Dread History:
The African Diaspora,
Ethiopianism, and Rastafari

Dreadlocks in an herb field, Morant Bay, Jamaica

Perhaps the most familiar feature of Rastafari culture is the growing and wearing of dreadlocks, uncombed and uncut hair that is allowed to knot and mat into distinctive locks. One theory regarding the origin of the locks attributes them to Hindu holy men who came to Jamaica from India as indentured laborers in the late 19th century. Rastafari regard the locks as both a sign of their African identity and a religious vow of their separation from the wider society. Ganja (the Hindi term for marijuana), pictured in the background of this image, was also brought by these indentured Indians laborers. The Rastafari regard marijuana as the biblical herb spoken of in the Bible (see Genesis 1:29; Revelation 22:2) and use it liberally in their communion with Jah.

photograph by Jake Homiak, Smithsonian Institution