Why reggae and the Bible?
As you probably already know, the Bible is the central religious text of Christianity.
So why are so much reggae songs inspired by the Bible?
- Brief history of religions in Jamaica
- Arrival of Rastafari
- Religion in Jamaica today
- Christian influence on (gospel) reggae music today
- Rastafari and Christianity today
Brief history of religions on Jamaica
Jamaica's population mainly consists of people of African descent. Many slaves arrived in Jamaica via the Atlantic
slave trade during the same time enslaved Africans arrived in North America. Africans were forced into slavery to
on plantations when sugarcane became the most important export on the island. The Africans practiced various forms
African Traditional religions. However, this changed in the 1790's when 2 black Baptist preachers, who had been
by their masters, came to Jamaica.
George Lisle and Moses Baker. They built up large followings, Lisle in Kingston and Baker in western Jamaica. Their
congregations grew rapidly and they appealed to the newly founded Baptist Missionary Society in England for
Although the influence remained limited because all school doors were closed to African-Jamaicans, so they could not read. Church doors were also closed to them, for in the eyes of the plantocracy, God was white and there was a colour line.
But by the 1820's also white Baptist missionaries had begun to arrive and they became teachers in Sunday Schools to the African-Jamaicans. The Bible became their holy book that contained the word of God, their comforter and beloved companion in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It was their certificate of identity, which confirmed their status as God the Father's children, their guarantee of a future in the Father's company and above all their blessed assurance that each one was a worthwhile somebody for whom Massa God gave His only Son. They were no longer the only ones who had been slaves. They shared the Jewish experience of having been an oppressed people. In the prophets, patriarchs and psalmists they found comfort and hope. The Jewish story had for them an almost unbearable piercing relevance.
The Christian faith began to spread and up until today Christianity remains the dominant religion in Jamaica. Analysis reveals almost equal percentages of Anglicans, Baptists and members of the Church of God. Other groups include Seventh Day Adventists, Methodists, the United Church of Christ and Pentecostals. There's also a healthy smattering of Roman Catholics, mainly among the Chinese, Lebanese and East Indian communities, whose ancestors came around the turn of the 20th Century.
This situation remained the same until the arrival of Rastafari.
Arrival of Rastafari
The name Rastafari, which is derived from Ras, is the title given to Amharic Royalty in Ethiopia and Tafari, which
pre-coronation name of His Imperial Majesty (HIM) Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (1898-1975).
A severe depression, racism and class discrimination during 1930 was the perfect environment for the rural and poor Jamaicans to embrace a new religion.
This Poverty and disenchantment in the inner cities of Kingston gave way in the early 1930's to the black power movement through Marcus Garvey's "Back To Africa" movement. This movement is what eventually led to the emergence of Rastafari.
In 1930, when Ras Tafari was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie and was given the ancient title given to all Ethiopian Kings "The King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Conquering Lion of Judah", the prophecy was said to have been fulfilled.
Revelations 5:5 and Ezekiel 28:25 are references used by Rastafarians as proof of the deity of Emperor Haile Selassie. He was seen as the deliverer who would take his people back to their promised land as stated in Ezekiel 28:25.
This, however did not happen. Rastafarians compare their exile from Africa via the means of slavery with the Israelites exile to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar (2 Chronicles 25). Hence the word Babylon is used for any system that oppresses.
There is also a comparison to the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt before they went to the Promised Land.
Religion in Jamaica today
According to the most recent census (2001), religious affiliation in Jamaica consists of 64% Christian, 2% Jehovah's Witnesses, 3% unstated, and 10% other. The category other includes 29,026 Rastafarians, an estimated 5,000 Muslims, 3,000 Buddhists 1,453 Hindus, approximately 350 Jews. The census reported 21% who claimed no religious affiliation.
Christian influence on (gospel) reggae music today
Because of this, Christianity has also influenced much reggae songs and a new subgenre emerged: "Gospel reggae."
Examples of gospel are:
Papa San - Jesus Love
DJ Nicholas - Living 4 Jesus (ft. Jermaine Edwards)
Positive - Never Let Go
Gospel reggae has been growing rapidly the last few years, when popular dancehall artists (Elephant Man, Beenie Man, Stitchie) converted to Christianity.
You can see this in the songs:
Beenie Man - Gospel Time
Stitchie - Gospel Reggae
Elephant Man - Bun Bad Mind
Also Garnett Silk and Michael Rose turned to Christianity, which can be seen in their song "Onward Christian Soldiers", a famous Christian hymn that was given a reggae swing.
Other famous Christian reggae artists are:
Toots and the Maytalls, Willie Williams, Yabby You and Sugar Minott.
Rastafari and Christianity today
The song Bongo Town by Prodigal Son caused
quite a commotion between
Rastafarians and Christians, for Prodigal Son said in his song that Haile Selassie never could be the resurrection
Jesus Christ because of Matthew 24:27:
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
"So a couldn't him land a Norman Manley". (= Jamaican Airport)
Prodigal Son also rejects Rastafari because Haile Selassie himself was a member of the Christian Orthodox Church, in Ethiopia.
Haile Selassie I said when he arrived in Jamaica:
"A man without Christ, is like a ship without a rudder."
This is one of the reasons many Rastafarians today do no longer see Haile Selassie as God, and by this they are abiding by the wish of His Majesty, that he should not be worshipped.
This became very evident in a 1997 interview on IRIE FM in Jamaica when, Vernon 'Prophet Gad' Carrington, founder of the premiere Rastafarian sect, the Twelve Tribes, declared that they are shifting their faith to Jesus Christ.
Vernon is quoted as saying. "And even after His Majesty say, him saved not by the man character but by the blood of Jesus Christ."
Some become evangelical Christians like sistren Judy Mowatt, others become members of the Christian Ethiopian Orthodox Church, as Bob Marley, his wife Rita Marley Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh did.
There are also many disputes between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Rastafarians. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was commissioned with the goal to convert Rastafarians to Orthodox Christianity and redirect them from their worship of Emperor Haile Selassie, by Emperor Haile Selassie himself after his visit to Jamaica. The Rastafarians and the church have had some major differences, including their refusal to baptize in the name of Emperor Haile Selassie. Despite their differences, many Rastafarians still remain members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.