None could be considered more central to the modern history of Africa or the booming herb counterculture than Haile Selassie. The last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie was the first crowned black king of an independent nation in Africa, spurring a forward-thinking generation. The face, voice and spirit of peaceful power, Haile Selassie is the root of the Rastafarian religion.
Given the name Ras Tafari Makonnen at birth and born into a noble family, Selassie was able to trace his lineage to biblical figures King Solomon and Queen of Sheba. His birth name, after which the Rastafarian religion would be named, literally translates to “chief” and “he who inspires awe.” Also known as His Imperial Majesty the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Selassie had a lavish coronation that was attended by royals and representatives from all over the globe. During the course of his reign, Selassie was lauded for his political prowess, giving Ethiopia its first written constitution, and trying to raise awareness for the Ethiopian cause in Europe. His goal was to be a progressive emperor and lead his country into the modern era.
A Jamaican activist by the name of Marcus Garvey had the following prophecy, “Look to Africa when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near.” Garvey, who campaigned for political and social change in Jamaica, shared his vision right around the time Selassie became king. Although Garvey was likely talking about a symbolic figure rather than a specific person, the Jamaican people considered it a divine connection. The people who saw this prophecy as truth, and believed Selassie was a heavenly power on earth, started calling themselves Rastafarians. As they understood it, because Haile Selassie was now king, the day of deliverance was looming and that they should prepare for an exodus to Africa. Even though Garvey was never actually a Rastafarian, he is exalted as a prophet of the religion.
Rastafarians consider the holy herb a part of the Tree of Life, and believe it is key in understanding one's self and the universe. They use the holy herb as a spiritual link, smoking it to find truth and wisdom. The most influential Rasta in history is Bob Marley. His music and image were peppered with Rastafarian symbols and beliefs. As Bob Marley’s music spread throughout the world, so did the Rastafarian religion. People were drawn to his peaceful beliefs and unique style. Even though long dreadlocks and dressing in colors of green, yellow, and red were Bob Marley’s personal tastes, his style has become synonymous with the entire Rastafarian religion and culture.
Distant in geography but close in friendship, Selassie and President John F. Kennedy had a well-known kinship. Being leaders at the same time in history afforded these two men to develop a friendship built on dreams, policy, beliefs, culture and mutual respect. JFK hailed his Ethiopian counterpart as a giant in world affairs, and Selassie thought his friend was both fascinating and admirable. Both relished the growing ties between their nations; a rising numbers of Americans began travelling to Ethiopia for tourism, economic aid missions and business. This in turn led to many Ethiopians traveling to the US to broaden their education.
When JFK was assassinated, it wasn't just his emperor friend who mourned his loss, but the whole country of Ethiopia.
Happy Birthday Haile Selassie!