Ethiopia is finally recognizing its stateless Rastafarian community

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BY NADIA ZAIDI, Plaid Zebra, 11/13/2017

Members of the Rastafarian community in the town of Shashamane in Southern Ethiopia

Ethiopia will now issue identity cards to its members of the Rastafarian community – a religious group that has long been stateless.

This recognition comes at a time of volatility. Rastafarians are fighting for land, language, and democratic rights. They are also fighting for greater social inclusion within the African continent.

This motion will provide the Rastafarian population with greater rights, but it still won’t make them citizens. Rastafarians are a marginalized minority group in Ethopia who reside in the capital, Addis Ababa. They also reside in the town of Shashamane.

Ethiopia has a long history with the Rastafarian communities. They originated in Jamaica and catapulted in 1930 when Saile Selassie, who was considered a messiah by the group, gained power in Ethiopia.

Selassie remained in power from 1930 to 1974. It was during this time when he encouraged the Rastafarians to migrate from the Caribbean in the 1950s. After visiting the Caribbean, he sent an open invitation for African descendants to move back home to Ethiopia.

Things drastically changed in 1974 when the communist Dergue regime overthrew Selassie. Shortly after, he was imprisoned and died a year later. At the time, land became nationalized, and some Rastafarians fled from the country.

Today, the country’s Rastafarian population lives on 200 hectares of Ethiopia’s land.

Rastafarians believe that black people are the chosen ones. Some claims report that the origin of this religion can be placed back to activist Marcus Garvey. Garvey was a huge proponent of Black Nationalism, and was said to influence Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X, among others.

This sentiment of black power governed the Rastafarian populations to foster a unique identity.

Most Rastafarians live across Africa and enjoy listening to reggae music. Bob Marley can be credited for introducing Rastafarian culture to most of the world. Rastafarians can be seen in dreadlocks, and smoking cannabis as part of their rituals.

In fact, marijuana is used to help establish oneness with God. But general, non-Rastafarian groups in Ethiopia regard it as a dangerous drug.

Rastafarians are devoted to their religion and practice deep meditation, and can be seen regularly reading the Bible. For them, cannabis is simply about leading to a spiritual awakening.

They heavily believe in truth and righteousness. They also believe that once the entire world realizes that those in the Bible are black, humanity will have a chance at a brighter future. Another belief held by Rastafarians is that they will eventually all return to Africa.The Rastafarians have integrated with the local Ethiopian population. In fact, some have married Ethiopians, although they have not adopted the Rastafarian faith.

Main Rastafarian sects:
  • Nyahbinghi: They are the oldest of all Rastafarians.
  • Bobo Shanti: They believe that black people should receive compensation for slavery.
  • The 12 Tribes: The most liberal Rastafarian sect that was formed in 1968 by Dr. Vernon “Prophet Gad” Carrington

Many Rastafarians visit Ethiopia for pilgrimage, as it remains a place with deep history and culture.

Still, most Ethiopians consider Rastafarians as foreigners in their country.

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