Rastas’ journey ‘home’: investigating the lived experience of the Rastafari in Ethiopia through an ethnographic documentary

Stratford, M 2017, Rastas’ journey ‘home’: investigating the lived experience of the Rastafari in Ethiopia through an ethnographic documentary, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Media and Communication, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Rastas’ journey ‘home’: investigating the lived experience of the Rastafari in Ethiopia through an ethnographic documentary
Author(s) Stratford, M
Year 2017
Abstract This PhD project consists of two parts, a 40-minute documentary film as well as a dissertation. Together they offer an insight into the Rastafari[1] community of repatriates[2] who have made Ethiopia their ‘home’. The documentary component offers the viewer personal testimony from repatriates who live in Ethiopia and discusses the current and longstanding issues that face the community there. The face-to-face interviews are interspersed with carefully selected contextual footage of Ethiopia. This footage consists of stills photography and moving-image clips that serve to highlight themes of Ethiopia, representing the variety of people, the street life across Ethiopia, the Rastafari and their iconography, as well as other aspects of place. The dissertation acknowledges my personal connection with the Rastafari movement over an extended period of time and offers a critical discussion of my findings from the viewpoint of the repatriation discourse and the Rastafari’s significant connection to Ethiopia. The dissertation also explores the approach I have taken in the making of the documentary and the way the film structure has evolved and developed.

Both documentary and dissertation explore repatriation, bringing light to the actuality of the process of return, as opposed to the folklore broadly disseminated through oral history – especially via the lyrics of past and present reggae music – by challenging the messages that perpetuate the ideals of Ethiopia as Zion[3] and the ‘land of milk and honey’. The Rastafari interviewees repeatedly express that the livity (way of life) is not easy and encourage potential repatriates to come prepared. I investigate how the act of repatriation to Africa has changed (or not) the Rastafari worldview, concentrating specifically on Rasta who have repatriated to Ethiopia. The research also examines the implications for the repatriates and their lack of legal status in their new homeland.

By creating an audiovisual narrative through a documentary film, I have provided the repatriates with a platform on which to express themselves and to have their voices both heard and acknowledged. One of the aims of this project is to offer future repatriates and scholars – in the areas of Rastafari studies and documentary studies – a visual document and portrayal of the ‘new’ life in Ethiopia. The visual narrative is also a vehicle for current repatriates to offer suggestions to those Rastafari who want to undertake the same journey. They make recommendations for preparation for repatriation to ensure a greater chance of socio-economic and cultural success.

The research project incorporates ethnography, documentary, immersion and reflexive studies from the researcher’s vantage point of being a member of one of the Rastafari organisations, known as the 12 Tribes of Israel and having been associated with the Rastafari movement for many years. The dissertation also examines the process of making an ethnographic documentary in Africa as a solo female filmmaker, as well as its contribution to the development of my own practice. It also explores the changes to the Rastafari culture now that they are living as ‘Africans in Africa’. This includes the changes to – and expansion of – reggae music in Ethiopia, as well as discussion of Rastafari iconography and social practices, so well-known and widely recognised in the West.

The principal research question is:

How can an ethnographic documentary film illuminate the challenges confronting the Rastafari community who have repatriated to Ethiopia?

[1] The Rastafari are known most commonly by three names - Rasta, Rastafari and Rastafarians. I refer to them as either Rasta(s) or Rastafari. These are currently the more common terms of identity. The singular and plural of Rasta is used interchangeably and I will use both in this dissertation.

[2] The terms ‘repatriate’ and ‘repatriation’ are used by the Rastafari to reinforce the idea that they were taken from Africa as slaves during 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and are now ‘re-turning’ to the continent where they feel they rightfully belong, hence the term ‘re-patriate’ rather than ‘migrate’.

[3] Many Rasta refer to Ethiopia as Zion or the Gates of Zion.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Media and Communication
Subjects Screen and Media Culture
Film and Television
Keyword(s) Rastafari
Documentary Film
Note Please note the documentary film is not available.
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Created: Wed, 23 Aug 2017, 14:19:22 EST by Adam Rivett
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