"Faya Dayi": the khat "addiction" of a religious group in Ethiopia and its economic importance

On Monday, August 29, 2022 PBS POV (link) and Black Public Television aired the two hour “Faya Dayi”, directed by Jessica Beshir, the Oa meta-documentary about life in the Oromo and Harari communities in Ethiopia. There is a theatrical release from Janus and there are DVD's from the Criterion Collection.

The communities harvest a plant called khat, which has mind-altering properties that the people use in religious rituals and meditations of Sufi Islam. The community has an elder with “no wife and no children” to carry him on when he is gone. But the drug is a cash crop for the larger country as a whole.  The plant can be processed by stomping on it with bare feet, like Italian wines in a famous 'I Love Lucy' episode.

The people live very collectivized lives, very organic, with no privacy. In cities they may live on matresses in large halls.   They say they know that trying to flee to Europe as refugees would be perilous.

The drug use (often through chewing) keeps them in a kind of forced social unity and deprives them of freedom.  It is a paradox.

Slowly some of the men wake up and begin to imagine ways to get more freedom if they can pay the price.  There is a last shot of a boy trying to hitchhike out.

The film is shot in black in white with a lot of chiaroscuro effect.  There is a bright red night flower image near the end.

The two hour slot on PBS concluded with a short interview with the director.

(Posted: Monday, August 29, 2022 at 11:30 PM EDT)