The 10 Commandments of Rastafarianism
of reading - words
We have all already seen representations of rastas, dreadlocks on the head and joint in the beak! But being a Rasta doesn't stop there! Did you know for example that there are precise commandments that you have to follow to be considered as a real Rasta? You want to know more about this movement born in Jamaica? Would you like to know what the 10 Rasta commandments are?
Here you are at the perfect place! My name is Caroline, I've been passionate about the Rastafari movement for more than 13 years. Each week, I propose you to discover a new face of Rastafarianism or of the history of reggae.
The 10 Rasta commandments are as follows:
- Have no other god before God
- Respect Jah
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
- Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy
- Honor your mother and your father
- Do not commit murder
- Do not commit adultery
- Do not steal
- Do not covet
- Do not bear false witness against your neighbor
Some explanations are necessary, let's go!
1- Commandments for a principle that refuses to be a religion?
First of all, and this may seem surprising, Rastafarianism is not officially a true religion. It is rather a spiritual, social and cultural movement. Nevertheless, every Rasta has a deep belief in the Bible and its precepts. Even though they use the King James Anglican Bible, some passages have been questioned. The early followers considered that some passages had been altered by the whites in order to reduce the importance of the black people in history. A new version was therefore written by Robert Athlyi Rogers. It is this text, called Holy Piby, which will be mainly used by the Rastas.
But it is not the only one. There are also many references inspired by the Kebra Negast, the Ethiopian book that tells the story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
Another notable Ethiopian text is the Book of the Seven Seals, a work published in 1961 and largely inspired by the Apocalypse.
These texts are the basis of the Rasta commandments and precepts.
a) Important points to remember
Of course all the passages are important, but several have played a major role in the daily life of Rastas. If you think that being a Rasta is limited to listening to reggae music while smoking plants in the sun, you are wrong! It is indeed essential to know these biblical references to be a good Rasta.
One of the major commandments is indeed : A chapter a day keeps the devil away, which is mentioned in the book of the Seven Seals. You will not be able to avoid the following reading and reflection. For it is not enough to read a few sentences. You have to analyze and understand them. If you don't want to waste time, you should know that several passages are particularly important for Rastas: you can consult everything related to Babylon (mainly the second exodus) or the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. These texts have been interpreted as representing the exile of Africans from their native land and their condition as slaves. And they are at the origin of the Rasta commandments.
b) Is it mandatory to follow these rules?
Are you trying to trick us? No, no and no! If you really want to be a Rasta, you'll have to follow the rules. And don't try to break them! Even though Rastas don't particularly like to follow rules, their relationship with religion is very important. For them, it is essential to follow these commandments, which, rest assured, are not complicated. It is to show respect for the texts, for the tradition of the heritage and for the ancestors. It is also to show respect for others, for nature, for animals...
One cannot be a true Rasta without honoring the precepts and God (Jah). Reading the Bible is good (even essential) but it is not enough. Let's see now the other commandments in detail.
2- A unique and all-powerful god
If we have just mentioned Jah, it is not by chance. The Rastafarian must respect only one god. This one is the god of the Hebrews (Yah, Yahweh). Several mentions can be found in ancient writings. Even though worshipping another god is strictly forbidden, the Rastafarians also consider the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I as a deity. He is a representation of Jah on earth. He is a representation of Jah on earth and can therefore be worshipped as such.
Apart from these two "entities", the rasta cannot worship other gods. This is simple and clear.
a) One god and no copies!
This one-god principle leads Rastas to refuse to create images of God. Thou shalt not make any graven image is another of the commandments of the followers. To create a representation of God is for a Rasta to worship another deity.
We find here a major concept of Judaism: God cannot be represented. But unlike Judaism, which refuses representations because man will not bear this vision (Chapter 33, verses 11-12 of the Book of Exodus), the Rasta refuses representations because they consider them as another divinity. This is a major prohibition. No representation of God, therefore, even in places of worship.
3- Respect Jah
We cannot worship another god, but it is also important to respect him. The commandment "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" is a must. We find this rule in the Bible (Exodus, 20.7) among others.
This idea is present in Judaism and Christianity. One should not invoke the name of God for any reason. Because for these religions and also for the Rastas, the name has a very important value. It is the person that it designates. It is therefore important before pronouncing the name of God to think carefully so as not to invoke it for nothing. To pronounce his name is to wait for his manifestation. And like everyone else, he does not appreciate being disturbed for nothing!
For a Rasta, pronouncing Jah is a major act that cannot be done without a good reason, quite simply.
4- Respect the Sabbath days
Another commandment cannot be overlooked: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. This passage is again found in Exodus (20:8). The Sabbath is a time when work is forbidden. The Jews still practice it in earnest from sundown on Friday night until sunrise on Sunday morning. Saturday is then the heart of the Sabbath. They dedicate this time to prayer and respect for God.
a) And the rastas?
It is true that few rastas still practice it. Yet it is a commandment that should not be neglected. For Rastas, the Sabbath takes place on Saturdays throughout the year. Many actions are forbidden and others are recommended.
