Image, Identity and the Rastafari Movement in Ethiopia

By Maria Stratford.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

There is a strong visual culture which supports and reinforces the identity of the Rastafari. The Ethiopian/African colours of green, yellow and red along with the Lion of Judah are two common symbols associated with the Movement. The images of Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey are hung in most Rasta homes. Selassie’s hand gesture, known as the ‘holy trinity’, is used by Rasta when they are photographed. These images are closely linked to the identity of the members of the Movement; how they represent themselves and help encourage unity and strength amongst a group who are often stereotyped and alienated from mainstream society.

The Rastas who have ‘repatriated’ to Ethiopia have brought this symbolic imagery with them. Their modest shops and houses are adorned with the colours of green, gold and red and the Lion of Judah proudly adorns gates, walls and business establishments. However as the colours of green, gold and red are the colours of Ethiopia, the relationship to Rasta has been diluted; once taken out of the Western context the impact and symbolism changes. This is not seen as a negative by the Rastas, they see this as an affirmation of ‘coming home’.

It is interesting to consider that the images that are so powerful and significant to the Rastafari have long ago been discredited by the Ethiopians. No longer do they give praise to Haile Selassie, no longer is the Lion of Judah a central part of their national flag – in fact these are often seen as symbols of feudalism. However, the host country is very tolerant of their beliefs permitting the old flag to be flown by the Rastas.

The final project being researched is a film including still photographs. Research has been via personal interviews in Ethiopia with repatriated Rastafari.

Keywords: Rastafari Movement, Reggae Music, Repatriation, Rastafari Iconography, African Diaspora, Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, Ethiopian Land Grant

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.147-154. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.809MB).

Maria Stratford

Lecturer, BA Photography, The School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Documentary Filmmaker, Photographer and Radio Producer and Presenter as well as an undergraduate lecturer at RMIT University. Currently undertaking a PhD by Research, which includes a documentary film on the subject of the repatriation of the Rastafari to Ethiopia.