Bob Marley brings Ethiopians and Rastafarians together
Posted 2/1/2005 9:26 PM Updated 2/2/2005 12:19 PM
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) Throughout his life, Bob Marley looked to
Ethiopia as the spiritual home of his Rastafarian faith.
Organizer's of the month long Bob Marley celebration hope to unite
Ethiopia's Orthodox Christians and Rastafarians.
But as Ethiopia welcomes hundreds of thousands of revelers for a month of
festivities starting Tuesday in honor of the Jamaican reggae legend, many
here view Rastafarians some of whom settled in Ethiopia because they could
worship the nation's last emperor with deep suspicion.
At best, the tiny Rastafarian community is tolerated as an oddity in the
deeply traditional and overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian country on the Horn
of Africa. At worst, they are accused of spreading drugs and crime claims
they dismiss as springing from prejudice.
Organizers of this month's celebrations hope music will melt away tensions.
Marley's widow, Rita, together with the African Union and UNICEF, is
organizing the $1 million extravaganza, dubbed "Africa Unite," in honor of
one of his most famous songs.
The festivities began Tuesday with a show in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Cedella Marley Booker, the late singer's elderly mother, sang a tune that
she described as a "song for the children of Ethiopia." Drummers from the
small central African nation of Burundi performed on massive cowhide drums.
The highlight is Ethiopia's largest-ever concert on Marley's birthday Feb.
6 in the capital, Addis Ababa.
"I have dreamed about doing this for years," said Marcia Griffiths, one of
Marley's former backup singers, as she arrived in Ethiopia for the first
time Monday. "All my life I wanted to come here with Bob in the flesh. Now
I'm here, and I know he is here in the spirit."
It is the first time the annual commemoration has been held outside Jamaica.
Ethiopian officials estimate 500,000 people will attend the festivities.
After the concert in Addis, celebrations will move to Shashemene, where the
Rastafarians have built their community.
Marley's music has always been popular here, and Ethiopians welcome the many
visitors and money the event could bring their impoverished country. The
capital's cassette and CD stalls, which normally blare Ethiopian pop, have
switched to Marley classics like Get Up, Stand Up and I Shot The Sheriff.
"I think the Bob Marley concert will be very good for the country," said
Yared Kebede, a teacher. "With thousands of people coming here and spending
money, that can't be a bad thing."
Rastafarians worshipped Ethiopia's last emperor Haile Selassie, who died
in 1975 as their living god, a belief based on a 1920 prophecy by Jamaican
civil rights leader Marcus Garvey that a black man would be crowned king in
Selassie in turn granted Rastafarians land in 1963 at Shashemene, 155 miles
south of Addis Ababa, where several hundred continue to live. But successive
governments have refused to give Rastafarians citizenship in their adopted
"In any other country in the world, if you stay in the country a number of
years and have children, those children would have citizenship but not
here," lamented Ambrose King, deputy head of the Rastafarians' Ethiopian
On Friday, Rita Marley said she was determined to honor her husband's wish
for burial in Ethiopia, but she did not say when the body might be moved
She first announced the reburial plans earlier this month to the chagrin
of many in Jamaica who feared losing their cultural heritage.
Historian Richard Pankhurst said Selassie never held a particular affinity
for Rastafarians. The late emperor, who ruled from 1930 until he was
overthrown in a 1974 military coup that abolished the monarchy, also granted
land to Armenian refugees, Pankhurst notes.
Regular drug busts in Shashemene a dusty, wind-swept town of seedy bars
and prostitutes have also fueled local prejudices against Rastafarians.
"The problem with the Jamaicans is that they smoke drugs," said Kebede, the
teacher, using the local expression for Rastafarians, regardless of their
For Rastafarians, who preach a oneness with nature, smoking marijuana is a