Nyabingi Celebration

Religion | By Annie Mpalume, Photographer | 31 October 2014
PHOTO: © Annie Mpalume

The world of Rastafarianism has come under increasing awareness, investigation and scrutiny as we dawn into the information age, and the many cultures of the world become globalised. The popularity of its native son Bob Marley has many of us asking, what is it? What propelled Bob into his faith and how did his faith tie into his mystique and his prophetic-like mannerisms? Despite what many people think they know about Rastafarians, it is fair to say, there are many misconceptions. Many are bent on calling any person with dreadlocks, or anyone who lives apart from the rest of society a Rasta. Reggae musicians, weed smokers and Jamaican patois talkers are also lumped together under the Rastafarian umbrella.

Clearly those external references only create a more disillusioned understanding and unidentifiable characteristic of Rastafarians. For anyone to call themselves Rasta, one of the most important tasks one must do is study. Unlike other religions where all one has to do is accept the doctrine as truth without study, or study without changing behaviour to be accepted, to live as a Rasta, one must study the doctrine, the diet, the laws and the strict codes that adhere to the faith. It is, after all, seen as a way of life rather than a religion.

Since each individual has his/her own personal relationship with God, there are very few churches, synagogues, or places of worship that are identifiably Rasta, however there are means that Rastafarians use to congregate and engage in spiritual communion. In my country, Rastafarians are usually raided by policemen because of their use of the illegal marijuana smoking during their praise and worship and their simple way of living raises questions as to how they make a living.

My interest to photograph and tell their story arose after I started growing my own hair naturally and moulded it into dreadlocks. Wherever I went people would address me as Rasta. Other Rastas would bow and greet me with such politeness – I knew there was something mystical about their behaviour and wanted to find out more, why they were different from other individuals or perhaps become a real Rasta myself. So, I started by documenting their place of worship to learn more about their beliefs which I later realised are not very different from those of a Christian as they use the same bible and their belief of Haile Selassie is equivalent to the Christian belief in Jesus.

In the end I realised that many people can be called Rasta because of the dressing or hair style (like me) but Rastafari is definitely way of life. Having spent so much time documenting their church I still feel there is more to discover because every time I attend I’m sure to see new people and things. I have also opened up and I am no longer shy amongst them, as I found it so difficult in the first days to point my camera at them. To this day I continue, from time to time photographing from the sidelines, more as a spectator, capturing whatever catches/excites the eye. This remains a story in the making.