Abidjan — Rastafarians in the Ivorian town Port-Bou are determined to fight what they consider to be an unjust eviction, after their 'Rasta village' was demolished early July. The dreadlocked men and women are struggling for survival as they are now homeless and without any source of income.
In the early morning of Wednesday 11 July, riot police came with bulldozers and razed a whole community in the Ivorian capital Abidjan. The 'Rasta village' - known as such owing to its high Rastafarian population - was reduced to rubbles with pieces of wood, personal belongings and posters of reggae artists scattered on the ground.
"A black Wednesday," is how the Rastafarians whose homes were destroyed described it. "We didn't even get a chance to take our belongings. We did not receive any eviction notice. Yet, we have an official authorisation from the municipality to live here," said a man called Blaka. He said he moved to the Rasta village to find peace among his "brothers", away from the "tribulations of the world."
Who's behind it?
"We are a non-violent community and we advocate peace. Who can we possibly be disturbing? And who benefits from this eviction?" wondered Dongo Patricia, sitting in the middle of her scattered personal belongings. Patricia is the wife of a Rastafarian singer known as Bulldozer. They both lived in the Rasta village.
When asked about who is behind their eviction, most of the young Rastafarians mentioned the name Zaher - a Lebanese entrepreneur. According to unconfirmed reports, Zaher allegedly acquired the property for a hefty amount of money. A practice that is common in Ivory Coast, where numerous parcels of land have reportedly been sold to the highest bidder and where protests by local residents are either silenced or squashed.
"Even the police and the municipality of Port-Bouët don't know more than we do, not to speak of the Ministry of Culture where we went looking for more information. This doesn't make sense," said a confused Blaka. Attempts to contact the alleged buyer were fruitless.
"It's a crime against us Rastafarians, a crime against a peaceful minority. Our community is an example of unity. There are no political divisions or quarrels and we preach peace and love," said Joseph Naba (29). With his shaggy beard and his hair tucked into a long tam hat, he stood on the ruins of the village with a portrait of His Majesty Haile Selassie in his hands. The Ehtiopian king, who died in 1975, is revered as the returned messiah of the Bible by the Rastafarian movement, that begun in Jamaica in the 1930s.
According to Koko Shenko (31), a painter and resident of the Rasta village, "this brutal eviction is not only a crime against the Rastafarian community in Ivory Coast, but also a crime against world culture."
Shenko, who painted almost all of the murals that decorated the village added: "Voices of condemnation arose around the world when the mausoleums in Timbuktu, Mali, were being destroyed. But with the destruction of the Rasta village it is a chapter of Ivorian culture and world civilisation that has been erased. The whole world should condemn it." The Rasta village had an art gallery where resident artists exhibited their work. Today, the gallery is nothing but a pile of rubbles.
"Perhaps they want to force us to go back to the world and lead a life of corruption. But that will never happen; it's against the Rastafarian philosophy. We feel better within our community," said villager Foloh Jah.
A view echoed by young Fatoumata Traoré, who became known as Mama Africa after moving into the Rasta village with her fiancé, also a Rastafarian. "Here, in the Rasta family, we were living together in harmony. The oppressor came and broke down our homes so that we may follow the rest of the world. We are young but we will not follow the world. We feel better here, in the community. It's the best life and we prefer it. We will not go back to the world," said Mama Africa.