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Meet the Rastafarians who returned to the ‘Promised Land,’ Ethiopia

~ The Guardian, Nigeria. 

Emperor Haile Sellassie

EVEN today, long after the fall of the Dergue, Selassie remains a controversial figure in Ethiopia, and many look askance at the Rastafarians who venerate him.

There are people who have extreme love for Selassie, the modernising leader who did so much for the country, but others say he was a representative of a colonial empire, was enamoured by the opulence of Europe and did not lead the country in an equitable way,” says MacLeod.

There have been other problems too.

One is “ganja” – marijuana – considered a herb of religious significance by Rastafarians, who sometimes refer to it as the “wisdom weed” or “holy herb”.

In Ethiopia, by contrast, it is regarded as a dangerous drug, comparable to heroin or cocaine, says MacLeod. Ethiopian police sometimes raid the Rastafarian settlement at Shashamene to search for it, she says – even though khat, a stimulant leaf that is widely chewed in the country, is held by some experts to be more harmful.
It is also unfortunate that the land granted by Selassie is located in a region populated by the Oromo people, who say they have been oppressed for years by Ethiopia’s dominant Amhara commnity, to which Selassie belonged.

According to MacLeod, Selassie was for the “Amharisation” of Ethiopia.
On the local level, in Shashamene, the Rastas support the emperor, who, in the eyes of the Oromo people, represents a coercive central power,” agrees Dr. Giulia Bonacci, a Rastafarian researcher from the Institute of Research for Development, based in Addis Ababa.
“In a region still marked by a history of alienation from land and economic and social dominance, symbols of imperial power are not appreciated.”

Bob Marley
The Rastafarians have, up to a point, integrated with the local Ethiopian population. Some have married Ethiopians, but on the whole these Ethiopian partners have not adopted the Rastafarian faith.
“She don’t fight me about my faith. I don’t fight her. She’s a Protestant,” says Vincent Wisdom, a Rastafarian man with an Ethiopian wife. None of his five children share his faith either. “Two of them are Orthodox and one of them is Protestant; the others are too small,” he says.

MacLeod has met only one Ethiopian, Naod Seifu, who has converted to Rastafarianism.
“I used to have dreadlocks but I have to trim them to work,” he told her. “In Ethiopia having dreadlocks is taken as bad behaviour and inappropriate.” He added that any Ethiopian who believed the king was divine was regarded as “mad”.

The main Rastafarian sects or “mansions”

•Nyahbinghi – the oldest of all Rastafarian orders. The name is derived from Queen Nyahbinghi who ruled Uganda in the 19th century and fought against the British Empire. They were the first to proclaim Emperor Haile Selassie as the incarnation of the supreme deity. The Nyahbinghi pushed for repatriation to Ethiopia.

•Bobo Shanti – the name is derived from Bobo, which stands for Black, and Ashanti, a tribe from Ghana. It is believed most of the slaves brought to Jamaica were from the Ashanti tribe. Prince Emanuel Charles Edwards founded the Bobo Shanti order in Jamaica in the 1950s. He, along with his descendants and Haile Selassie, are seen as gods. Marcus Garvey is regarded as a prophet. The Bobo Shanti also believe black people should be compensated financially for slavery. They wear long robes and very tightly wrapped turbans, and avoid eating salt and oil.

•The 12 Tribes – this sect was founded in 1968 by Dr Vernon “Prophet Gad” Carrington and is the most liberal of all Rastafarian orders. Twelve Tribes members are free to worship in a church of their choosing or at home. They consider themselves the direct descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob. They are divided into 12 houses which are determined by birth month and each house is represented by a different colour. Bob Marley was their most famous follower.

Dr, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president and a father of Pan-Africanism.
iWonder: Haile Selassie – Who was the Rastafarian Messiah?

When MacLeod first visited Shashamene in 2003, she was surprised by what she found.
“It was not at all the way it was described to me. It’s not a Rastafarian town. It’s 100,000 Ethiopians and only a few hundred Rastas living on the outskirts,” she says.

Many more Rastafarians come to Ethiopia on holiday, either for a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage or for regular sojourns.

Image caption

“Some will come once a year or every couple of years and they describe themselves as having ‘one foot in Ethiopia’,” she says.
Even those who live in the country long-term have mostly retained their British, American or Canadian passports to make it easier to travel abroad. But taking dual citizenship – and obtaining a second, Ethiopian passport – has never been possible.

Talks on the issue had been due to take place with former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, according to MacLeod, but his death in 2012 put paid to the plan.

Most Ethiopians still consider Rastafarians foreigners, or “ferenjoch,” she says.

“We know God is Haile Selassie, Him Mighty God. Now Him save the poor earth right now, and Him save the people,” Bob Marley was quoted as saying in 1978, four years after the emperor was toppled.

“True dat dem overthrow ‘im. In a sense, all a de people around him was really weird. But just how it go…”

In the same year Marley visited Shashamene, while there, says political scientist Horace Campbell, he began to realise “the problems of translating a dream into reality”.

His wife, Rita, has talked nevertheless about the family’s hopes of burying him in Shashamene.

Ethiopia, MacLeod says, will always remain the Rastafarians’ promised land.
Who is Jah? What is Rastafari? Who is Haile Selassie? What is Babylon? Was Bob Marley a Christian?

Jah: Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.

Psalm 68:4 KJV: In this verse in the Bible, Jah (Yahh in Hebrew) is a contraction of the root word Jehovah (Yehovah in Hebrew), meaning “the existing one”, the proper name of the one true God. This is the only time Jah is used in the King James Version of the Bible. This word is used and translated as LORD 45 other times in the Old Testament, KJV.

