Spousal Unit was all atwitter late last week. In the news was a story that singer Rita Marley, widow of the legendary reggae superstar Robert Nesta, intended to have the remains of her late spouse moved from Jamaica to Ethiopia.
“I haven’t gotten to see his grave yet,” my Irish-Rasta better half wailed. “Why is she doing this? And why is she doing this now?”
As the Associated Press reported via CNN, Ethiopian officials and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church okayed the idea. And according to the AP, Rita Marley offered an explanation for her controversial proposal: She believes moving from his current resting place in his birthplace of Nine Mile, Jamaica, to the African nation is what Bob, a devout Rastafarian, would have wanted.
Again, from AP via CNN:
“Bob’s whole life is about Africa, it is not about Jamaica,” said Rita, a Cuban-born singer who married Marley in 1966.
“How can you give up a continent for an island? He has a right for his remains to be where he would love them to be. This was his mission. Ethiopia is his spiritual resting place,” she said. “With the 60th anniversary this year, the impact is there and the time is right.”
Bob Marley died of cancer at age 36 in 1981; Feb. 6 marks the 60th anniversary of his birth. Celebrations to mark the date will be held in both Jamaica and Ethiopia. According to the AP, initial plans were to rebury him, sometime after the festivities, in Shashemene (about 150 miles south of Addis Ababa), where a Rasta community exists on land granted by Ethiopia’s last emperor, the man Rastafarians consider divine, Haile Selassie.
Many in Jamaica were none too pleased by the published reports, as Blogcritics’ Eric Olsen notes. The AP-via-CNN report concurs:
Rita Marley’s remarks provoked angry reactions in Jamaica, with Jamaicans saying the proposed reburial would rob the Caribbean island of its national heritage.
“There is no plan on February 6 to return the remains of brother Bob Marley. Further, this is a private decision that the family will be involved in,” said Desta Meghoo-Peddie, managing director of the Bob Marley Foundation.
“Of course, Mrs. Marley, as Bob Marley’s trust fund, will be the one to help administrate any such decisions but no one is making those plans. No body is being exhumed as we speak,” she told journalists.
Indeed, it appears angry Jamaicans and Marley fans should calm down, at least for now. A report published on the web site for Jamaica’s Daily Gleaner — and now available only on the cached Google page; hmmm — says the story reported by AP and CNN is all a rumor.
Representatives of the Rita Marley Foundation are denying reports published in the international media stating that Rita Marley, wife of reggae legend, Bob Marley, plans to exhume her husband’s remains in Jamaica and re-bury them in his ‘spiritual home’ of Ethiopia.
A representative who requested anonymity, told The Gleaner that the stories about Rita’s wish were a rumour.
“There’s absolutely no truth to the story, and I’m quoting Mrs. Marley to you. I spoke with her this morning as it relates to the story, because we have been getting calls, and she said there were no such plans,” the representative stated.
Up to press time yesterday, Rita Marley was unavailable for comment as she was reportedly off the island. The Gleaner unsuccessfully made several calls to a number for her in Ghana.
Another refutation, this one from Marley Foundation spokesperson Desta Meghoo-Peddie, appears on Malaysia’s Star Online:
“She (Rita) does express honestly and candidly the fact that Bob, as a Rastaman, loved Ethiopia and she would love to see the day where he is laid to rest in his fathers’ land, and she has never been secretive about that,” Desta Meghoo-Peddie said. “We have never ever put out anything saying Bob is going to be exhumed, and returned home, and it is very painful to see something so wonderful is being twisted.”
In fact, Bob Marley was not secretive about his desire to move to Ethiopia, or “Zion,” his spiritual homeland. From the Dread Library:
In 1977, Bob Marley’s lyrics reflected the ideology of Rastafarianism, defined by the New Dictionary of Religions as, “A variety of dynamic movements in Jamaica . . . since the 1930s among the poor landless men, inspired by Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement and the accession of Ras Tafari as emperor of Ethiopia” (Rastafarian). But the Rastafarians are much more than “poor landless men”. They are an oppressed people who in the 1930s found themselves in a hopeless situation. It was this hopeless situation that readied the minds and hearts of the Rastafarians to look beyond their lives in Jamaica. They began to look to a new life and a new world by the name of Ethiopia. The concept of Ethiopia as Zion, a destined homeland for all Black people, soon took hold of the Rastafarians so much so that it became the basis for their religion, Ethiopianism. According to one source, “It is the Rastafari movements, with its origins in Jamaica, that Ethiopianism has been most consistently elaborated for nearly seven decades” (Dread History). Ethiopianism, and specifically the belief in Ethiopia as Zion, was so accepted by the Rastafarians because it offered a sense of dignity and hope in an otherwise hopeless economic and social climate.
Marley’s 1977 classic “Exodus” offered hope to many:
Open your eyes and look within
Are you satisfied with the live you’re living?
We know where we’re going; we know where we’re from
We’re leaving Babylon, y’all
We’re going to our father’s land.
Whatever Bob’s and Rita’s wishes, the Jamaican Observer reports that according to a Jamaican official, despite the AP reports that spread worldwide, the government received no request for the exhumation of the reggae legend’s remains.
The statement that Rita Marley wants her late spouse to be moved is very different from saying that he will be moved. Give us a hug; everything is going to be all right. In any event, the decision is the family’s, but for now, nothing is happening. Seen? Seen.
Well, not nothing: Bob, the fallen international ambassador of music, peace and justice, would have been 60 years old on Feb. 6, and birthday celebrations will be held in Jamaica, Ethiopia, and around the globe. Those of us who love the man and his music and message are thankful that Marley was here (however briefly) and that we can enjoy and learn from his musical legacy forever. What better reason to lively up ourselves — no matter where his remains eventually rest.