Dispelling Rastafarian myths about Haile Selassie I, part 1

Dear Editor,

In a 2017 article in the Christian Research Institute titled, ‘The Origin and Inefficiency of the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement’, writer Jimmy Butts noted that sects which have deviated from biblical orthodoxy are the unpaid bills of the church.

Interestingly, the Black Hebrew Israelites bear striking similarities with Dr. Vernon Carrington’s Twelve Tribes of Israel, in that both share a crisis in racial identity in denying their African heritage by claiming to be Hebrews.

This is an example of cognitive dissonance, which was also evident in the heretical Jamaican Revivalism preacher Alexander Bedward, who claimed to have been the reincarnation of the Old Testament priest, Aaron.

Interestingly enough, Rasta pioneer Robert Hinds, who was a Bedwardite, incorporated similar Hebrew Israelite views into his King of Kings Mission.

The Hebrew Israelite element of Rastafari also figured prominently within the Ethiopian royal family of Haile Selassie I, who themselves believed that their Amhara ancestry was linked to the Solomonic dynasty.

I will deal with this matter below.

Suffice to say, the period during the formation of the Rastafari cult coincided with the period in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, “The Great Gatsby”, in which Tom Buchanan, in a heated exchange with the wealthy socialite Jay Gatsby, spoke condescendingly about intermarriage between “black and white”.

This can help to explain why so many Negroes during that era struggled with their racial identity.

The rise of the Rastafari cult in The Bahamas following the December 1979 Bob Marley and the Wailers concert at the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre has been no exception to what Butts observed.

Marley was the most prominent member of the Twelve Tribes, which was formed in 1968.

The Bahamian evangelical Christian community has been mostly reticent about the rise of Rastafari and other theologically aberrant sects.

With the formation of the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana amid ongoing discussions on the possible legalization of recreational, ceremonial and medicinal marijuana, the church has been given a grand opportunity to lend its voice to the current discourse.

Sensing an avenue in the Bahamian constitution to sanction sacramental marijuana, members of the Ethiopian Africa Black International Congress (EABIC) seem prepared to engage in a protracted legal wrangle to end what they perceive to be religious discrimination against their sect.

To Bobo Ashanti members, the sacramental weed is the counterpart to the Christian Eucharist.

“The Harder They Come” movie director Perry Henzell once opined that the Rastas’ true stroke of genius was to make marijuana a religious sacrament.

In Rastology, the Babylonian motif is often used, pitting Western civilization against the Rastafari worldview.

This is in keeping with Hindu mystic and Rasta pioneer Leonard Percival Howell’s radical anti-colonial and anti-Christian posture, which landed him in jail several times throughout his tumultuous career.

In “The Promise Key”, in a chapter titled ‘The False Religion’, Gong Guru Maragh railed against the church being a false religious organization and the pope being Satan, the devil. Rastafarians view themselves as being in the same plight as Old Testament Hebrews who were exiled in Babylon in the years 605 B.C., 598 B.C. and 586 B.C.

In Rastafari eschatology, whereas Western civilization is Babylon, Ethiopia symbolizes the promised land. Rastafari pioneers had borrowed Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey’s back to Africa theme – an important plank in their idealization of impoverished Ethiopia.

Howell was a member of Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), while living in New York, before his repatriation to Jamaica in the early 1930s, during the initial stages of the Great Depression.

Howell historian Hélène Lee alleges in her, “The First Rasta”, that the Rasta pioneer may have sold weed while living in the Big Apple.

This in no way, shape or form weakens my thesis that Howell leaned heavily on Hinduism while formulating his Rastology.

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, Howell was deeply influenced by the Indian indentured laborers who had migrated to Jamaica during the 19th century.

In fact, according to Lee, Howell had a Coolie bodyguard called Laloo, who allegedly taught the Rasta pioneer some Hindu-Urdu.

Lee further alleges that fellow Rasta pioneer Joseph Hibbert said that Howell believed strongly in polytheism, which is an important feature of Hinduism.

There are even a few fundamentally important similarities between Indian Sadhus and Rastas, which is worth examining by those interested in studying the Rastafari cult.

For example, like Rastafari cult members, Sadhus also smoke sacramental marijuana.

Be that as it may, the November 2, 1930 coronation of Ras Tafari with the full messianic title of the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God, caught the attention of Howell and other UNIA members.

Haile Selassie means, ‘Might of the Trinity’.

Shortly thereafter, Howell, along with Archibald Dunkley, Robert Hinds and the occultist Joseph Hibbert, began preaching that the young Ethiopian monarch was the god of Africans, purportedly in fulfillment of Marcus Garvey’s play ‘The Coronation of the King and Queen of Africa’.

All four Rasta pioneers ignored the fact that the coronation was held at Saint George’s Cathedral in Addis Ababa.

In a recent letter to The Nassau Guardian editor, a representative from the EABIC referenced Revelation 5:5, which reads: “And one of the elders said unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.”

The Bahamian Rasta representative apparently sees the foregoing verse as having been fulfilled in Selassie’s coronation.

Like Vernon Carrington and the Twelve Tribes of Israel, EABIC members believe that Ras Tafari was Hebrew, descending from the lineage of the Old Testament King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba through their son Menelik I.

All told, New and Old Testament passages with clear references to Jesus of Nazareth are re-interpreted by Rasta apologists to lend biblical support for their deification of Haile Selassie I.

In other instances, both Jesus and Ras Tafari are conflated.

This may have been the case with Carrington and the Twelve Tribes.

Be that as it may, the legend of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba having an intimate relationship which produced a son named Menelik is mainly based on a 14th-century apocryphal document called the Kebra Nagast.

The account of the birth of Menelik I is in chapter 32 of the text.

Notwithstanding the Old Testament prohibition against the Hebrew kings engaging in polygamy, chapter 28 of the Kebra Nagast rationalizes Solomon accumulating a staggering 700 wives in addition to 300 concubines.

What’s more, chapter 25 gives you an idea of how fictitious the Kebra Nagast is with the tall tale of Solomon being able to understand the “speech” of the beasts and the birds.

While there’s genetic and anthropological evidence that the Lemba tribe out of South Africa and Zimbabwe have Semitic blood, there is no such evidence for the Falasha and Amharic tribes of Ethiopia being even remotely related to the Hebrews.

Consequently, Haile Selassie I was as much a pure breed Gentile as his Bahamian Rastafari devotees.

This would inevitably lead to an objective observer coming to the conclusion that Ras Tafari’s gentilic ethnicity disqualifies him from being considered Messiah, despite the penchant of Rasta adherents to misappropriate messianic titles that belong only to the historic Jesus of Nazareth, and apply them to the deceased Ethiopian monarch.

It can, therefore, be argued that the Rastafari Christology is as heretical as the Arian, Docetist, Monarchian and Sabellian heresies which plagued the Patristic church.

Moreover, the Sheba mentioned in 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9 was a South Arabian kingdom, not African, as Rastafarian members believe.

The foregoing lengthy write-up on Haile Selassie I should be read by Free National Movement and members of the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana in order to fully grasp the idiosyncrasies, history and theology of the Rastafari cult, and its push for the legalization of ceremonial weed.

Such pertinent information would undoubtedly help stakeholders to make an informed decision as it relates to legalizing marijuana. Due to space constraints, I will continue in another write-up to show that much of what Bobo Ashanti members believe regarding Haile Selassie I is based on myth.

– Kevin Evans

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