A glimpse inside Rastafarian culture

Left: Leemon proudly shows a life-sized baby giraffe carved from a single tree trunk. Middle: DeKalb resident Don Roman admires Leemon’s handiwork as he is shown a book of Jamaican master artists in which Leemon is profiled. Right: Many Rastafarians are craftspeople and often sell their wares at resorts and public beaches.

Just over a year ago I had the pleasure of meeting a man referred to simply as Leemon, a Rastafarian in the true sense of the word. Leemon lives in a tiny village in the Jamaican hills overlooking Montego Bay.

He has no electricity, no running water and no other so-called modern conveniences, yet he is at peace with his surroundings and seems to lack for nothing other than more interaction with his community.

Most of his meals come from the land immediately surrounding his shanty of a home. He grows vegetables in his yard. Just feet away from his home are banana, lime and orange trees. Shadowing his home is a huge breadfruit tree loaded with fruit. Breadfruit is a Jamaican dietary staple that can be baked, fried, broiled, boiled, used for puddings and even as the basis for a fruity punch.

Leemon exemplifies the basic tenets of the Rastafarian lifestyle or “livity,” a word used by Rastafarians to refer to the energy or life force that flows through all living things.

Last November I again visited with Leemon. He shared more with me about his military service in the late ‘60s with the Jamaican army in Canada. He told me of growing up in the Mt. Zion community and that he had graduated in 1967 from Mt. Zion Primary School where volunteers representing DeKalb-based nonprofit Unconditional Love for Children have worked for the past two years.

He also explained the basics of Rastafarian beliefs. I was so intrigued by his spirituality and openness that I have done more research since the visit.

Most people likely think of Rastas as marijuana-smoking Jamaicans who wear their hair in dreadlocks and listen to lots of reggae music. These stereotypes are oftentimes accurate but there is much more to the Rastafarian lifestyle than this.

The lifestyle of a Rastafarian is based on humility and politeness. Rastafarian culture is about being in love with humanity and the planet as a whole.

One Rastafarian belief is that individuals should be self-sustaining and self-employed, if possible. Much of this mindset is seeded in the ideals of pursuing one’s own happiness and depending on no one other than oneself. And according to what I have read, many Rastas were forced to be self-employed due to discrimination of employers when the movement first became mainstream in Jamaica.

Also, since many Rastas do not shave (male and female), and many do not believe in using traditional deodorant, it is difficult for them to find employment in more traditional areas.

Many Rastas grow as much of their food as is possible or barter with others to exchange fresh, organically grown vegetables and fruit. Meat is rarely eaten; if it is, most likely it will only be fresh fish or seafood. Pure, unprocessed food sources are important to the strict Rasta. Many do not even like to go into a grocery store because of exposure to foods that have been processed and/or treated. Rastas who do eat meat are typically concerned about the origin of the meat and, unless it has been homegrown or organic-certified, may not eat it. Pork is considered taboo in Rastafarian culture as many consider swine to be dirty and spiritually unclean.

A popular old saying within the Rastafarian culture is “food is the staff of life.” Most Rastas believe that proper nutrition can cure most ailments, be they mental or physical.

Processed salt is typically not included in a Rasta diet. Processed sugar is replaced by fruit sugars or sugar cane juice. Unprocessed oils are preferred, with the most commonly used being coconut oil.

The method of preparing and cooking with no salt or processed sugar is called Ital (hi-tal). It is similar to kosher food within the Jewish culture.

True Rastafarians believe in having uncut and uncombed facial hair. It is a Rastafarian practice to let hair grow naturally. There are also those who wear their dreadlocks in turbans, not exposing their hair to the public. This is normally practiced for specific spiritual reasons. Contrary to popular belief having dreadlocks is not a requirement. Most Rastas understand that not everyone who subscribes to their approach to life can let their hair grow freely because of social and/or employer-related issues.

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