A Visit to Ethiopia's Rastafarian Diaspora
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
Rastafarians prefer the rosier view. They say Emperor Selassie is a black messiah. NPR's Gwen Thompkins visited with some Rastafarians in Ethiopia and found that for them Haile Selassie's reign endures.
GWEN THOMPKINS: Selassie is reported to have died by pillow, smothered by his political rivals after a Marxist coup in 1975. But by then, he had made such a colossal impression on Rastafarians that Empress Baby Eye(ph) says she talks to him everyday. She calls him Haile Selassie Eye(ph).
THOMPKINS: He's Selassie Eye, our personal savior. He's alive. We praise him as our god and our king of king.
THOMPKINS: Empress Baby Eye is 67 years old and plump, the color of root beer candy. She has long snowy dreadlocks wrapped like a crown on top of her head, and nearly a full white beard under her chinny chin chin. About seven years ago, she and her husband emigrated from Jamaica to Shashemene, a town nearly 200 miles south of Ethiopia's capital. They are caretakers of the Nyahbinghi church here. Empress Baby Eye, who would give no other name, says she never expects to see Jamaica again.
THOMPKINS: Ethiopia is our home. We, the black people, must come home. China for the Chinese. Indian for the India, European for the European, and Africa is for the black people, and we are our own.
THOMPKINS: Ras Jabulani is a chatty reggae singer from Jamaica by way of Zimbabwe. He's just passing through.
SIMON: Shashemene, after the war, this land was basically what - we don't say dedicated. We say live-icated to those who want to repatriate from the Diaspora. So - because His Majesty recognized all Africans born in the Diaspora as Ethiopians.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE)
THOMPKINS: Gladstone Robinson(ph) is a Rastafarian from Brooklyn. For a little more than $2, he agreed to sell copies of his original land award and waived what he called his standing fee for interview.
SIMON: Marcus Garvey prophesied that a king would come from the east to save the black race. And so when we look on November the 2nd, 1930, he was coronated Emperor Haile Selassie, King of Kings, conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He was coronated just like the Bible say.
THOMPKINS: Whether it was Marcus Garvey's prophecy or the Bible's doesn't seem particularly important to people here. Theirs is apparently an elliptical logic. What appears certain is that if Haile Selassie is the Messiah for Rastafarians, then Marcus Garvey, the 20th-century pioneer of the Back to Africa Movement, is a kind of John the Baptist. Without Garvey, there would probably be no Rastafarians in Ethiopia today.
SIMON: My great grandfather was a member of Marcus Garvey's organization. So it's in my blood. It's in my roots to return to Africa. So I just had to do it.
THOMPKINS: I. Timothy(ph) is a shaggy American poet who came to Shashemene about two weeks ago. Repatriation to Africa, he says, mitigates the disillusionment that many Rastafarians feel in other parts of the world, where materialism and a lack of spirituality reign.
SIMON: Have you ever lived in L.A.? Enough said. Period.
THOMPKINS: Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Shashemene, Ethiopia.
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