Repatriation: Africa in the Horizon
The idea of the repatriation of Blacks to Africa is a theme that runs deeply within Rastafarian beliefs. Although the concept of Ethiopia being the true and glorious home of all Blacks is imbedded in Rastafarian beliefs, the idea dates much farther back in history. Dating back to the African slave trade
beginning in the eighteenth century, Ethiopianism has influenced the Black race dramatically. People such as Marcus Garvey have raised the world’s awareness of the oppression of the Black race and his solution of repatriation
. Garvey believed that if Blacks could have a land of their own, where they could prosper and gain power then the world would have to respect this nation and it’s people. (Barrett, 1997, P.68-69)
Contrary to the original idea of actual movement to Africa
, recently a new idea has surfaced about repatriation. This idea is that repatriation should begin with internal liberation and a connection with Africa. Therefore, instead of a literal movement to Africa it is a mental connection to Africa. (Barrett, 1997, P.172) Repatriation is a complex idea that is understood in several different ways. The underlying principle of repatriation is that Blacks have faith and hope in overcoming centuries of oppression by reconnecting to their roots and a time of prosperity. Repatriation is not only a religious belief for Rastafarians but it also has served as a worldwide theme of Black Nationalism and unification.
Not all Africans that were taken from Africa and sold in "The New World" were from Ethiopia, but that is the designated destination of the repatriation movements. The most obvious reason for this is because it was in Ethiopia that Haile Selassie ruled. This would explain why Rastafarians would desire to repatriate to Ethiopia. The following quote explains the Rastafarian connection to Ethiopia.
Ithiopia represents a tangible reality within the transitory flesh; spirit more powerful than flesh, the reality of the indestructible Irit, the umbilical chord of creation rooted in the core of the personality, the illusive link with Jah and the breaking asunder of the psychosociological bonds of mental slavery which have pauperised and plagued West Indian psyche for 400 years in the Diaspora.
Another reason why Ethiopia is the destination for repatriation is that historically it is revered as the home of one of the most advanced civilizations. Historians believe that Ethiopians and Egyptians were the same people and that they were members of the Black race. "It was the vision of a golden past–and the promise that Ethiopia should once more stretch forth its hands to God–that revitalized the hope of an oppressed people." (Barrett, 1997, P.75) The Hebrew translation of the Greek word "Ethiopia" is Blacks. The history of Ethiopia internalizes a sense of pride in Blacks. (Barrett, 1997, P.72-74) For the Rastafarians, Ethiopia offers a promise of redemption. The Rastas simply claim that they want to go home, back to their roots. (Boot, Thomas, 1976, P.78-79)
An American Baptist slave preacher, George Liele, used the ideas of Ethiopianism within his church in Jamaica during the late eighteenth century. Despite his efforts to start a movement, George Liele, was not the person that sparked the Back-to-Africa Movement, it was Marcus Garvey. (Barrett, 1997, P.76) Garvey was born in Jamaica August 17, 1887. During Garvey’s early life J. Albert Thorne introduced the Back-to-Africa idea to Jamaica. Thorne was born in Barbados in 1860 where he worked as a schoolteacher. His goal was for Blacks to settle in parts of Africa that were ruled by Britain because he felt that the British owed them something. To accomplish his goals Thorne started the African Colonial Enterprise and distributed pamphlets with information about the Back-to-Africa movement. Thorne was unsuccessful for several reasons, the most influential one being the time-period. The European powers in Africa were extremely protective of their spheres of influence due to their constant struggle to stay in power. Thus, the Europeans were not prepared or in any condition to offer settlement to repatriated Blacks. Despite Thorne’s failure to succeed, he did set the stage for Garvey’s rise to power. (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.27-28) Marcus Garvey had similar goals as Thorne, but he also had the advantage of timing and persuasion. Not only did he lead the Back-to-Africa Movement but he also was dedicated to raising the Black position in society. (Faristzaddi)
His message centered round the reality of all Black people throughout the world unifying and reacquainting themselves with their hidden heritage and the culture out of which their forefathers were wrestled and cast into slavery.
