Rastas believe that their original African languages were stolen from them when they were taken into captivity as part of the slave trade, and that English is an imposed colonial language. Their remedy for this situation has been the creation of a modified vocabulary and dialect, reflecting their desire to take forward language and to confront the society they call Babylon.
Rastafari claim to reject “-isms”. They see a wide range of “isms and schisms” in modern society and want no part in them. They especially reject the word Rastafarianism, because they see themselves as having transcended “isms and schisms”. This has created some conflict between Rastas and some members of the academic community studying the Rastafari phenomenon, who insist on calling this religious belief Rastafarianism, in spite of the disapproval this generates within the Rastafari movement. Nevertheless, the practice continues among some scholars, likely because it fits their academic standards of use.
However, much as academics now refer to “Eskimos” as “Inuit” and “Lapps” as “Saami”, study of Rasta using its own terms has occurred and may be gaining acceptance. Rasta thought on the matter is that academic analysis is unnecessary to “trod” the path.
The Rastafari movement vocabulary, or Iyaric, is part of an intentionally created dialect of English. The adherents of Rastafari teachings believe that their original African languages were stolen from them when they were taken into captivity as part of the slave trade, and that English is an imposed colonial language. Their remedy for this situation has been the creation of a modified vocabulary and dialect, reflecting their desire to take forward language and to confront what they see as the corrupt and decadent society they call Babylon.
This is accomplished by avoiding words and syllables seen as negative, such as “back”, and changing them to positive ones.
replaces “me”, which is much more commonly used in Jamaican English than in the more conventional forms. Me is felt to turn the person into an object whereas I emphasises the subjectivity of an individual.
- I and I
is a complex term, referring to the oneness of Jah (God) and every human. Rastafarian scholar E. E. Cashmore: “I and I is an expression to totalize the concept of oneness, the oneness of two persons. So God is within all of us and we’re one people in fact. I and I means that God is in all men. The bond of Ras Tafari is the bond of God, of man. But man itself needs a head and the head of man is His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia.” The term is often used in place of “you and I” or “we” among Rastafarians, implying that both persons are united under the love of Jah.
(See also: mysticism.)
- Idren or Bredren and Sistren
refer to the oneness of Rastafarians and are used to describe one’s peers (male – “bredren”, female – “sistren”).
- I man
is the inner man within each Rastafari believer.
refers to positive emotions or feelings, or anything that is good.
Specifically it refers to high emotions and peaceful vibrations.
food has not touched modern chemicals and is served without preservatives, condiments or salts. Alcohol, coffee, milk, and flavored beverages are generally viewed as not I-tal. Most Rastas follow the I-tal proscriptions generally, and some are vegetarians. Even meat-eating Rastas abstain from eating pork, as pigs are scavengers of the dead, as are crabs, lobsters, and shrimp, though other kinds of seafood are a Rastafarian staple.
derived from English “heights”, means “joy” and also the color “red”.
It can also be short for “Israelites”.
replaces continually. It has the everlasting/everliving sense of I existing continuously.
is a Rasta theological concept meaning the general state the entire world is in now, and has been getting progressively deeper in since 1930, and especially since 1974. This is a slight mutation of “Armageddon”, a name appearing in Revelation.
is an important Rastafarian term, referring to human government and institutions that are seen as in rebellion against the rule of JAH (Zion), beginning with the Tower of Babel. It is further used by some to mean specifically the white polytricksters’ that have been oppressing the black race for centuries through economic and physical slavery. Rastafari is defiance of Babylon, sometimes also called Rome.
replaces “oppression”, because oppression holds man down instead of keeping him up (pronounced op in Jamaican patois.) Similarly “downgression” = “violence” (from aggression).
describes the locks they wear, now universally called dreadlocks in English. The word is related to the fear of the Lord, as well as the fear locksmen inspired in the early stages of the movement.
replaces “everlasting”, particularly in the context of Life Everliving. The “last” in “everlasting” implies an end, while the life the Rastas have will never end according to them, they being immortalists.
(His Imperial Majesty), pronounced him, and referring to Haile Selassie I.
replaces “believe”, as Bob Marley sang. Rastafarians do not believe Haile Selassie is God and that they the Rastas are the chosen people. They claim to know these things, and would never admit to believing them.
replaces “dedication”, to rid itself of a connotation of death.
replaces “invention”, because mechanical devices are seen as outdated, and because it is the inner experience of being a Rastafarian that is invention.
Overstanding (also “innerstanding”) replaces “understanding”, referring to enlightenment that raises one’s consciousness.
is a Rasta term replacing English “politics”, because so many politicians, etc. turn out, they say, to be more like tricksters.
Red literally means stoned, or under the influence of cannabis due to reddening of the eyes being a side effect of being under the influence.
- Whore of Babylon
is the Revelation character sometimes considered to be Queen Elizabeth II, technically still the Head of State of Jamaica; and/or the papacy.
refers to either Ethiopia or the whole continent of Africa, after the Day of Judgment.
Several Rastafarian words have migrated into mainstream English usage, or even widespread global usage. The term dreadlocks, for example, is used worldwide to denote the unique hairstyle which was popularized by the Rastafari.
Rastafarian usage of words like Zion and Babylon has entered American hip hop culture through Caribbean-American rappers, such as The Fugees.