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The Material Roots of Rastafarian Marijuana Symbolism

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This article explores the relationship between shifting modes of production and the evolution of marijuana symbolism among the early Rastafarians of Jamaica. During slavery, marijuana grew on the island but was probably not recognized. During the shift to indentured labour, black Jamaicans utilized marijuana as a palliative. During the transition to capitalism, marginalized urban Jamaicans sold marijuana and it became a powerful symbol of their peasant past. Finally, once the island had shifted to a predominantly capitalist mode of production and appropriated laws that reinforced capitalist ideology, marijuana became a "holy herb". This work provides a framework to study the development of religious symbolism and presents an exercise in applying anthropological theory to history. Such an exploration is useful for anthropologists studying ideological systems and ethnobotanists seeking to analyse the dynamic relationships between plants and people based upon changes in material circumstances or shifts in mode of production.
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Keywords: Ganja; Jamaica; Marijuana; Rastafarian; Symbolism

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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