rastafari2The ‘Discovering Rastafari!’ exhibit came to the Smithsonian National Museum of National History in Washington, DC in November 2007 to be open to the public for one year. The response to the exhibit has been so overwhelming that it will stay four years longer than intended. The first of its kind at a major museum, the exhibit takes viewers beyond the popular Jamaican music known as reggae to the deeper roots of the Rastafari culture. On display are artifacts that represent the cultural, political and social origins of this cultural movement. Discovering Rastafari will be at the Smithsonian until November 6, 2011.

If you thought Rastafari was only about smoking weed, dreadlocks and reggae music, then you need to speak with Jake Homiak, the curator for Discovering Rastafari!. Homiak, who had been immersed in the Rastafari culture for 30 years, consulted nearly 20 Rastafarians advisors about details to create this exhibit. With input from his panel of advisors, Homiak, a cultural anthropologist at the Smithsonian created the exhibit to dispel the stereotype that Rastafarian culture is merely about marijuana and reggae music. Homiak says that the movement, which has more than one million adherents, is not just about singing reggae. "It taps into an enormously deep root—a sense of longing for a place in the world by peoples of African descent.  It's about reclaiming an African identity, about seeing one's self through the spectacles of Ethiopia.”

homiakHomiak says that Rastafari started with Ethiopianism, a philosophy that emerged in the American colonies in the late 1700s as blacks discovered a way of relating and reading themselves into the Bible. “The single reference in the Bible Psalm 68, verse 32 is a redemptive verse that goes "Princes shall come out of Egypt, and Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God. . . When Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I was crowned in November 1930, it received enormous media coverage around the world. This event was interpreted as the second coming by some blacks in Jamaica and it was all within the framework of this Ethiopianist doctrine,” explains Homiak.  “Pan- African Marcus Garvey preached in the idioms of Ethiopia and routinely used the phrase "Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God." . . Garvey's teachings formed a foundation for what would become Rastafari.”  

All of this—Ethiopianism, Garveyism and Biblical literacy—kind of came together to form the basis of Selassie's divinity that began to be preached in the early 1930s. His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, who was called Ras Tarari Makonnen which is where the movement got its name, was about resistance to colonialism and racism which became a cornerstone of Ratafari culture. Selassie captivated audiences worldwide when he declared before the United Nations in 1963, "Until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes...the dream of lasting peace...will remain but a fleeting illusion." He ruled Ethiopia until he was deposed by Marxist revolutionaries in 1974. Selassie died a year later, although many Rastafarians remain firm in the belief that he is still alive. "This is a faith of extraordinary commitment," says Homiak, who describes how early Rastafarians in Jamaica were beaten and publicly humiliated. "People have sacrificed and struggled to keep this faith alive."

rastafari4The most recognizable face of the Rastafari movement today is the late Bob Marley. Reggae got its start in the late '60s and early '70s, and Marley the king of reggae, took it all over the world. Selassie's messages of liberation and unity are paramount in Marley's music, as well as in the lives of Rastafarians today.  Because the advisers were wary of stereotypes of dreads, weed-smoking and reggae music, they debated whether to feature Marley in the exhibit. Ultimately, they included a small tribute to the king of reggae. "It made no sense to do an exhibit on Rastafari and exclude the person who was the most famous purveyor of Rastafari,” says Homiak. Rastafari is about dedication to the development of African consciousness, heritage, identity and repatriation to Africa.  

The ‘Discovering Rastafari’ exhibit explores the origins and religious practices of the Rastafari Movement using various displays against a backdrop of green, yellow and red, the colors of the Ethiopian flag, which are also associated with Rastafari. Part of the exhibit includes video footage featuring first-person testimony from male and female Rastafarians of different ages, nationalities, races and class backgrounds, all talking about unity and the spread of the movement across the Caribbean and beyond over the past three decades. You may also view art, manuscripts, rare photos, clothing, drums and artifacts related to the Rastafari culture at this exhibit.  A glass case displays the Holy Piby, a proto-Rastafarian text that was widely circulated around the African Diaspora before it was banned in Jamaica in the 1920s. Home to unique Rastafarian archives and ritual objects, the Smithsonian is where you can also attend lectures about Rastafari.  

rastafari1Discovering Rastafari! offers a fascinating and diverse look at the history, beliefs, and practices of Rastafarian peoples. Appealing to various audiences, the exhibit attempts to tell an honest and comprehensive story. People from all over are visiting the DC Smithsonian to learn more about Discover Rastafari!  Many are for the first time learning what the movement is all about. Rastafari provides visitors with a sense of the movement's complex diversity, as well an understanding of the core of sacred practices. The exhibition also introduces His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, explaining his influence on the movement and black liberation. Many maintain that saying you're Rastafari means you're living to reclaim its history and to support the fight for liberation."

Source: www.si.edu/Exhibitions/Details/Discovering-Rastafari!-210

Top Photo: Donisha Prendergrast, ganddaughter of Bob and Rita Marley and Dr. Jake Homiak, Discover Rastafari curator.  - -See Donisha in new film 'In Search of Rastafari: A Soul's Journey'.