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

TUESDAY, 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

Birthday of Haile Selassie: Rastafari celebrate his courage on global stage

1936 Haile Selassie as TIME magazine's Man of the YearSATURDAY, JULY 23: Rastafari far and wide hold Nyabingi drumming sessions and revel in the birthday anniversary of their God incarnate, Haile Selassie.

ORIGINS—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, and today, he is viewed as the messiah of the Rastafari. (Biography.com has more on Selassie’s life.)

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. (Wikipedia has details.) 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.

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.

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’S BITTERSWEET STORY

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. It’s also the 80th anniversary of TIME magazine naming 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.

After January, when TIME made fun of Selassie in its openly racist cover story, the world witnessed Italian armed forces brutally crushing Selassie’s Ethiopian army and conquering his country, declaring the nation to be the property of Italy. Selassie did not want to flee the country but did so for his own safety at the urging of Ethiopian leaders. He arrived in Geneva and delivered the plea to the League, excerpts of which were carried in newsreels around the world.

At one point, he declared:

I pray to Almighty God that He may spare nations the terrible sufferings that have just been inflicted on my people, and of which the chiefs who accompany me here have been the horrified witnesses.

The tragic aftermath of this speech was that the League did not help him, Fascists continued to take power in Europe and soon all of Europe was experiencing the “terrible sufferings” Selassie described.

GROUNDATION DAY—Each spring, Rastafari celebrate Groundation Day, marking Selassie’s triumphant visit to Jamaica in 1966—50 years ago this year. Some remarkable LIFE magazine photographs from that event are on display in the TIME website. They’re worth a look, partly because these photos by Lynn Pelham never ran in the American edition of LIFE. Now, we are able to look back at what the magazine describes this way:

The images capture something of the fervor and delight, as well as the barely restrained chaos, among thousands of believers upon seeing the man they considered a messiah—and whom countless others still view as a power-hungry fraud. Informal observations made by LIFE staffers who were there provide some fascinating insights into how the proceedings were viewed—hint: negatively—by at least some in the national press.

In notes that accompanied Pelham’s rolls of Ektachrome film to LIFE’s offices in New York just days after Selassie’s visit, for example, an editor for the magazine wrote privately to his colleagues that “the Rastafarians went wild on Selassie’s arrival. They broke police lines and swarmed around the emperor’s DC-6 [plane]. They kept touching his plane, yelling ‘God is here,’ and knocking down photographer Pelham, who got smacked. The Rastafarians fouled up the visit, as far as most Jamaicans were concerned. But Selassie seemed to love the attention these strange, wild-eyed, lawless and feared Jamaicans gave him.”

Interested in more? View a modern Rastafari celebration for Haile Selassie’s birthday here.

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Categories: AnniversaryRastafari

Dance your way to Washington for the Ethiopian New Year

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_912_Ethiopia_New_Year.jpgPhoto in public domainhttp://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-0910_Ethiopian_New_Year_Enkutatash.jpg“Happy New Year” in Ethiopian script.WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12: Queen Sheba and the Virgin Mary both play an integral role in today’s New Year celebration, as Ethiopians —as well as Rastafarians with ties to the African nation—mark Enkutatash.

Never heard of this holiday? That seems to be changing. The Ethiopian African 2000 Millenium Group is working hard to make Enkutatash as well known in America as the Irish St. Patrick’s Day and the Chinese New Year. There are online greeting-card websites that offer free Enkutatash cards, even using the graceful Ethiopian script (shown above) to express best wishes.

Last weekend, the Washington Monument—with the help of big-time sponsors, such as Starbucks—housed traditional African food, reggae music and dancing. The area’s more than 200,000 Ethiopian Americans and others wrapped up the day with the lighting of torches to symbolize the “ushering in” of a New Year. The Washington Post reported.

ABRAHAMIC ROOTS IN ETHIOPIA

What do the Abrahamic faiths have to do with the Ethiopian New Year? A lot more than you might think! Traditionally, the festival marks the end of the Ethiopian rainy season. Given that Ethiopia is one of the longest-inhabited regions on planet Earth, those traditions related to the natural world go back a long, long way. But so do the nation’s deep Abrahamic roots and religious history, all woven through the holiday season. Here is some background …

JEWISH ROOTS: The Jewish minority in Ethiopia became world famous during the Israeli air lifts of Operation Moses and the later Operation Solomon that brought many Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

CHRISTIAN ROOTS: To this day, about two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christian. They proudly claim to have been among the first countries in the world to collectively adopt Christianity—as early as the 4th century. Many Ethiopians begin their New Year celebrations with a visit to church in traditional clothing. After the day’s liturgy, the faithful share a meal—usually of injera (flat bread) and wak (stew). (Get Ethiopian recipes at Food.com.)

Following the feast, girls gather flowers and travel door-to-door, singing New Year songs; boys sell paintings they have made that usually depict saints. Households place burning torches in front of their homes, ushering in the New Year, until it’s time to visit friends; adults drink traditional Ethiopian beers, while children spend the money they have earned.

