“Zion Land we want to go!”

Rastafari Reasonings on Africa in Historical Perspective

General Project Information

“Zion Land we want to go!”
Rastafari Reasonings on Africa in Historical Perspective

Project sponsor: FWF - Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung
Project number: P 35987 (Einzelprojekt)
Project funds: 155.505,00 €
Project manager: Birgit Englert
Project staff: Dominik Frühwirth
Project duration: 01.10.2022-31.01.2027

Project Rationale

Rastafari has contributed some of the most prominent and influential voices on African realities and developments – past, present and future – from the diaspora to the continent. Taking these voices into account can therefore make important contributions to African Studies and thereby help decolonizing academic knowledge productions and paradigms on Africa.

At a time when the global north is increasingly concerned about African migration to Europe and beyond, initiatives like that of the Government of Ghana to declare 2019 as the “Year of Return” to Africa, conferring Ghanaian citizenship on returnees from the transatlantic diaspora, might have come as a surprise to many Western observers. And yet this has only constituted a recent peak in an accelerating development. More and more African countries promote transatlantic diasporan contributions to African development.

Since many returnees and those who have significantly influenced discourses on (not only physical) return to Africa have come from the background of Rastafari, important insights regarding diasporan solidarity towards African development can be found in Rastafari history and theology. It is therefore no surprise that when the President of Ghana conferred Ghanaian citizenship on returnees from the transatlantic diaspora as part of the “Year of Return”, he welcomed them with the words of Rastafari advocate Peter Tosh, assuring them that “no matter where you come from, as long as you are a black man, you are an African!”

“Zion Land we want to go!” is therefore tracing this continuous identification with Africa among Rastafari in order to understand how it has become one of the most prominent influences for a (not only physical) return to Africa and what this means for global pan-African development. Rastafari reasonings show that the key to this understanding lies in the historical development of Rastafari spiritual philosophy and theology about Africa.

Emerging in the colonial Jamaica of the 1930s, Rastafari was drawing on a long history of biblical identifications with Africa (known as Ethiopianism) to counter the colonial vilification of the continent of their ancestors. Identifying these biblical expectations with Ras Tafari, who was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia in 1930, Rastafari have become the most prominent advocates for a return of African descendants to their ancestral homeland, thereby deconstructing colonial narratives.

The focus on Rastafari reasonings therefore offers us not only insights from protagonists themselves, but it also contributes to the important endeavor of decolonizing academic knowledge production in general and African Studies in particular. Because research participants are not only seen as informants, but taken seriously as experts and theory-builders themselves, valuing their ways of knowing, understanding (in Rastafari: overstanding) and expressing information (i.e. reasonings). By bringing their voices into academic discourses, academic paradigms on Africa can be critically interrogated and deconstructed where necessary.

International co-operations with leading scholars in the field, many of whom are Rastafari themselves, combined with field research in Jamaica, St. Lucia, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana, will further advance the bridging of academic knowledge production and grassroots agency.

In addition, the innovativeness of the project also lies in contributing perspectives from African History Studies, Development Studies, Mobility Studies, Religious Studies, Theology and Bible Studies to the existing emphasis of Anthropology, Sociology and Caribbean Studies within Rastafari scholarship. These currently underrepresented perspectives allow the project to take the identification of Rastafari as Africans seriously and thus better understand and learn from their reasonings on Africa, African realities and development in the diaspora and the continent.

Project Members

Project Lead

Dr Birgit Englert is Associate Professor for African History and Societies, Study Program Director at the African Studies Department and Deputy Head of the Mobile Cultures and Societies Mobility Studies research platform of the University of Vienna, Austria. She has worked extensively on popular cultures in Africa, as well as its diaspora, on land rights, and in the fields of diaspora studies, transnationalism/translocality and Mobility Studies more generally. She is an editor of the Routledge reader “Cultural Mobilities Between Africa and the Caribbean”.

 

Project Researcher

Mag. Dominik Frühwirth, BA. holds a Magister Degree in Development Studies and a Bachelor Degree in African Studies, with extension in Bible Studies, from the University of Vienna, Austria. He is also a Graduate Assistant at the School of Sacrament Rastafari University (SOSACRU) Rastafari Studies research platform founded by the Iniversal Development of Rastafari, Inc. (IDOR), and an Associate Researcher at the Mobile Cultures and Societies Mobility Studies research platform of the University of Vienna, Austria. He has also worked in the field of international and African development.

