Birthday of Haile Selassie: Rastafari celebrate the final Ethiopian emperor

Dark-skinned man in Rasta hat and sunglasses, making peace sign with fingers

A Rastafari man. Photo courtesy of Pxhere

MONDAY, JULY 23: Rastafari around the world—estimated to number 700,000 to 1 million—hold Nyabingi drumming sessions and celebrate the birthday anniversary of their God incarnate, Haile Selassie I. (Note: The belief that Selassie is God incarnate is not universally held; some Rastas regard Selassie as a messenger of God.) Born Ras Tafari Makonnen, Haile Selassie served as Ethiopia’s regent from 1916 to 1930 and emperor from 1930 to 1974.

TAFARI MAKONNEN: FROM MUD HUT TO PALACE

Beginnings were meager for this emperor-to-be, born in a mud hut in Ethiopia in 1892. Selassie—originally named Tafari Makonnen—was a governor’s son, assuming the throne of Ethiopia in a complex struggle for succession. The nation’s leaders favored Tafari for the role of emperor—and, in 1930, he was crowned. Selassie would become Ethiopia’s last emperor.

Years prior to Haile Selassie’s enthronement, American black-nationalist leader Marcus Garvey began preaching of a coming messiah who would lead the peoples of Africa, and the African diaspora, into freedom. When news of Selassie’s coronation reached Jamaica, it became evident to some that Selassie was this foretold of messiah. Beyond the prophesies in the book of Revelation and New Testament that Rastafari point to as proof of Selassie’s status, the emperor also could trace his lineage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Rastafari pointed to Selassie as the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David and the King of Kings.

Did you know? The Rastafari receive their name from the combination of Ras—an honorific title, meaning “head”—and Tafari, part of Selassie’s birth name.

Selassie remained a lifelong Christian, but never reproached the Rastafari for their beliefs in him as the returned messiah. To this day, Rastafari rejoice on July 23, the anniversary of his birth.

TIME MAGAZINE AND THE WORLD: SELASSIE’S STORY

Magazine cover, man on front in fancy clothing of nobility

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

LEAGUE OF NATIONS—One of the most poignant chapters in Selassie’s life—and a key reason that he came to global attention—was an impassioned appeal for help that Selassie delivered to the League of Nations in 1936. In 1936, TIME magazine named him its Man of the Year.

The magazine’s “honor,” today, looks like nothing but ridicule for what TIME editors regarded as a foolish figure on the global stage. Dripping with sarcasm and openly racist, the TIME profile of Selassie included this description of him:

The astounding marvel is that Africa’s unique Museum of Peoples has produced a businessman—with high-pressure publicity, compelling sales talk, the morals of a patent medicine advertisement, a grasp of both savage and diplomatic mentality, and finally with plenty of what Hollywood calls “it.”

Selassie was in a life-and-death struggle with Italian aggression in his homeland. The TIME cover story appeared in January 1936. International opinions of Selassie changed dramatically that summer, when he made a passionate plea for help in a personal appearance before the League of Nations in Europe. His plea did not result in the help he sought, but the appeal now is considered a milestone in 20th century history. William Safire included the League address in his book, Great Speeches in American History.

NEWS: RASTAFARI PLEA FOR RELIGIOUS RECOGNITION FOR CANNABIS USE

Rastafari in the Bahamas are requesting state recognition and inclusion involving their use of cannabis in a sacramental manner in their communities, as was reported by Tribune 242. Sources report that Rasta priests in the Bahamas hold the opinion that, as occurred in Jamaica and Antigua, the government should issue a formal apology for the longstanding oppression placed upon Rastafari communities for their sacramental use of cannabis. Rather than risk arrest or job security for what Rastas regard as “a way of life” and their “sacrament,” those in the Bahamas are voicing requests for further national discussions on marijuana law.

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Categories: Rastafari

Haile Selassie: Celebrating Bob Marley’s 70th on a Rastafari birthday

Colored headshot of Bob Marley laughing

Bob Marley brought international attention to the Rastafari movement. Photo by Jason H. Smith, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, JULY 23: During what would have been the year of Bob Marley’s 70th birthday, the world celebrates the legend of a Reggae artist—and, for the Rastafari, the man who helped place their religion on the international stage. Today, the Rastafari acclaim the birthday of their messiah, Emperor Haile Selassie—a man referenced in lyrics of Marley’s songs. In Rastafari communities worldwide, Selassie’s birthday is met with Nyabingi drumming sessions, chanting and dancing. Born in a mud hut in Ethiopia in 1892, Selassie—named Tafari Makonnen at birth—was the son of a governor who would become the final emperor of Ethiopia.

Did you know? The Rastafari receive their name from the combination of Ras—an honorific title, meaning “head”—and Tafari, part of Selassie’s birth name.

Looking for more Marley and other artists’ peacemaking music? Check out modern-day interfaith peacemaker Dan Buttry’s column—complete with links to videos.

Rastafari point to several sources as proof of Selassie’s destiny: astrological occurrences at the time of Selassie’s birth, a lineage traceable to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, the prophesies of Marcus Garvey and biblical passages relating to Ethiopia and Zion. The constellation of Leo, which represents the house of Judah, was in full effect during the birth of Selassie on July 23, 1892. Marcus Garvey had been preaching of a messiah who would lead the African people to freedom. Biblical text relays that “he will be called … conquering lion of the tribe of Judah.” (For a Rasta view, click here.) When news of Selassie’s assumption of the Ethiopian throne reached Jamaica in 1930, the Rastafari movement was born.

