A Visit to Shashemane, Ethiopia’s Rastafarian Utopia
Drive 155 miles south from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, and you’ll find yourself in a little patch of Jamaica, where dreadlocked Rasta settlers, many born in the Caribbean, have now made their home. Welcome to the community of Shashemane—Ethiopia’s version of “Amish country.”
You do not have to look far in Africa to see the influence of reggae music. Once I met a Tuareg tribesman in the Sahara Desert who proudly played me a Bob Marley ringtone on his cell phone. Reggae music swept ’round the world in the 1970s, then receded a bit in most places. It still lives large in Africa. There is great reverence for the Jamaican classics, but there are also many lively local scenes. Reggae is music for the dispossessed, and Africa itself plays a leading role in reggae’s narrative. In reggae mythology, Africa is the Promised Land, the destined homeland where the African diaspora will someday be repatriated. Africa—and Ethiopia in particular—is the “Land of Zion” sung about in so many reggae songs.
Reggae has its own code and language, infused largely with the ideology of the Rastafarians—followers of a spiritual system that arose in the 1930s in Jamaica. A big influence on the Rastafarians was Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican political leader in the 1920s who led a Back to Africa movement among descendants of slaves throughout the Americas. Rastafarians regard Garvey as a prophet who predicted that one day a black man would be crowned king in Africa and would bring deliverance to dark-skinned people everywhere.
“Follow, follow, follow, follow Marcus Garvey’s footsteps,” sang reggae singer Burning Spear. And where exactly was Garvey going? “We’re leaving Babylon, we’re going to our father’s land,” Bob Marley told us in “Exodus.” Not Babylon, Long Island, mind you, but the metaphorical one where, as Marley sang, “the system is the vampire”—the wicked place that embodies all of what’s wrong with Western culture. Babylon, as Steel Pulse said, “makes the rules . . . where my people suffer.”
Source: Vanity Fair