 

International Collaboration Partners

Dr Jahlani Niaah is a lecturer in the Institute of Caribbean Studies where he coordinates Rastafari Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona (Jamaica). He is also a co-convener of the School of Sacrament Rastafari University (SOSACRU) Rastafari Studies research platform, where Dominik Frühwirth is a Graduate Assistant, and one of the leading scholars and academic authors on Rastafari.

Dr Wayne Rose is a Graduate Adjunct Lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy at Jackson State University. He is the former President of the Iniversal Development of Rastafari, Inc. (IDOR), and a co-convener of the School of Sacrament Rastafari University (SOSACRU) Rastafari Studies research platform.

Dr Robbie Shilliam is Professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University. He contributed to the “Rastafari: The Majesty and the Movement” exhibition at the National Museum of Ethiopia in 2014 and is a co-curator of “Rastafari in Motion: Haile Selassie I and the Rastafari Movement in Britain”. He is also a key researcher at the School of Sacrament Rastafari University (SOSACRU) Rastafari Studies research platform.

Dr Jake Homiak is a cultural anthropologist who has recently retired following a 34-year career in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution. In 2007 he curated the exhibition “Discovering Rastafari” (2007-2011) in the African Voices Hall of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He has been one of the leading academic scholars on Rastafari Studies since the 1980s and is a key researcher at the School of Sacrament Rastafari University (SOSACRU) Rastafari Studies research platform.

Dr Erin MacLeod is a lecturer at Vanier College, St. Laurent, Quebec, and former lecturer in the Institute of Caribbean Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona (Jamaica). She is the author of “Visions of Zion: Ethiopians and Rastafari in the Search for the Promised Land”, and has co-edited “Let Us Start with Africa: Foundations of Rastafari Scholarship” with Dr Jahlani Niaah.

Dr Giulia Bonacci is a historian and researcher at the Institute of Research for Development (IRD) in France. She is a renown Rastafari scholar and the author of one of the most recent and momentous studies on the topic: “Exodus! Heirs and Pioneers, Rastafari Return to Ethiopia”.

Dr Monique Bedasse is Associate Professor of History at New York University. She is a historian of Africa and the African diaspora, with a focus on East Africa and the Caribbean, and is the author of another recent and important study on the topic: “Jah Kingdom: Rastafarians, Tanzania and Pan-Africanism in the Age of Decolonization”.

Dr Ennis Edmonds is Professor of Religious Studies at Kenyon College in Ohio. His expertise is on African Diaspora Religions and he is the author of “Rastafari – From Outcasts to Culture Bearers”.

Dr Werner Zips is Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the University of Vienna, Austria. He was the President of the Society for Caribbean Research from 2003 to 2009 and has extensively researched and published on Rastafari in Jamaica and Ghana.

Ras Sekou Tafari is an internationally renowned Rastafari Elder. He has been the co-founder and publisher of the historic Rastafari Speaks newspaper (since 1980 in Trinidad) and the CEO of Frontline Distribution International Inc. (since 1986/7), the biggest publisher of Rastafari publications, as well as the Frontline Bookstore (since 1992) in Chicago, Illinois. 

 

Project Advisor

Ras Kella Wala is a Rastafari Elder from St. Lucia residing in Vienna, Austria. He was a founding-member of the Zimbabwe Roots Farm in St. Lucia since the early 1980s, which he administrated until 2003 when he moved to Austria. From Vienna he implements development projects in Shashemene, Ethiopia, connecting the African Presence in the Caribbean to the African continent via Austria.

 

Associated Platforms

 “Mobile Cultures and Societies” Mobility Studies research platform of the University of Vienna, Austria: https://mobilecultures.univie.ac.at

 “The School of Sacrament Rastafari University” (SOSACRU) Rastafari Studies research platform founded by the Iniversal Development of Rastafari, Inc. (IDOR): https://www.sosacruedu.com

