Physically threatened, disorientated by the profound social changes taking place before their very eyes, many settlers left Ethiopia, selling or entrusting their houses to whomever they could. Little evidence is yet to be found on the re-settlement of Helen and James Piper to the United States. It seems James Piper died tragically in 1981 in the streets of New York City (Bishton 1986: 40).
The house of Helen and James Piper, the first settlers in Shashemene still stands today, as a testimony of James’ talent of carpentry. However with the regular influx of settlers since the mid-1990s, and the high demography of Ethiopians, the rural environment has been definitively coated with many houses, roads, people, and services. The Land grant exists no more, and the tiny house of the Pipers is to be found in the heart of the Jamaica sefer, the Jamaican neighbourhood as it is popularly called, now situated within the limits of the town of Shashemene. Despite the hard blow of the Ethiopian Revolution in 1974, the nationalization of the land grant and the departure of the Pipers, the Shashemene settlement survived, and strived. It is today home to a large community of Rastafari settlers, about eight hundred people, twenty citizenships from the English- and French-speaking Caribbean and Western metropolises are represented. A tiny majority of Jamaicans is still present, as well as a few Kenyans and South Africans. As many newcomers keep arriving, memory of the Pipers seems to slide into oblivion, they are not remembered, or little known by contemporary settlers in Shashemene.
Nonetheless, in the history of this peculiar community, the Pipers serve as a hinge, a bridge, between generations, ideologies and identities. Undoubtedly, an approach “at the level of the ground” as it is practiced in micro-history has revealed wealth of information about Helen and James Piper. Some details might never be known, and some uncertainties remain. However we have seen how Helen and James Piper, among a flood of Caribbean migrants, have embodied the black ideologies of their day: Garveyites, Hebrews, and members of the EWF, they fulfilled the return to Africa and settled in Ethiopia. First settlers on the Shashemene land grant, they bear historical significance. They represent a form of transition between the Pan-African upheaval caused by the Italian-Ethiopian war and the Pan-African policies of the Ethiopian State; between arrivals from the United States and from the Caribbean; between Black Jews and Rastafari.
Their relations with their Ethiopian environment and with their diasporic horizon are multi-faceted and complicated; they are experienced and worked out on an every-day basis. But if the Pipers easily settled in the then prevalent unequal power relationship with the Ethiopian peasants, they had a hard time accommodating newcomers on the land grant. They are thus drawing the limits of the Pan-African relation: they were not able to transcend particular identities and situated cultures and make them irrelevant (for example: Black Jews vs. Rastafari, Oromo vs. beneficiaries of the Crown).
The return to Ethiopia of Helen and James Piper offers insights into the social practices of Pan Africanism. Here, these social practices include embodied ideologies, return, settlement, relations with host and diasporic communities, and survival in front of the political changes involving the Ethiopian State. These social practices give form to Pan-Africanism “from below”, a Pan-Africanism far from the intellectual glitter, the political contortions, and the newspapers headlines; a Pan-Africanism lived, that engages fully with life and its contradictions. In an age where pressing questions are raised about the history, the institutional forms and the challenges of Pan-Africanism, life-histories of Back to Africa settlers contribute increased knowledge soaked in the thickness of social practices.
Written by Giulia Bonacci
Inaugural Pan African Colloquium
“Heroes and Heroines of the Back to Africa Movement, Pan Africanism, African Nationalism and Global Africanism: Their Philosophies, Activities and Legacies.”
UWI / PANAFSTRAG / CPAA Barbados 12-15 January 2016
Giulia Bonacci is a Historian, Researcher Institute of Research for Development (IRD) Research Unit Migrations and Society (URMIS)
Université Nice Sophia Antipolis Campus St Jean d’Angély 24 avenue des Diables bleus 06357 Nice Cedex 4Francegiulia.email@example.com
Thank you for taking the time to read that article. Resettlement in rural areas can require a sound agricultural plan of action. Even in urban areas where possible it is encouraged that back yard gardens and greenhouses be developed.
It is on the focus of this thought I introduce to you the Seed Lady Anna Carter. This is a feature that everyone should read as we should all have an interest in food production as we all need to eat to live.
Donations towards African Heritage Foundation’s Ubuntu Project Development Fund are welcomed.