The Rastafari language developed, along with the movement itself, as a rejection and a challenge to the worldview imposed on Jamaican slaves by British colonialism. With their use of language, the Rastafari proceeded to re-program and liberate the abject mindset engendered by slavery. The Rastafari language is called Lyaric, and it affirms and celebrates a black identity that is self-reliant, positive, forward-looking and promotes unity. Lyaric is sometimes called “Wordsound”, a reference to the inherent essence or power in the sound of words. As such, Lyaric can be thought of as directly lived instead of abstractly referring to something else.
The Use of “I”
One of the main differences between Lyaric and English or other Western languages is the non-binary use of “I”. Rastafari believe that first there was “I”, and then the devil created “you”. Lyaric unifies subject and object by the use of phrases such as “ InI” (I and I). InI incorporates both the plural and singular and acknowledges both the differences and oneness between us all. The aspect of similarity embodies attributes such as solidarity, empathy and goodwill. Rastafari InI places the emphasis on a lived, fluid unity that is not objectified in any way. This unified concept of “I” is integrated into many Rastafari words, especially powerful words, including the word for unity itself: Inity.
Forward-Looking and Positive
The Rastafari avoid the word and even the concept of “back”. Their goal is not to go back to Africa, but rather to go forward to Africa. Besides the spiritual implications behind that phrase, there is also the philosophical concept of always moving forward in life, of not regretting or living in the past, instead creating a perpetual sense of progress and potential. For example, in everyday life, Rastafari don’t go back home, they go forward to home. Similarly, Rastafari avoid all negative words, or even words that could be construed as negative. They won’t say Hello because it sounds like the words “hell” and “low”.
Fluidity and Unity
This creates a fluidity of life that is not stuck. Another example of this fluidity at work is the Rastafari rejection of any type of “ism” that creates schisms between ideas and between people. They do not like to be called “Rastafarian” for exactly this reason; Rastafarian, or Rastafarianism are closed, fixed descriptions. Rastafari or Rasta are open-ended; they even sound more open. Furthermore, Rasta and Rastafari are both singular and plural, a noun and a verb, reinforcing the fluid aspect.
The Rastafari have an oft-repeated phrase: “Each One Teach One”. This phrase exemplifies another aspect of fluidity, namely, unity. The phrase signifies that everyone is both a teacher and student; everyone can learn from someone else. The back and forth process is fluid, but ultimately all point towards towards the common goal of equal rights and justice.
A Few Examples of Lyaric Rasta Terminology…
Below are a few examples of Lyaric common words. There are more complete dictionaries online, and some even list usage of select Rasta phrases or words with an English translation.
Babylon: Systematic oppression and corruption such as government and institutions as well as authority in general. These are seen as contrary to the rule of Jah.
Dreadlocks: The hairstyle of many Rastafari. This hairstyle was worn by warriors in ancient Kenya and was first worn by the Rastafari who were trying to protect the original Rastafari community, Pinnacle, from police raids. “Dread” refers to fear of the Lord and the fear it caused when the Rastafari started to grow deadlocks.
Earthstrong: Birthday. Alludes to the idea of creating a strong connection to the earth and community with each year. Earthstrong is one of many “earthical” words, and shows a respect for the power within the earth.
Jah: The Divine.
Ganja: Originally an Indo-Aryan word for cannabis. Assimilated into to the Jamaican everyday language in the mid-19th century by the way of East Indian labourers. Ganja is smoked as part of Rastafari spiritual ceremonies, to help open the mind to enlightened reasoning. Headz provides sacramental ganja for Rastas across Canada through our online shop.
Herb: Ganja, cannabis.
Ital: Rastafari dietary practice and a way of cooking that emphasizes natural, organic, wholesome foods.
Irie: Positive peaceful emotions, or anything good.
Livity: The life energy within everyone; to live righteously and perform good deeds.
Lya: Higher realms of reality.
Zion: Ethiopia and /or Africa, after the Day of Judgement.
Rasta Terms and Lyaric Resources: