The Rastafarian religion originated in Jamaica in the 1930s during a time when many people were suffering from extreme poverty, racism and class discrimination. The religion gained worldwide recognition in the 1960s and 1970s with the rise in fame of the reggae singer Bob Marley.
Marcus Garvey, leader of the Back to Africa movement, taught that blacks were the true Israelites. He argued that Africans had been cast out of the promised land and scattered around the world as divine punishment. Garvey encouraged black pride, which after decades of enslavement had been greatly diminished. In 1927, he prophesied, "Look to Africa, for there a king shall be crowned."
At a time when European countries had control of nearly the entire world, Ethiopia remained independent. On November 2, 1930, Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned the Emperor of Ethiopia. "Ras" is a title in Amharic similar to the English "Duke." Upon his coronation, he took the name Haile Selassie, which means "Strength of the Trinity."
The Jamaican people saw this as a fulfilment of Garvey's prophecy and saw the Emperor as a physical incarnation of God. Haile Selassie denied being anything more than a man. Nonetheless, his efforts to modernize Ethiopia and to force the Europeans to allow his African country to join the League of Nations offered hope to millions of downtrodden Africans.
The Rastafarians believed that the biblical paradise of Zion was located in Ethiopia and, in the 1950s, Haile Selassie offered 500 acres of his own land to anyone who wished to return to Africa.
In 1966, the Emperor visited Jamaica and upon his arrival, rains poured down, ending a serious drought. Rita Marley, the wife of Bob Marley, saw the Emperor and became convinced of his divinity. She and Bob converted to the Rastafari interpretation of Christianity.