The History of Ganja

When thinking of the term ganja, many people assume Rastafarian and Jamaican influence, but the word ganja actually has roots in Sanskrit, an ancient language that was highly prevalent in the Indian subcontinent during the early 2nd millennium BCE. The holy texts that came from this time period are referred to as The Vedas or the sacred Hindu text. In these texts, cannabis would be referred to as ganja and be thought of as sacred. The term ganja is referred to several times in the holy texts, and holds its importance to the religion because even today in several cities and regions across India, Hindu deities are offered cannabis as part of religious ceremonies. According to Psychology Today, "In the Vedas, cannabis was [described as] one of five sacred plants and a guardian angel lived in its leaves." 

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Script from The Vedas
Photo Credit: Indian Roots Daily

It is true that cannabis is prevalent all throughout India and some say it is referred to as ganja because of the Ganges river that flows through the Indian subcontinent. But how does ganja relate to Jamaica? To understand this, we need to go in-depth about the history of colonialism in India and it's invasion by the British. By the late 18th century, the British had complete control over India. This history of destructive colonialism is what lead to ganja spreading to Jamaica. The British were using the Indian people as indentured servants and shipping them overseas to plantations in countries such as Jamaica. Between 1845 and 1917, Britain brought nearly 40,000 Indian indentured servants to Jamaica.

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Indentured Indian labourers at Spring Garden Buildings. Jamaica, 1880. 
Photo Credit: I
ndian Indentured Laborers

The intertwining of cultures between India and Jamaica, undoubtedly happened. The result of this weaving of cultures, brought about a new culture in early 20th century Jamaica. According to BloomWellBend, "smoking ganja had become common practice among young, black Jamaican field workers. The place-power, pan-African message of Rastafarianism found fertile ground among this disenfranchised population. As many of these workers were displaced and moved to poor, urban areas, the message of spiritual ganja-use, pan-Africanism, and black liberation grew stronger. Jamaica's elite felt threatened by this movement, and in 1948, ganja was made illegal. Thus, by the mid 20th century, ganja had become an integral part of the anti-establishment movement that is Rastafarianism."