Rasta roots explored in rare US exhibition

Washington, USA - An unprecedented year-long exhibition at the prestigious Smithsonian Institute aims to demystify the mystique of Rastafarism exploring the roots of what has become a global emerging religion.

"Rastafarism has never been in any major museum," said Jake Homiak, curator of the exhibition "Discovering Rastafari" which runs until November 2008 at the institute's National Museum of Natural History.

The movement traces its origins to the 1930s and the teachings of the Jamaican black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey, viewed as a Rasta prophet who advocated that the African diaspora should reclaim Africa from the colonizers.

The movement came to believe that former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, as the only monarch of a truly independent African nation, was god and that Ethiopia is the Biblical promised land.

Rastafarism, with its resistance to colonialism and racism, is at once a philosophy, a religion and a way of life, which grew in international popularity largely thanks to the music of Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley.

It is "an emergent global religion spread by the diaspora," said Homiak, adding "it's all over the world now."

The Simthsonian asked 17 Rastafarian elders to act as advisors to the small exhibition which draws on the museum's archives as well as items the leaders donated to the institute.

It includes artifacts, ritual objects, clothing and drums as well as rare photos and newspapers from the early days of the movement, recounting the coronation of Haile Selassie as well as his visit to Jamaica in 1966.

Other exhibits include original shares sold by Garvey for his "Black Star Line" a shipping company conceived as part of his back-to-Africa project but which went bankrupt shortly after being launched.

"We are excited to bring aspects of this fascinating yet often misunderstood cultural movement to the public," said the Natural History museum's acting director Paul Risser.

The exhibition however remains discreet on the Rastafarian use of cannabis, merely stating that "ganja is used for reasoning."

The name Rastafarian came from the word "Ras" for chief and "Tafari," the first name of the Haile Selassie before he was crowned king.

Today Rastafarism is practiced not just in Jamaica, but also in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Japan, Homiak added.