WOMAN HAD NO PROTECTION FROM THE SLAVEMASTER. Therefore there is no need today for black people themselves to freely continue a PRACTICE that SMACKS so much of slavery.

It really takes a lot of discipline to be a Bobo Shanti. All Bobo Shanti must observe the Sabbath and adhere to a strict Leviticus diet which means no meats and no vines. Bobo Shanti’s holy trinity is Marcus Garvey, Holy Emanuel (the Black Christ) and Emperor Haile Selassie. Unlike Twelve Tribe and Nyabinghi, Bob Marley is not recognized as part of the trinity, he is recognized as a prophet by the Bobo Shanti sect. Sizzla, who like Capleton is a Bobo Shanti paid tribute to Bob as a prophet in “Praise ye Jah”:

A nuh Malcolm X or Martin Luther this
A Sizzla who come here to trick all the tricks
I see Bob Marley rise and they kill the prophet
Why you don’t kill those standing on your pulpits
You use them to steer the minds of the youths
That as they preach the youths cease from knowing the truth
This is the truth above our circumstances
I see how you constantly building churches
But your church defend the slackness as usual
Rasta don’t mix with homosexuals… Praise ye Jah

The Bobo Shanti flag is the flag of Ghana with the five point Star of David. Unlike the Ethiopian and Nyabinghi flag, the red signifying blood is at the top of the flag.

Bobo Shanti flag

The 5 point star signifies the fifth kingdom of Christ. The red on top of the flag also represents the first Passover in Exodus, where all pharaoh’s first born were slewed, but God told Moses to put blood over the door posts of the houses that the death angel was supposed to Passover. Also if you look at the rainbow, the red is always at the top.

It is very important to understand the Nyabinghi flag with the red signifying blood at the bottom and appreciate the reason it got that way. If green signifies earth, then it is only natural that it is at the bottom of the flag, as we walk on the earth. However, Ethiopians were forced to walk in the blood of their enemies as they defend their country, thus switching the flag colors. Rastas are peaceful, but that does not mean they are here to be walked over. Rastas are followers of Marcus Garvey, his teachings was never to turn the other cheek, even though he coined the term “One Love”. Jah never came here as no lamb to be slaughtered; that was someone else.

“If a fire make it bun, if a blood make it run
Rasta is on top, so you can’t predict the flock
We have lightning, thunder, brimstone and fire” – Bob Marley.

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