My first encounter with His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie (POWER OF THE TRINITY) I, “The King of Kings (NEGUS NAGAST) of Ethiopia, Conquering Lion of The Tribe of Judah, Elect of God”, was definitely from listening to Reggae music as a kid, and not a physical one having been born many years after his death to the west of Africa, to his east. Somewhere along the line I felt that the “Jah” in the music by reggae musicians couldn’t have been referring to the same Christian God, especially when such chants of Jah was immediately followed by the “Rastafar(a)i” response. I might have come upon the name “Haile Selassie” in some literature or social studies/history book before then but it never raised my curiosity especially regarding the ascribing of divinity to him, until Majek Fashek’s “RELIGION IS POLITICS” in 1991, in which the following lyrics formed a part:
“… In the beginning was the light,
And the light was in the beginning of
Light was in Buddha,
Light was in Haile Selassie,
Light was in Muhammad,
Light was in Jesus Christ….”
I knew Buddha and Christ had divinity attached to them by their worshippers, and adherents to the religions they founded, Muhammad a prophet in Islam, but Haile Selassie? So, I began to pay more attention to the reggae music that the latter’s name was mentioned, trying to understand what he meant to Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Lucky Dube, and most importantly to Winston Rodney aka “Burning Spear”, who wouldn’t spare any opportunity to remind listeners (of his songs) of how Marcus Garvey prophesied about the coming of the “God amongst men”, Ras Tafari. Ras (Prince) Tafari (Makonnen Woldemikael) was what the late Emperor Haile Selassie was known by before his coronation as Emperor early in the last century. My interest in Rastafarians and their religion was stoked at that point, and I sought to find out how Haile Selassie came to become the rallying point for Rastafarians worldwide, especially after the popularity music availed it from adherents such as the reggae icon Bob Marley and others.
Rastafarianism in my estimation, must have developed in much the same way as THE NATION OF ISLAM in the United States under its founder, the late Honourable Elijah Mohammed, borne out of disillusionment with a white God and that permitted and justified slavery of Black people, and the need to have a God and maybe even a saviour and prophet that’s Black. Without the use of psychoactive drugs, the Nation of Islam, though with some weird theories at inception and in the early days, sounded quite reasonable in pursuant of a Black agenda through a religious path. The same cannot be said of Rastafarianism, which under the influence of mind altering cannabis gave light and meaning to the words of Black leader and activist, Marcus Garvey, as regards the Coronation of Ras Tafari as NEGUS NAGAST (King of Kings), in his “Look To The East (of Africa) for the crowning of a Black King” proclamation, viewed by some as prophetic.
The discovery that Ethiopians are also children of Abraham from his concubine Keturah must have also aroused the interest of those who founded the movement in the early 1920s, not least the fact that Emperor Haile Selassie was the 225th in the more than 3000 year dynastic rule of the product of conjugal union between King Solomon (son of King David ruler of ancient Israel) and the Queen of Sheba, though not recorded in the Bible as an event that happened when the latter visited the former, and hence relying on other sources such as the Qur’an, folklore, and Ethiopian records for validation. With this information in hand, and biblical prophecies to the effect that the rulership of the House of David will be an everlasting one, it was only a matter of time that a surviving line be raised as the legitimate line seeing as the split of Israel into ten and two tribes, the latter (Judah) controlled by David’s offsprings, followed by the disappearance of Israel into exile, then exile (with the disappearance of the ARK OF COVENANT, from the soon to be looted and destroyed Solomon’s magnificent temple, believed to have been in safe custody of descendants of Menelik I, son of Solomon and Sheba in the years following the sacking of Jerusalem) and return of Judah without kings, while the Sheba line continued in Ethiopia, then “Yahshua Ha-Mashiach (The Messiah) ben Dawid” (son of King David, Prince of Peace) through Miriam wife of Joseph, who was impaled ‘pon a tree in Calvary, “for the sins of mankind”, drawing followers even from “kinsmen” in Ethiopia (like the Ethiopian that Philip baptized) during the apostolic era, of whom many made long journeys from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to attend feasts. Ras Tafari is seen amongst Rastafarians as that Messiah-incarnate.
