Pilgrimage

The main religious journey for Rastafari is repatriation, or return to Africa. This journey seeks to reverse the forced movement of black slaves from Africa to Jamaica and other colonies by the European empires. The early Rastafari preachers spoke of ships coming from Ethiopia to take them to land specially reserved for them in Africa by Haile Selassie. It was a journey to a land where they hoped to be free from oppression and racism. Repatriation was thought to be imminent in the 1950s. There was even an aborted attempt at repatriation in 1959, where hundreds of Rastafari gathered at docks in Jamaica waiting for the ships to arrive to take them away. Then in 1966 the visit by Haile Selassie to Jamaica was interpreted as the last step before repatriation. However, Haile Selassie reportedly encouraged Rastafari elders to support liberation in Jamaica before trying to come to Ethiopia. He did grant around 500 acres in Ethiopia at Shashamane for members of the African diaspora who wished to settle there, in return for their support during the war with Italy. Rastas, in particular, were drawn to Shashamane by this offer. Some Rastafari communities were established on this land, as of 2014 there were still around 800 Rastafari at Melka Oda near Shashamane, and a few in the cities of Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar. However, it became more difficult for Rastafari in Ethiopia after the deposition of Haile Selassie in 1974, when the Marxist revolutionaries nationalised the land the king had granted them. Furthermore, there was less enthusiasm for repatriation after the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. It is still common for Rastafari to visit Ethiopia on pilgrimages without settling permanently. For many Rastafaris in the 21st century, it is not a physical or literal repatriation to Ethiopia but a symbolic one, achieved through connecting and celebrating the African side of their identity. Repatriation to Africa can be interpreted in both physical and spiritual ways. Spiritual repatriation occurs through becoming fully aware of their African identity, discovering the truth about themselves through ‘head resting’ with Jah. Fairfield House in Bath has become a place of pilgrimage for Rastas in the UK as it was the home of Haile Selassie during his exile in Bath (1936-41), and now houses a museum and gallery.

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Rastafari

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