KENYAN RASTAFARIANS

Rastas, bhang and reggae: Inside little-understood lifestyle

Registered society complains about police harassment due to their use of marijuana, which is illegal in Kenya.

In Summary
  • The society has thousands of followers within the slum who regularly visit the centre in Kibera.
  • The ‘Binghi' rhythm is an act of worship due to its sacred nature. 
A Rastafarian smokes canabis in their spiritual gathering known as reasoning session
A Rastafarian smokes canabis in their spiritual gathering known as reasoning session
Image: ENOS TECHE
A portrait of Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Sallasie I
A portrait of Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Sallasie I
Image: ENOS TECHE

I set out on a tour upon an invite by a member of the Rastafarian community to their centre in Kibera, Nairobi.  The place serves as a shrine where members meet to meditate and deliberate over their issues.

It features the burning of blunt, chanting and meditation. There is no worship timetable or structure. Every time is Jah time. The society has thousands of followers within the slum who regularly visit the centre.

Ras Wambui said they require no timetable to worship God, or Jah as they refer to the Almighty.

Inside the Rastafarian Reasoning shrine
Inside the Rastafarian Reasoning shrine
Image: ENOS TECHE

“Where two of us are gathered His spirit dwells among us. So, a chant is initiated accompanied by beating of the Nayabinghi drum,” he explained.

The ‘Binghi' rhythm is more than just a musical style. Ras Wambui, who is also referred to as prophet, said the rhythm is an act of worship due to its sacred nature. 

"This is what has shaped reggae music," he said.

Funde drum, one of the Nyabinghi drum set
Funde drum, one of the Nyabinghi drum set
Image: ENOS TECHE

He guides me through the interior of the shrine. I encounter couple of Rasta men seated inside a room. They are welcoming.

“Blessed Rasta,” one of them yells.

On the walls are pinned pictures of Ethiopia Emperor Haile Selassie I. He is considered God of the Black Nation.

Rasta Ababa Janile
Rasta Ababa Janile
Image: ENOS TECHE

''We Rastafarians believe in Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian Emperor, to deliver us to the Promised Land,'' Ras Wambui said.

He says there are three Rastafarian orders with different beliefs and symbols.

“The Bobo Shanty, Nayabinghi and the Twelve Tribes are different denominations of Rastafarians who, regardless of their differences in beliefs, agree on two common principles of exalting the status of Haile Selassie I and rejection of the Eurocentric image of divinity.”

A Rastafarian stand next to the society's logo in Kibra
A Rastafarian stand next to the society's logo in Kibra
Image: ENOS TECHE

As a cultural minority group in Kenya, Ras Lourjoron, the Rastafarian society spokesperson, explains the need for respect for their way of life.

“Kenyans are moderately familiar with Rasta man way of life. And as a cultural minority we still feel our rights towards the use of ‘herb’ is not yet acknowledged,” he said, referring to the use of marijuana, which is illegal in Kenya.

Rastafarian Society of Kenya spokesman Prophet Wambua
Rastafarian Society of Kenya spokesman Prophet Wambua
Image: ENOS TECHE

Lourjoron spoke of unending harassment of their members over years by the police. Those found smoking marijuana are particularly at risk of arrest.

“We are clearly identified from the rest of the population and I think our society being registered by government should be reason enough to grant us our freedom,” he said.

Ras Ababa Janile inside the Reasoning Centre
Ras Ababa Janile inside the Reasoning Centre
Image: ENOS TECHE

He pleaded with the government to allow members of the society to use marijuana as a sacrament and for medicinal purposes.

The Kenya Rastafarian Society is the umbrella organisation for all members of the group.

A Rasta man inside a shop where they sell artworks
A Rasta man inside a shop where they sell artworks
Image: ENOS TECHE

The society is slowly gaining popularity amongst Kenyans and claims to have a following of one million.

A ruling by Justice Chacha Mwita compelled schools to allow students who keep locks of hair as a way of observing their Rastafarian religion.

A father who is a Rastafarian had moved to court to sue a school which had expelled his daughter for keeping the locks.

The judgment was seen as a blessing by the society as the faith began gaining popularity.

Painting on the wall inside the Rastafarian medidation room
Painting on the wall inside the Rastafarian medidation room
Image: ENOS TECHE

Art is part of Rastafarian culture. The centre in Kibera has paintings and other artworks displayed for sale. Being strict vegetarians, they grow crops for food in Nairobi and Machakos counties. Some of the food is sold and money directed towards supporting the society.

A loom knitted using strings which is a self-reliance symbol for youths searching for identity
A loom knitted using strings which is a self-reliance symbol for youths searching for identity
Image: ENOS TECHE

November 2 each year is marked as the crowning of Emperor Haile Selassie I. All Rastafarians gather to sing, chant and read the bible, basically readings derived from the Old Testament.

The emperor’s birthday is also an important day in Rastafarian calendar, marked on July 23 of every year.

With no Christmas celebration as they don’t follow the New Testament scriptures, Rastafarians mark January 7 as their 'Christmas'. Unlike Christians who remember the day as the birth of Jesus Christ, Rastafarian celebrate the earth that has given birth to life.

A portrait of Legio Maria founder Ondeto inside the Rastafarian Reasoning hall. Rastafarians consider him an African leader
A portrait of Legio Maria founder Ondeto inside the Rastafarian Reasoning hall. Rastafarians consider him an African leader
Image: ENOS TECHE