Haile Selassie – King, God or Redeemer?

Today, Haile Selassie is worshipped as God incarnate among followers of the Rastafari movement (taken from Haile Selassie's pre-imperial name Ras—meaning Head, a title equivalent to Duke—Tafari Makonnen), which emerged in Jamaica during the 1930s under the influence of Marcus Garvey's "Pan Africanism" movement.

Think about Rastafari and you’ll immediately conjure images of the charismatic reggae master Bob Marley and his headful of swirling dreadlocks. Marley is certainly a Rastafari icon, but there is another man at the heart of the Jamaican movement. He is Ras Tafari: that was the birth name of Ethiopia’s 225th and last emperor, who was born on 23 July 1892, and took the regal name Haile Selassie I when he was crowned. For Rastas, he is God (or Jah) incarnate – the redeeming messiah.

 

Nearly 8,000 miles separate Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and Kingston, Jamaica, but a link between them was forged by a number of poor black Jamaicans who believed Ras Tafari’s coronation was the fulfillment of a prophecy and that he was their redeemer, the messiah written of in the Bible’s Book of Revelation: “King of Kings, Lord of lords”. They believed he would arrange for a deliverance, which, as they saw it, involved a miraculous transformation. They would be spirited away from their lives of poverty in the Caribbean and relocated in Africa, the land of their ancestors and their spiritual epicentre.

Lij Teferi Makonnen at age 3
Lij Teferi Makonnen at age 3

From Ras Tafari to Haile Selassie

Tafari was a son of a chief adviser to Emperor Menelik IIl, one of Ethiopia’s greatest rulers. Since childhood, his intelligence impressed the Emperor, who facilitated his political career. When in 1930 Menelik II’s daughter Empress Zauditu died, Tafari was crowned emperor.

Haile Selassie’s coronation was a lavish event attended by royals and representatives from all over the world. The New York Times reported on the expensive gifts received by the attendees and speculated that the celebrations may have cost more than $3,000,000. Time Magazine dedicated its iconic cover to the Emperor: it was a world sensation.

Soon after his coronation, Haile Selassie gave Ethiopia its first written constitution, which greatly restricted the powers of Parliament. Effectively, he was the Ethiopian government. Succession to the throne was restricted to his descendants and, the constitution stated, “the person of the Emperor is sacred, his dignity inviolable, and his power indisputable.”

But in Jamaica, Haile Selassie was becoming more than the name of a powerful emperor.

Marcus Garvey and the vision of Africa

“Look to Africa when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near.” This was the prophecy that started it all.

Marcus Garvey, Jamaican Black Nationalist and Separatist, ca. 1920. In August 1920, his ‘Universal Negro Improvement Association,’ , claimed 4 million members and 25,000 attended its Madison Square Gardens

The prophecy was Marcus Garvey’s. Garvey was a Jamaican activist who campaigned for political and social change on an island that had been an important centre for slavery. After the slave trade was abolished in 1833 and Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed “all persons held as slaves”, life did not improve dramatically for ex-slaves, their children and successive generations of black people.

It’s unclear whether the “black king” Marcus Garvey had referred to was an actual person; more likely, he meant it as a symbolic figure. But, when news of Haile Selassie’s coronation in 1930 reached Jamaica, many of Garvey’s followers made what seemed to them a logical link. Ras Tafari was the king, and so the day of deliverance was imminent. That meant they should prepare themselves for an exodus to Africa.

Although Marcus Garvey was never actually a Rastafarian, he is considered to be one of the religion’s prophets, as his ideals heavily shaped the Rastafarian philosophy.

Only a few years after Haile Selassie’s coronation, Ethiopia became involved in a terrible war.

War in Ethiopia

In 1935, Benito Mussolini’s troops invaded Ethiopia and, in 1936, Haile Selassie fled in exile with his family. That year, he delivered a famous speech to the League of Nations in Geneva, appealing for help to fight the invaders.

Although during that time he tried to raise awareness for the Ethiopian cause in Europe, Selassie spent five years away from his country. He stayed mainly at Bath’s Fairfield House, but he also briefly stayed in London – a time that is commemorated by a bust in the city’s Cannizaro Park – and in Malvern, in Worcestershire. Marcus Garvey heavily criticised him for leaving his own countrymen at the mercy of Italy. Haile Selassie reinstituted his powers as emperor in 1941, with support from Britain.

His Visit to  Jamaica

On April 21, 1966, Haile Selassie visited Jamaica. This was 36-years after his coronation and the enthusiasm of Rastas was undimmed. There was now a new generation of Rastas, many of whom still harboured the vision of an African exodus.
Haile Selassie was overwhelmed by the rapturous reception.

