It’s been nearly 60 years since Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, granted 500 acres of rural land to a newly burgeoning religion whose followers had begun worshipping him as a Messiah. The first Rastafarians arrived in the decades after 1948 when the area in Shashamane, southern Ethiopia, was bequeathed to them.
More than half a century and two Ethiopian revolutions later, repatriation — returning to the continent their ancestors were forced to leave as slaves — is still recognized as deeply important by Rastafarians across the world. For those who make the journey across the globe to begin a new life in the country considered their Zion, however, the reality can be far from heavenly.
Shortly after VICE News visited Shashamane, the town where hundreds of Rastafarians still reside on the land that Selassie designated to them, an elder Rastafari man was murdered in his home, in what appears to be motivated by land tensions of the sort that are characterizing the country.
Clifton Simeon — or “Brother Grimes” — was 60, unmarried, and living alone when he was attacked.
On November 11, 2015, a friend arrived at his home to bring Simeon dinner. Instead, he discovered Simeon’s dead body — bloodied, with bruises on his head, and cuts on his neck.
Simeon had been in Shashamane less than five years. A Trinidadian, he lived in America before deciding to make the journey to Ethiopia, his promised land and spiritual home.
The killing has shaken up the Rastafarian community, acting as a violent reminder of the unease that simmers between the self-declared pilgrims and some of the local, mostly impoverished Ethiopians who remain bewildered by or even resentful of their presence.