It is thus prohibited to:
- Ploughing, sowing, harvesting
- Kneading, preparing food
- shearing, washing wool, weaving, tying (or untying) knots, sewing
- hunting, killing an animal, tanning the hide, skinning
- Writing, building or demolishing
- To light or extinguish a fire (or the light)
- Finish a work that has been started
- Carry a bag, carry things...
There are, in all, 39 prohibitions.
On the other hand, several activities are recommended:
- Attend prayer, read the Bible
- Spending Sabbath with family, visiting family, receiving guests
- Singing hymns, playing drums (nyabinghi)
- Reading, studying, discussing holy texts
One can do activities that give pleasure or rest.
To observe these precepts is to continue the sanctification of this particular day.
5- Respect for the ancestors
In Exodus, there is another important passage for Rastafarians: Honor your father and your mother (20:12). To honor one's parents is to honor those who gave us life. In this way, we do not put ourselves at the center of everything, but we recognize that there are predecessors to our existence. In this way, we accept parental authority and even if we do not always agree with it, we must respect it. One must not be disdainful, nor make fun of one's parents. We must obey them. As time goes by, one must also help and support them.
For Rastas in particular, this respect also implies that it is the parents who put the children on earth and thus enabled their descendants to be able to honor God and enjoy his blessings.
6- Do not give death
We all know the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" from Exodus 20:13. The message is quite simple: one must not kill out of violence, revenge or hatred. Indeed, one cannot kill a divine creation.
Rastas must not kill other humans. But this is not limited to their counterparts. It is also forbidden to kill animals and more broadly to consume them. This commandment is the origin of the "Ital" food: one does not eat products from an animal once it has been killed.
Rasta people prefer to eat vegetarian or even vegan food.
7- No adultery, no covetousness, no theft
Here, these are three different but close commandments. Not to covet what belongs to others (his wife or husband, his house, his goods...) is a major aspect for a rasta. He must be satisfied with what he has. The best is to have as little as possible! Property is not an end in itself. One should not envy the possessions of others and of course not steal them.
A Rasta worthy of the name will not steal the wife of another, nor his own property. He should not even envy others.
He must be content with what he has and will thus enjoy his life, even if it is frugal.
Suppressing jealousy and envy is an important act in order not to resort to violence. If one does not care about another person's possessions, one will not try to steal them. Because stealing is also a prohibition of the Rasta doctrine.
So one should not want what another has and not try to take it. A true Rasta respects these commandments to the letter. It is a way of living in a harmonious world, without violence.
8- No false testimonies!
In order to respect the other, the rasta must be honest and not make up anything about anyone! It is a lie and it is simply not allowed.
Lying is wrong. It is harming others, but also yourself and trying to fool Jah.
9- Additional commands!
We have already noted that eating meat, lying, not respecting others and God is very badly seen by the Rastas. But we can also add a few "little" commandments to complete the picture.
A Rasta worthy of the name must not play money games (will to earn money easily). He should not drink alcohol either. This way he can keep his mind clear. Consuming alcohol is an abomination for a Rasta - as is consuming all products of the vine.
Salt is also forbidden. For Rastas, salt is naturally present in vegetables, so there is no need to add it.
Well, it's no surprise that Rastas keep their hair on their heads! And this is an important precept. No blade should come in contact with their hair or skin. This is mentioned in Numbers (6.5: As long as the one who has vowed to God is consecrated by his vow, the razor shall not pass over his head; until the time for which he has vowed to God has passed, he shall be consecrated and shall let his hair grow freely). Dreadlocks are also reminiscent of the lion's mane, the symbolic animal of the Rastafari movement.
a) What about marijuana?
Finally, you have to ask yourself a question now: what about ganja? Even if Rastas refuse drugs like alcohol, they use marijuana without restriction. Why do they use it?
First of all because it is not considered a drug. Marijuana leaves are considered as the fruits of the tree of life. They are only tools for spiritual upliftment and getting closer to God. For this, they refer to two psalms:
- Psalm 104:14: He brings forth grass for the cattle, and plants for the needs of man, that the earth may bring forth food;
- Psalm 18:9: There went up smoke from his nostrils, and a devouring fire proceeded out of his mouth; coals of fire came forth from him
In the Bible, we also find that herbs are used to heal the gentiles and allow them to better commune with Jah.
So ganja is useful for uplifting. You can use it or not, it is not a strict commandment and everyone does as he or she wishes.
10- Being a true Rastafarian
To be a true Rasta, it is therefore important to understand the commandments and to respect them as much as possible. Honoring God and people, but also nature, these are the principles that are at the heart of Rasta beliefs.
You now know the main Rasta commandments and you are now able to apply them and explain them to your relatives.
In order to continue to evolve in your spiritual quest, we advise you to buy different jewelry with the effigy of the main Rasta symbols. This will allow you to propagate the values that are important to you on a daily basis.
To discover them, click on the picture below: