Consuming Rastafari: Ethnographic Research in Context and Meaning


Barbara Olsen (1995) ,"Consuming Rastafari: Ethnographic Research in Context and Meaning", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 481-485.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 481-485


Barbara Olsen, SUNY/Old Westbury


This paper explores how a religious orientation intersects with consumer behavior within the broadened perspective of consumption activities. Research is based on ethnographic fieldwork spanning twenty years with six individuals from a small Jamaican fishing village that evolved into a tourist town. Jamaican socio-economic history provides a cultural explanation for the particular visible expressions of Rastafarian symbolic forms that have been adopted and are consumed in sacred and secular contexts. By using the theory of extended self, the local logic that informs an identification with Rastafari is applied to individual strategies for survival.


Rastafari is a cultural, religious movement that began in Jamaica in the 1930s. Its adherents are known as Rastafarians, Rastas or Dreads. Cosmologically loaded goods and behaviors are consumed by Rastafarians through an ideology that is informed by Biblical scripture and Ethiopian history. Using the concept of "extended self" (Belk 1988), the Rastas have borrowed cultural practices and symbols from history to identify with the Rastafari movement. This visible expression of a Rasta culture has contributed to various lifestyles that evolved among the informants to help them manipulate their fortunes during a time of great social and economic change in Jamaica.

Consumer research is beginning to investigate a broadened perspective of consumption activities linking identity to different aspects of culture. These forays include the spiritual dimension (Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry 1989; Hirschman 1985; O'Guinn and Belk 1989), ritual behavior and symbolic consumption (Rook 1984; Rook and Levy 1983), and the interconnection between objects, styles and extended selves (Belk 1988; Hirschman and LaBarbera 1990).

For sixty years Rastafari has been a religion of an alienated subculture whose critique of history and ridicule of British cultural norms still threatens the social elite. By the 1970s Rastafari expression was popularized by reggae music and co-opted by politicians who used dread talk and wore the colors to capture votes (Waters 1985). It continues as a religious and cultural force influencing popular fashion and lifestyle alternatives described by the use of an Ital diet, Iyaric language, symbolic hairstyle, clothing, colors and adornment. These characteristics have become globally recognized symbolic markers of Rastafari. Using ethnography based on research conducted in Negril, Jamaica, for over two decades, the methodology employs a life history approach to interpret what Rastafari means in the lives of six individuals who identify to varying degrees with its ideology. Life history is a methodology that utilizes the emic (insider) viewpoint and thus allows an individual to contribute his/her recollected life story for interpretation and analysis. The respondents represent a demographic spread of age, gender, single-married and various household typologies. I also chose people I had known the longest, who felt comfortable contributing their stories. Our familiarity with each other helped erase the cultural barrier between us.

These lives touched by Rastafari intersect with consumer research. Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry's (1989) analysis of the sacred-profane continuum regarding persons, places, experiences, times, tangible and intangible things, applies in the consumption of Rastafari. The emergence of Rastafari as a religion began in 1930 with the coronation of Ras Tafari, later known as Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia. Jamaican preachers looking for the second coming of Christ identified Selassie as the returned messiah. For the disenfranchised black Jamaican living in an English colony, Africa became the promised land. In reclaiming ancestral history, African cultural patterns and symbols became sacralized by the Rastas and secularized by Rasta impostors.

Belk notes that the constellation from which we choose possessions to identify with our extended selves includes the "...body, internal processes, ideas and experiences, and those persons, places and things to which one feels attached" (1988: 141). The more strongly we connect with, control or are controlled by these extensions, the more they become part of self. Belk's (1988) notion that "abstract ideas" are consumable, is applied by Abelson (1986) and Hirschman and LaBarbera (1990) to consider religious beliefs as possession objects. According to Abelson, beliefs are free commodities which can be inherited or adopted. They are displayed, defended, suffered for, accumulated and are valuable. Beliefs are also difficult to change except to refashion an identity (1986: 231). In the Jamaican context, the Rastafarian movement is most significantly linked with identity reconstruction. Africans of the West Indies arrived during the forced migration of the diaspora when European slave holders tried to remove all vestiges of tribal culture. Contemporary African-based religions of the Caribbean are a possession that incorporate an African identity in the extended self.


The Rastafari movement emerged during the 1930s as a cultural response to severe social and economic oppression in Jamaica where ninety-five percent of the African-Jamaican population has traditionally been controlled by the five percent British-focused white and brown elite. The African folk culture, including kinship, mating practices, matrilineal decent, music and religion were expressions that those of the diaspora in the new world could control.

Most Jamaican slaves originated along the African west coast area now known as Nigeria. Although the Ashanti tribe comprised about fifteen percent of the slave population, it is believed that their cosmology (religion and mythology) predominated. The Ashanti brought the religious practices of obeah and myalism, both known for spirit possession and curing. Obeah and myal evolved into the Jamaican Myal, Kumina and Revival religious sects. All three sects include African traditions that helped preserve African identity long after the abolition of slavery in 1838. Freedom had very little affect on alleviating harsh social and economic conditions and these sects empowered the weak to subvert the master class in the struggle for a better future. Blacks, discouraged from worshipping in established churches, also joined Native Baptist which condoned dancing, drumming, glossolalia and possession. Revival movements emerge during economic crises and appeared around the world and in Jamaica in the 1840s, 1860s and 1930s.

Rastafari emerged in the urban ghetto as a religion of the oppressed in response to climatic disaster and economic depression. Inspiration drew from several leaders with ties to Revival sects whose members had also worked as migrants throughout the Caribbean under colonialism. Leonard Howell, considered the founder of Rastafari, also fought in the 1896 Ashanti War for the British in the West Indian Regiment. Howell's ideology was fortified by Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association founded in 1914 to promote African pride, socio-political justice and repatriation to Africa.

By the 1920s the small cadre of Rasta preachers praised Africa, freedom and liberation (Barrett 1974: 159; Smith et al. 1960: 6-7). The preachers adapted Biblical prophesy to their context of British domination. The Bible predicted a new Messiah would deliver the faithful from the merchant class (Revelations 17-19). The preachers believed Babylon (white, western civilization) would fall in the Apocalypse. The Bible also said, "Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God" (Psalms 68:31; see also Isaiah 11:1-2; Revelation 5:5,19).

Thus, when Ras (Duke) Tafari, a direct descendent of Solomon and Queen Makeda of Sheba, was crowned the 225th Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930, he became the prophesied Messiah. During his coronation Ras Tafari was renamed Haile Selassie, (power of the Trinity), and adopted the title "King of Kings, Lord of Lords, His Imperial Majesty of the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God." To the preachers Selassie was Jahweh, the living God. Selassie's deposition in 1974 and mysterious death in 1975 reinforced belief of his divinity among the faithful. However, other Rastafarians doubt his role in the future of the movement (Simpson 1985: 287).

Chevannes claims that initially both sexes were equal members of this acephalous, fragmented, nondenominational faith, but after the 1950s it evolved into a patriarchal society of brethren with "spouses" related through men (1989b). Adherents often display the Emperor's picture, fly the Ethiopian flag of red, green and gold surrounding a standing lion symbolizing the Solomonic lineage, use the colors in their dress and wear the star of David. Nyabingi (named for an Order established in 1935 in the Congo and Ethiopia with Selassie as figurehead) festivals, called "grounations" or "I-ssembles" are celebrated with drumming, chanting and dancing on Ethiopian Christmas, January 7; New Year's day, September 11; Selassie's birthday, July 23; his coronation, November 2; his visit to Jamaica, April 21 (1966); and African Liberation Day when the OAU was founded on May 26 (1963) (Homiak 1985: 361).

A Rasta's most valued possession is an agile mind honed during meetings for spiritual understanding called "reasoning" sessions where copious amounts of ganja (marijuana) are smoked. The holy herb, sanctioned by the Bible (Genesis 8; Psalm 18, 104; Revelations 22) is blessed before each inhalation. Revelations 17-20 and Leviticus prescribe a strict, natural (vital/Ital) diet: avoiding meat (particularly pork), salt, processed foods, alcohol and tobacco.

Women wear long skirts and always keep their heads covered. They stay in their yards with the children. Birth control is prohibited. Women are considered dangerous during menses so avoid touching crops and cooking during these times. Rasta fathers take active domestic roles caring for their children, especially sons (see Chevannes 1989a, 1989b, 1990; Barrett 1974, 1977; Campbell 1985; Homiak 1985; Owens 1976; Smith et al 1960).

Hair Culture

Hair, the most visible extension of self, is connected in Jamaica with social values. Good and bad hair is situated, respectively, within the elite/white and peasant/black power structure (Chevannes 1989b: 11). In the 1930s, facial hair was taboo, so "beardmen" grew beards to set themselves apart. In 1949 the Youth Black Faith separated from older Revival Rastas by adopting the Nazarite vow to grow locks (Numbers 6:5) which, like Samson's, (Judges 16:17) conserves strength. They copied Selassie's beard from National Geographic photos. "Locksmen" of the 1950s ridiculed society by growing hair like derelicts in matted "dreadlocks" (Chevannes 1990: 69; 1989b: 2).

Others attribute dreadlocks to Ethiopian hairstyles worn among the Gallah, Maasai and Somali and say that they were adopted by Rastas in the 1950s because a fierce look would protect them from abuse (Barrett 1977; Smith, et al. 1960). Campbell links locks to sympathy with the 1950s Mau-Mau movement and hair seen in newsreels (1985: 98, 100). Due to bad associations with locks, colored woven tams were adopted in the 1960s to hide hair in public and avoid harassment. Chevannes also situates Rasta hair culture and male domination as role reversals within the historical gender power struggle experienced by Jamaican males in a matriarchal society (1989b).

Dread Talk

Rastas transgressed social norms. Their use of ganja with a pro-Africa, anti-British, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment philosophy made them the focus of persecution until the 1970s. The 1950s and 60s were repressive. Rastas were brutalized and arrested on the slightest provocation. Many of their squatter communities were razed. In 1958, a Rasta compound called Back-O-Wall, under the leadership of a preacher named Prince Edward Emanuel, was destroyed by the police. This group's dissolution scattered many Rastas to the hinterlands and established preacher Emanuel's fame throughout the island. Such altercations with police also nurtured Rastas' desire for repatriation to Africa and popularized the phrase "better must come" among those who anticipate political and economic change at home in Jamaica.

The evolution of an I-argot as a language of resistance in the 1960s represented the power of secret communication similar to Chinese and East Indians speaking in the presence of African Jamaicans (Chevannes 1989b: 5). Dread talk called the "Iyaric language" is purged of negative associations. For instance, sincerely is corrected as Icerely or Incerely, dedicate is livicate, deadline becomes lifeline and understand is overstand (see Owens 1976; Pollard 1980; Simpson 1985). It also symbolizes a heightened self-perception in which "me" the object is replaced with "I" as subject.

Vocal protest also found expression in music. Rasta drummers were connected to Revival Kumina "burra" drumming and influenced reggae songs written and performed by Rastas in the late 1960s (White 1967). Rastas also became poets, sculptors and painters.

Copying and Co-opting

The symbolic manifestation of the movement was adopted by dissidents and those identifying with the counter culture of the 1970s. The Rasta population was estimated at over 80,000 out of two million by the 1970s and society began accepting their style while rejecting the religious, revolutionary philosophy. Politicians defused the Rasta movement's sociological potential by co-opting its symbols and fostered assimilation by the middle class who grew locks and wore Rasta fashions.

"Rude boys" grew dreadlocks, wore the colors and spoke dread talk to identify with the music culture. As tourism grew in the 1980s foreigners filtered onto the beaches and male youths found Rasta identity an asset attracting foreign women who sought their company during holidays. By the mid-1980s this was a trend in Negril where Rasta males were called "Rentals" as in "Rent-a-Dread" (see Spencer 1988) and became known locally as "Rastatutes" who traded sex for favors. Consequently, it is very difficult to distinguish between the sacred and secular use of Rastafarian symbols as their use migrates from the faithful to faddists.


The analysis that follows is based on ethnographic fieldwork using participant observation and in-depth interviews conducted for a twenty-year period in the same community. Individuals in different social contexts appear to selectively choose ideological elements from the Rasta culture that suit their own personal agendas. For some, it is a religion of deep spiritual meaning that reinforces one's physical and emotional survival. For others, it is a cult of convenience from which stylistic markers are utilized to identify with popular culture. Ethnography is a tool to understand this contextual expression through "... words, images, institutions, behaviors - in terms of which, in each place, people actually represented themselves to themselves and to one another" (Geertz 1983: 58).

Hill (1993) sees a need for cross-disciplinary borrowing in qualitative consumer research and offers guidelines for using ethnography. Qualitative data relies on an emic understanding of the world experienced by the informant. We try to see from the "native" perspective filtered by our own etic interpretation informed by social science. He says, "If the emic perspective is the 'heart' and the etic perspective is the 'brain' of ethnographic inquiry, then field work is the 'soul'" (1993: 59).

This paper results from longitudinal research (Olsen 1989) on the impact of the development of tourism during a period of intense social transformation in Negril. Fieldwork from 1971 through 1993 involved two years' residence, community participant-observation and in-depth interviews conducted among several families with continuous repeat visits and letter communication.


This paper considers how six individuals (whose identities have been altered) relate to and through Rastafari. Jimbo and Kay are in their thirties, and Grace and Gordon are a couple in their forties. Scribe is an artist of fifty and Gladstone, in his seventies, considers himself the eldest Rasta in the western parishes. All have chosen to identify with Rastafari for personal reasons within the social context of their own lives.


Gladstone was nine when Selassie was crowned so he believes he grew up in the movement. Historical events that shaped the movement reinforced his faith. In 1958 he was living in the Rasta camp Back-O-Wall. The police raided the camp and smashed everything and everyone in sight (see Barrett 1974: 167; Smith et al. 1960: 19). He said he just "stood fast" when the police hit him on the head with a gun and baton. They beat his back and broke his arm. All were taken to the hospital where their locks were shorn and their beards were shaved. The scars on his head and a twisted arm are testaments to defending his faith. The value of our belief as a possession increases when we suffer for it (Abelson 1986). Gladstone is constantly aware of the sacrifice he paid to possess his faith. Gladstone says that in those days Rastas could not buy goods from a shop or even walk along the roads without being harassed. People threw stones at them and they were arrested for no reason.

For Gladstone, knowledge is power. His most valued possessions, besides faith, Bible, son and scars, are audio tapes recorded from the radio of Prince Edward Emanuel giving sermons and answers to letters from as far away as Ghana. When he played them for me he leaned into the speaker to catch every word, responding to the voice on the tape "Yes, yes, sure, sure," and "praise Jah Rastafari for giving I-n-I the good life."

Today he lives a spiritual life with his son, Tone, now a teen. Gladstone said, "I-n-I took Tone from the mother at age two and raised him as a Rasta." They live a spartan life with the barest essentials in a red, green and gold painted two room house on "captured land." A garden of fruit and vegetables, including yam, cassava, paw paw and comfrey (the "medicine" plant), provides for their modified Ital diet. They also eat the chickens and eggs they raise on their land. A strict Ital diet prohibits salt, sugar, white flour, tinned (canned) and processed foods and all flesh, except for fish (with scales) under twelve inches long.

Over the twenty-four years I have known Gladstone, he was removed from several properties on which he squatted when land was reclaimed to sell to foreigners. Today, he makes extra cash from coconut pins he and Tone design and paint (red, green and gold) with images of Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah and the star of David and sell to tourists in town. He is saving for when the government comes to reclaim his land and he can offer to buy it. In the back of his mind he still hopes one day to fly to Africa where he will meet all the true Rastas again. As the oldest Rasta with the longest membership, Gladstone's belief is firm. He awaits repatriation and the Apocalypse and lives through complete identification with Jah Rastafari.

Grace and Gordon

Grace and Gordon became Rastas after leaving the "rat race" in the 1970s to pioneer in Negril adopting Rastafari for guidance. They raised a second set of children in the spirit of Jah. By the mid-1980s, faith faded into fad. They reentered society to survive in a tourist sector they could not avoid.

The first year in Negril they ate meat, smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol and used birth control all of which Rastas associate with Babylon. By 1975 Rastafari penetrated their social network and old habits transformed to a new lifestyle. They avoided birth control because it was "genocide against the black race," became vegetarians, read the Bible and prepared for when "Babylon will burn in the Apocalypse and only the righteous will survive." The Bible explained why the Israelites were black and Jah Rastafari the true God.

Grace's Ital diet was spiritual. In one letter she wrote, "Sister try to eat well, it's the true and only answer to life - if you feed your body right your mind will be very clear, like crystal and you will see your path clearly - believe me - No tin food, frozen food, flesh or chemicals - try and you will feel the positive flow - No salt." They wore the colors, grew locks (often concealed under colorful tams), smoked the holy herb and reasoned with brethren who passed in and out of their yard.

Grace had five more children at home; Wisdom, Zion, Star, Iman and Iver, commemorating Rastafari. The years were hard. Home schooling was inadequate. They rented cottages that Gordon built by hand and painted Rasta colors. The urban amenities crept back in. By 1985, their lives were no longer defined by Rastafari. They cut their locks, but still believed in the divinity of Jah.

So many impostors had taken on the look of Rastafari that the symbols had lost their meaning. They were cosmopolitan again rather than provincial. Gordon drinks beer and Grace cooks with salt and dairy products, eggs, sugar and even lobster, but they do not eat meat. Both wear the colors but the spirit is gone. They are entrepreneurs living a fast life packed with luxuries. Grace admits they "moved beyond Rasta."

Considering belief as a commodity that can be borrowed, invested in, valued and disposed of (Abelson 1986), Grace and Gordon eased into the faith making a public commitment to Rastafari that was irrevocable at least in the names of their children. To urban friends and family, for ten years they were the embodiment of Rastafari. Rasta identity had become part of their extended selves (Belk 1988). When Rastafari became secularized (Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry 1989), the pristine lifestyle lost its potency. Its value that set Rastas apart from others was diminished and this socially aware couple, very conscious of public opinion, returned to a middle class lifestyle.


Scribe, an artist and poet came to Negril in the early 1970s to establish a gallery that earned him national recognition. The traffic through his business slowly turned from procurers of paintings to procurers of ganja and cocaine. Now fifty with grey locks framing a wizened face creased with furrows, Scribe uses the spirit of Jah to keep him clean and save his life.

In the late 1980s our conversations centered on the destructive power of crack cocaine. In recovery, he mourns those he introduced to crack and turns to his Bible and ganja for relief. He married Mia, a foreigner, in 1980 and they have three children. She told me the nurse at the clinic treats them as pariahs. Mia avoids dealing with society and yearns to take the family to her homeland. Scribe wanted justice in Jamaica. His understanding of the system from a dealers' perspective confirmed my observations. Jamaica is a trans-shipment center for cocaine which is regularly dropped from airplanes in large black plastic garbage bags and available everywhere. It is cheap and impure. Prostitutes hustle to get $10 bags of crack and users develop skin lesions from its toxicity. The government however, prosecutes the ganja users. Scribe did not understand the vendetta against the holy herb. Of the crack, he said, "I could not take it no more. Yes man, I quit. I stopped about a dozen people from doin' it because I could share my experience with dem and it helps. I am a humanitarian and I love people, never was my intention to use people for my material gains." While crediting Ital food and Jah for saving his life, Scribe described how cocaine had consumed his life. In 1992 the land on which he lived in Negril was sold and Scribe moved to the city.


Kay was fifteen when I met her in 1971. She is now in her mid-thirties with two teens and two toddlers living in a two room cottage on land inherited from her father. She is a dignified Rastawoman and always wears long skirts and a tam over her long locks that fall around her shoulders.

She became a Rasta in 1977 when diagnosed with a uterine tumor and refused to have a hysterectomy because in Jamaica, "Men do not want a mule, a sterile woman." She wanted more children. After being cured by Bongo-Hu-I, a Rasta doctor (see Jerome 1981), she turned her life over to Jah. The doctor prescribed herbs and told her to change her diet. She gave up meat, shell fish, salt, tinned food, beer and soft drinks. After a year the bleeding stopped. She eats an Ital diet and worships Jah Rastafari who she credits for saving her life.

As fewer single women adopt Rastafari, Kay's identification with the faith has set her apart from her classmates living on the road. In a town of limited opportunities, she assumed a Rasta persona as much to rebel against traditional society as to control her own life. Four years ago Kay met her current lover, a Rasta musician, and had the toddlers by him. He visits every five months and she fears he will give her aids because he has other lovers. She exclaimed her body is her temple. She can control the diet but men control sex. On another level, she is conscious of historical oppression and recently, of the degradation that accompanied cocaine into Negril. It claimed the life of her brother.

Kay marginally supports her family from her restaurant but is not a hustler. Her quiet faith trusts "Jah will provide" and she tries to be a model for the youths who gather at her shop.


Jimbo was a school boy of ten when I met him in 1971 and at our last interview was over thirty. He lives at home with his parents and what remains of his twelve siblings. Jimbo grew up on the road. He learned the trade of a mason and was currently building octagons on family land to rent to tourists. His desires were influenced by tourists and foreign residents. Jimbo confided that he prefers cultivating ganja and escorting female tourists around on his motorcycle.

Jimbo became a Rasta in 1984 after a motorcycle accident. When asked what being a Rasta meant he responded, "Well, me no follow it. Me just grow me dreads and live. None of dat Selassie business. Selassie a man like me, not a god. Baldhead comb made me crazy. Hair make me feel like a king." Regarding diet, Jimbo responded "Me eat meat same way, man. Drink Heineken beer. ... But, I not a Dread! I a Rasta." His distinction between Rasta and Dread was that a Dread was a man who, because of cocaine use, became impotent. From his perspective, "half of Jamaica, baldhead and Dread were affected by cocaine." Jimbo's interest is romancing tourist women. He carries them around on the back of his bike and they take him to dinner, disco and concerts on the beach. His Rasta identity has made him accessible to those tourists, especially women, who want a more ethnic experience during vacation.


Belk says that our possessions become tools or weapons that symbolically extend our selves by allowing us to become different (1988: 145). Rastafari belief as a possession object (Abelson 1986) facilitated a transformation in identity for these six individuals. The most obvious means was by changing the externals and adopting Rasta fashion and lifestyle symbols. Lewis (1993) notes that for a Rasta the body becomes a social text and ritualized grooming symbolizes rituals of reversal forming a new identity. Each Rasta adopted a new persona through which each could take control of their life when so many around them are losing control. They redefine a healthier lifestyle, chose symbolic artifacts and style for identity, affiliate with the Spirit of Africa and socially network for positions of power that the identity will obtain.

If we interpret Rastafari as a brand of religion we can apply Rook and Levy's (1983) analysis of consumer myths and brand use cultivated through ritual systems of behavior in which grooming is associated with healing or magical transformation into states of being that enable one to perform more powerfully in social contexts. Rastafarian cultural artifacts; such as hair style, language, color association and symbolic icons also confirm and dramatize historicized myths (Douglas 1970; Rook 1984). These symbolic markers are sacralized when used to reinforce one's faith. Gladstone's impoverished life is enriched through transcendence in Rastafari. Scribe and Kay recognize the social value of being role models for their peers. Grace and Gordon used Rasta to simplify their life and join a counterculture. In the process, they became controlled by the ideology producing five more children in the name of Jah. Their struggle to survive lost its significance when the symbols of Rastafari diffused into popular culture. Being a Rasta lost its value. Jimbo admittedly has adopted the fad without faith. He controls the symbols which empower him to attract attention.

Ethnography uses thick description to understand people living in historical moments of their own creation. The evolution of the development of Rasta style is best understood in the context of Jamaican political history and particularly of Negril's transformation into a tourist town. Douglas states "..the human body is always treated as an image of society ...bodily control is an expression of social control - abandonment of bodily control in ritual responds to the requirements of a social experience which is being expressed." "Bodily style" is local and limited to a social context within a cultural experience (1970: 66-71). In the rigid colonial social structure of Jamaica in the 1930s, Rastafari role reversals inverted British social norms. Rastas are African focused, often polygamous, lion haired, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment and anti-modern. In the 1970s and 1980s, Negril was developing for tourism and Rastas had become role models for self determination in a changing economic landscape.


Religious movements come into existence at particular moments in history to service communal needs during contests of social disruption. Today, it is not a coincidence that Rastafari symbols are more observable among male subcultures of tourist towns along the coastal corridor where the two worlds clash most immediately. The sacred-profane continuum portrayed by Rastafari in Negril, reflects the impact of tourism. The six individuals whose lives were touched by Rastafari are situated along this continuum and use the ideology to accommodate their lifestyles. Gladstone, the eldest, represents the most spiritual and Jimbo the most secular. Kay and Scribe find God in Jah and health in an Ital diet. The lives of Gordon and Grace reflect the historical progression of the movement from a spiritual reaction to Babylon to its co-optation as a fashion trend.

The symbols we adopt speak for us. Considering extended self, the identification of hair with a lion's mane suggests Turner's notion of the "man-lion monster" metaphor positioned as a social lesson. Symbols are chosen to make audiences think (1967: 105). In the Jamaican context, Eurocentric society is forced to rethink the status quo as Rastafari offers an alternative. Dreadlocks have different meanings for each context. Gladstone in his heart is an African, but popular culture has adopted symbol without historic content and we are left questioning the icons. For the Rastas portrayed in this analysis, all communicated through its symbols. Locks define identity to the audience, diet defines one's health, while worshipping Selassie and yearning for Africa represent complete emersion in the belief. Rastafari is individually interpreted according to the social context of each person adopting symbol and sentiment. For some, it is a religious belief system controlling daily life, for others it is a fashion style used to control one's status in the social community.

Extending research with these and other informants will track the value of Rastafari to them over time as they continue to react to development for tourism and increasing consumption opportunities. Future research would also benefit from cross-cultural comparative analysis of the sacred and secular uses of Rastafari to determine how these loaded symbols are used as the extension of self.


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White, Garth (1967), "Rudie, Oh Rudie!" Caribbean Quarterly, 13 (3): 39-44.



Barbara Olsen, SUNY/Old Westbury


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22 | 1995

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