In 1948 Haile Selassie gave 200 acres of his land to members of the Rastafari movement. From all over the world rasta’s came to build a new life, live together and the use of cannabis became tolerated. Of course, I travel to Shashamene on my trip through Ethiopia. To see the communities, learn from the people and smoke the holy plant.
Four big Rasta communities or ‘mansions’ are to be found in the settlement 250 kilometres from Addis Ababa. Twelve tribes of Israel (with Bob Marley as their famous member), Nyabingi, Nazarite and Bobo Shanti. There are also many organizations and schools linked to the international communities, like the Jamaican Rastafarian School. The city of Shashamene, however, is much bigger with almost 100.000 inhabitants and forms an important crossroad for road transport. This means a lot of asphalt, gas stations and huge smelly trucks passing by.
Fortunately, it is peaceful in the ‘rasta-area’. Little green paths lead you to the sheltered gardens of Jamaicans, Dominicans and other former inhabitants of the Caribbean. Most of them returned in the spirit of ‘repatriation’, the return of descendants of former slaves to the motherland Africa. The Americans and Europeans who have perched here (some bought the land for around 2000 euros) usually live here half of the year while the other half is spent in the West to work. According to CNN, the Rasta communities decreased from 2000 members in 2004 to 300 at present.
You don’t need too much to survive here, without asking your pockets will be bulging with marijuana and visiting the communities is on voluntary contribution. If you know how to find the local guesthouses, you pay no more then four euros a night for a clean room with bathroom.
Just after arriving I bump into a guy with long dreads and a huge smile. I decide to accompany him in his tuk-tuk to Wondo Genet, the mountain with a hot spring. According to Batjah, I have to bath myself in the spring to wash off Babylon and be reborn. The water is boiling hot and the spot in the jungle magical. Baboons curiously spy on us but except for some local people in a pool lower on the mountain, there is no one else. Out of practical reasons I wrap myself in a cloth after bathing and Batjah give an approving nod, "Tomorrow when we visit the Nyabingy you should wear this too, women are not allowed to wear trousers there."
After the mountain, we admire some new plants in the garden of the guard before we proceed our green cloud in the ‘palace’ of Ras Lumumba. The Somali towers above us and from under his army outfit enormous boots stick out. He fought for the Israeli army and literally everywhere in his garden the David-star is to be found. A genius design, also in the shape of the star gives room to an underground club with two floors where sound-systems can turn their tables. Everything is in the tricolour of green, yellow and red and Ras shows me a museum with his collection of books about Rastafari, Haile Selassie and weed. "Most of the books about the plants are from Amsterdam", Ras tells me proudly, "they really know everything about seeds and growing over there."
Most hasslers gather in front of the Twelve Tribes-gate, so I decide to walk in the opposite direction. This makes me arrive at the church of Bobo Shanti where Bobo Gobre opens the gate for me. Again a very tall and slim person but Gobre is dressed in a spotless white cotton suit with a majestic turban under which he hides his dreads. With a soft voice, he welcomes me under a big tree in the garden, lights up a huge spliff and tells me about the faith of the Bobo’s. "We see Haile Selassie as God, initiator Edwards as Christ and Marcus Garvey as the prophet." "Feel free", Gobre tells me multiple times. Bobo Shanti is the smallest community but that doesn’t matter, I am entertaining myself perfectly in the little garden with this spiritual man.
Reggae & Dub
When evening falls speakers burst out reggae, like in the gardens of ‘Bolt’ and ‘America’ but there is also some places where you can just watch some soccer with reggae and dub in the background. ‘Lily of the Valley’ is the bar where the Amsterdam-based dub-community King Shiloh played last November. A rasta-grandpa holds the remote and snickering zaps to women's soccer. Now and then a huge rasta hat appears from one of the windows in the back. There is some busy cooking being done behind the little building that looks most like a football canteen. I have to pay sixty birr (2,50 euro) for four beers before we proceed our journey.
When we hit the streets the vibes are completely different. Due to the absence of streetlights, it is very dark and there are strange figures strolling around. Suddenly I am aware that there was a state of war here, only four months ago, with cars being set on fire and tribes fighting conflicts on the streets. Although the state-of-emergency is toned down, it is still in force, with a curfew and militaries on post everywhere. According to the enormous walls around the houses, this is not the safest place in Ethiopia, I haven’t seen walls like this anywhere else. This evening the tuk-tuk of my new friend is mugged and I hear stories about robberies and violence. I am very relieved when I close the gate of the little pension behind me. "You should never walk these streets alone", assures the guy of the guesthouse. And that gives a slightly strange feel, in the place where you are supposed to feel most free…
Text & photos: Anki
Did this story make you crave some Jamaican or African weed? Make sure to browse our seedshop for strains like Jamaican Pearl (Sensi Seed). The most common cannabis strain in Ethiopia is Ethiopian Highland which sadly is pretty hard to find. The most popular African strain at the moment are the Durban Poison varieties.