Are Rastas Christian? Many Rastas believe in Jesus and embrace the Bible. What sets Rastas apart from other Christians is their belief that Haile Selassie was (is) a messiah. During his lifetime, Haile Selassie remained an Ethiopian Christian.

NEWS: OBAMA VISITS MARLEY MUSEUM, FAMILY CONTINUES LEGEND

President Barack Obama visited The Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, last April, and the museum has been receiving international media attention throughout the year of Marley’s 70th birth anniversary. Beyond Reggae, Marley wrote songs about war, revolution, protest, human rights and justice. Marley’s greatest hits collection, Legend, has been certified platinum 15 times, and the BBC named “One Love” the Song of the Millennium. This year, Billboard reviewed both the continued marketing of Marley’s image (he ranked No. 5 on Forbes’ 2014 Top Earning Dead Celebrity list) and the 10 protest songs that best exemplify his fight for social justice.

Interested in more? View a modern Rastafari celebration for Haile Selassie’s birthday here, and Time’s photos of Selassie’s 1966 visit to Jamaica here. Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s wife, converted to the Rasta faith after seeing Haile Selassie on his trip to Jamaica, claiming to have seen a stigmata print on his palm as he waved to the crowd. Rita influenced Bob in his conversion to Rastafari.

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Categories: Rastafari

Grounation, aka Groundation, Day: Rastafari families recall Haile Selassie’s triumphant visit to Jamaica

Rastafari man in red, black, yellow and green knit hat playfully sticks out tongue at camera

Photo in public domain

SUNDAY, APRIL 21: Grounation Day marks a turn of events that shifted the worldview of the Rastafari religious movement—and converted Bob Marley’s wife to this faith with roots in Jamaica.

“GROUNATION” vs. “GROUNDATION”: As you will read below, the holiday’s name references the earth itself in a term often rendered “groun” in Jamaican media. However, the spelling is complicated by a popular tendency to add a “d” and make it “ground.” The “d” spelling now summons far more links via Google than the spelling minus a “d,” including a lot of independently designed Rastafari greeting cards and other media marking the holiday. Editors at the Wikipedia encyclopedia and the Urban Dictionary have adopted spellings without a “d.” But, it’s really your choice at the moment—”d” or no “d.” Read on and enjoy this fascinating story …

ORIGIN OF GROUNATION (GROUNDATION) DAY:

At 1:30 p.m. on this date in 1966, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie—who was already regarded as the Messiah of the fledgling Rastafari religion—touched down in Jamaica, beginning a short trip that would be his only visit to the country. (Wikipedia has details.) Reporters estimated that 100,000 Rastafari swarmed the Palisadoes Airport in Kingston, ready to welcome the Ethiopian leader whom they considered to be divine. The throng was so massive that Selassie couldn’t emerge from his plane. Then, Jamaican leader Ras Mortimer Planno stepped in to negotiate a proper entrance; Ras Mortimer Planno eventually would become a spiritual guru of Bob Marley.

RASTAFARI BELIEFS ABOUT HAILE SELASSIE

Born in 1892, Haile Selassie I was Ethiopia’s regent from 1916 to 1930, ascending to the position of Emperor in 1930 and remaining there until 1974. Selassie was heir to a dynasty that could trace its origins, by tradition, to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Why did the Rastafari draw their spiritual connections? They were inspired by a famous Jamaican-American, the black nationalist Marcus Garvey (1887-1940). Many Jamaicans regard Garvey as a John the Baptist figure in their religious movement, especially as Garvey proclaimed: “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned for the day of deliverance is at hand!” This kind of statement, often repeated by Garvey, was seen as pointing toward Haile Selassie.

From Selassie’s first years as Emperor, the Rastafari movement grew in Jamaica. Selassie was seen as a messianic figure who would lead oppressed people to a future golden age of peace, righteousness and prosperity. Selassie retained his own Ethiopian Orthodox Christian faith throughout his life, although while in Jamaica, he never rebuked the Rastafari for their beliefs. Selassie appeared to encourage Rastafari elders by presenting them with gold medallions during his trip to Jamaica.

GROUNDATION (GROUNDATION) DAY:
RITA MARLEY AND A RED CARPET

Selassie’s visit not only cemented respect for Rastafari in international headlines, but also changed the life of Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s wife. While a nonbeliever prior to this visit, she reportedly saw a stigma on Haile Selassie’s hand as he waved to the crowd, instantaneously making her aware of his divinity. Just moments prior, Selassie’s refusal to walk on a red carpet from his plane to the limousine translated into the Rastafari acceptance of grounation, indicating his “making contact with the soil”—and, furthermore, the name of this day as Grounation (or Groundation) Day.

SNOOP LION PRESENTS: REINCARNATED

Following the death of childhood friend Nate Dogg in 2011, Snoop Dogg began what many consider his most extreme transition yet: his acceptance of the Rastafari faith, which promotes peace, nonviolence and general kindness. After consultations with Rastafari elders, a documentary and a month-long recording session in Jamaica, Snoop has turned out 16 tracks in an album entitled, Reincarnated. Tracks will be available on iTunes April 23.

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Categories: International Observances