Hundreds of Bahamians who are adherents of the Rastafari faith recently commemorated the coronation of Ras Tafari Makonnen as the 225th emperor of Ethiopia on November 2, 1930. Claiming to be the direct descendant of Old Testament King Solomon and the queen of Sheba via Menelik I, Ras Tafari acquired the pompous appellation Haile Selassie I, which means “Might of the Trinity”.
There is no evidence that Ras Tafari and the Makonnen royal family are descendants of Solomon. Even Ras Tafari himself admitted to Ethiopian aristocrats that the Solomonic legend was just that – a legend. Ethiopians of the lower socio-economic class clung to this belief. What’s more, the biblical texts of 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9 concerning Solomon and the queen of Sheba are silent regarding any intimate relations between the two, which is odd, seeing that 1 Kings 11 informs us that the polygamist Solomon had amassed a harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines. The entire purported love affair between Solomon and the queen of Sheba is based on an Ethiopian Orthodox Church text called the Kebra Nagast. However, there is good reason to believe that the Sheba mentioned in Scripture was located in present day Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, not in Ethiopia.
Along with the November 2 holiday, Bahamian Rastas also regard Ethiopian New Year’s Day (September 11); Marcus Garvey’s birthday (August 17); Ras Tafari’s birthday (July 23); Ethiopian Constitution Day (July 16); Groundation Day (April 21) and Ethiopian Christmas Day (January 7) as holidays on their annual calendar. According to Joseph Hibbert, Leonard P. Howell, the founder of Rastafarianism, believed that every nation had its own god. If true, it would then mean that the eccentric Howell was a henontheist. Hibbert acknowledged that the Rasta founder dabbled in Hinduism. To Howell, Jesus was the God of white people, Ras Tafari was the god of the negro race and Rama, Krishna and Buddha were the gods of the Indian people.
When Ras Tafari was coronated in 1930, which purportedly fulfilled a prophecy by Marcus Garvey, founder of the United Negro Improvement Association, Howell, along with Archibald Dunkley, Robert Hinds and the aforementioned Hibbert, surmised that he must be the god of Africans. Ironically, Ras Tafari didn’t consider himself to be black. According to him, he was white. Moreover, he owned slaves. This embarrassing aspect of Haile Selassie’s life is conveniently ignored by his black devotees.
The Rastas’ belief in Ras Tafarai’s divinity was apparently augmented after invading Italian forces under Bernito Mussolini were expelled from Ethiopia with the assistance of Great Britain in 1941; and the official state visit of Haile Selassie to Jamaica in April 1966 under the auspices of the Jamaican Labour Party government of Prime Minister Alexander Bustamante.
Bahamian Rastas, along with their religious counterparts throughout the Caribbean and the rest of the world, are guilty of cognitive dissonance. If Bahamian Rastas are willing to take at face value the historical accounts of Rasta Tafari’s 1930 coronation and his decades-long reign over the Ethiopian people, why then are they refusing to accept the unbiased historical accounts surrounding his demise in 1975, reportedly at the hands of the Communist-Leninist Derg Leader Mengistu Haile Mariam?
It has long been rumored that the 83 year-old Ras Tafari was strangled to death on August 27, 1975 and that scores of Selassie loyalists were executed on Black Saturday, which was on November 23, 1974. That was the infamous Massacre of the Sixty. Notwithstanding the explanation given for Ras Tafari’s death as a result of respiratory failure, many Ethiopians believe that their monarch was assassinated by the Junta military.
In 1992 his buried remains were discovered in the Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church gave Selassie a state funeral in November of 2000. Interestingly, the widow of Bob Marley, Rita, took part in the service. In his 1975 ‘‘Rastaman Vibration’’ album, Bob Marley included the song ‘‘Jah Lives’’ after hearing of the demise of his human god. Like his Bahamian counterparts, Marley was not willing to accept the truth of Selassie’s mortality. As Leonard E. Barrett Sr. stated in his book “The Rastafarians”, death is not a factor to Rastas; it only comes to white people.
If Bahamian Rastas believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture, then they will accept at face value Hebrews 9:27, which says that ‘‘it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment”. And now that we have established the historicity of Ras Tafari’s tragic death in 1975, it is now time for members of the Rastafari faith to reexamine their long-held doctrine of the divinity of the fallen Ethiopian emperor.
If Selassie is in fact dead, and we have no valid reason to believe otherwise, then that would mean that he was no more god than the late American cult leader Jim Jones.
– Kevin Evans