A Rasta woman on her life on ‘the Promised Land’
The Rastafarians regard Ethiopia as their ancestral home and view Ethiopia as Zion. Hundreds of followers from the Caribbean, the United States,the United Kingdom and France are residing on 500 acres of land granted by Emperor Haile Selassie in Shashemene, a sizable town in southern Ethiopia.In the best of times, history is gentle. For the Rastas, it has been severe. Most of them have sacrificed three or four decades for a country and movement that gave them nothing. Theirs is a struggle for daily survival and endeavor to integrate with the local populations. A festival comprising of an art and photographic exhibition, lectures, films, a panel discussion, concerts of drums and reggae, arts and crafts fair was held at Alliance Ethio Française last weekend for an insight into the Rastafari movement. Addis Journal talks to some of the Rastafarians to tell the story of their lives in the country that they call ‘the Promised Land’. Here is an excerpt from an interview held with a Rasta woman who is originally from England and now fulfilling a life-long dream to be African again.
My name is Abiyola Wilson. I come from the UK. I was born there. I have now been residing in Ethiopia for nearly thirteen years. I have lived and worked both in Addis Ababa and Shashemene. Ah, it’s very different experience for us living in Ethiopia, but which is a dream because for maybe fifteen years I was thinking about Ethiopia. It just seemed like this country that was just so far away. Now I am living here.
The expectations, some things have been exactly how I thought it would be. Some things have been very, very different. Probably one of the greatest shocks I had was being of an African descent we thought that we would be welcomed home a bit more as Africans. But we find that there is a culture of, you know if you are not Ethiopian, you are a foreigner. So I think that once pan-Africanism takes over, people understand more what the Rastafarians are doing here. I think that will be accepted more and more.
Sense of adventure
Yeah, I’ve enjoyed working here. I’ve enjoyed interacting with Ethiopian people, learning their culture and teaching them about our culture. And it is very important to me actually that people understand Rastafarians more. The majority of people actually do understand us because; sometimes I might talk to people, they say ‘Oh, Rastafarians they just are smoking ganja’ or things like that. But I think that is such a minor part and it is something not everybody does and there is so much more to us. We come here, we talk about Africa as ‘the sleeping giant’ because we are not born in Africa, and we don’t take Africa for granted. You know, it is so amazing for us to be here. We found a country that we can love, I know it sounds strange but I lived for thirty something years in England. I am thankful for England for the education I got and certain advantages. But I never loved the country like it was mine, like I actually loved and feel I belonged to Ethiopia.
The attraction for Ethiopia
It is a spiritual thing. I mean I wasn’t really a typical person to come into a Rastafaria. My father was Nigerian and my mom was Norwegian. They both naturalized as British, me and my sister and brothers were born in Britain. I think it is more a spiritual thing why, it is not that England was bad to me or anything happened bad. But I couldn’t love it because it really wasn’t my home country. Now I found somewhere that I have hope in. England has everything already. What is there to build? What is there for us to do? But we come to Africa and we see so many spaces and gaps and things that we can do. And actually it has become a mission of many of us to actually love it and pray for this country, and try our hardest for the country to come up because we believe that Ethiopia has not shown its full potential yet. A lot of people say ‘oh, Ethiopia, what is there?’ But this country, I believe from the bottom of my heart it’s going to be one of the great countries in the world like it was going back centuries, thousands of years. It was one of the great and powerful civilizations.
No, there are many hardships for us. Because obviously, a lot of us who came from England, we went amongst the rich who can come here and say ‘we are big investors and you know, find it easy to get visas’, so there is a lot of problem in that. You know, we founded a business. The investment board said it is good what we are doing but it doesn’t qualify us enough capitals. That is the trouble most of us have. We come here with our hopes and dreams. In reality, we are treated under the constitution as foreigners and we have to abide by the law.
One of the biggest problems is keeping our legalization. You know, I believe our community is spending so much money just trying to stay legal in the country. That lot of other things that we could have done with those finances is being diverted into, people have to fly out and come back, fly out and comeback. You know, that is a disappointment to me. But I think that will be rectified as well. Because at the moment, the Rastafarian community has a petition that is going for the parliament and for the first time, this is the furthest we’ got the House of Representative accepted our petition, so I’ve hopes that we will eventually be accepted as an indigenous people of Ethiopia. That is going to make so much easier to fulfill what we want fulfill without having to be stressed all the time trying to be legal in this country.
Just because of the these obstacles that we face every day, sometimes I think why did I leave the security of England, you know I had a good job, you know, most of us had good jobs and driving nice cars and everything like that. We come here, because of circumstances, even our living standards actually go down here, you there lots of countries in the world where people are financially immigrant. The opposite way around. We are prepared to take a low standard of living to actually fulfill what we want to fulfill here. So I can’t really say I don’t have my frustrations. You know also the cultural difference. It is very hard coming from the West where such high standard customer care and customer service and you know you come here and you go to government offices and almost like people have got a rude, brusque way of talking. Some things are hard to take but we are in Ethiopia so we have to adapt. Certain things will change here. On the whole there are so many time when I wake up and I say thank you God I am in Africa. I am in Ethiopia, the motherland.
Do Ethiopians have ambiguities about their colors?
I am not sure about the color issue. You know, Rastafarians come from all over the world. We have white, brown and black. But, me being quite light skinned, you know a lot of time I will get bothered, you know Ferenji, Ferenji. Sometimes I want to get out of my house, I want to walk down the road and I want nobody to notice me. I just want to be part of everything. But that is not the case. But, maybe it is quite natural.
What does the future hold?
The future is bright. Because even at this event that you are interviewing me at, even the words, the opening speeches from the French Ambassador, and everything, people are beginning to realize who we are. I think that this year a lot of Ethiopians are going to realize and learn a lot more about Rastafarians. And really realize why we are here. We are an asset to the country, because we love the country. Anybody who loves a country is an asset to the country. I think we will be recognized slowly more and more for our contribution to Ethiopia. So I do believe that there is a bright future. But is it is in the hands of God. You know we are God-fearing people.