MUSLIM ROOTS: Ethiopia has the distinction of protecting early Muslims in the 7th century—very early in Islamic history. The story of the noble King Negus Ashama ibn Abjar, who ruled in the region that is today Ethiopia, is included in the first volume of our Interfaith Heroes books by Daniel Buttry. While Islam was facing one of its first waves of persecution in Arabia, nearly 100 Muslim exiles sought protection under this famously compassionate king. Traditional stories tell of a long discussion that the king supervised to weigh the differences between Islam and Christianity—and the king finally ruled that the two faiths were similar and should co-exist peacefully. He extended protection to the exiles and this helped Islam to survive and thrive, even in what was then a predominantly Christian land.

QUEEN OF SHEBA & MARY, TOO

The word Enkutatash translates into “gift of jewels” in Amharic, which derives from the legend of Queen of Sheba’s return from a visit with King Solomon of Jerusalem. According to traditionally told stories, when the queen arrived home, she met with Ethiopian chiefs who showered her with jewels. As a result, singing, dancing and spring joy has enveloped the country on this day ever since. (Wikipedia has details.)

And Mary’s role in this? The basic calculation of the Ethiopian calendar, which falls between seven and eight years behind the Western Gregorian calendar, results from a different interpretation of the date of the Annunciation.

A LEAP YEAR

As 2012 is a Leap Year, Enkutatash falls on Sept. 12—instead of Sept. 11, its usual date.

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Categories: International Observances

Rastafari: Marcus Garvey’s 125th, Jamaica & Snoop Lion

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_812_Marcus_Garvey_Rasta.jpg

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-0813_Marcus_Garvey.jpgFRIDAY, AUGUST 17: Snoop Dogg may be making headlines as a reformed Rastafari, but every Rasta today recalls another controversial global hero: the late Marcus Garvey, on the 125th birth anniversary of the man considered a prophet in the Rastafarian faith—and Jamaica’s official “1st National Hero.”

Garvey’s death in 1940 at age 52 was tragic in many ways. He had been hounded by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and went through a tumultuous trial on charges of fraud; he was caught up in ethnic controversies and faced sharp criticism from many leaders in the black community in the U.S.; and he wound up in London during the start of World War II in Europe in failing health. He lay in a London grave for more than 20 years. Finally, in 1964, Jamaica brought his remains back to the island where he was celebrated as a heroic figure of the Jamaican nation.

Wikipedia sketches many details about the turbulent life and times of Garvey. But if you are intrigued by this flamboyant figure—usually shown in photographs from around 1920 with a long plume fluttering from his ceremonial hat—then ReadTheSpirit also recommends a terrific biography, Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey, published by Oxford University Press. Author Colin Grant is Jamaican-British and has worked for the BBC in addition to writing plays and books. On his website, Grant lets visitors read the book’s introduction.

To this day, some of Garvey’s supporters call him the reincarnation of John the Baptist. He urged black people to “Look to Africa, where a black king shall be crowned.” Then, in 1930, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie took the throne and the Rastafari movement began.

JAMAICA’S 125TH BIRTHDAY BASH

Aside from marking its 50th year of independence, Jamaica is planning a massive four-day tribute to Marcus Garvey this year, on the 125th birth anniversary of the Jamaican National Hero. Dr. Julius Garvey, son of Marcus, will be on hand for the launch of the Marcus Garvey Mobile Museum and will be handed the Keys to the City of Kingston on behalf of his father. (The Jamaican Information Service has more.)

SNOOP DOGG … ERR, SNOOP LION

It seems the famed “Gin and Juice” artist may be on track for a more family friendly career, as Snoop Dogg claims he experienced a spiritual enlightenment while recording his latest album in Jamaica—and will be switching from rapper to reggae. (Read more in the New York Times.) At midlife, Snoop reported that he needed something different; his new album boasts the name, “Reincarnated.” News reports cite Snoop as claiming, “I have always said I was Bob Marley reincarnated … I feel I have always been a Rastafari. I just didn’t have my third eye open.” While in Jamaica, Snoop was christened by Rasta priests as “Snoop Lion,” bearing resemblance to the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, “Lion of Judah.” Still not convinced? Check out Snoop’s latest album, due out in September, or an upcoming documentary and book that will attest to his spiritual rebirth.

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Categories: International Observances

Rastafarian: Haile Selassie’s birthday & Book of Revelation

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_712_Rasta_birthday.jpgRastafarian messiah Haile Selassie was born on July 23, 1892 in Ethiopia. Thus, followers believe Ethiopia to be their spiritual homeland. Photo in public domainMONDAY, JULY 23: It’s the birthday of a savior today, as Rastafarians far and wide celebrate the 120th anniversary of Haile Selassie. Since the 1930s, the Rastafari movement has named itself after the late Ethiopian emperor (“Ras,” or “Head/Duke” and Tafari Makonnen, Selassie’s birth name) and has garnered hundreds of thousands of followers.

If you’re thinking of Bob Marley, dreadlocks and smoking marijuana, though, think again—this religion is about much more than carefree drumbeats, and it is currently fighting to return to its roots. What most non-Rastas probably don’t know about the faith is that its prophet based predictions on the Book of Revelation; to this day, study of the Bible is paramount. Biblical inspiration plays a major role in black nationalism, Jamaican politics and the “image and likeness” of a black messiah for Rastas. (Read more in the Jamaica Observer.)

