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Rastafarianism was made popular by the great singer Bob Marley. They are easily identified by their “Rasta colours”, their dreadlocks and their Reggae music. With time however, I wanted to learn about who they really are, what they are truly all about and what it means to be “Rasta”. I thus have put Jamaica on my bucket list to experience this, as it is the country most associated with them. However, when I heard that they are found in great numbers in my neighbouring country Ethiopia, in a town called Shashamane (Amharic)/ Shashemene (Oromo), it was only fair that I start my “Rasta” interaction there.  I came to learn that Emperor Haile Selassie had offered 500acres in this area as a home for all Rastafarians, and it is for this reason and more, that you will meet Rastafarians from across the globe calling this place home.

Things to do in Shashemene:

1.Visit Twelve Tribes of Israel

Start your trip here, as this place will give you great insight into the Rastafarian culture and more. I met one of their leaders who at first was unsure of my intent. He was amused when I told him I had traveled that far just to learn about Rastafarians. And trust you me, over one hour later and hundreds of questions from me, we had become friends that I was granted permission to take pictures which they usually don’t allow.

At twelve tribes of Israel in Shashamane, Ethiopia

He was graceful enough to share lots about their faith, their beliefs and their culture. I am very grateful to him and the rest of the Rastafarians that I met there.  They have changed my mindset on Rastafarians as these guys are friendly, warm, funny and smart. This is a complete contrast to the stereotype of them being unkempt and  unfriendly. I left there challenged to read my Bible more as this guy knew it like the back of his hand. It was interesting to learn that just because someone has dreadlocks, or  listens  to reggae or claims to be Rastafarian doesn’t make them Rastafarian. A real Rasta lives by the tenets of Rastafarianism.

With my teacher on all things Rastafarianism in Shashamane, Ethiopia

It was great learning Rastafarianism from real Rastafarians and I now have a new appreciation for them. I highly recommend a visit here as I learnt the below and more:

a)They read the Bible -Yes the Christian Bible. I was impressed and even more when I heard/read their motto-Read your Bible, One Chapter a Day.

Great message on the walls of Twelve Tribes of Israel in Shashamane, Ethiopia

b) The Twelve tribes of Israel

They are derived from the twelve sons  of Jacob and thus each member then aligns to the linage they come from. The colours on the wall each represent a month in which each of the sons of Jacob was born. April represents the month the first son was born and  since I was born in March-the last month in their calendar,  my colour is black and thus would make me from the tribe of Benjamin according to them. My nickname thus became Benji  after hanging out with some of them for sometime.

Each colour represents the birth month of each of the 12 sons of Jacob at Twelve tribes of Israel in Shashamane, Ethiopia

c)Their heritage:

Most of those living here have come from the Caribbean to Ethiopia, which they refer to as their home-Rastafarian home. It being home to Empreror Haile Selassie, who is looked upon as a major pillar of their faith,  has thus attracted  Rastafarians to migrate there. I asked one elderly gentleman if he missed his home country and his response was interesting “How can I miss Home, yet, I am Home.”

Hanging out with my Rastafarian friends a twelve tribes of Israel in Shashamane, Ethiopia

d) Types of Rastafarian:

There are various types of Rastafarians i.e. Bobo Ashanti, Nyabinghi, Twelve tribes of Israel  among others, each with different rules and regulations. I definitely need to revisit so I can learn more on the other groupings.

2)Say NO

Say No to anyone who tells you “Do you want something Nice?“ or  I can get you something Nice.This is code word for –they can get you drugs. When I got off the Bajaj, a young man spoke to me asking where I was headed. When I told him I was looking for Twelve Tribes of Israel, he said he would escort me.Though first skeptic, I accepted his offer to direct me and eventually he ended up being my guide around Shashamene. As we walked, several young men popped from everywhere, I guess word of a stranger had gone round, all asking to be my guide and they could get me “something nice.” Some looked unkempt and intoxicated and I was a bit scared for a minute.  I am happy I was with the young man as he told them he was my friend  and they left us alone. Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I asked him to show me this “something nice” everyone was referring to . Lo and behold, I came face to face with “marijuana” aka “weed” aka “ganja,” you have been warned.


I write this not to make you go out and look for it but to warn you in advance, I wouldn’t want any of you my fellow travelers to get in trouble innocently. I was wary as I had been informed of this tactic prior to my arrival in Shashamane.

…..*Disclaimer-This is marijuana best known as weed or Ganja. I did not purchase, touch, taste or smell the above.I do not do drugs and it is illegal to smoke or possess  weed in Ethiopia.

4: Visit the Banana Artist

The artist is Ras Haile Tefari, best known as Bandi and he is famous internationally. This guys artworks are really good, that you won’t  believe that they are all done only using the banana plant, including the coloring. He has lots of pictures, magazines of old and several pieces of art .His home is surrounded by lots of flowers and plants and he is warm and friendly. If one wants to learn the art, he can teach you.

Artwork of Bob Marley all made by bi products of the banana plant, in Shashamane, Ethiopia

5.Hang out:

Go to the local restaurant, food place, shop, museum or general hang out place. Talk to the people, interact with the people, engage the people, you will not only learn a lot but the experience will be enriched.

Rastafarian art all over Shashamane, Ethiopia


It is a 20-30min ride from Awassa . You can thus visit for several hours like a did due to being pressed for time, or stay longer which is what I plan to do on a return visit. The bus-park you drop off at is super busy, be ready for chaos. After several failed attempts to ask for direction as most of the people I spoke to didn’t speak English, I finally found a lady to assist. She advised  me to get a bajaj and tell them I want to see Rasta, which is what I did and I arrived at my destination 5 minutes later.

I clearly have unfinished business with Shashamane and thus will have to return. I need to interact with more Rastafarians to learn about the other  groupings like Bobo Ashanti , Nyahbingi and more of Twelve tribes of Israel as well as interact with more locals.

Check out the below links on more of my experiences in Ethiopia

Addis Ababa: http://wangechigitahi.co.ke/addis-ababa-a-wonderful-meltingpot/

Awasa http://wangechigitahi.co.ke/the-beauty-that-is-awasa/

Ethiopia 101: http://wangechigitahi.co.ke/ethiopia-101/


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  1. Pingback: Shashamane: Rastafarians' Promised Land

  2. kenyanbackpacker2017 Reply

    I don’t know how I haven’t come across this for all the months since you posted it! it’s simply wonderful!

    • Wangechi Gitahi Reply

      Hey, hey..Thnks..I hope it was helpful. Subscribe to the site, that way, you will always know when new articles are updated 🙂

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