Beyond dreadlocks and reggae

By | Travel
A rasta wearing a hat representing Rastafarian colours. Credit@Mònica via

Located along South Africa’s famous Garden Route, Knysna is a coastal town surrounded by lush and ancient forests. The town is home to a diverse range of life- from the 800 year old yellow-wood trees to a vibrant community of Rastafarians. The Rastafarian community that live in Knysna invite travellers from all paths of life to experience the Rastafarian way of living. With strong religious beliefs and arcane roots, this community is keen to show there is far more to Rastafarian culture than simply dreadlocks and reggae.

In 2003, the Rastafarian community in Knysna went to the local tourism board with a proposal. They wanted to show tourists what their life was really like, and to protect the richness of their local forest. Spending a night in South Africa’s Knysna, travellers can experience the same biodiversity and spirituality that the Rastas there practice every day.

The Garden Route along South Africa's coast. Credit@Christopher Griner

The Garden Route along South Africa’s coast. Credit@Christopher Griner

There are now Rastafarian communities in all parts of the world today, with a particularly large population in the Caribbean, however Rastas originated from Ethiopia in 1930. Their theology and origin centres upon the teachings of Haile Selassie- the Rastas all-knowing and all-loving inspiration. In fact, the name “Rastafarian” originates from Hailie Selassie’s pre-throne name “Ras Tafari Makonnen”.

Identified by yellow, green, red and black colours and dreadlocks, each part of their appearance represents part of their culture. Thick, dark dreadlocks symbolise the mane of the lion of Judah, which is significant in their holy readings. The colours have meanings too; yellow represents the abundant sunlight and warmth of Africa, green represents the plant and forest fertility and red represents the blood of Africa’s children shed for freedom. Black also characterises the Rasta representing the colour of the noble, ancient and distinguished African person.

Passionate about music and dance. Credit@Mark McLaughlin

Passionate about music and dance. Credit@Mark McLaughlin

Once a year Judah Square, the neighbouring town of Knysna and the administrative Rasta capital of the southern cape, hosts a festival that draws in Rastas and travellers from South Africa and abroad. This year, the “Rasta Earth Festival”, is taking place between 22 to 28 July.

The festival is currently rated 300th out of the whole world’s best festivals, and with its celebrations and vibrant atmosphere, it is obvious why. The festival showcases the Rastafarian way of life through food, philosophy, faith and music, and the festival is guaranteed to get even the shy traveller dancing to the well-loved reggae beat.

Rastas in South Africa. Credit@Arefe

Rastas in South Africa. Credit@Arefe

As well as hosting this energetic festival, the South African Rastafarian community also aims to teach travellers about their day-to-day beliefs, lives and activities. Living amongst such a green and vast environment, the Rastas in Knysna are extremely passionate toward their forest. The Knysna forest is part of the Garden Route, which is a densely vegetated stretch of the coastline and rich in diverse, natural beauty.

Rastas take full advantage of this unique landscape with the making of drinks and herbal medicines. Rastafarianism takes a holistic approach to healing; they believe that the concept of health extends to three spheres: the mind, the body and the soul. Rastas are extremely proud of their health and herbal medicines which attribute to upright living.

A stunning sunrise over Knysna lagoon, South Africa. Credit@Slack12 via

A stunning sunrise over Knysna lagoon, South Africa. Credit@Slack12 via

The community also offer root tours. These range from a traditional Rastafarian picnic to a demonstration of herbal medicine production. Rastas also offer rooms in their homes to travellers if they plan to spend a night in the community overlooking the stunning Knysna lagoon. Like any traditional and loving community, Rastas take much pride in welcoming new guests. Music, singing and dancing take place into the night, mixing locals with travellers.

Rastafarian culture today is very much alive. Through the annual Rasta Earth Festival and innovative locally planned tours, Knysna and Judah Square are hosts of this vibrant and energetic Rastafarian exposition. Within their overall way of life, every Rasta community across the globe- from Jamaica to Africa, big or small, each offering something different, and the Rasta Earth Festival is a chance to witness and participate in the unique and special version in South Africa.

What can you learn from Rastafarian culture?


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