Though Haile Selassie, despite the superfluousness of his many titles never subscribed to seeing himself as divine, he wasn’t known to have discouraged those who ascribed divinity to him either. The Rastafarians in Jamaica whom he took out time to visit, and who on seeing him were at first shocked at his small stature but soon recovered to
resume their reverence of him when he exuded his majesty in gestures and simple speech couldn’t be dissuaded to stop worshipping him, interpreting trivialities associated with that visit as divine and divinely inspired. Emperor Haile Selassie was before many a statesman, and indeed exemplified statesmanship, and in Africa was so well respected by his peers (of post-independent African countries, who also had superfluous titles which all agreed still paled to that of Negus Nagast), that hardly was there any independent African country that didn’t grant him the highest honour available at their disposal at the time, and rightly so seeing how on several occasions he championed the cause of Human Rights and Dignity especially for Africans, at a time there was hardly any other voice speaking on behalf of Africans, at the League of Nations, to when it became the
United Nations, as well as at other International Fora, including while in exile after the invasion of his homeland by Italians in the heady days before and well into the second world war, in speeches which still ring true to this day in the ears of humanity, to eternity, which earned him international respect and recognition, that he could’ve easily been the greatest of his time.
But you know, sometimes living too long has it’s own demerits, one of which is the possibility of getting undone, unfortunately the price many then pay is having to be remembered with the last days rather than with the early or the peak of life (when in fairness to the Emperor, he encouraged and facilitated modernity via education amongst other policies that set Ethiopia far ahead of her African contemporaries), especially when one’s legacy comes to be placed in the hands of antagonistic successors. The same Ethiopia that was never colonized, which he reigned over in all of its greatness was to be hit by a famine of apocalyptic proportions, the pictures of which (a few years after he was gone) galvanized international sympathy and huge efforts made to draw massive aid into the country, especially after thousands had lost their lives because of what started initially as the disconnect between the emperor and his people. The hungry and dying people rejoiced at his toppling by the military (The Derg in 1974), whose restiveness in mutinies before the coup (the second and
last of his long reign), could’ve have alerted the emperor and his government, had he not been too cocooned in his greatness, and with his advisers (as with those usually around power) either not intimating him of reality, or he turning a deaf ear to them with the aloofness that most rulers are wont to exhibit, having interests only in state dinners and lavish ceremonies, leading to the unfortunate situation where what took three thousand years to build was swiftly brought down.
When he died aged 83 and in “captivity” somewhat, his funeral and burial in 1975 (a few months after he was toppled) was in stark contrast to his coronation in 1930, devoid of the pomp and pageantry that characterized the latter, of the likes that inspired incarcerated (for drug peddling) and soon to be released dancehall king and Rastafarian, Buju Banton to do the highly rated “NEGUS NAGAST”, which in listening to it recently fired me up to eventually do this. You’d think Emperor Haile Selassie’s death would smother the Rastafarian faith altogether, but in fact it was the opposite that subsisted. It is said that Bob Marley’s “JAH LIVES”
was released in response to those taunting him about the death of Emperor Haile Selassie; to the adherents his death wasn’t enough excuse to return to a white “racist” God, if they could help it, and you can’t help but nod in agreement if you understand the act of barbarism, injustice and “sufferation” that’s been visited upon the black race, especially in the name of the Christian “God”, in the eye of descendants of slaves shipped from Africa to the Americas. When in 2000 the Ethiopian Orthodox Church decided to give him a
more befitting burial, Rastafarians from Jamaica and elsewhere, including lovers of the late Emperor in Ethiopia and abroad, came to witness and pay their last respect to the NEGUS NAGAST.