19 August 2016
Day 6 of the University opened with a screening of two films on Rastafari communities. Italian Giulia Amati’s feature length ‘Shashamane – On The Trail Of The Promised Land’ documented repatriated settlers in Ethiopia. British director Stephen Rudder’s short ‘10 Miles Bull Bay’ examined the Bobo Ashanti camp in Jamaica. The directors then assessed the subject matter with Dr Giulia Bonacci, author of Exodus – ‘Heirs and Pioneers: Rastafari returns to Ethiopia’ and Ras Flako ‘I-Lect of Records’ for the Nyabinghi Order. For the benefit of the audience, Flako delineated the different “mansions” of Rastafari, such as Nyabinghi, Bobo Ashanti and 12 Tribes. “The mansions are there for your choosing but all are Rastafari.”
Amati told panel chair David Katz that her 4-year project continued themes from its predecessor ‘This Is My Land… Hebron’ about settlers on the West Bank. She had been inspired to visit the Rasta outpost in Shashamane by reading Dr Bonacci’s book but found “the community was quite closed and it took a while to be accepted.”
Rudder, whose company Quiet Voice specialised in “highlighting seldom heard voices”, discovered the Bobo Ashanti during his own journey into Rastafari. While visiting relations in Barbados, he took a 12-day trip to Jamaica, gradually gaining the trust of Bull Bay elders who allowed him to shoot select rituals. The experience was so intense that he didn’t start editing for a year after his return.
Dr Bonacci explained that Exodus came out of there being “a big body of knowledge on Rastafari and ‘back to Africa’ but nothing on people who actually returned.” She hoped to put the Rasta repatriation narrative within the wider context of returnees since the 19th century. Haile Selassie’s 1966 Jamaica This allotment was drastically reduced following the overthrow of the Emperor in 1974. Both filmmakers observed the “limbo status” of the repatriates – denied citizenship in Africa and support from the countries they leave.
Amati attempted to clarify the decision not to identify famous talking heads (like Bob Marley’s manager Skill Cole). She wanted a “choral story” where the non-famous participants could be heard (without too much focus on Bob Marley or ganja smoking “clichés”).
Public questions raised the issue of whether Jamaicans, who sometimes struggled for acceptance in Ethiopia, might be better off repatriating to West Africa, likely home of their ancestors. Dr Bonacci answered that although Ethiopia wasn’t affected by the Atlantic slave trade it held significance to the diaspora as the only African country mentioned in the bible. UWI’s Professor Carolyn Cooper, speaking from the floor, had the last word, saying “we need to remember that ‘Ethiopia’, derived from the Greek for ‘burnt face’, meant Africa in general. Black identity is global.”