Today marks the 46th anniversary of the visit of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia to Jamaica. Selassie was emperor of Ethiopia for 44 years. He was also his country’s regent from 1916 – 1930, the year he was crowned emperor.
Selassie, who could trace his line back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, was born Lij Tafari Makonnen (Lij means child in Amharic) and became Ras Tafari Makonnen. He took the name Haile Selassie following his crowning. Officially, his title was His Imperial Magesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God.
During the 1920s, black activist, Marcus Garvey frequently exhorted his followers, who were mostly poor
and downtrodden, to look to Africa for the crowning of a black king who would deliver them out of poverty. Many in Jamaica interpreted Selassie’s crowning as the fulfillment of Garvey’s prediction.
One group, the Rastafaris, from Ras Tafari, emerged during the 1930s and embraced Selassie as the
incarnation of God or Jah. Selassie met with representatives of the Rastas and in 1948, donated 500 acres of his private lands to allow Rastafari Brethren and Ethiopian World Federation members to settle in Ethiopia in an area known as Shashamane.
When His Imperial Majesty arrived in Kingston on April 21, 1966, he was caught off guard by the masses of Rastas, about 100,000, who had gathered to greet him, their Jah. It was reported that Selassie was reluctant to exit the plane until he received assurances that it was safe for him to do so.
The visit came at a critical time for the Rastas who were routinely harassed by police and shunned by the majority of the larger Jamaican society. Selassie’s historic visit gave them legitimacy and since then they celebrate His Imperial Majesty with drumming and chanting on Groundation Day, April 21st.