Five years ago, Ishion Hutchinson went searching for paradise in the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, a small town in northern Ethiopia. The multilevel houses of worship, carved out of the rocky ground, are attributed to King Lalibela, who set out to create a New Jerusalem during his reign. The site is a marvel for even the most jaded fan of history and architecture, but Hutchinson, who was raised in a Rastafarian family in Jamaica, wasn’t sure what he would encounter there. Ethiopia occupied a unique place in Hutchinson’s childhood imagination: a central tenet of Rasta is the belief that Ethiopia is a paradise to which one hopes to arrive—both in this life and in the afterlife. In “Dreams of Stone,” published in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine, Hutchinson recounts the transcendent experience of exploring a place that in his boyhood had seemed unreal to him.
In this episode of the Harper’s Podcast, Hutchinson joins web editor Violet Lucca to explore the sometimes intangible relationship between Jamaica and Ethiopia; his experience in Lalibela and Ethiopia at large; and how poetry and writing can be a form of religious expression.