He did nothing to dispel thoughts of his divine status. By this time, Garvey had died and his criticism of Haile Selassie forgotten in Jamaica. But around the world, the jury was not unanimous. Although he wanted to project the image of a progressive emperor, he faced accusations of being a greedy dictator.

Among the rapturous crowds who turned out to honour their redeemer was the wife of a 21-year-old Jamaican musician. He had just formed a band called the Wailers and his name was Robert Nesta Marley.

The Rastaman cometh

Bob Marley was arguably the most influential Rasta in history. He never claimed to be a prophet, though his songs had a prophetic character; and he was never a leader, though his many followers treated him as one.

Marley and his band the Wailers, in 1973, released their album Catch a Fire. Two years later the album Natty Dread sold well internationally. Both records were loaded with Rasta symbols and motifs, prompting music fans to ask questions about their meanings. By the time of the release of Rastaman Vibration in 1976, there were Rastas in practically every British city and in many parts of North America.

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – NOVEMBER 2, 2015: Ras Kawintseb, one of the last living Rastafarian elders living in Shashemene, performs for the anniversary of the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie.

Young black people had fashioned their hair into the long coiled dreadlocks, as worn by Marley, were carrying what were called prayer sticks (i.e. walking canes) and wearing clothes in the colours of the Ethiopian flag, green, yellow and red, usually with the addition of black. While their parents were, in the main, Christians, young blacks in places like London, Birmingham and Manchester, were drawn to a different theology, which incorporated a political critique.

All around them they saw evidence of Babylon, personified in the police, but were guided by an image of deliverance in the form of Africa.

Back at home, things took a turn for the worse for Emperor Selassie. In 1973, a terrible famine killed approximately 200,000 Ethiopians, mostly in Wollo province.

Only a year later, the Derg, a group of army officers with a Marxist agenda, overthrew Haile Selassie in a military coup. sick and imprisoned, he died on 27 August 1975 at the age of 83.

‘Lies of Babylon’

Haile Selassie’s death was described by his followers as his ‘disappearance’, since they refused to believe he had passed away. And when the subject came up, the phrase ‘lies of Babylon’ was frequently used in the Rasta community.

Many Rastas believed the white-dominated structure they called Babylon had propagated a falsehood in an attempt to undermine the then fast-growing Rastafarian movement. Others discounted the news by pointing out that Jah (the Rasta name for God) had temporarily occupied the earthly body of Haile Selassie. The passing of Haile Selassie’s body was merely a sign that Jah was not just a human being but also a spirit.

A third interpretation and the one most Rastas adhere to, concerns the concept I and I: this refers to the essential unity of all humanity; we may inhabit different human bodies, but we are all spiritually united. Haile Selassie may have gone, but to see him as a single deity misunderstands the meaning of Rastafari: his spirit lies in all of us and can’t be extinguished. From birth, we are all ephemeral bodies, but our souls live on.

Comments

It’s really great that rastafari is being taught.


Dear friend, put the Amp (map) of Africa 90 degree to the left and you will see The Original Plan.E.T.
Land of Jacob
Jah Ras Tafari.


Let all unite and raise the color of Africa


Great article thanks. Read my mystic short story Empire of the White Rastas just published in Aaduna online Literary mag New York. With its beautiful Ethiopian female hero & message of hope for the World. Google Empire….


Hi, just went through your site, and thanks a lot for all the clarifications on this particular Article. Really an amazing job !! I’m also preparing an article on Haile Selassie I and other prominent pan-Africans, feel free to check it out next week)


The Person of The Emperer Is Sacred,H.I.S. dignity is inviolable and H.I.S. Power is indisputable.#Ababa Jahnoy,#Aba Kedusa#Jah live


Haile Selassie,l and l, one love


Am a Christian but am being carried by this Rasta movement.. and am eager to know who exactly haile Selassie was am doing my research.. he had some super natural influence


JAH


hello black history month its abdul rahman aka god godbless now where in this spritual time im looking for imformation on salasie i his oganizations and members telephone numbers keep praying and asking for forgiveness godbless


For the record: Yes, His Majesty had struck a negative cord with Marcus Garvey, who defamed the Emperor in a scathing article he had written for a London publication “The Black Man”, accusing Him of cowardice and incompetence for relinquishing his responsibility in the cause of African liberation worldwide by leaving the battlefield and going into exile in Bath, England. This is a distortion of the facts but unfortunately, an incensed Garvey had sent a wave of disappointment and controversy into the collective consciouness, creating considerable dissonance in the black liberation movement’s interpretation of the Emperor’s place in the struggle towards black emancipation.

