Dread History:
The African Diaspora,
Ethiopianism, and Rastafari

Ras Benji
Bull Bay, Jamaica

Perhaps the most familiar feature of Rastafari culture is the growing and wearing of dreadlocks, uncombed and uncut hair which is allowed to knot and mat into distinctive locks. While one theory regarding the origin of the locks attributes them to Hindu holy men who came to Jamaica as indentured laborers in the late 19th century, another theory traces their appearance to the 1952 Mau-Mau Revolt in Kenya. Mau-Mau leaders wore dreadlocks. Rastafari emulated the Mau-Mau both in their appearance and their resistance to Colonial rule. Rastafari regard the locks as both a sign of their African identity and a religious vow of their separation from the wider society.

photograph by Jake Homiak, Smithsonian Institution