Garvey witnessed as well as fell victim to the oppression of the Black race. Garvey noticed a pattern of discrimination in Jamaica. The opportunities for the more appealing employment were given to the white young people, which left the Black youth with little option for work besides laborers. (Erskine, 1998, P.156) In 1914, Garvey started the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) that eventually would grow to be the "largest mass movement among Black people this century, with 996 branches in 43 countries and over five million members." (Erskine, 1998, P.28) Garvey attracted people to the UNIA by creating catchy as well as powerful slogans. Two of these slogans included "One God, One Aim, One Destiny!" and "Africa for the Africans." (Erskine, 1998, P.28) His vision for the UNIA was to join Blacks all around the world to pursue the formation of a Black Nation. (Erskine, 1998, P.158) In Marcus Garvey’s own words, he simplifies his opinion of repatriation.
The great white man has fought for the preservation of Europe, the great yellow and brown races are fighting for the preservation of Asia, and four hundred million Negroes shall shed, if needs be, the last drop of blood for the redemption of Africa and the emancipation of the race everywhere.
(Erskine, 1998, P.157)
The Back-to-Africa concept, Garvey believed, would eventually end the oppression of Blacks forever. Other Black leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois disagreed with this solution completely. DuBois believed that Blacks could only rise in status by assimilating to the rest of society so eventually there would be no Black and white races, just one mixture. (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.249) Marcus Garvey firmly believed that Blacks should be focused on forming their own nation "where the race will be given the fullest opportunity to develop itself, such as we may not expect in countries where we form but a minority in a majority Government of other races." (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.152) He fervently believed that the future of the Black race rested in a land where they were the majority. One of Garvey’s slogans exemplifies his ambitions and excitement is "Up you mighty race! You can accomplish what you will!" (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.186)
Garvey’s success revolved around his ability to appeal to peoples’ sense of "national pride, dignity, hope and power." (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.415) He tapped into the Blacks historical desire for land and freedom that was deprived of them for so long. (Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.416) Timing worked to Garvey’s advantage as well. Following World War I the world was in upheaval and the struggle of the masses against their oppressors was a worldwide theme. This also was a time of the "New Negro" which was portrayed by magazines and books such as the Messenger and the New Emancipator. The "New Negro" was described as someone who "stood for "absolute social equality, education, physical action in self-defense, freedom of speech, press and assembly, and the right of Russia to self-determination."(Clarke, Garvey, 1974, P.416) Marcus Garvey provided leadership to a mass of people in need of mobilization and unification.
The Black Star Line was created by Garvey to advance the Back-to-Africa movement. Ideally, he wanted this company to transport Blacks back to Africa as well as act as a shipping company to enhance the Black race in the economy. Unfortunately, The Black Star Line was incredibly mismanaged by crooks. Despite Garvey’s high hopes for his fleet, the reality was that the company only amounted to four inferior ships. The Black Star Line left Garvey in a financial and legal mess. He jailed for mail fraud and was eventually deported back to Jamaica. (Van Deburg, 1997, P.12) Although Garvey did not accomplish the ultimate goal of repatriation, he was successful at spreading hope and his message to hundreds of thousands of people.
The Rastafarians were dramatically affected by Marcus Garvey’s message. Before he departed for the United States in 1916 in his farewell address he stated, "Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King, he shall be the Redeemer." (Barrett, 1997, P.67) This prophecy was fulfilled with the crowning of Haile Selassie, the King of Ethiopia. Rastafarians now believe that repatriation is the ultimate goal, whether mentally or physically. Marcus Garvey had a profound influence on the Back-to-Africa movement.
