Climate change remains one of the most enigmatic questions that humanity urgently needs to address. Emanating from the ecological crisis, climate change threatens the survival of some species (including humanity) and the depletion of natural resources.
The situation is deplorable, but arguably religion/spirituality can contribute to meeting the challenge.
A recent study by Fortune Sibanda — an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Simon Muzenda School of Arts, Culture and Heritage Studies, Great Zimbabwe University — explores a Zimbabwean Rastafari perspective on praying for rain against the backdrop of climate change.
The article, published under the World Council of Churches‘ Ecumenical Reviews, posits that praying for rain is integral to Rastafari “livity” and liturgical life. The research concludes that Rastafarians operate as post–20th-century Nazarenes, where prayer is a practical and tangible manifestation of work that is crucial to living harmoniously with nature.
Among other pertinent questions, the study asks: What is the value Rastafarians accord to nature? How do Rastafarians pray for rain? Do they take responsibility for the environment? What is the nature of prayers in Rastafari? To whom, where, how, and how often do Rastafarians pray for rain? Do Rastafarians take responsibility for the environment?
Rastafari “green philosophy” is a practical spiritual consciousness that decisively complements global efforts of shared responsibility for nature in the context of the climate change crisis.
Despite a negative rating, Rastafari identity and consciousness have gained widespread recognition. Among other things, Rastafari ital (natural) food and their environmental ethic make them a force to reckon with.
Rastafarians in Zimbabwe observe praying for rain as an important celebration date among the annual commemorations. Along with the dates dedicated to praying for rain, Nyahbinghi Rastas in Zimbabwe have identified other important times observed on the Rastafari calendar. For instance, they gather in Marondera to pray for peace in Zimbabwe, publicly demonstrating the Rastafari contribution through their peaceful and shared One Love ethos.
These are times when Rastas gather in celebration characterised by Nyahbinghi groundation, as when praying for rain.
Cited in the article, Ras Bondomali of Marondera Nyahbinghi House said that Rastas pray for rain during the Ethiopian New Year. He explained that the Ethiopian calendar has 13 months in a year, beginning on 11 September. The last or 13th, month has six days. Between the 12th and the 13th month is when Rastas fast for rain and a new beginning for all of life and creation.
Rastafarians have a festival every year on 11 September to thank Jah for the rains and new creation. The Rasta elder added,
“JAH blesses with new life evidenced by pfumvudza (the sprouting of trees and vegetation, marking the beginning of spring). When it is a leap year Rastas Selahbrate (celebrate) to mark the beginning of a new year on 12 September. They fast during the last three to seven days of the year and break that fast on the New Year.”
Rasta prayers for rain are therefore guided by their calendar. This period coincides with the prayers for rain in Christian churches and African indigenous religions, where, in the latter case, mukwerera (rain-inducing rituals) are held in Zimbabwe.
Man Soul Jah stated that the prayers for rain are held before the first rains, known as gukurahundi, and the beginning of the planting season. The Afrocentric notions held by Rastas in the context of praying for rain are further confirmed by Man Soul Jah, who stated that rain, in the Rastafari perspective, is not ritualistically triggered.
In its history, the emergence of Rastafari is generally traced to the Caribbean island of Jamaica, having risen partly due to the inspiration and influence of Marcus Garvey, an early-20th-century Jamaican Black Nationalist and evangelical preacher. The original Rastafarians were largely black ex-slaves occupying the lowest strata of Jamaican society and influenced by Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, which was meant to instil black pride.
Besides Garveyism, Rastafari was inspired by the ideological pillars of Pan-Africanism and Ethiopianism. Indeed, the coronation of Haile Selassie I in 1930 as Negus of Ethiopia – as the 225th leader in an unbroken succession of Ethiopian kings from the Queen of Sheba, who bore King Solomon’s son – was significant in Rasta theology since it fulfilled a biblical prophecy and Garvey’s words. The followers of Garvey had been told to look to Africa for the coronation of a black king who would redeem the black people suffering from oppression.
Rastafari spread beyond Jamaica to become an international movement that also found root in African countries, including Zimbabwe, mainly through Rastafari art, music, poetry, and philosophy.
The debate on the emergence of Rastafari in Zimbabwe is inconclusive, as some trace it to the pre-independence period when the power of reggae music, particularly Bob Marley’s songs and messages, influenced Zimbabwean freedom fighters. Others place the development of Rastafari in post-colonial Zimbabwe, triggered by the euphoria of independence and the historical performance of Bob Marley at Rufaro Stadium in Harare in April 1980.
Nevertheless, today Zimbabwe is host to Rastas belonging to different varieties of groups, such as Nyahbinghi, Bobo Shanti, and Twelve Tribes, and yet in all its contributions, Rastafari is an oft-forgotten and misunderstood player among religions, one that is sometimes not taken seriously or engaged with in secular forums and inter-religious dialogues, and particularly debates dealing with climate change.
It is within this context that the Praying for Rain: Rastafari Perspectives from Zimbabwe Ecumenical Review seeks to explore in the framework of climate change discourse.
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