Visiting Shashemene, Ethiopia’s Rastafari Community

Reggae music continues to influence African culture. Reggae music provided the dispossessed with a means of voicing their emotions and is closely tied up with the Rastafarian movement.

Many reggae songs refer to Ethiopia, the “Land of Zion” in their lyrics, indicating the significance of this African nation to followers of Rastafarianism.

One town, Shashemen, demonstrates the connection between Jamaica and Ethiopia particularly well. Shashemene is home to a large Rasta population who have traveled from the Caribbean to make Ethiopia their home.

Tourists who are interested in Rastafarianism shouldn’t miss out on a trip to the village during their stay in Ethiopia.

Why is Ethiopia Important to Rastafarians?

During the 1920s, Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey led a Back to Africa movement. This movement encouraged the descendants of slaves who had been taken to the Americas from Africa back to their routes. Garvey also claimed that one day a black man would become king in Africa.

Garvey was proved right in 1930 when Haile Selassie I became emperor of Ethiopia. The movement took Selassie’s pre-coronation name of Ras Tafari. Rastafarians encouraged followers to go to Ethiopia, returning to the country of their ancestors.

The Rastafari movement received a boost in 1948 when Emperor Selassie donated Ethiopian land to accommodate people from the Caribbean of African descent who wished to live there. The land donated was the village Shashemane.

Since then many Rastafarians have moved to Ethiopia, in particular to Shashemene. Bob Marley visited the village in 1978 and, although he never moved to Ethiopia, he considered it to be his spiritual home.

What to See and Do in Shashemene

For travelers in Ethiopia who are interested in Rastafarianism, Shashemene is worth visiting. The village has become popular among tourists from elsewhere in Ethiopia and across the world.

Shashemene’s main attraction is its Rastafarian community. Visitors who are keen to learn more about their history and culture will enjoy meeting the village residents. Some unofficial guides offer to take tourists to the various points of interest. However, visitors should be warned that they may try to sell them ganja (marijuana) which is illegal in Ethiopia.

The Rastafarian community in Shashemene is close-knit and spiritual. The population is between 100,000 and 150,000.

The Banana Art Gallery in Shashemene

One of the most interesting places for tourists to visit in Shashemene is the Banana Art Gallery. The workshop is run by Ras Hailu, a Rasta originally from the Caribbean.

The gallery sells artwork made entirely from banana leaves. Leaves of different colors are glued together to create unique pieces. It’s interesting to see the collages being made and they are unique souvenirs to take back home.

Zion Train Lodge: accommodation and dining in Shashemene

Travelers who wish to stay the night in Shashemene can do so at the Zion Train Lodge. This accommodation offers bamboo huts in a relaxing setting.

The founders want visitors to share the positive energy of the Rastafarian community in Shashemene. Gardens surround the huts and food is served in the restaurant and snack bar.

Wondo Genet hot springs

Wondo Genet is a resort town 16km southeast of Shashemene. The town is known for its hot springs surrounded by forest land.

There is a large swimming pool with water at different temperatures and outdoor showers. The area offers some picturesque walking and hiking opportunities too. Wondo Genet also gives visitors to Ethiopia a further insight into local life.

There are minibusses from Shashemene to Wondo Washa, it is necessary to take a Bajaj motorcycle for the last 3 km.

How to arrival in Shashemene

Most overseas visitors arrive into Addis Ababa International Airport which accepts the Ethiopian eVisa. The village of Shashemene is located around 155 miles south of Addis Ababa.

The best way to reach Shashemene from the Ethiopian capital is by road. Tourists seeking greater comfort and flexibility can hire a car with a driver, the journey takes around 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Alternatively, buses run frequently to and from Addis Ababa, the bus trip takes in the region of 4 hours and costs 95 birr.

Shashemene is the main transport hub in the south of Ethiopia and is very well connected to surrounding towns and cities. Some of the destinations that can be reached from Shashemene include:

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