In Search for a Permanent Home, Zimbabwe’s Rastafarians Work to Dispel Myths About Their Faith


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For the Rastafarian community of Mutare, Zimbabwe, the annual Bob Marley commemoration concert is a chance to sing, dance and celebrate their faith. Evidence Chenjerai, GPJ Zimbabwe

A community of Rastafarians have made a home for themselves on a hill near Mutare, Zimbabwe. Now they’d like to own the land they’ve been using so they can educate others about their faith and make it a place of pilgrimage for Rastafarians from around the world.

MUTARE, ZIMBABWE — Among the monkeys, baboons and indigenous fruit trees nestled on a hill near Mutare, one of Zimbabwe’s largest cities, the sweet melodies of a Rastafarian church service are audible.

“We believe in self-respect, self-consciousness, self-confidence and self-reliance as Rastas,” says Ras Tsiga Chikandamina, the leader, or high priest, of this local Rastafarian community.

The Mutare Rastafarian community has been temporarily settled here for years, but now they’re looking for a permanent place to call home.

Chikandamina says the community is in negotiations with the city of Mutare to acquire the land on Murahwa Hill, where they conduct their weekly church services, grow fruit trees and perform traditional rituals.

Every Saturday, the community gathers on top of Murahwa Hill for a day of fasting and singing, which is always accompanied by drumming, clapping and the playing of other traditional instruments.

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The Mutare Rastafarian community gathers on Murahwa Hill every Saturday for a church service. During the service, they light a fire, read psalms, sing and break their fast together.

Evidence Chenjerai, GPJ Zimbabwe

The location is ideal because of the land’s proximity to Mutare, says Shame Mudzengerere, a member of the Mutare Rastafarian community. In time, they want Murahwa Hill to be a global destination for Rastafarians and for those interested in learning more about the faith, he says.

Rastafarians believe Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was sent to Africa in the 1930s in what they call a Second Coming of Christ. Traditionally, Rastafarians follow a vegetarian, alcohol-free diet.

In 21st-century Zimbabwe, the Rastafarian faith may look a little different than it traditionally did. For some, living a Rastafarian lifestyle is more about personal style. For example, some Rastafarians sport dreadlocks and still eat meat, in what others may refer to as a more commercialized version of the faith.

Mudzengerere says traditional Rastafarian values are apparent in the community.

“We live off what grows from the soil. We grow our own fruit and vegetables and we do not eat meat or smoke tobacco [cigarettes]. We eat according to Genesis 1, verse 29, in the Bible,” he says, referring to a passage in which God instructs Adam and Eve to use seed-bearing plants for food. “We take herbs for nourishment and medical treatment. We jealously guard trees and feel the pain when we see trees being cut or our environment being depleted.”

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Music plays a crucial role in the Rastafarian lifestyle. Here, two women sing and clap at the annual Bob Marley commemoration concert in Mutare.

Evidence Chenjerai, GPJ Zimbabwe

While the community strongly adheres to Rastafarian traditions, members are quick to dispel stereotypes about their faith. For example, the concept that all Rastas have dreadlocks.

Being a Rastafarian is about heart, not dreadlocks, says Chikandamina.

The famous Jamaican reggae group Morgan Heritage and their 1999 hit song, “Don’t Haffi Dread,” sent a message to the global community saying that not all Rastafarians have to be dreadlocked to be true Rastas, Chikandamina says.

Another stereotype is that all Rastafarians smoke marijuana, which is illegal in Zimbabwe, Mudzengerere says.

True Rastafarians only smoke as a means of meditation to achieve a spiritual level, Mudzengerere says. The herb unites them and is mostly smoked for ritual purposes, he says.

Mutare’s mayor, Tatenda Nhamarare, says he advised the community to write a letter to the new town clerk, Joshua Maligwa, with a formal request to obtain the land.

They have yet to receive a response.

Evidence Chenjerai, GPJ, translated some articles from Shona.