Years before his enthronement, Emperor Haile Selassie I was predicted as the coming God incarnate by black nationalist Marcus Garvey. (Wikipedia has details.) Eager to find an image of God that resembled their own dark skin, Africans listened to Garvey’s prophesy; when Selassie took the throne of Ethiopia 1930, he was worshipped. Why? Titles like “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah” and “Root of David” could be applied to the descendant of King Solomon and Queen Makeda (known also as the Queen of Sheba). When news reports began circulating after Selassie’s coronation, the Rasta movement began.

Perhaps surprisingly, Selassie was a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox church. It’s not firmly documented whether Selassie ever tried to confirm or deny his divinity to Rastas. Rather, Selassie stated, “No one should question the faith of others, for no human being can judge the ways of God.” After WWII, Ethiopia regained its independence, and Rastas—regarding Ethiopia as the Promised Land—began moving there. In 1948, Selassie donated a portion of his private land in central Ethiopia for use by people of African descent in the West Indies. Several Rastafari families moved there, and many still live there today. (Looking for a kid-friendly way to observe this holiday? Check out the UK’s Assemblies.org.)

Rastas today hold onto the belief that Selassie will lead them to a golden age of righteousness and prosperity. Nandor Tanczos, a New Zealand Rasta, was an MP from 1999 to 2008 for the Green Party. Tanczos continued to promote his faith while on the national stage, but Tanczos also insisted that it is the Rasta way to “recognize and respect” the religious philosophies of others.

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Categories: International Observances

Rastafarian: Groundation Day meets release of ‘Marley’

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_412_Marley_Groundation_Day.jpgPhoto in public domain courtesy of FlickrSATURDAY, APRIL 21: The Rastafarian religion already basks in the spotlight with the recent release of “Marley,” a documentary based on the Reggae legend (scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-ray in August). Today, Rastas celebrate Groundation Day. On this date in 1966, Rastas flooded the Palisadoes Airport in Kingston when their alleged Messiah, Emperor Haile Selassie, touched down.

This was Selassie’s only visit to Jamaica. However, for Bob Marley’s wife, Rita, this trip would be the turning point when she whole-heartedly converted to Rastafarianism. It was during Haile Selassie’s trip to Jamaica that Rita says she saw a stigma on Selassie’s hand as he waved to the crowd.

Despite the emperor’s denial, Rastafarians believed (and still believe) that Haile Selassie was the Messiah; Selassie was a devotee of Ethiopian Orthodox. When Selassie visited Jamaica in April of 1966, it’s estimated that 100,000 Rastas from across Jamaica swarmed the airport to welcome him. (Wikipedia has details.) When the day’s storm clouds made way for bursts of sunlight—just as Selassie’s plane touched down—almost the entire crowd knelt down. Today, Groundation Day is met with music, chanting and prayer.

Groundation Day 2012 comes hot on the heels of the film about Bob Marley. As his family has always kept a tight hold on archives, a film has never before been made about the Reggae superstar; that’s changed, though, with the release of Kevin Macdonald’s “Marley.” The 2.5-hour film is the biography of a man who was raised nearly penniless in a shack in Jamaica. (Read film reviews from National Public Radio and the New York Times.) By the time of his death at age 36, Bob Marley had gone from penniless to international icon—still recognized and influential around the world more than three decades after his death. Not only was Marley praised for his music, but he also exercised enormous influence on Jamaican politics; on an international scale, Marley popularized Reggae and brought the Rastafarian religion to the world.

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Categories: International Observances

Rastafarian: Happy Ethiopian New Year!

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_911_Ethiopian_New_Year_Meskals.jpgMeskel daisies—Ethiopia’s national flower—are in full bloom on New Year’s Day, indicating the end of a long rainy seasonSUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Happy New Year—Ethiopian style! Since Rastafarians consider Ethiopia their spiritual homeland, both Rastas and Ethiopian citizens give thanks for a fresh year today. The official name for the New Year is Enkutatash; celebrants attend church, eat traditional flat bread and stew (try your hand at Wat stew with this recipe), and the young earn money while the elderly share hopes for the New Year. Perhaps most importantly, the New Year marks the end of the rainy season, and Ethiopians in villages across the country dance and sing with joy. Historically, the Queen of Sheba returned to Ethiopia after a visit to King Soloman and was welcomed home with jewels: Enkutash means “Gift of Jewels.” (Visit Rastaites.com for more.)

American Rastas have drawn criticism in recent years for holding grand parties on such a somber day in recent American history, but the Ethiopian New Year was in place for centuries before the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The Orthodox Julian calendar, followed by Ethiopians, consists of 12 months of 30 days and a 13th month of four or five days, depending on the presence of a leap year. (Wikipedia has details.) This calendar follows Christian tradition, beginning on the Annunciation of Jesus and having the four years of the leap year cycle named after the four Evangelists: John, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

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Categories: International Observances