Saturday, July 30, 2011

Visions of Ethiopia II: Sister Joan & the Shashemane faithful

Joan could not conceive.
For several years, she and her husband tried unsuccessfully to have children. Then, they took up the offer to repatriate to the Shashemane district in Ethiopia, as part of an imperial decree granting land for resettlement - primarily as a reward for material and moral support given by the African Diaspora during the pre-WWII occupation of the country by Italy.

The move proved fortuitous, and not only in terms of her fertility. Today, some 26 years after crossing from West to East, Joan is the mother of six, the younger ones still teenagers. Moreover, the couple are successful entrepreneurs in the community and are at the forefront of securing ongoing development (the region already boasts an upscale resort and an expanded and upgraded secondary school.

Then there's the regal- looking Gladstone Robinson, NYC-born, but no stranger to either Jamaica (where he befriended Mortimmo Planno among others) nor to Ethiopia, where was among the original "pathfinders" who started the Shashemane settlement. Hispioneering ways extended to his chosen vocation, pharmacy, and he opened the the first Black-owned pharmacy in the city of Asmara, thriving among no less than eight Italian-owned establishments.

Those remarkable folks, among others,were part of a revealing and marvelous documentary, the final in a series printed by Dr Anta and Shiva Merritt, a series aptly titled Visions of Ethiopia. The series also focussed on the human/spiritual wonders that the monolithic churches of Lalibela, the holy city(see URL). Carved out of the bedrock sometime around the 11th Century, the churches, themselves amazing, also hold an amazing collection of unique Ethiopian crosses ( including one with the now dreaded swastika design co- opted by Der Furher himself.)

Part travelogue, part social and religious history, part development activism, Visions of Ethiopia is a much-needed antidote to the misinformation and myth about the only unconquered African territory.


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