Rastafarians celebrate Ethiopian new year in Jamaica

Associated Press/September 12, 2002

Montego Bay, Jamaica -- As people across the world lit candles in memory of last year's terrorist attacks on the United States, about 200 Rastafarians in Montego Bay spent the day drumming and chanting in celebration of the Ethiopian new year.

Wednesday's ceremony in Montego Bay's town square happened to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in the United States.

But the day also marked the Ethiopian new year, which Rastafarians celebrate as part of a religion that worships the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as a manifestation of God.

"We uphold certain historic dates in each calendar year," said Ras Delbert Christie, a leader in the Montego Bay branch of Ethiopian World Federation, which is based New York.

Some Ethiopian immigrants in the United States called off their parties this year in deference to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The celebrations for Ethiopians normally involve dancing and trimmings such as bouquets.

Following the Julian calendar, which prevailed in much of the world until 1582, the holiday is called Enkutatash and usually marks the end of three months of rain in Ethiopia.

Last year, some Rastafarians in Jamaica were celebrating when news of the terrorist attacks came across television channels.

"People who passed by and did not know what we were here for thought we were celebrating the attack, but we would never do anything like that," Christie said. This year the federation passed out flyers to explain the holiday.

Rastafarianism emerged in Jamaica and spread throughout the Caribbean in the 1930s out of the anger felt by descendants of slaves toward the oppression of blacks. It is based on a philosophy of moving back toward African roots.

Rastafarians, often noted for their dreadlocks, generally denounce violence, saying it violates their belief in peaceful coexistence.

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