ANNIVERSARY OF THE CROWNING OF HAILE SELASSIE I
2nd November 2023
One of the holiest days of the Rastafarian year, it celebrates Haile Selassie’s accession to the Ethiopian throne. It cements the role Ethiopia plays at the heart of Rastafarian tradition.
Amongst followers of Rastafarianism, a religion which developed in the 1930s in Jamaica under the influence of Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, Haile Selassie I is regarded as a messiah who will lead the peoples of Africa and the African diaspora to freedom. The date of his coronation is celebrated by believers throughout the world as one of the most sacred days of the Rastafarian calendar.
Haile Selassie’s birthname was Tafari Mekonnen. When he was crowned Emperor in 1930, he assumed the name Haile Selassie, “Might of the Trinity”, as well as the title “King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah.”
He reigned until 1974, when he was deposed in a military coup following famines and economic turmoil in the country. Put under house arrest by the military authorities, he died in 1975, reputedly of natural causes, although many believe he was killed on the order of the military. Rastafarians themselves believe that Selassie is still alive, and that his widely reported death is part of a conspiracy to discredit their religion. In the end, the dissent which toppled his government came from the same group of elite intellectuals to which he had afforded support and education, in opposition to the influence of feudal tradition.
Custodianship of the popular opinion of Haile Selassie has gradually moved towards the Rasta movement, as the movement itself has gained more freedom, not least through the spread of reggae music. This tradition has proved very efficient in disseminating basic knowledge of Selassie into popular conscience, especially in the Caribbean. Just as old Ethiopians swear on Selassie as Janhoy (meaning the Elephant, as in the Emperor who is greater than the King of the jungle, the Lion), throughout the English-speaking parts of the region it is common to substitute ‘God knows’ with ‘Selassie knows’. Iconic images of His Imperial Majesty can be found virtually anywhere.