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Becoming Rasta

Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica

Charles Price

Publication Year: 2009

So much has been written about the Rastafari, yet we know so little about why and how people join the Rastafari movement. Although popular understandings evoke images of dreadlocks, reggae, and marijuana, Rastafarians were persecuted in their country, becoming a people seeking social justice. Yet new adherents continued to convert to Rastafari despite facing adverse reactions from their fellow citizens and from their British rulers.

Charles Price draws on in-depth interviews to reveal the personal experiences of those who adopted the religion in the 1950s to 1970s, one generation past the movement's emergence . By talking with these Rastafari elders, he seeks to understand why and how Jamaicans became Rastafari in spite of rampant discrimination, and what sustains them in their faith and identity.

Utilizing new conceptual frameworks, Price explores the identity development of Rastafari, demonstrating how shifts in the movement's identity—from social pariah to exemplar of Blackness—have led some of the elder Rastafari to adopt, embrace, and internalize Rastafari and blackness as central to their concept of self.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xvii

This book examines the historical, social, and personal sources and consolidation of Rastafari identity and experience in Jamaica. It reveals the ways in which both the ancient and modern past provide cultural resources for the present and how the Rastafari use these resources to fashion a positive Black identity in the face of discrimination. There...

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pp. xix-xx

This book has gestated within me for a long time, and with the support of many people, I am glad and grateful that it is published. I cannot list everyone who, in my mind, played a part in one way or another, to my writing this book. Nonetheless, over the past decade many people have made enormous contributions to my work, thinking, and enjoyment of life,...

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pp. 1-18

Rasta Ivey, one of the oldest living Rastafari women, recalled defending her faith despite being ridiculed and sent to an asylum for the insane. Another elder Rastafarian described how, before her twelfth birthday, she began hearing the voices of Christ and Haile Selassie I telling her about Africa and slavery. Her mother thought she was on the verge of lunacy. Brother...

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1 Race Formation and Morally Configured Black Identities

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pp. 19-54

One March afternoon in 1998, while sitting in a meeting convened by the Rastafari Federation in Kingston, Jamaica, I reflected on how the Rastafari use their identity to embody and engage the past while living in the present. Empress Dinah, a pecan-brown-skinned Rastafari woman in her late forties, sporting a steep, tightly wrapped crown of...

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2 Ethnogenesis, Surprise, and Collective Identity Formation

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pp. 55-97

One June morning in 1998, I picked up Rasta Ivey from her one-room dwelling behind the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and together we drove to a vast sea of hovels, a community called Waterview, adjacent to the bustling Spanish Town highway. I parked at the top of the entrance road, and the two of us made our way through a maze of dirt paths separating...

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3 The Positive Power of Stigma and Black Identity

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pp. 98-131

Early in my research, a close Jamaican friend who was knowledgeable about Jamaican culture, history, and politics urged me to seek out Brother Yendis. He said that Brother Yendis was a well-known and respected Rastafari who presently headed the Rastafari Federation. I took my friend’s advice. Finding and meeting Brother Yendis was not difficult. At that time, the Rastafari...

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4 Encounters

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pp. 132-165

For my Rastafari narrators, identity transformation serves as a means to address oppression, miseducation, nagging existential questions, and deracination. The justice motifs that permeate the discourses of my interlocutors—righteousness, truth, Black redemption, and Black liberation— help to create a living past, animate their identity, and inform their interpretation of the...

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5 Acts of Identity Work

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pp. 166-200

Some Black people internalize the negative tropes of Blackness and Africa that Ras Brenton has come to recognize as hypocritical myths. Getting away from such beliefs is part of the Rastafari identity transformation process. Beliefs, such as those about race and culture, are not totally consistent or logical, and no matter how wrong, they can unproblematically dwell in...

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6 Rastafari Nation on the Move: Identity and Change

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pp. 201-222

...Ras Cee related these thoughts to me while we walked down a crowded East Queen Street in downtown Kingston, one hot autumn afternoon. I met Ras Cee at a RITA meeting in 1998. We kept in touch and came to spend time together since Ras Cee lived in downtown Kingston, where I spent much of my time. Ras Cee was around 31 years old at the time of our conversation...

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Conclusion: Toward a More Comprehensive Understanding of Racial Identity Formation

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pp. 223-232

When I opened the rickety tin door that served as a gate into Ras General’s yard, I saw one of his sons, a teenaged male Rastafari, resting in a hammock. When he saw me, he got out of the hammock and said, “Soon come,” disappearing into an open but dark doorway of a very small makeshift of a house. Soon the youth returned with his father, Ras General. Ras General...


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p. 233


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pp. 235-239


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pp. 241-257


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pp. 259-266

About the Author

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p. 267

E-ISBN-13: 9780814768464
E-ISBN-10: 0814768466
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814767467
Print-ISBN-10: 081476746X

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 859675536
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Becoming Rasta

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rastafari movement -- Jamaica.
  • Identification (Religion).
  • Blacks -- Race identity -- Jamaica.
  • Jamaica -- Religion.
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