When Garvey’s prediction of the crowning of a Black King was validated, four Jamaican men became extremely active in the Back-to-Africa movement. These four men included Leonard Howell, Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley, and Robert Hinds. (Barrett, 1997, P.81) All four were ministers who set up separate groups declaring that Haile Selassie was the redeemer of the Black people. Eventually Howell, Dunkley, and Hinds joined forces around 1934, which proved to be the heart of the Rastafarian leadership. (Barrett, 1997, P.84) Howell’s plan was to spread the Rastafarian message to the entire island of Jamaica, but he lacked sufficient funds for his mission. He allegedly made photographs of Haile Selassie and sold them as passports to Ethiopia. Although Howell advocated repatriation, he had no plans to actually transport the five thousand people who bought these pictures to Ethiopia. In 1934, all four men were jailed for disturbing the peace and instigating hostility and discontent for the government. After their release, Howell setup the "Ethiopian Salvation Society" in 1940 where he and his followers lived as the maroons lived in the hills of Jamaica. (Barrett, 1997, P.85-86) The Rastafarian movement spread underground throughout Jamaica.
The Ethiopian World Federation, Inc. established in 1937 "to unify, solidify, liberate, and free the Black people of the world in order to achieve self-determination, justice, and to maintain the integrity of Ethiopia–which is the divine heritage of the Black race." (Barrett, 1997, P.89) The EWF held similar goals as Marcus Garvey, Howell, and other repatriation leaders. It is believed that Howell may have been a part of the EWF. In 1955, the EWF came to Jamaica to portray a message that would help raise participation and belief in the repatriation of the Black race. The Rastafarians were so moved by the EWF’s message because repatriation is one of the principle beliefs in the religion. They claimed that Haile Selassie was building a navy that would eventually reach Jamaica. This concept was extremely uplifting but in conjunction with the EWF’s next announcement, repatriation seemed to have become a reality for the Rastafarians. (Barrett, 1997, P.89-90)
The EWF announced that Haile Selassie was giving five hundred acres of land to Blacks who had helped Ethiopia during the war with Mussolini. This land was called the Shasemani. (Barrett, 1997, P.228) The Rastafarian movement practically doubled as a result of this land grant that portrayed repatriation as a reality. Members of the movement anticipated that any day ships would come for them and take them to Ethiopia to their King. (Barrett, 1997, P.91) The Rastafarian movement was growing rapidly but not in a unified manner.
In an effort to unify the Rastifarian movement in March of 1958, the Rastafarian "Universal Convention" occurred in Kingston under the leadership of Prince Edward Emanuel. The response was overwhelming. An estimated three hundred men gathered with their families prepared for repatriation. (Barrett, 1997, P.92-94) "Rastamen from all over the island dropped everything, gave away their last possessions because they wouldn’t need them anymore, and came to town expecting to go on board." (Boot, Thomas, 1976, P.78) Unfortunately, though after twenty-one days of dancing, smoking, praying, etc. there were no ships docked for the Rastas to go "home." (Boot, Thomas, 1976, P.78) Prince Emanuel invited Claudius Henry to the convention. Henry was a Jamaican who was living in New York at the time. Although he was not a Rastafarian, Henry was a major influence on the Rastafarian repatriation movement. (Barrett, 1997, P.95)
In 1959, Claudius Henry followed his predecessor, Leonard Howell, by selling tickets to Ethiopia to desperate and faithful people. This "passport" to Ethiopia attracted more than just Rastafarians and EWF members. It also was purchased by a number of people who celebrate the emancipation of slavery on August 1st because the ticket stated that there would be an Emancipation jubilee on that date. Another group that was attracted the Henry’s ticket were the Black Jews because the word "Israel" was printed on the ticket. On October 5th thousands of people flocked to 78 Rosalie Avenue expecting to leave for Africa but only found thousands of other disappointed people who were going no where. (Barrett, 1997, P.96)
