“There is a land, far, far away”: The Reggae – Ethiopia Connection

Ethiopia. The nation is referred to in popular classics such as The Abyssinians’ “Satta Massagana” and Peter Tosh’s “Black Dignity.” Bob Marley's music spoke of African repatriation and Ethiopia, which introduced millions to the country and the African liberation movement. His music, and reggae music in general is celebrated not only across Ethiopia, but worldwide. Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa, and one of the oldest countries in the world. Set in the Horn of Africa, the nation is comprised of people whose identities defy definition. Ethiopians are proud of their history, with a courtesy that is born of the consciousness of being members of a multilingual and multicultural polity. In order to get by, people must show respect for one another.[1]

In order to understand reggae, one must also take the time to understand the references to Ethiopia (and Africa) in reggae songs. As a quick introduction to the reggae novice, Rastafarians are followers of a movement which professes higher self-awareness, adherence to the laws of nature, repatriation to Africa, and regard to former Ethiopian King Haile Selassie as divine. Hence, the name is derived from his title and name Ras (literally meaning “head’)[2] Tafari (his given name) prior to his coronation.

Although Rastafari emanates from Ethiopia, Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam are the two major religions of the country. Even so, the Rastas believe that they are originally and ancestrally Ethiopians.

In a sense, Ethiopia – the only African country that was never colonized - can be dubbed as the “Mecca” for Rastas.  Shashemene, a small town two hours outside of the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, became the symbol for the return to the African diaspora to “mother” Africa.[3] Rastafarians across the globe may strive to visit Ethiopia and Shashemene at some point in their lives, and tens of thousands came through for the month-long celebration of Bob Marley’s 60th birthday in 2005.

Unfortunately, as with any nation, Ethiopia has its problems, with nearly 40% of the population living below the poverty line. Poverty and health issues have been exacerbated by the drought affecting the Horn of Africa,[4] and although attention to human rights has improved, serious problems remain.

Thus, Ethiopia is a land of many contrasts. Both traditional, yet modern. Fast-paced cities such as Addis Ababa exist, yet a majority of the population inhabits rural areas. It is a nation comprised of various backgrounds, both African and Middle Eastern. For our purpose, Ethiopia is a nation that is held high in the hearts of Rastafarians, and for those who have reggae in their blood.

To further understand the foundations of reggae, and to progress as citizens of the world, we encourage you to learn more about Ethiopia:

Ethiopia Profile (BBC)

Embassy of Ethiopia

Ethiopian Tourism


Photo credits: mtholyoke.edu, worldatlas.com

[1] Howard, Sarah. Ethiopia. 2010, p. 164.

[2] Murrell, Nathaniel Samuel and Spencer, William David and McFarlane, Adrian Anthony. Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader. 1998, pp. 172-3.