Marley's widow to exhume his body for reburial in Ethiopia

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The Independent Culture

When Bob Marley died 24 years ago, the acknowledged face of reggae was buried with characteristic style, his Gibson guitar and his bible laid beside him. As the world mourned his loss, few questions were asked when his burial took place in his native Jamaica.

When Bob Marley died 24 years ago, the acknowledged face of reggae was buried with characteristic style, his Gibson guitar and his bible laid beside him. As the world mourned his loss, few questions were asked when his burial took place in his native Jamaica.

Now, on the eve of the 60th anniversary of his birth, a bitter row appears to be brewing over whether that will remain Marley's final resting place.

Rita Marley, the singer's widow, announced yesterday that she was planning to exhume his remains and rebury them in his "spiritual resting place" - Ethiopia. She announced plans to rebury her husband in Shashamene, 150 miles south of Addis Ababa, where several hundred Rastafarians have lived since they were granted land there by the last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie.

Mrs Marley defended her decision yesterday to relocate the remains of her husband, claiming that, as a Rastafarian, it would have been his desire to lay at rest in Ethiopia.

"We are working on bringing his remains to Ethiopia," said Mrs Marley, a former backing singer for his band, The Wailers, who married him in 1966. "It is part of Bob's own mission."

The reburial will take place after month-long celebrations scheduled for February to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Marley's birth. The decision to rebury Marley, who died of cancer in 1981, was welcomed by Ethiopian religious leaders and the government, according to Mrs Marley.

"Bob's whole life is about Africa, it is not about Jamaica," she said. "How can you give up a continent for an island? He has a right for his remains to be where he would love them to be. This was his mission. Ethiopia is his spiritual resting place. With the 60th anniversary this year, the time is right."

But, perhaps inevitably, the reaction to the announcement has been less enthusiastic in Jamaica, where Marley played a significant part in the island's artistic and political life. He had been given a United Nations Peace Award in recognition of his attempts to bring together the warring factions of Jamaican politics. Last month, members of Marley's estate began lobbying the government in Kingston to proclaim the singer to be a national hero, the Caribbean country's highest accolade.

Yesterday, Roger Steffens, a prominent historian of Marley and a reggae archivist, was among those angered by the plans to exhume his remains. Declaring the news to be "an appalling development for Jamaica", Mr Steffens said: "Bob never expressed any interest to be buried in Ethiopia. They don't believe that Selassie is God in Ethiopia, and that was the prime motivation behind Marley's music.

"The country that created the faith of Rastafari is Jamaica, and not Ethiopia."

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