Malawi’s Rastafarian population celebrated as a High Court ruling decreed that Rastafarian children are allowed to go to school with dreadlocks. Rastafarianism is a recognized religion and the court confirmed that banning dreadlocks, considered a religious symbol, is unconstitutional.
Rastafarianism took root in Jamaica in the 1930s, but it has its origins in the 18th century, when Ethiopianism and other movements that emphasized an idealized Africa began to take hold among black slaves in the Americas. It combines elements of Old Testament Christianity and Judaism with Pan-African nationalism. The late emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is viewed by Rastafarians as a prophet descended from the biblical lineage of King Solomon, sent by God—or “Jah” in Rastafarian parlance—to liberate Africans from colonialism.
Malawi’s schools are modeled after the British state school system, which imposes a strict dress code. Rastafarians like Ali Mcroy Nansolo spent the past decade petitioning the Malawian government to recognize Rastafarian practices, or at least grant an exemption for the school dress code. In 2017, he managed to find lawyers to take his case and secured a victory for his son to attend school with his dreadlocks intact.
The victory emboldened Nansolo to seek a general ruling for all Rastafarian children in Malawi, culminating in the court ruling on January 14, 2020.