The visit of Ethiopian monarch Haile Selassie to Jamaica on April 21, 1966, irrevocably transformed the character of continental and diasporic African ties.
From a historical Pan-African perspective, Emperor Selassie’s visit occurred during a moment when the euphoria around African countries’ independence had not faded down.
Selassie’s own Ethiopia had never been colonized, but in 1960, dubbed “The Year of Africa,” Africans’ demands for self-government were more focused and ferocious than ever.
On the other side of the globe, Jamaica had acquired independence in 1962. It was not until 1981 that the country was declared a republic.
Selassie’s personhood, or rather, the myth of Selassie’s personhood, as well as the apparent divinity of where he came from, were essential aspects of his visit.
In 1892, Haile Selassie was born into the Ethiopian royal family as Lij Tafari. He was given the name Ras as a prince and heir.
When he was crowned king of Ethiopia, he took the name Haile Selassie, which meant “Power of the Trinity.” He was a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, a Christian organization.
However, Haile Selassie had sparked a religion movement in Jamaica in the 1930s. The Rastafari (Ras Tafari) movement was established on the premise that Marcus Garvey, a pioneering Pan-Africanist, had predicted the emergence of a “black king” in Africa.
For Africans in the diaspora and on the home continent, this black king was intended to usher in “the day of deliverance.”
The Garvey prophecy’s veracity has been brought into question. Ethiopia, also known as Abyssinia or Cush in ancient times, retains its mystique.
Rastafarians see the biblical prophesy in Psalm 68:31 as a declaration of Ethiopia’s manifest destiny. “Princes shall come out of Egypt,” the scripture adds, “and Ethiopia shall shortly reach forth her hands to God.”
Ethiopia appears in a number of historic records of Near Easterners and Middle Easterners’ interactions with Africans in the past, other from that Bible scripture.
Add to that the fact that Ethiopia was never colonized, and you have a good idea of what fuels Rastafarians’ fascination with Ethiopia.
The gathering that assembled at what is now Norman Manley International Airport was enormous. For several hours, men, women, and children waited to greet the man whose existence nourished a faith.
Despite the fact that reggae music was only in its infancy in 1966, it was stated that the genre’s sounds could be heard at a near-carnival at the airport.
A letter from the British Commissioner in Jamaica to the British Secretary of Commonwealth Relations may provide a fuller depiction of the celebration on that day.
The letter stated that “official arrangements for the visit were significantly interrupted by Rastafarians who thought the Emperor to be God.”
Rastafarianism is considered to have gained traction in Jamaica as a result of Emperor Selassie’s visit, and has since expanded throughout the world thanks to reggae music.
Rastafarians adopted the king as a symbol, although Selassie was not happy with it. “I am not God, so don’t worship me.” I’m just a man. “I worship Jesus Christ,” he told the men and women who had gathered to celebrate him.
Rastafarians have observed April 21 as a holy day since Emperor Selassie’s arrival to Jamaica.