Haile Selassie was given the name Lij Tafari at his birth in an eastern Ethiopian village. Ras, which means prince or chief, was the title he was given when he became a regent in Ethiopia’s government. After being crowned Emperor in 1930, he was given yet another new name: Haile Selassie, which translates to “Power of the Trinity.”
A new spiritual movement, represented by his birth name, was also sparked by his coronation. It had its origins in Jamaica but is now widely practiced all over the world. Although its adherents are often referred to as “Rastafarians,” the term “Rastafari” or “Rasta” is more commonly used. Rastafarians, who hold that Ethiopia is Zion, the promised land for Black people, have a deep ideological connection to the cult of Selassie.
One of the earliest to declare Haile Selassie divine was Father Joseph Hibbert. One of the first Rastafari preachers, he played a key role in spreading the religion across Jamaica in the 1930s. Father Joseph Hibbert was born in Jamaica in 1894, and he and his adoptive father moved to Costa Rica in 1911. He stayed there for about 20 years, “workin’, learnin’, and I return back to Jamaica 1931, the month of October, the 12th, I reach back in Jamaica. In an interview in 1983, he said, “I started properly to preach the Ethiopian Coptic Church in 1932.”
He rented 28 acres of land and grew bananas there while he was in Costa Rica. In 1924, he became a member of the Masonic-affiliated Ancient Mystic Order of Ethiopia. Some have hypothesized that it was a Masonic-inspired fraternal organization called the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge. Before returning to Jamaica, where he “preached Haile Selassie as the King of Kings, the returned Messiah, and the Redeemer of Israel,” Hibbert became a Master Mason of this Order.
He established the Ethiopian Coptic Faith Ministry in the St. Andrew Parish, where he began preaching in the Benoah District. Later, he relocated his ministry to Kingston, where he met Leonard P. Howell, another preacher who was instructing Rastafarians. After collaborating with Howell for a while, Hibbert went on to found the Ethiopian Coptic Faith on his own.
Bible verses and stories from the Old Testament that, according to derekbishton.com, proved that “Ras Tafari is the reincarnated body of Jesus Christ” were included in Hibbert’s sermon. This is a new era, a new creation.
According to the website, Hibbert’s message centered around the concept of reincarnation. “Isiah was reborn as Elias, who can now be demonstrated to be John the Baptist (see Matthew 17). Jesus Christ has been reborn as Ras Tafari today. And John the Baptist reappeared as Marcus Mosiah Garvey, yet another herald, spokesperson, and trumpeter.
“Moses took the scroll of Joseph and freed the Israelites from Egypt by leading the children away from the country. To free all the children and all of Africa, Haile Selassie must have led an army of 80,000 men and fought in an aircraft for seven months.
Emperor Haile Selassie is the “creator of Israel, the holy man of Israel, the king of men,” according to Hibbert and other Rastafari preachers.
A number of Rastas would find inspiration in Haile Selassie, from his speech to the League of Nations (which would later serve as the basis for Bob Marley’s hit song “War”) to his work in establishing the Organization of African Unity. Then, in 1948, he showed the Rasta community special treatment by allocating land in Shashamane for returnees from the Diaspora, including Rastas. Until the coup that ended his reign and drastically reduced the land granted to these repatriates, he paid several visits to their settlement.
It was in 1966 that Haile Selassie personally traveled to Jamaica to persuade Rastafarians to make the trek to Shashamane. Hibbert may have been among the Rastafari elders who had the opportunity to meet Haile Selassie during the trip.
Even though he had been dead since 1986, most Rastas remembered Hibbert as a legendary Rastafarian educator. Bongo Zack, a Rasta born in Jamaica but living in Houston, Texas at the time, recalled seeing Hibbert perform in Kingston in the early 1930s when he spoke with derekbishton.com.
“When I was a young boy, the first thing I clearly recall is Mr. Hibbert marching in front of our house every Sunday while waving a red, gold, and green Ethiopian flag. Mr. Hibbert used to wear a white robe with a red, gold, and green sash and a leather belt with a cup to hoist a flag pole, and he would march right down to the corner and signal everyone that a meeting was going to take place that evening.
Looking up at this man brought back memories from when I was a young boy. Because I am a young man who has always worn trousers, and Mr. Hibbert was the first adult male I have ever seen in a robe, I found this to be particularly amusing. He was an unusual man from Costa Rica.