Emperor Haile Selassie, whom Rastas consider a living god, granted 500 acres of his own land to Jamaican Rastafarians who wanted to return to Africa. The first came to Shashamene in 1971 to set up farms, and at one point more than 2,500 lived in Ethiopia, filling the streets of the market town with their Caribbean food and multicoloured hats. But their easygoing lifestyle and attachment to marijuana has led to clashes with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Some moved away during the brutal Mengistu regime which overthrew Selassie in 1974, but in recent years they have returned. Now there are about 100 Rastafarian families settled among Shashamene's 60,000 Ethiopian residents, many struggling to make a living in one of the poorest countries on earth. Ethiopians are especially wary of the Rastafarian belief that marijuana should be used for meditation and medicinal purposes. Marijuana is illegal in Ethiopia and every few months the police swoop on Shashamene, burning gardens of marijuana plants and arresting the dealers.
The government also makes its displeasure known by setting up bureaucratic hurdles for the small community. "We have problems getting residency and full work permits in Ethiopia," says a Jamaican community spokesman. "I think everyone accepts we are entitled to be on this land given to us by Haile Selassie but they don't want to make us feel welcome."