Sunday, February 13, 2005

Few Brothers to Be Found in the Promised Land

I am happy to say that, growing up, I never felt comfortable with the anti-Americanism being spewed out around me — oh, the resistance is only to the American leadership, it was said reassuringly, then as now — and that I always felt that somehow there was something very much unfair about it.

One day, I was surprized to read in a news article how the students from the sister socialist states of Africa who came to Moscow to study (notably in what I think was called the "peace institute") were very unhappy about their experience: they were looked down upon because of the color of their skin and treated badly in the streets.

I was not so much surprized that racism existed in the USSR (I had never thought about it in one way or another) as I was at the fact that, in a world always denouncing racism and racist régimes (real or imagined) as a facet of capitalism while lionizing the society of the Soviet camp, nobody made a big deal about this. (In fact, if I had never thought about Russian racism in one way or another, it was because nobody ever talked about it, or even thought it was worth talking about.) This was one of many times I came face to face with double standards.

This brief paragraph, only to introduce you (and myself) to the rastafarians of Jamaica and the Caribbean, and their dreams of emigrating to Ethiopia.

We have all heard about the rastafarians and how they have suffered at the hands of the white race, coupled with the "brothers'" pride and love for Ethiopia, which they consider the promised land…

Well, according to Jean-Philippe Rémy, who visited the immigrant community in Ethiopia, the love affair and "mutual" attraction is very much one-sided (and believe me, I am no longer surprized).

One Jamaican emigrant the Le Monde reporter talked to 250 kilometers south of Addis Abeba makes a habit of hiding her dreadlocks because

people here do not to like that kind of hair. They don't like rastas. Sometimes you have to watch out, a wrong word is sufficient, they arrive in groups, ready to hurt you.
Inside the closed community of Shashemene (200 to 500 followers of Marcus Garvey live there, next to the city of the same name), you can hear no reggae, you can see no Jamaican hats (except for sellers of ganja), and the only place where you can truly taste rasta folklore is in the Tabernacle church (under the auspices of Bongo Rock I and his wife, queen Baby I).

Following Emperor Haile Selassie's gift of 5 gashas (200 hectares) in the late 1950s, the first Caribbean rastas emigrated to Ethiopia, only to discover that the Ethiopians were far worse off than they themselves had ever been.

The decades have passed and the salt of the promised land has turned out to be rather bitter and the New Jerusalem not very welcoming.
After the emperor was overthrown (in 1974), murdered, and his body thrown in the latrines, the local population, "which hated them" (considering them as protégés of the palace), stormed the community and looted everything they could.

Today, locals are still trying to take over their land. The "brothers" are shoved in the streets of the nearby city. Stones are thrown on their roof. Their animals are killed — one French-speaking rasta lost four dogs in a one-month period.

"Nobody tells that to the brothers who want to come to Ethiopia" sighs Cannelle-Jah [who has stopped introducing herself as an Ethiopian]. "Here, people think of what you have in your wallet, and not what you have in your heart."
Update: He is black, he is dreadlocked; guess whom Ted Hayes supports. (That's him in the Uncle Sam suit)…

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