Barak Obama, first United States president of African (Kenyan) descent.
Rastafari: Ras Tafari is one of the titles given to a man named Haile Selassie. Jah is often placed in front of Ras Tafari, referring to him as lord. He was an Ethiopian Emperor that many claim to be Christ in the second coming or Almighty God himself. Many Rastas consider Haile Selassie to be divine. Many Rastas worship him. Before his coronation as the emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie was thought by early Rastafarian preachers to be the Messiah—or God himself. Some Rastas believe that it was never Haile Selassie who was Christ, but the “lion spirit” within him. Though some Rastas deny his deity and worship Christ, to most Rastas he is their redeemer and Africa is the promised land (Particularly Ethiopia which they believe to be Zion).

Many Rastas use marijuana as a holy sacrament. Marcus Garvey campaigned against marijuana and Haile Selassie outlawed its use in Ethiopia. All Rastas need to accept the emperor’s own self-denial of deity, and follow his lead to full faith in Christ alone for salvation.
Haile Selassie: Here are some excerpts from an interview with Haile Selassie, conducted by Dr. Oswald Hoffman on Christmas Day 1968.

Your Imperial Majesty, it is a great honour to be permitted to speak with you today and to have you as a guest on this special Christmas programme which will be broadcast to people all over the world. Your Imperial Majesty, what is it that makes you want to follow Jesus Christ?
When Jesus Christ was born from Virgin Mary, from that time on He lived an exemplary life, a life which men everywhere must emulate. This life and the faith which He has taught us assures us of salvation, assures us also of harmony and good life upon earth. Because of the exemplary character of the life of Jesus Christ it is necessary that all men do their maximum in their human efforts to see to it that they approximate as much as they can the good example that has been set by Him. It’s quite true that there is no perfection in humanity. From time to time we make mistakes.

We do commit sins, but even as we do that, deep in our hearts as Christians we know we have [a chance of] forgiveness from the Almighty. He taught us that all men are equal regardless of sex, their national origin and tribe. And He also taught us all who seek Him shall find Him. To live in this healthy life, a Christian life, is what makes me follow Jesus Christ.”
Your Imperial Majesty, what advice would you give a person who is considering the claims of Christ, perhaps for the first time?

I would tell a person who was considering the claims of Christ for the first time that it is necessary to have faith in the Almighty, that it is necessary to have love, and that it is necessary to conduct oneself in a manner that we have been taught to do in the Bible. I would also advise him to seek the secular knowledge, for the more one knows the more he realizes the need for a prime mover, the need for a Creator, a Creator who is good, and the need for salvation and also for peaceful life upon earth.

I would also tell him to learn and to think for himself the ways he would serve the Lord. In this thought and in this undertaking of his he will inevitably find the way of serving his fellow men.

For his faith would then be manifested by His conduct. If Christians behave in this way, if we dedicate ourselves to this fundamental task, then we will have a peaceful world and will be assured of not transgressing against the will and the Commandments of God.”
Here are some other comments made by Haile Selassie in the same interview, from a document he wrote called “My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress, Volume 2,” an interview by Bill McNeil,and from his address to the World Evangelical Congress in 1966.

Haile Selasssie: “When He [Jesus Christ] sacrificed himself at Golgotha for the atonement of our sin, He prayed with His last breath for the forgiveness of those who had tortured Him saying, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’. Shame on those of us who are Christians and do not follow the way of the Savior of the World, whose life was filled with kindness, humility, and martyrdom!”

Haile Selassie: “Without love all of our human efforts in the sight of God can be useless. He loved us and on our behalf He was given as a ransom, and it was because of love and His love for us that He accomplished the act of love.”
Haile Selassie: “We in Ethiopia have one of the oldest versions of the Bible, but however old the version may be, in whatever language it might be written, the Word remains one and the same. It transcends all boundaries of empires and al conceptions of race. It is eternal…. And I might say for myself that from early childhood I was taught to appreciate the Bible and my love for it increases with the passage of time.

All through my troubles I have found it a cause of infinite comfort…. Today man sees all his hopes and aspirations crumbling before him. He is perplexed and knows not whither he is drifting. But he must realize that the Bible is his refuge, and the rallying point for all humanity. In it man will find the solution of his present difficulties and guidance for his future action, and unless he accepts with clear conscience the Bible and its great Message, he cannot hope for salvation. For my part, I glory in the Bible.”

Haile Selassie: “This age above all ages is a period in history when it should be our prime duty to preach the Gospel of grace to all our fellow men and women. The love shown in Christ by our God to mankind should constrain all of us who are followers and disciples of Christ to do all in our power to see to it that the Message of Salvation is carried to those of our fellows for whom Christ our Savior was sacrificed but who have not had the benefit of hearing the Good News…. However wise or however mighty a person may be, he is like a ship without a rudder if he is without God.

A rudderless ship is at the mercy of the waves and the wind, drifts wherever they take it, and if there arises a whirlwind it is smashed against the rocks and becomes as if it has never existed. It is our firm belief that a soul without Christ is bound to meet with no better fate.
Therefore, O Christians, let us arise and, with the spiritual zeal and earnestness which characterized the Apostles and early Christians, let us labor to lead out brothers and sisters to our Savior Jesus Christ, Who only can give life in its fullest sense!”

Haile Selassie [in response to the question “There are millions throughout the world, your Imperial Majesty, who regard you as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ”]: “I had heard of that idea. I also met certain Rastafarians. I told them clearly that ‘I am a man,’ that ‘I am mortal,’ and that ‘I would be replaced by the oncoming generation, and that they should never make a mistake in assuming or pretending that the human being is emanated from a deity.’”

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