Unfortunately, Henry had expected that on October 5th the government would have created a plan to address the condition of the Jamaican African population. He had never planned a literal movement to Africa on this date, as so many people had believed. Barrett explains Henry Claudius’ predicament as "what is known in social movement theory as "revolutionary judo," that is, the contradiction between symbolic declaration and real intention." (Barrett, 1997, P.97) Despite the fact that Henry tricked people and caused hundreds of people to disrupt their lives the government merely gave him a fine and instructed him to keep the peace for a year. (Barrett, 1997, P.97) Shortly after his release, Henry’s Headquarters were invaded. There they discovered a collection of weapons as well as a letter asking Fidel Castro to help him take over Jamaica. The government was far less lenient to Henry this time. For six years, Henry was jailed for treason. (Edwards, 1999, P.2)
Claudius Henry’s arrest forced Jamaicans to pay attention to the Rastafarians and the concept of repatriation. In order for the government to understand and even attempt to aid in the Rastafarian movement Dr. Arthur Lewis, 1993, had three scholars research and create suggestions for the Premier of Jamaica. The first recommendation stated that, "The government should send a mission to African countries to arrange for immigration of Jamaicans. Representatives of Ras Tafari brethren should be included in the mission." (Barrett, 1997, P.100) Norman Manley instigated plans to make the changes suggested. The government did send selected Rastafarian leaders to Africa as suggested. This did not spark any immediate repatriation though it did greatly heighten awareness of the realities of Africa, which temporarily subdued the movement. (Barrett, 1997, P.100)
While in Africa the Rastafarian leaders visited the Shasemani land that was granted by the Emperor. This land was reported to be fertile and an opportune place to live. On this mission, Haile Selassie supposedly said to one of the Rastafarian leaders that he should "tell the Brethren be not dismayed, I personally will give my assistance in the matter of their repatriation." (Barrett, 1997, P.118) This message renewed faith in the eventual repatriation to Ethiopia. The University Report also indirectly caused Ras Samuel Brown to run for political office in 1961.
Sam Brown went against his Rastafarian beliefs by running for political office. He believed that the only way to rise from oppression was to become powerful. Brown failed to get even one hundred votes, but he did succeed in getting his message to the people. He ran using a platform of "Twenty-One Points." His campaign drew attention to the Rastafarian movement and especially its potential. (Garrett P.148) Within his "Twenty-One Points" he used to word "liberation" in conjunction with "power." This idea foreshadowed the way that some Rastafarians look at repatriation today which is the idea of "liberation before repatriation." (Garrett P.152) Haile Selassie confirmed Sam Brown’s ideas while visiting Jamaica.
April 21, 1966 an estimated one hundred thousand people greeted Haile Selassie when he landed in Jamaica. Leading Rastafarians had opportunities to converse with the Emperor. He stated "that the brethren should not seek to immigrate to Ethiopia until they had liberated the people of Jamaica." (Garrett P.160) Some Rastafarians now believe that instead of immediate repatriation that first there must be liberation.
A more contemporary concept is an internal migration to African roots rather than a literal move to Africa. Contrary to Garvey’s teachings, Rastafarians have turned the Back-to-Africa movement into a spiritual change. (Erskine, 1998, P.163) In the 1960’s, efforts were made to prepare people for their return to Africa such as classes in Africanization. These classes focused on the Ethiopian language as well as religion. Films were also shown to portray the culture. (Barrett, 1997, P.117) More recently though organizations such as the Rastafarian Movement Association have focused on "liberation before migration."
The RMA has made many efforts to help the Black people of Jamaica. The RMA oversees a youth program that provides food and activities to poor children. They also print a monthly paper full of current events, Ethiopian history, African art, Rastafarian information, etc. The RMA is consciously attempting to educate and liberate Jamaican Blacks in hopes of a later migration to Africa. (Barrett, 1997, P.117)
The concept of "liberation before migration" has been widely accepted by many Rastafarians though there are people who believe that actual movement to Africa is the solution to Black oppression. Some Rastafarians migrated to Shasemani such as a Rastafarian by the name of Antonio. Antonio left Jamaica to free himself of Babylon and reconnect with his homeland. In Shasemani Rastafarians live in traditional houses made from straw, clay, mud, and concrete. There are branches the Twelve Tribes of Israel as well. The Rastas are self-sufficient in Shasemani because they are not forced to live on wage labor to survive. (Lewis, 1993, P.100) Some Rastafarians also believe that the end is near and that repatriation is their only hope. Antonio expressed that belief in this statement.
