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Ethiopia's Rastafarian Culture

By Sean Mahon

Posted: 12th March 2015 15:26

Rastafarians regard Ethiopia as their true homeland. During periods of colonisation, Africans were divided up and sent to destinations throughout the world, in most cases as slaves to white men. Thousands of Africans were forced to work in plantations in Jamaica, and this is why the Caribbean island is considered by many Rastafarians as hell. They trust that, at the dawn of the New World, they will be repatriated to Ethiopia, where they will finally live in freedom. According to beliefs, repatriation will be lead by Haile Selassie I; in which their God will joyously re-acquaint them with their homeland. 

Haile Selassie I
Haile Selassie I is a defining figure in both Ethiopian and African history. Amongst the Rastafarian movement, Haile Selassie I is revered as the returned messiah of the bible: God incarnate. The Rastafarian movement perceives Haile Selassie I as the one who will lead a future golden age of eternal peace, righteousness, and prosperity. Although Haile Selassie I never considered himself as God, or even adhered to Rastafari (he devoted his life to Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity) his position was cemented by the prophecy of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican political leader, journalist and orator. 

In 1927, Garvey claimed: "Look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned, he shall be the Redeemer" - and this insight was shortly followed by the ascension of Haile Selassie I as Emperor of Ethiopia. Rastafarians accept the existence of a single true God, called Jah, who has incarnated on earth several times, including in the form of Jesus. As an incarnation of Jah, Haile Selassie I is considered both a God and a King. While he officially died in 1975, many Rastafarians believe that his death was a hoax, as Jah cannot die. Others believe that he stills lives in spirit, though not within any physical form. 

Shashamane is a town and a separate woreda in Central Ethiopia. Ethiopia, as the only African country that was never colonised, became a symbol of African dignity, freedom and independence. In appreciation of the efforts of the African Diaspora to preserve Ethiopia's freedom and sovereignty during the Italian invasion of 1935, Haile Selassie I donated 500 acres of his private land in order for members of the Rastafarian movement and the Ethiopian World Federation, as well as other individuals from Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean, to settle in Africa. 

In 2005 it was reported that Bob Marley's remains were to be exhumed and then reburied at Shashamane. His wife, Rita Marley, described Ethiopia as his spiritual home, provoking controversy in Jamaica, where his remains lie. These recent events brought Shashamane to a wider prominence throughout the world. 

Other Important Sites
Harar, the old walled city where Haile Selassie I hailed from, has 368 alleyways squeezed into just one square kilometre. Holding 87 mosques and shrines, animated markets, superb architecture and a unique ambience, Harar gives the feeling of times gone by. An otherworldly ritual takes place nightly outside the city walls: the men of the city gather to feed the hyenas that prowl the outskirts of the town. Despite media attention, this act is not a tourist show, but a long standing tradition; allegedly, the people of the city began to feed the hyenas to discourage them from attacking livestock and humans during a famine. 

Bahir Dar is another impressive city, located in north-western Ethiopia. Boasting a number of attractions, including the nearby Lake Tana and Blue Nile River, the city is renowned for its wide avenues lined with palm trees and a variety of vibrant flowers. One of Haile Selassie's palaces was located near Bahir Dar, and it is thought that the Emperor considered moving the national capital to the town. In northern Ethiopia is the city of Lalibela, one of Ethiopia's holiest cities and a centre of pilgrimage for much of the country. The rock-hewn churches that reside here are a UNESCO world heritage site. The north of Ethiopia is also home to some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in Africa.

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