Sun | May 28, 2017

Visions of Zion explores confluence of cultures

Published:Sunday | March 22, 2015 | 3:00 AMMel Cooke
Dr Erin MacLeod at the launch of her book, ‘Visions of Zion: Ethiopians & Rastafari in The Search for The Promised Land’.

The title of Dr Erin MacLeod's recently launched book, Visions of Zion: Ethiopians & Rastafari in The Search for The Promised Land, without understanding its context may lead to a limited perspective on the publication.

In addition, coupled with the title is a leonine image, with colours and a cross which could signify a meeting of Rastafari and Christianity.

For, as MacLeod tells Arts and Education, although the project "... is an attempt to look at how the relationship between Rastafari and Ethiopia is negotiated and what are the things that come together to create that relationship", she sees that interaction as part of a wider encounter among cultures.

So, although she looks at a specific situation, MacLeod is examining universal issues of cultural identity, citizenship and non-traditional immigration, among others. These are issues that arise worldwide, even though MacLeod notes that "what makes Rastafari different" is that the resettling is for spiritual reasons.

And MacLeod points out that "there are not a lot of studies on immigration outside the West".

MacLeod's research was on the Rastafari community in Shashamane, Ethiopia, where she visited 12 times from 2003 to 2013, living there between 2007 and 2008. "I go back to the first groups that came over in the 1950s," MacLeod said. "I finished the work for the book as part of a postdoctoral at the University of the West Indies (UWI)."

The result is a timely publication. "I finished the book in about 2013. It is about as up to the time as books can possibly be," MacLeod said.

Visions of Zion was launched at the residence of the Canadian high commissioner to Jamaica in St Andrew, and a cross section of persons turned out. They included Rastafari and members of the Ethiopian community, as the launch was also in partnership with the Honorary Consulate of Ethiopia in Jamaica.

There was prayer by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, then Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica Robert Ready outlined reasons for supporting MacLeod (who is Canadian), including her receiving a grant that facilitated some of the research for Visions of Zion.

In her greetings from the Honorary Consulate of Ethiopia in Jamaica, Yodit Getachew-Hylton said, "I have first-hand knowledge of the relationship between Rastafarians and the Ethiopian community." She said Visions of Zion is "thought-provoking work", adding that it will contribute to the understanding between Rastafarians and Ethiopians.

There was also a dance by Mulualem Yalew, and Hugh Douse spoke on behalf of the Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS), UWI, Mona, where MacLeod is a lecturer.

Dr Moji Anderson, in her launch address, said MacLeod "... combines media and communication studies, immigration theory, cultural studies, postcolonial literature studies, religious studies (and more), often critiquing them at the same time for lacking breadth of intellectual vision". Anderson also said MacLeod "... uses ethnographic and media anthropology techniques, archival research and narratology (and more) to unearth answers".

"The research topic itself is one that is all about understanding connections between individuals, groups and ideologies." In fact, it came about from her Ethiopian friend's comment when she asked him what he thought of Rastafari. He said, "no one ever asks us", Anderson said.

Making the connections that lead to citizenship can be tricky. MacLeod told Arts and Education, "the perception of Haile Selassie is very different. There are cultural practices of Rastafari which are different... But there are many different cultures within Ethiopia, so it is not that Rastafari cannot integrate."

So, she said, "the book ends quite hopefully, with a number of different examples of how Rastafarians are looking towards the future and engaging with the Ethiopian government and Ethiopians to get a sense of how they engage in cultural citizenship in the country."

MacLeod will do a reading from Visions of Zion: Ethiopians & Rastafari in The Search for The Promised Land at Bookophilia, 92 Hope Road, St Andrew, on Wednesday, April 8, at 6 p.m.