Parallel with and spurred on in part by the emergence of Jamaican reggae onto the international pop music scene in the mid-1970s, the Jamaican Rastafarian movement, whose origins are to be found on the island of Jamaica in the early 1930s, has within the past two decades managed to expand beyond its island homeland and attract a widespread and culturally diverse global following.
Until now, the movement has drawn its largest and most committed following from among those whose indigenous culture has been suppressed, and in certain instances completely supplanted, by Western models imposed during centuries of European and American colonial expansion. For the young unemployed or underemployed Maori in New Zealand, Havasupai Indian living on a reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, West Indian struggling for survival in Brixton and Ghanaian in Accra trying to come to terms with urban living in a multiethnic, post-colonial African society, adherence to Rastafari provides an alternative source of meaning and identity to a life frequently punctuated by hopelessness, alienation and despair in what is often perceived as a hostile, corrupt and hypocritical Eurocentric environment.
If Rastafarianism functions as an ideological corrective to the suffering, exploitation and alienation experienced by young people of color the world over, it holds an especially heightened resonance and appeal for Africans and those of African descent. And while the messages expounded by the Rastafari promote love and respect for all living things and emphasize the paramount importance of human dignity and self-respect, above all else they speak of freedom from spiritual, psychological as well as physical slavery and oppression (things Africans have come to know much about over the course of the last four centuries, be it directly via the holocaust of the Middle Passage or indirectly through the degrading experience of colonization).