We can reflect that war often produces stakes that are untenable and sometimes decisions must be made with the understanding that not all of them will agree with every perspective all of the time. Haile Selassie I knew full well the zero sum game that He often faced throughout his rule, when the stakes were very high and forthright remedy was required.

” , . .”

” – , .”

Haile Selassie I



We cannot overstate the importance of keeping in mind that all of these history judgements have abeen made in the vacuum of materialistic presumption. Even in a “real world” analysis of the facts, they do not take into account the myriad of calculated considerations that must be actualized in the councils of governance for a nation like Ethiopia.

It is well known that despite the bravery of the Ethiopian soldiers and the sympathetic bravery of volunteer Ethiopians (Those Africans of the diaspora who had enlisted to go and fight for Ethiopia) that due to the unfair advantage of the enemy, military defeat was the likely result in any estimation of the war’s outcome. The weaponry Italy possessed was the most advanced of the time (This was the first battle in history to employ aerial bombardment and other killing technology including aerial sprayers that would blanket the Ethiopian people with deadly burning mustard rain – a chemical which had been outlawed by the Geneva Convention), and the swift, stormtrooper manner in which the invasion was advancing meant that there was absolutely no time for such a greater organizing for battle.

As one reporter retorted “This was not war, it was a slaughter!”, but as grievous the daily killing that commenced was, the objective was clear with the Emperor and His ministers; Choices would have to be made that would secure the future progress of the Ethiopian nation – Painful choices, including the protection of the Emperor and the need for Him to leave Ethiopia – if indeed there was to be a future at all for Her. They knew full well that if His Majesty were to be killed or captured, that would be curtains for Ethiopia.

Nor did the Emperor’s critics understand, more significantly, the Emperor’s spiritual prerogative and uncanny visionary ability as a world statesman and “International Field Marshal General”. The Emperor embodied much more than the kingship of a small developing African nation-state. This was the Light of the World and racism/fascism represented the total darkness and destruction of the world. In that paradigm, had history gone the way of the demise of the Emperor and the Fascist colonization of Ethiopia, the entire portrait of the 20th century and beyond would have ushered forth a very different world, a barbarism which certainly would lead to mass genocide and overall extinction on the planet. In the the face of such monumental stakes, it was therefore totally appropriate in hindsight, that special circumstantial precautions were made for the Emperor and that He would take Ethiopia’s grievance to the one institution that was formed for the express purpose of international arbitration and peaceful progress, The League Of Nations, to which Ethiopia was a proud member state.

Like it is in the game of Chess, the ability to access and determine the future and to calculate appropriate series of preemptive moves that will accommodate and assure that future is a component of this historical unfolding that surely justifies the actions of His Majesty.


Jesus Christ is king of Kings and Lord of Lord. He alone was the revelation of God. He alone died on the cross for our sins. His second coming will be to destroy evil once and for all. Haile Selassie was merely a man like the rest of us, he even kbew he wasn’t the incarnate Christ. Jesus Christ is the only way, truth and the life. Rastafarianism will only send you to hell, he cannot give you eternal life.


I believe that Empror Haillie Salessie has a mission on this planet. It’s absurdity of the highest order to equates him to our Lord Jesus. Everyone God made had different assignment.
Why would Marcus Garvey disbelieve his prophecy,that Sallesie ran away from Mussolini attack does not reduce his influence.
The Wailers and his boys together with all the Rastafarian are welcome in their believe. The black truly are still looking ahead of who will save them from the imperialist. Walter Rodney even captured it in his book,”Why Europe Underdeveloped Africa”…..the book talked about Neo-Colonialism.
Africa must be awake and get it right.
Salessie has come and gone,wether it disappeared or dead,or split into the spirit of those who believe in him,the fight for Black man emancipation must go on


Jah Ras-Tafari I and I Haile Selassie I


As much all the world’s religious doctrines are a construction from ones point of view, I tend to believe there’s a connection between the highness of Haile Sellasie and that of Jesus Christ. However, Sellasie’s exile into Britain and his earthly power to rule Ethiopia as he did brings forth many questions!


Well stated. Am sorry for the African youths who were born just the other day and have not even tasted slavery and yet smoke Marijuana as hell not knowing even the reality.


His majesty king Selassie 1 is the most high Jah.The holy Emmanuel


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