Around him at the sprawling Bobo Ashanti commune on an isolated hilltop, a few women and about 200 dreadlocked men with flowing robes and tightly wrapped turbans prayed, fasted, and fashioned handmade brooms — smoking marijuana only as a ceremonial ritual.
“Rasta church is rising,” declared Priest Morant, who wore a vestment stitched with the words “The Black Christ.” ”There’s nothing that can turn it back.”
The Rastafarian faith is indeed rising in Jamaica, where new census figures show a roughly 20 percent increase in the number of adherents over a decade, to more than 29,000. While still a tiny sliver of the mostly Christian country’s 2.7 million people, Jalani Niaah, an expert in the Rastafari movement, says the number is more like 8 to 10 percent of the population, since many Rastas disdain nearly all government initiatives and not all would have spoken to census takers.
“Its contemporary appeal is particularly fascinating to young men, especially in the absence of alternative sources for their development,” said Niaah, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies.
Founded 80 years ago by descendants of African slaves, the Rasta movement’s growing appeal is attributable to its rejection of Western materialism, the scarcity of opportunities for young men in Jamaica and an increasing acceptance of it.
For the black nationalist Bobo Ashanti commune, the Rastafarian faith is a transforming way of life, where Rastas strive to live a frugal existence uncomplicated by binding relationships to “Babylon” — the unflattering term for the Western world. They share a deep alienation from modern life and Jamaica is perceived as a temporary harbor until prophecy is fulfilled and they journey to the promised land of Africa on big ships.
Life is highly regimented at the isolated retreat, cut off from most of the comforts of modern society. But it has a strong appeal for some, among them 27-year-old Adrian Dunkley, who joined the strict sect two months ago after years of questioning his Christian upbringing and struggling to find work as an upholsterer.
Read more: AP