Rastafari and King Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia

A few weeks ago I was wearing a t-shirt with the picture of Ethiopian emperors from Atse Tewodros to Atse Haile Selassie and a friend of mine asked why the Rastafarai believe that Haile Selassie was a new incarnation of christ and whether the King really claimed to be devine. I think as an Ethiopian, especially with the king’s picture on my t-shirt, I should be able to tell the history associated with this situation which identifies Ethiopia internationally. I couldn’t answer it assuredly but I told him a rumor I heard which goes like …

In the 1960s Haile Sellassie was  visiting Jamaica which was stricken by a continuous dry season without rain and the day the Emperor arrived in the country it started to rain. The people associated that near magical event, his African royal status, his claimed linage to the Solomonic dynasty and some bible verses to declare him a second incarnation of Jesus. 

After that I decided to read more to find out if this truly is a fact and understand the relationship between rastafari movement and Haile Selassie.

The rumor was correct in that King Haile Selassie made a trip to Jamaica in the 1960s and the people were excited to see him. But the Rastafarai movement started in the 1930’s way before any trip of King Haile Selassie to Jamaica. Freed slaves from United States that resettled in Jamaica had established a strong Pan-African movement at the time and this ideology was having an immense influence on the religion they adopted while under slavery. They were looking to establish an African connection in their religion and King Haile Selassie’s crowning as Conqueror of the Lion of Judah in Ethiopia became the connection people desired. With the influential  Pan-Africanism teachings of Marcus Mosiah Garvey who was regarded highly in the rastafari movement, the religion presented Haile Selassie as a new messiah based on an interpretation of a bible verse where the Lion of Judah and the descendent of David will prevail. They believe Ethiopia is their spiritual holyland where they dream to move to and adopted the green-yellow-red flag of Ethiopia to be associated with the movement. Some of them even learn to speak Amharic to further identify as Ethiopian.

Back to the rain story … Haile Selassie did visit Jamaica in a day declared as a public holiday and there was something related with rain but not how the rumor goes. On April 21,1966 a big crowed gathered near the airport in a celebratory mood with drum beats, chants and a smell of Marijuana in the air awaiting the arrival of the Emperor. As people were staring at the clouds waiting to see the plane carrying the Emperor, a rain started dropping but that hasn’t stopped the festive mood of the crowed. But as soon as the plane with a green, yellow and red stripes apear in view the rain stopped and people started shouting “See how God stop de rain.” So unlike the rumor, Haile Selassie is perceived to stop a heavy rain upon landing in Jamaica.

Though Robert Earl Hood claimed that Haile Selassie “never denied or affirmed his divinity”, Haile Selassie officially dispatched Ethiopian Orthodox church fathers to the Caribbean to bring the people towards Orthodox Christianity. Below is a short video of the trip. [Jamaica gleaner, wiki]



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