Project News

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  • Media
    • “A Rastafari Reasoning with Bongo Wisely Tafari”, the Chairman of the Caribbean Rastafari Organization (CRO), Reparations Advocate and an Elder within the Nyahbinghi House in lyanola (St. Lucia). Moderated by Dominik Frühwirth and Project Advisor Ras Kella Wala. Online, 16 February 2024: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZU4TaxGY2k
    • Project Trailer: Students from the Media University St. Pölten, Austria, have made a 2-minute clip/trailer on the project, including interviews with Project Advisor Ras Kella Wala and Project Researcher Dominik Frühwirth, which was published on 19 January 2024: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y77hf1ZBcGo
    • “A Rastafari Reasoning – Earthday Tribute to Rastafari Elder Ras Baba T aka Ras Emsley Smith”, the first Rastaman in Austria and legendary Radio Presenter on East Africa Radio, with Ceska Sankare, owner of Fasimbas Afrikan Vanguard Dub Roots Sound System based in Baltimore, Maryland, Prof. Werner Zips, Cooperation Partner of this Research Project, and Ras Benaiah Mbucu, Haile Selassie I Foundation, Nairobi. Moderated by Dominik Frühwirth. Online, 28 December 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAYR7jLtzYI
    • Book Presentation: “Mutabaruka – The Verbal Swordsman” and Reasoning with the authors Mutabaruka, Prof. Werner Zips, Cooperation Partner of this Research Project, and Sebastian Schwager. Moderated by Dominik Frühwirth. Hybrid online and at the Department of African History, University of Vienna, Austria, 27 November 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbjTVCIkcxE
    • “A Rastafari Reasoning with Samuel ‘Time’ Williams”, Son of legendary Count Ossie and Leader of the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. Moderated by Dominik Frühwirth. Online, 10 November 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRkHsgld5AM
    • TV: Two 30-minute Broadcasts of the Panel Discussion “Rastafari and Reggae in Vienna” from the Film Screening of “Rebels Outta Vienna. Between Music and Philosophy.” at the Department of African Studies of the University of Vienna, Austria, on 15 June 2023 by Radio Afrika TV on OKTO TV. Part 1 was broadcast on 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 July 2023. Part 2 was broadcast on 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 July 2023: https://youtu.be/5B3EXzaW4z8?si=J7tdvytTcgwufRfs
    • “Rebels Outta Vienna. Between Music and Philosophy.” Film Screening and Panel Discussion “Rastafari and Reggae in Vienna” with Ras Kella Wala & Coalman (protagonists of the film) and Dr. Werner Zips, moderated by Dominik Frühwirth, at the African Studies Department of the University of Vienna, Austria, 15 June 2023: https://youtu.be/KC0uVjsCjS0?si=mkBqO2Sp1Z2VsXOH
    • Radio: A 45-minute Promotion for the Film Screening of “Rebels Outta Vienna. Between Music and Philosophy.” and Panel Discussion “Rastafari and Reggae in Vienna” on 15 June 2023 with Reasoning on the “Rastafari Reasonings on Africa in Historical Perspective” Project on Radio Afrika TV broadcast via Ö1 Campus (ORF) and Radio Orange on 31 May 2023, 1 June 2023 and 11 June 2023.
  • Publications
  • Events
    • “A Rastafari Reasoning with Bongo Wisely Tafari”, the Chairman of the Caribbean Rastafari Organization (CRO), Reparations Advocate and an Elder within the Nyahbinghi House in lyanola (St. Lucia). Moderated by Dominik Frühwirth and Project Advisor Ras Kella Wala. Online, 16 February 2024: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZU4TaxGY2k
    • “A Rastafari Reasoning – Earthday Tribute to Rastafari Elder Ras Baba T aka Ras Emsley Smith”, the first Rastaman in Austria and legendary Radio Presenter on East Africa Radio, with Ceska Sankare, owner of Fasimbas Afrikan Vanguard Dub Roots Sound System based in Baltimore, Maryland, Prof. Werner Zips, Cooperation Partner of this Research Project, and Ras Benaiah Mbucu, Haile Selassie I Foundation, Nairobi. Moderated by Dominik Frühwirth. Online, 28 December 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAYR7jLtzYI
    • Book Presentation: “Mutabaruka – The Verbal Swordsman” and Reasoning with the authors Mutabaruka, Prof. Werner Zips, Cooperation Partner of this Research Project, and Sebastian Schwager. Moderated by Dominik Frühwirth. Hybrid online and at the Department of African History, University of Vienna, Austria, 27 November 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbjTVCIkcxE
    • “A Rastafari Reasoning with Samuel ‘Time’ Williams”, Son of legendary Count Ossie and Leader of the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. Moderated by Dominik Frühwirth. Online, 10 November 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRkHsgld5AM
