Visions of Zion: Ethiopians and Rastafari in the Search for the Promised Land

Visions of Zion: Ethiopians and Rastafari in the Search for the Promised Land

Visions of Zion: Ethiopians and Rastafari in the Search for the Promised Land

Visions of Zion: Ethiopians and Rastafari in the Search for the Promised Land

Synopsis

In reggae song after reggae song Bob Marley and other reggae singers speak of the Promised Land of Ethiopia. "Repatriation is a must!" they cry. The Rastafari have been travelling to Ethiopia since the movement originated in Jamaica in 1930s. They consider it the Promised Land, and repatriation is a cornerstone of their faith. Though Ethiopians see Rastafari as immigrants, the Rastafari see themselves as returning members of the Ethiopian diaspora. In Visions of Zion, Erin C. MacLeod offers the first in-depth investigation into how Ethiopians perceive Rastafari and Rastafarians within Ethiopia and the role this unique immigrant community plays within Ethiopian society.

Rastafari are unusual among migrants, basing their movements on spiritual rather than economic choices. This volume offers those who study the movement a broader understanding of the implications of repatriation. Taking the Ethiopian perspective into account, it argues that migrant and diaspora identities are the products of negotiation, and it illuminates the implications of this negotiation for concepts of citizenship, as well as for our understandings of pan-Africanism and south-south migration. Providing a rare look at migration to a non-Western country, this volume also fills a gap in the broader immigration studies literature.

Excerpt

I was on my way to the town of Shashemene, about 250 kilometers south of Addis Ababa. Having worked in Jamaica, Shashemene was a place that I mostly had heard about in reggae songs. It was where I’d been told that Rastafari, who view Ethiopia as the Promised Land and themselves as Ethiopian, had developed a settlement on land provided to them by Emperor Haile Selassie I, who ruled the country from 1930 to 1974. At the time of my first visit, I had just finished volunteering with Habitat for Humanity on a project in Jimma, a town located in the west of the country. I had extended my plane ticket home with the idea of doing a bit of traveling. I thought it might be interesting to visit Shashemene and see the Rastafari town I had heard about. I had few further details. I sat at the back of the bus next to a young woman who introduced herself as Meskerem. After I said “yeqerta,” excusing myself for shimmying into the very last available space, she looked at me with a shocked look on her face. “Amarinya techeyalesh?” she asked, wanting to know if I spoke Amharic. I awkwardly told her that I had a little knowledge of the language: “Amarinya tenish tenish new yemechilew.” Delighted, we set up a bit of a “language trade” as the bus left Addis Ababa.

It takes nearly six hours to make the journey to Shashemene, including a lunch stop in Ziway, a little more than halfway to the final destination. I had lunch with Meskerem and asked for kitfo. Kitfo is raw, spiced ground beef, tossed in spiced butter. Worried about my stomach, I sheepishly asked for it “leb leb” or half-cooked. Apparently, however, this was quite a brave decision for a ferenj. Meskerem laughed at my choice, and told me that she was happy that I’d want to eat the “national food” and would be willing to have it less than well done! Kitfo is a . . .

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