Why do Rastas Smoke Ganja and Wear Dreadlocks?

Two men smoking ganja
Ganja Smoking, Kingston, Jamaica.

Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images 

Rastas, those who follow the Rastafari Movement, are often depicted as poorly groomed pot-heads in common culture. This has everything to do with their use of marijuana - often called ganja - and wearing of dreads, but nothing to do with how or why they use them.

Drug Aversions

Rastas are commonly against drug use in general. They will not use cocaine or heroin, for example. They also frequently avoid alcohol and even tobacco and caffeine. These substances are seen as poisons that defile the body that Jah (God) gave them.

Meditative Purposes

Ganja, however, is seen as a gateway to understanding. It opens up the mind so as to be cognizant of the connection between oneself and Jah. It is a meditative tool meant to bring about self-realization and mystical experiences. What it is not about is getting "stoned". That returns us to being irresponsible about one's body.

Communal Smoking

Ganja is often smoked communally among several Rastas from a common pipe called a chalice. This is often done during gatherings known as reasonings, where ideas are freely shared among participants. Communal smoking helps to emphasize the sense of community among those presents as well as creating divine connections. Parallels can certainly be drawn between these use of ganja and the tobacco-smoking rituals of the Native American tribes.

Historical Roots

Ganja is not native to Jamaica, the home of the Rastafari Movement. Instead, it originally could be found in Asia, and Indians brought it to the island in the 19th century when they were imported as cheap labor after slavery was abolished. The word ganja is a Sanskrit word for the plant. Marijuana is the Mexican word for the same plant after it was brought to Mexico. Rastas frequently call it the wisdom weed or the holy herb.

Ganja use has a long history in Asian meditative and mystical practices, and this may well be from where Rastas borrowed the idea. The dreading of hair is also a practice of some Eastern mystics, as well as in various other cultures.

Ganja has been in Africa for centuries as well, introduced by Muslim Arabs as they spread their influence across the continent. As such, some Rastas see the smoking of ganja as one way of embracing African traditions lost when their ancestors were brought to the New World as slaves.

Reasons for Dreads

Dreads, dreadlocks, or locks are formed by hair knotting up on itself. It can be accomplished through back-combing and the application of a variety of commercially sold substances, but it can also be allowed to naturally happen. When hair is allowed to grow long and is not combed, eventually it naturally locks.

One of the reasons people wear dreadlocks is because it is seen as a rejection of personal vanity and artificial grooming and returning to a more natural state. For Rastas, there is also Biblical justification for the style, the commandment in Numbers 6:5 that "During the entire time of his dedication, he is not to allow a razor to pass over his head until the days of his holy consecration to the LORD have been fulfilled. He is to let the locks on his head grow long." (International Standard Version)

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Beyer, Catherine. "Why do Rastas Smoke Ganja and Wear Dreadlocks?" Learn Religions, Sep. 10, 2021, learnreligions.com/why-rastas-smoke-ganja-wear-dreadlocks-95959. Beyer, Catherine. (2021, September 10). Why do Rastas Smoke Ganja and Wear Dreadlocks? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/why-rastas-smoke-ganja-wear-dreadlocks-95959 Beyer, Catherine. "Why do Rastas Smoke Ganja and Wear Dreadlocks?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/why-rastas-smoke-ganja-wear-dreadlocks-95959 (accessed June 5, 2023).