On July 23rd 1892 Tafari Mekonnen was born in Ejerso Goro, outside Harar, beginning a transformational journey for Ethiopia, Africa and the Black World. Designated Ras Tafari in his early years, the 1930 coronation of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I fanned flames of Black Liberation and Back to Africa Movements. The world renown 20th century Pan African Movement chose HIM’s name, Rastafari, to represent their contemporary culture born in response and resistance to racialism, neo-colonialism and other vestiges of the Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade. The Emperor represented the divine sum of African Ancestors, the Alpha, the Conquering Lion of Judah. Incubated in Jamaica, Rastafari is distinguished through an almost century of unique spiritual, social and cultural practices and principles. Some traditions include natural/organic plant-based lifestyle; deep respect and connection to nature; original tongue; spiritual ceremonies and rites; guidance through Councils of Elders, Priests and special committees; wearing of locks and modest clothing; and celebration of special holy-days. Best known for pleads for peace, love, justice and African unity; Rastafari combines indigenous African traditions with the Judeo-Christian faith to create a wholistic way of life focused on return to Ethiopia, Africa.
The goal of Rastafari Founding Fathers Robert Hinds, Joseph Hibbert, H. Archibald Dunkley and Leonard Percival Howell was the restoration of the stolen legacy of Africans through Liberation, Redemption, Repatriation and Reparations. The Movement emerged in Kingston, Jamaica in the 1920’s primarily through two Prophets. The 1848 born Alexander Bedward was a Revival Baptist Preacher promoting the beginnings of Black Liberation Theology. His teachings created fear and deep concern amongst the white and mixed-race sector of society of Jamaica, in their comfort zone, the British colony. Bedward was committed to a mental hospital until his death for both his black power preaching and predictions of his own ascension to heaven. Pan African Prophet, Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey, born August 17, 1887, soon followed declaring, “Africa for the Africans – at home and abroad, One God, One Aim, One Destiny”, the motto of his 1914 Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). Garvey prophesied, “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near.” Confirmation of His Majesty’s divinity and ability to conquer colonialism was realized for adherents through a front-page report in the Jamaican The Daily Gleaner November 11, 1930 announcing the November 2nd coronation of Ras Tafari. Crowned HIM Emperor Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, with supplemental Bible references such as Revelation 5:5 “Weep not behold the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed…”, signaled the unfolding of Garvey’s prophesy, re- reassuring early Rastafaris.
A further article published in the Jamaica Times December 7th 1935 entitled ‘Nyabinghi Order of Ethiopia and the Congo’ came shortly after the Italian invasion on the Ethiopian Empire. Noted as a resistance crusade against colonialism, Nyahbinghi an indigenous East African movement, led to the colloquial names for the followers back in Jamaica such as “Ras Tafaris” “Rastamen” of “Nyahmen”. The Emperor, now in England strategizing the topple of the Italian occupiers, empowered physician, Dr. Malaku Bayen to establish the Ethiopian World Federation Inc. (EWF Inc.). Launched in New York City on August 25 1937 they mobilized money and myriad support for Ethiopia from Black People in the Diaspora to aid the Empire. The EWF Inc. preamble reads, “We, the Black Peoples of the World, in order to effect Unity, Solidarity, Liberty, Freedom and Self-Determination, to secure justice and maintain the integrity of Ethiopia, which is our divine heritage, do hereby establish and ordain this constitution for the Ethiopian World Federation Inc.”
By 1941 victory for Ethiopia had been attained and The Majesty showed gratitude with a 500 acre land grant of personal property entrusted to the EWF Inc., “…to the Black People of the West, who aided Ethiopia during her period of distress…”. This quote is from a 1955 correspondence from EWF Inc. NY Executive Committee to Jamaican EWF Inc. Local which advised on the status of the land grant. The letter further went on to state, “…the Ethiopian government is not prepared for mass migration…people who are willing and able to go…must be of the pioneer caliber…go in groups and have the co-operative spirit…”. It didn’t take long for several pioneering individuals and families to make the arduous journey “home”; still better than staying in the West facing despair, discrimination and even death based simply on skin color. So, while the land grant was never given to Rastafaris, specifically, they too answered the call, for the ‘movement of Jah People’, echoed in Bob Marley’s song Exodus. The community has grown to hundreds over the past 70 years with families in Shashemene, Dilla, Bahir Dar and Addis Abeba, with most fully re-integrated positively into Ethiopian society, showing unconditional love and support for Ethiopia.
This weekend Rastafari in Ethiopia and worldwide are celebrating the birth of the Black King who stood for Ethiopia and all Africans at home and abroad, best expressed in HIM May 25 1963 OAU speech. “Those men who refused to accept the judgment passed upon them by the colonisers, who held unswervingly through the darkest hours to a vision of an Africa emancipated from political, economic, and spiritual domination, will be remembered and revered wherever Africans meet. Many of them never set foot on this continent. Others were born and died here. Their deeds are written in history. Africa’s victory…is not yet total … let us not now falter or lag or relax. We must make one final supreme effort…the thrilling sense of achievement has brought us near satiation.”
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.