BIRTHDAY OF HAILE SELASSIE I
23rd July 2021
This is one of the holiest days of the Rastafarian year. It is celebrated with Nyahbinghi drumming, hymns and prayers. Born in 1892 as Tafari Mahonnen, Ras Tafari ruled Ethiopia as regent and crown prince from 1916 to 1928, and in 1930 was crowned emperor. This was when he became his Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassi I, a name that means ‘Power of the Trinity’.
Haile Selassie was Ethiopia’s 225th and last emperor, serving from 1930 until his overthrow in 1974 by the Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. He traced his line back to Menelik I, who was credited with being the child of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. His birth had been foretold by astrologers, who foretold the great drought that started in 1889 and was broken at the moment of the child’s birth, thus confirming his identity and destiny. His teachers were astounded at the depth of his knowledge and his understanding of ancient Indic religious texts. It is claimed that he could also converse with animals, and that savage beasts became docile in his presence. He was a skilled linguist, who learnt to read and write in Amharic and Ge’ez – and also in French.
For a country trying to gain its foothold in the world and seeking to curry favour with the West, the progressive Ras Tafari came to symbolize the hopes and dreams of Ethiopia’s younger population. In 1923 he led Ethiopia into the League of Nations. The following year, he travelled to Europe, becoming the first Ethiopian ruler to go abroad.
Many of the Jamaican descendants of former slaves regarded Ethiopia as the symbol of all Africa, so the crowning of the new emperor was regarded as a highly propitious event. The Rastafari movement emerged in the 1930s, in large part inspired by the vision of Marcus Garvey and focussed on the belief that Haile Selassie was a divine being and the redeemer of the black people. Although the anticipated mass repatriation to Africa has not occurred, the movement has spread throughout much of the world, largely through immigration and the interest generated by reggae music – most notably, that of Bob Marley. For the more than a million Rastafarians worldwide, the anniversary of the birth of Haile Selassie is considered one of the most significant days of the Rasta year.