    • “Rastafari Methodologies for Decolonizing Academic Knowledge Production.” A presentation by Dominik Frühwirth at the “Schnittpunkt Afrika” organized by the Department of African Studies, University of Vienna, Austria, 13 October 2023.
    • “Rastafari Methodologies for Decolonizing Academic Knowledge Production.” A presentation by Dominik Frühwirth at the “Annual Conference on Africa Research in Austria” organized by the Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Austria, 21-22 September 2023.
    • “Rebels Outta Vienna. Between Music and Philosophy.” Film Screening and Panel Discussion “Rastafari and Reggae in Vienna” with Ras Kella Wala & Coalman (protagonists of the film) and Dr. Werner Zips, moderated by Dominik Frühwirth, at the African Studies Department of the University of Vienna, Austria, 15 June 2023: https://youtu.be/KC0uVjsCjS0?si=mkBqO2Sp1Z2VsXOH
    • “A Rastafari Reasoning with Ras Sekou Tafari”, Co-Founder and Publisher of the Historic Rastafari Speaks Newspaper, CEO of Frontline Distribution International Inc., the Biggest Publisher of Rastafari Publications, Rastafari Elder, SOSACRU Faculty, and Cooperation Partner of this Research Project. Moderated by Dominik Frühwirth. Online, 10 May 2023: https://youtu.be/e7CCtXwD6FA?si=AxCImtEDNbk3TzyZ 
    • “’Zion Land we want to go!’ Rastafari Reasonings on Africa in Historical Perspective.” Project Kick-Off-Workshop with Dr Jahlani Niaah, Dr Robbie Shilliam, Dr Jake Homiak, Dr Erin MacLeod, Dr Giulia Bonacci, Dr Monique Bedasse, Dr Ennis Edmonds and Ras Sekou Tafari, moderated by Dominik Frühwirth und Birgit Englert, 6 December 2022.
    • “’All Nations Have To Bow!’ The International Dimensions of Emperor Haile Selassie I’s Coronation.” A presentation by Dominik Frühwirth in a Webinar by the School of Sacrament Rastafari University (SOSACRU) commemorating the 92nd Anniversary of the Coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I and Empress Menen in 1930, 2 November 2022.
    • “Each One Teach One Reasoning Sessions” conducted by Dominik Frühwirth throughout the 2022 Rastafari Studies Summer School organized by the School of Sacrament Rastafari University (SOSACRU), St. Lucia, 23 July – 31 July 2022.
    • “Zimbabwe in St. Lucia. Heritage of African Descendants in the Caribbean.” A guest lecture by Dominik Frühwirth and Ras Kella Wala at the African Studies Department of the University of Vienna, Austria, 14 June 2022.
    • “Rastafari and the African Presence in the West.” A guest-seminar by Dominik Frühwirth at the African Studies Department of the University of Vienna, Austria, 27 April 2022.
    • “’All Nations Have To Bow!’ The International Dimensions of Emperor Haile Selassie I’s Coronation.” A presentation by Dominik Frühwirth in a Webinar by the School of Sacrament Rastafari University (SOSACRU) commemorating the 91st Anniversary of the Coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie I and Empress Menen in 1930, 2 November 2021.
    • “Each One Teach One Reasoning Sessions”, conducted by Dominik Frühwirth throughout the 2021 Rastafari Studies Summer School organized by the School of Sacrament Rastafari University (SOSACRU), online, 31 July – 9 August 2021.
    • ’Zion Land We Want To Go!’ – Rastafari Reasonings on Africa in Historical Perspective”. A presentation by Dominik Frühwirth at the “Annual Conference on Africa Research in Austria” organized by the University of Innsbruck, Austria, 26-28 May 2021.
    • “’Africa Unite!’ – Rastafarian Pan-Africanism from Moscow to Ethiopia”. A presentation by Dominik Frühwirth at the “15th International Conference of African Studies” organized by the Institute of African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia, 24-26 May 2021.
    • “Rastafari Longing for Africa.” A guest-lecture by Dominik Frühwirth at the African Studies Department of the University of Vienna, Austria, 9 June 2020.
    • “Rastafari as Popular Culture.” A guest-lecture by Dominik Frühwirth at the African Studies Department of the University of Vienna, Austria, 13 June 2019.
    • “’Ethiopia, Thou Land of Our Fathers!’ – From Ethiopianism to Pan-Africanism”. A presentation by Dominik Frühwirth at the “International Conference on The Long History of Pan-African Intellectual Activism” organized by the African Studies Department of the University of Vienna, Austria, 16-17 May 2019.
    • “The Occupy Pinnacle Movement and its Aftermath: Rastafari Activism for African Heritage Recognition in the Diaspora.” A guest-lecture by Ras Kahleb Ben Haile Selassie, one of the organizers of the Occupy Pinnacle Movement and coordinators of the Rastafari Youth Initiaitive Council, Jamaica, organized by Dominik Frühwirth at the African Studies Department of the University of Vienna, Austria, 19 June 2018.