This is no longer a time for discussion on this or that perspective on the Rastafari. Time is short. By the year 2000 all things will be destroyed in the West. The talks on nuclear disarmament are useless. Satan sits at the conference table. Only repatriation makes sense.
(Lewis, 1993, P.100)
Antonio spoke about the Rastafarian commune and their accomplishments, but there is another side to repatriation. An Amharic woman who formerly was married to a repatriated Rasta living in Shasemani had a different view of repatriation. Living in Shasemani, she experienced the Rastas’ ill treatment of women, exploitation of new Rastas, and the differences in Ethiopians and Rastafarians. She has scars from beatings by her husband because she was not used to such a male dominated lifestyle. The Rastas do not eat Ethiopian foods such as meat, coffee, and tea. She recalls how newly repatriated people would be overworked and received little in return. This Amharic woman gave many examples of how repatriated Rastas were not a part of Ethiopian culture. (Lewis, 1993, P.112-113) She eloquently stated the reality of repatriation in this quote.
When my several months’ sojourn among the Rastafari in Shashemene ended, I concluded that the Rastafari were alone in this ancient land. Their symbolic world which spoke of African roots, blackness and rejection of the white Jesus and racism appeared muted in this Christian and Muslim community of Shashemene.
(Lewis, 1993, P.113)
The reality of the repatriation movement is that people imagined Africa opening its arms to Blacks so they could live without oppression forever. Some Rastas do not even know geographically where Ethiopia is, but that is immaterial, to them Ethiopia is the future. (Boot, Thomas, 1976, P.79) According to Gregory Stephens "there was some conflict between the African Zion of faith, and the African reality. But the truth is that the geographical Africa had very little to do with what Garvey imagined, or with what most Rastas projected onto it." (Stephens Interview, 1998) Marcus Garvey barely spoke in detail about Africa. He based most of his knowledge of Africa from the bible instead of facts. The picture of Africa that has been painted by repatriation (physical or mental) supporters such as Marcus Garvey, Leonard Howell, and artists such as Bob Marley serves as a hope for a brighter future for the Black race.
There is no easy solution to overcoming hundreds of years of oppression. Repatriation was and still is believed by many to be the answer. Marcus Garvey believed that by forming a Black Nation where they were the majority race would eventually raise Blacks’ status in the world. (Barrett, 1997, P.68) Others believe that as Sam Brown did that liberation must occur before any form of mass migration would be possible or beneficial. (Garrett P.148) There are also those who hold firm to the idea of mental repatriation. They believe that a literal migration is not necessary because internally Blacks can get back to their roots. The Rastafarian religion revolves around repatriation to Ethiopia, but even today some Rastas feel like migration may not be best. The Back-to-Africa movement has had many different leaders, as well as followers, but to date there have been no mass migrations. Africa will forever be in the minds and hearts of Rastafarians and Blacks as a way out of Babylon and oppression.
1.) Barrett, Leonard. The Rastafarians. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.
2.) Boot, Adrian, Thomas, Michael. Jamaica Babylon on a Thin Wire. New York: Schocken Books, 1976.
3.) Clarke, John, Garvey, Amy. Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.
4.) Edwards, Roanne, www.africana.com/tt_010.htm, 1999, Harvard Square Netcasting LLC, 4/16/00.
5.) Erskine, Noel. Decolonizing Theology. Trenton: African World Press, 1998.
6.) Faristzaddi, Millard. Itations of Jamaica and I Rastafari.
7.) Lewis, William, F. Soul Rebels The Rastafari. Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc. 1993.
8.) Stephens, Gregory, www.bobmarley.com/blackhistory/stephens3.html, 1998, Island Life,4/16/00.
9.) Van Deburg, William. Modern Black Nationalism From Marcus Garvey to Louis Farrakhan. New York: New York University Press, 1997.