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Cultural Approaches to Pediatric Palliative Care in Central Massachusetts: Rastafarian Movement

This subject guide is a collaborative project with the Children's Medical Center Pediatric Palliative Care Team, the Lamar Soutter Library, and Interpreter Services.

Rastafarian Movement

Rastafarian Movement

 *Started in the 1930’s in Jamaica

 *About 10% of Jamaicans are Rastafarian


  • One God, Jah, is the former emperor of Ethiopia (Haile Selaissie I) Incarnated. He is Messiah promised in the bible
  • Superiority of African civilization and culture
  • Being all-natural and as close to nature as possible
  • Love and respect for all living things
  • The dream of retuning to Africa (original home)
  • Following of rte Old Testament
  • Spiritual use of marijuana

Clothing and style

  • Often red, yellow and green (colors of the Ethiopian flag)
  • Often wear dreadlocks, either as a religious decision or a style decision. However, not all Rastafarians have dreadlocks
  • May not wash hair or body to be ‘all natural’
  • Buttons and pins with images of Haile Selaissie or the Lion of Judah
  • More conservative Rastafarians may wear roves and head scarves
  • Knit hats


  • Limited meat – no pork or shellfish (following of Old Testament restrictions)
  • May avoid all meat
  • May be vegan
  • May avoid alcohol
  • Caribbean food is popular, especially healthy fruits and vegetables
  • May only want to eat natural foods, called l-tal` foods in Jamaica


  • Jamaican Patios, the Jamaican Creole, may be hard to understand because of the patient’s accent and idioms. However, they can usually understand English since the language is English-based
  • Some Rastafarians speak Amharic, the original language of Ethiopia
  • However, this is not common and most speak English or Jamaican-English


  • Believe in everlasting life. As a result, they might be hesitant to prepare for death or talk about terminal illness
  • Since death is not real, they believe that Haile Selaissie I is still alive


  • The body may be seen as a church. Therefore it is scared and they may be hesitant to put anything unnatural into it

Rituals/ ceremonies

  • May include discussion, singing, dancing, and marijuana use
  • Readings of the Old Testament

Spiritual instruments, social structure, and symbols

  • Believe in the spiritual use of marijuana. Marijuana is common during ceremonies or habitually.  It is acceptable because it is considered to be natural
  • Marijuana is seen as cleansing, spiritual, and written about in the Bible
  • May avoid taking any un-natural drugs
  • Local, national and international representatives
  • Authorized representatives perform special religious rituals

Reproduced by permission from George Handzo, BCC at 

Dictionary of Patients' Spiritual & Cultural Values for Health Care Professionals were developed by the Pastoral Care Leadership and Practice Group of HealthCare Chaplaincy, New York, NY. (Revision and update of earlier work by the Rev. Susan Wintz, BCC and the Rev. Earl Cooper, BCC)