Accepted paper:

Rastafari perspectives on tobacco and enlightenment


Anna Waldstein (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

In Rastafari discussions, rituals and performances, tobacco and cannabis smoking keep participants in higher states of consciousness. Yet its health risks give tobacco an ambiguous place in Rastafari. Attitudes toward tobacco reflect recent developments in several UK-based Rastafari institutions.

Paper long abstract:

Although cannabis is widely known as the most sacred plant in the Rastafari pharmacopoeia, for many who follow the livity (lived spirituality) in the UK, tobacco is its constant companion. In Rastafari political discussions, ceremonies and musical performances, tobacco and cannabis are smoked together in spliffs and chalices, which aim to keep participants in higher states of consciousness. Spiritual rationales for these practices acknowledge the place of tobacco in indigenous American religions. For some Rastafari, smoking tobacco may also be seen as a spiritual burden that serves as a reminder of time in prison, while for others it is a way to 'stretch' precious reserves of cannabis. However, Rastafari livity is focused on maximising health and well-being, as well as avoiding the products of consumer capitalism. As such, some Rastafari advocate smoking only cannabis (or even smoking nothing at all), citing the risks of tobacco to public health. This paper explores the place of tobacco in Rastafari livity in the UK. Based on discussions and interviews with a Rastafari mentor, as well as observations made at numerous public gatherings and events over the past three years, I argue that attitudes toward tobacco reflect recent political developments in several UK-based Rastafari institutions. An openness to New World spiritual practices involving tobacco is indicative of a growing inclusiveness within Rastafari. Like tobacco, the inclusion of people from outside the African diaspora has an ambiguous place in contemporary Rastafari. Will these developments fuel enlightenment or destruction in this Pan-Africanist movement?

panel P08
Tobacco and Enlightenment