(Photo via Pixabay)
Reggae, for about five decades now, has been the official soundtrack to stoner culture worldwide. The story behind reggae and how the music from a small Caribbean island spread across the globe is amazing. The culture has spread so far that even your neighbor's annoying 14 year-old skater kid wears Bob Marley merch.
The history of Jamaica and reggae music will always be tied to the history of marijuana. Their combined history is extremely deep rooted and pervasive. Jamaica itself stands as a testament to the community building marijuana culture can provide.
Ever wonder why marijuana is so connected to reggae and Jamaica to begin with? To find that answer, we have to look at the history of Rastafari. Contrary to the believe of many, Rastafri is not a weed cult: it is a legitimate religious community with deep ties to Jamaica and reggae music.
The religion started in the 1930s after the coronation of Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930. Selassie's followers viewed him as the second coming of Jesus and as a symbol of their shared cultural and spiritual connection to Africa. During British colonial rule, many Jamaicans took on the religion to reaffirm their African heritage in defiance of the colonial power. Many in America, too, inspired by the back-to-Africa and black nationalist movements in the 1930s and 40s, also adopted Rastafari as a way of connecting to their shared heritage. The work of Marcus Garvey and Leonard Howell, or the "First Rasta", established Rastafari as we know it today.
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Marijuana's connection to Rastafari has been widely publicized since the religion's inception in the 30s and 40s. Rastas consider cannabis to be a sacred plant and they use it as their primary ritual practice during spiritual events. They point towards specific verses in the Bible as evidence of the Lord's promotion for its use and praise, specifically in Genesis 1:29, Psalms 18:18, and Revelations 22:2. In fact, Genesis 1:29 specifically says, "And God said, 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.'"
It wasn't really until reggae hit the scene in the 1970s that Rastafari and it's weed loving practices really took hold on the global consciousness, though. Reggae's roots, like the roots of Rastafari, are tied to Africa. When shipped to the Caribbean for work, the slaves of Africa brought with them the musical and cultural heritage of their homelands. Calypso, ska, and dancehall music traveled across the Atlantic to find home in Jamaica, where the natives saw the beat driven music as an act of defiance against Babylon, or the culture promoted by their Western colonial rulers.
Reggae took these earlier genres, slowed the tempo down, added upbeat guitar chugs, and politicized its message to create a genre for itself. The same people that followed Rastafari were the same people playing reggae music. Rastas such as Count Ossie were some of the first people to lay the groundwork for the genre. Bob Marley, the face of reggae itself, drove reggae and Rastafari culture to the mainstream, bringing marijuana along with him. Now, reggae has seen the likes of many talented musicians, including Toots and the Maytals, Ziggie Marley, Sly Dunbar, the Skatalites, and many others.
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Today, reggae music is often seen as much a part of weed culture as marijuana itself. Reggae's ties to Rastafari are what really drove marijuana culture to the mainstream. It's important to note, though, that reggae music and Rastafari are so much more than "stoner music" or a weed cult. They are integral cultural pieces to the history of Jamaica and African communities worldwide.