As soon as you hear reggae music, you probably picture a Rastafari - a youngish Jamaican man with a red, gold and green beret corralling an impressive head of dreadlocks. You are picturing Bob Marley. Although he was a Rasta, he was not indicative of all Rastas - he did, however, an immense job bringing the movement to the public consciousness.
Many people are surprised to learn that the Rastafari movement is primarily spiritual, not pop-culture. It is loosely a religion, although it is not strictly defined in the sense of how its adherents practice. It's vaguely Christian, but in an updated way, and incorporates some strict interpretation of the Bible as well as a social/moral code that is arguably more the foundation of the movement than any particular style of worship.
Rasta was founded in Jamaica, a country where the vast majority of inhabitants are descendants of African slaves - Rasta began as a wistful desire to return to Africa and reclaim their culture, but soon blossomed into a movement to defend the rights of Jamaicans and resist corruption by Western culture. Rastas are best-known to outsiders by their marijuana use - not necessarily recreational, but for spiritual and celebration purposes during Rasta rites.
By far, the most important figure in the Rastafari movement is former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, who Rastas believe is the returned Christ. He is, in fact, well-known across religions as a worker for peace and understanding, which is a major contributor to his reputation. Rastas believe he will lead them to Paradise. His death in 1975 was considered a hoax by some, who continue to believe that he will one day come out of hiding and lead his people.
Marcus Garvey, who promoted the idea that blacks should re-take control of Africa from European colonialism, was another major figure in Rasta, although he did not consider himself a part of the movement. His teachings and writings tied in perfectly with the Afrocentrist themes in the movement, and he was considered a Rastafari prophet after predicting the coronation of Selassie at a time when Africa was still controlled by whites.
There is no official house of worship for the Rasta, who considers his body to be the temple in which he worships. In the context of the movement, the important places are entire countries. Jamaica is major because that's where the movement began, and where the world's largest Rasta community still exists today. But that's not to say that Jamaica is the Rasta's most important place - that honor would likely go to Ethiopia, the home of Selassie, to which Rastas aspire to return.
They believe that Ethiopia is where Paradise will be created - to a Rasta, Heaven is not a place in the sky where you go when you die - it a place yet to be created in Ethiopia, and death is not the price of admission.
The characteristic dreadlocks are a measure of a follower's wisdom and age, as Rastas do not believe in cutting the hair out of adherence to Leviticus 21:5 and Numbers 6:5. The locks may also be seen as a measurement of a person's time as a Rasta, as a newcomer will not have dreads as impressive as one who had been raised Rasta from birth.
The combination of green, gold and red is a tribute to Ethiopia, being the colors of the nation's flag, and although Rasta is associated with reggae music, all forms of traditional African music are welcomed as being part of the true spirit of the Rasta.
The Rastafari movement is a fascinating religious study because it is so very new (founded in the 1930s), relatively homogenous (mostly native Jamaicans, although the movement is spreading), and based on positive non-extremist values (peace, equality, color blindness). It will be interesting to follow the movement as its wishes come true - the toppling of colonialism in Africa for one, which has happened, and the decline of racial inequality and marijuana decriminalization, which is happening slowly. Maybe Paradise can be created after all, if we all work hard enough.