Tsunami Impact: Ethiopia's Rastas See the 'End Times'
Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
February 1, 2005
Posted to the web February 1, 2005
By Sonny Inbaraj*
When news of the Indian Ocean tsunami filtered through to Africa the day after Christmas, Gladstone Robinson was playing Bob Marley's 'Natural Mystic'.
"It's the prophecy!" shouted the 75-year-old Rastafarian, shaking his knotted stringy beard and grey dreadlocks, over the din of the CD player.
"Marley's song says it all: 'Many people would die, many would have to suffer and many more would have to cry'," said Robinson in his husky voice. 'Brother, I'll tell you Babylon is going to fall."
The month of February is indeed special for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. It sees the start of the month-long Africa Unite celebration commemorating the peace messages and prophesies in the songs of legendary reggae superstar Marley, who died on May 11, 1981.
The celebration, organised by The Bob Marley and Rita Marley Foundations, the African Union, the World Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the United Nations Children's Fund, plans to link the continent and its people all over the world.
In this spiritual home of the Rastafarians, 220 kilometers south of Addis Ababa, the news of tsunami disaster on Dec. 26 -- triggered by a massive 9.0 undersea quake that spawned killer waves killing over 220,000 from Sumatra in Indonesia to East Africa's Somalia - prompted prayers to Jah, the Rasta equivalent to God.
"We are connected to the events that are taking place in the world today and we say Babylon is in judgment, and regardless of what Babylon does to try to stay alive, it will have to go down," said Robinson.
Babylon is the Rastafarian term for the oppressive capitalistic world that promotes poverty, illiteracy and inequality.
"I'm really very sad that the people who died in Asia and Africa are poor people. But we have to pay attention to world catastrophes. These are signs of the end time," continued the U.S.- born Rastafarian.
Rastafarians believe the world will come to an end at the end of the Millennium. And for them the Millennium has not come yet.
"We follow the Ethiopian calendar which is seven years and eight months behind the Western calendar. We are in 1997, and that means we have only three more years to the end of the world," said Robinson alarmingly. "And a lot of things are going to happen in the next three years, so people should be ready for them."
Robinson pointed to the tragic events of Sep. 11 in the United States.
"Look brother, it's by no coincidence of the date Sep. 11. That's the date of the Ethiopian New Year," he said convincingly.
For Robinson, further clues can be found in the Bible.
"The Bible says it clearly in Revelations, 'In one hour that great city shall be destroyed. Look at the tsunami; it wrecked havoc within one hour. The signs are there, but people are still ignorant."
There are about 100 Rastafarian families settled here. The late Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, granted some land in Shashemene, a market town of about 60,000 people, to these devotees in 1948 to satisfy their desire to return to Africa and have a place to settle.
Selassie's dynasty, according to legend, can be traced back to the Biblical times of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Rastafarians believe Selassie, or Ras Tafari, was the long- awaited Messiah from the House of David, as prophesised in the Old Testament, who would gather them from their lands where they were oppressed and bring them to Ethiopia, which they considered as home.
Asade Mariam Selassie, from Jamaica, has been in Shashemane since 1997.
"It's time to give thanks to Jah, do good things and read the Bible. The best we can do now is to help these unfortunate people in Asia by donating generously," she told IPS.
The 40-year-old owner of a clothing store, however, wanted to make an emphasis in order not to be quoted out of context.
"Please don't get me wrong, Jah loves everyone. But the thing is there's this natural cause of events. Things go in a circle and we're nearing the age of destruction and we've only got three more years to the end," she stressed. "The Earth existed long before humans were created by Jah, and it will be here long after we're gone."
But, said Mariam Selassie, Rastafarians believe Ethiopia and its people will be spared.
"That's why many of us are making our way back to our spiritual home. And this spiritual home is for everyone, regardless of whether you're black or white, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim," she pointed out. "If you're here in the Ethiopian year 2000, you will be saved."
(* This is the longer version of a story commissioned from the IPS network by the edition of TerraViva at the World Social Forum 2005, Jan. 26-31, 2005.)