In the heart of the Kibra slum stands the office of the Rastafarian Society of Kenya, made of wood and mabati. Outside hang banners in red, green, black and yellow, the colours of the Rastafarian Movement.
A padlocked gate opens into the main room with two sofa sets, a kitchenette and a pile of clothes arranged neatly in one corner.
A mild smell of bhang floats in the air. Deep voices are coming from the next room but the language is not immediately comprehensible.
Here Ras Lajuron Jaden is the president. Even though he calls the office home, he says he doesn’t feel at home.
Ras Lajuron, as he prefers to be called, limps in from the other room and starts explaining Rastafarian culture as he sits down.
“The Rasta does not have a specific structure of things, they do not have a defined manner of how an office should look.Structures are white man’s ways,” he said as he placed his walking stick next to his chair.
Ras Lajuron is not amused when the Star asks to understand Rastafarian culture. “That is the white man’s language of slavery,” he tells us.
“We overstand, we do not understand. That is the language of ‘downpression’ [rather than oppression],” he states.
Nonetheless, Ras Lajuron explains that Rastafarianism is a way of life, a social movement, as well as a mindset.
“The beliefs of the Rastafari are often misunderstood. To many people, any one who has dreads, smokes ganja and plays reggae music is a Rasta. There is much more than those three elements to being a Rasta,” he said.
Lajuron said he was born a Rastafarian, “like all of us” but it takes self-realisation to embrace the culture.
To the Rastafarian, there are two supreme beings: male and female. Larujon said the former emperor of Ethiopia, Haille Sellaise and Empress Waizaro Manen are Jah the father and Jah the mother.
“There is no Kingdom without a woman. We value the great role played by mothers in society,” he said.
The 44-year-old father of one is a strict vegan and has taught the same values to his wife and nine-year-old son.
“I have never shaved my son since birth, he keeps his dreadlocks and is equally a vegan. So is my wife,” he explained.
Keeping dreadlocks, he said does not make you a Rasta but it is symbolic of an embracing nature. The word dreadlock comes from the locks of hair deemed dreadful by slave owners who wanted their subjects clean-shaven.
For one to connect with the supreme being, one needs to be natural, loving and peaceful, he said.
“We preach peace and love above all. Rastafarians know that everyone is equal, that is why we say I and I,” explained Ras Isavwa Mudachi.
What Mudachi said is crucial to their culture but the most problematic to outsiders is smoking ganja. For a Rasta it’s a special experience.
“Ganja is sacramental. We use it to help open up our minds so they can correctly reason the ways of the world,” he said.
Ganja, he said, is always smoked in a ritual way. Before smoking the plant, the Rasta will say a prayer and chant songs in the name of Haile Selassie I and Jah in what they call reasoning sessions of Nyabinghi.
“A Nyabinghi is taken very seriously. Acting silly would be considered disrespectful to a Rasta. That is why our way and reason for smoking bhang is for the good,” he said.
Mudachi said they have a Rasta temple in Kayole, Boboshanti Temple where they go every Friday evening and continue till Saturday.
The service features the burning of bhang, chanting, and meditation. There is no worship timetable or structure. Every time is Jah time.
“There we say our prayers, sing hymns, and smoke. It is not our Sabbath, it is just a way of getting together to share our culture,” he said.
The ‘Binghi’ rhythm is more than just a musical style. Ras Prophet Mwenda Wambua said, it is an act of worship due to its sacred nature.
“This is what has shaped reggae music,” he said.
The Rasta speech also deviates a bit from English and adds letter I in some words.
“‘I’ is an important letter to the Rastafarian because it represents you and the higher being who is in you. We do not have ‘you’ in Rasta however, it is I and I,” he said.
The language, Ras Larujon said, reflects their protest against oppression, as well as their protest against authority, and structure that they refer to as ‘Babylon’.
“We do not believe in Satan. We believe in good and bad, bad is Babylon,” Mudachi explained.
The Rastafarian Society of Kenya maintains that the King James Version of the Bible is a corrupted account of the true word of God since English slave owners promoted incorrect readings of the Bible in order to better control slaves.
Ras Larujon said to know the true meanings of biblical scriptures one must cultivate mystical consciousness of oneself with Jah, called “I-and-I.”
“Religion is deceiving people that they will acquire wealth and live a good life in a heaven. Rastafarians know we were given life so we can be comfortable and land so we can reap from it,” he said.
He dismissed claims that they fight other religions, especially Christianity.
“We see in other people what we see in us, so we do not hate anybody. That is why we preach, peace all the time,’ he explained.
The group deplored police brutality and harassment because they lack understanding of their culture.
“Police are always harassing us. That is why the door is kept locked. When a policeman sees a Rastaman, they see a criminal. They say smoking marijuana is illegal yet God created all herbs to be used by humans,” Ras Larujon said.
In 2019, the High Court ruled Rastafarianism is a religion just like any other and they should be treated like the rest.
Justice Chacha Mwita read the judgment in a case in which a minor was chased away from school on January 10 for having dreadlocks.
Recently, the team went to court to seek legalisation of marijuana saying it is their sacrament and helps them connect to God.
(Edited by V. Graham)