The Rasta Rev

Rev. Ashiya Odeye

Photo By Jonathan mendick

Many of Sacramento’s houses of worship lean toward the architecturally extravagant side. It’s surprising to find the Order of Olufunmi in a south Sacramento suburb, inside an unassuming gray house with a broken front window. There, the Rev. Ashiya Odeye presides over the oldest Rastafarian organization in the western United States. The New York University graduate is also a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Sacramento County and the director of the Justice Reform Coalition, a community organization that advocates for fairness in the legal system.

There’s a stereotype of Rastafaris that they all have dreadlocks, listen to Bob Marley and smoke herb.

Yeah, that is [true] for a lot of us. (Laughs.) First of all, though, all Rastas don’t wear locks. Those of us who do, it’s because we set ourselves aside. It’s our relation to our root in the Nyabinghi movement. It came out of South Africa. Those were the warriors who fought against the oppression going on there, but way before even [Nelson] Mandela was involved. And the Most High said that these are our precepts, and our hair and the locks are our connection to the universe, our connection to the energy that surrounds us.

What are some of the main tenets of the Rastafarian religion?

The Rastafari religion is an Afrocentric messianic religion. We hold His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie as a prophet as the same stature of, say, Jesus. We believe strongly that until the people of African diaspora are properly a part of the society—basically until racism is over—there are going to be problems. There are several different houses of Rastafari. Our order, the order of Olufunmi, we follow the teachings of the prophet Josiah [“Joseph”] Hibbert.

How often does your order meet, and what’s its typical religious ceremony like?

It varies. We have what we call Nyabinghi. That service is led by the Nyabinghi drums. [There are] four times a year where we’re always going to have something: usually Bob Marley’s birthday, Marcus Garvey’s birthday, Malcolm X’s birthday, His Imperial Majesty’s birthday [and] his coronation date.

What role does marijuana play in the religion?

It’s a holy sacrament. We’ve recognized its use for a long time, not just in terms of its spiritual use, but medically, too. It plays a major part in the faith.

Do you have a medicinal-marijuana card, and do you use marijuana every day?

Yeah, every day. We got medical cards a long time ago. They don’t expire. We don’t really focus on them. It’s our religious use that we focus on.

What kind of influence does Bob Marley have on the Rastafarian community?

He’s the one who brought the faith out into the world. He’s considered a prophet, too. Because of him, the faith has spread. He plays a very important part in the movement.

How long have you been a reverend?

I was ordained in the Anglican Church in 1976. I’ve been a Rastafarian minister ever since. I was officially reordained as part of the Rastafari International Nation of Peace, which is the official Rastafari movement. I was involved in that effort to get the United Nations to recognize the Rastafari faith as a faith.

The Order of Olufunmi, did you help establish that? What is the meaning of the name?

Yes. The name is a Yoruba blessing that means “God gives us” or “God’s gift.” We work and we do things, and we make things happen, but we can’t get our egos get involved, because it came from God.

How many Rastafarians are there in Sacramento and how many in your order?

At least 400 or 500 who are active. Of that, locally, we probably have 100 members. Most of the people recognize our church and recognize me as the local Rasta minister for the movement.

Are there Rastafarians of different races?

We don’t discriminate. We recognize anyone who recognizes the faith. There are all kinds of ethnic backgrounds.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions that people have [about Rastafarians]?

There’s a stereotype that we’re just all pot-smoking, lazy, not doing anything. It’s about being active and not about being lazy. We have Rastafarians that are everything—lawyers, doctors, judges.

How does your religion tie into your mission for social justice?

Part of our faith is that we defend democratic principles and equal rights to all people. We have to be an active part of making that happen.

Where is your church meeting?

Right now, we have a garage here that we’re going to be transforming into a meeting hall. We have two big farms that we meet at. Right now, we’re involved in securing this place. This used to be drug-infested and everything. We worked in this neighborhood, and now it’s a nice place. We got in here, and renovated it [and] used it as our meeting place. The community meets here. Our block association meets here. We have our church meetings for all our church committees. We have several other organizations that meet here.