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Haile Selassie
King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah

Joseph Cardillo
April, 1998

Haile Selassie
King of Kings, Lord of Lords
Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah

When Ras Tafari Makonnen took the imperial throne in Ethiopia in 1930 as Haile Selassie I, a new movement was born in Jamaica. The crowning of a Black King? Was this not what Marcus Garvey told his Jamaican followers fifteen years earlier when he said"Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King; he shall be the Redeemer"(BARRETT 8 1)?

Selassie would prove to be one of Ethiopia's most noble leaders. He pushed education for his people. He made a valiant effort to drag Ethiopia out of its stagnant state of unpaved roads, minimal schools, very little education and no say in international affairs. He looked and carried himself like a king. The Ethiopian Emperor traditionally took the title King of Kings, Lion of the tribe of Judah as a title.

There are over seventy different ethnic groups within Ethiopia's mountains. The dominant group were the Amharas. Selassie was an Amharic, and the government traditionally was predominantly Amharic.

The people of Jamaica in 1930 were in a hopeless situation. They had been exploited from the first days of slavery on the island. There were minimal opportunities for improvement. With such Biblical inferences and a contrast to the leading, predominantly white, governments of the world, it is not hard to believe that a people of such strong faith would accept this new Emperor as their living savior. The Rastafarians were born out of desperation. They had nothing and were
going no where. Haile Selassie was a symbol to them that the black man could be strong, contrary to what they saw in their own country. Ethiopia was a black nation that had been independent for thousands of years, despite its African neighbors (with the exception of Liberia). It had been ruled by black emperors who ruled black subjects. Haile Selassie was also believed to be descended from the line of David by Solomon. This only added to the Jamaicans belief that he was their savior. Whether or not he was the second coming, Christ himself or just related to Christ through his heritage.

Haile Selassie was not the infallible savior that these people saw from their island in the Caribbean, however. As true with most governments and monarchies, Selassie's government had its deal of corruption. Although they placed their faith in a noble King, the Jamaicans were disillusioned about the man they believed to be their savior.

The old Ethiopian legend of the Kebra Negast tells the story of the Queen of Sheba's visit to Solomon's mighty kingdom to learn the secrets of being a great leader. While in his kingdom the Queen of Sheba bore Solomon a son, to which Solomon gave a jeweled ring to prove his descent from the seed of David. The Queen of Sheba returned to her land in, then southern Ethiopia, what is today Somalia, with her son to continue to rule the land (GORHAM 9).
Between two hundred and three hundred kings are believed to have ruled between the time of Solomon and Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia.

Believed to have been descended from the seed of David, Tafari Makonnen was born July 23, 1892 in the city of Harar in the eastern province of Harege (KALEIDOSCOPE). His mother died two years after his birth, and shortly after that his country was engaged in a war with the Italians. The Ethiopian army defeated the Italians at the battle of Adwa in 1896 (GORHAM 4), a fate that would be reversed a forty years later. It was at this battle that Tafari's father, Ras Makonnen, fought so loyal next to Emperor Menelik that the Emperor swore their friendship in the hopes of passing the throne to Ras Makonnen when Menelik's time had come.

Contrary to popular Ethiopian tradition, Ras Makonnen insisted on a decent education for his son Lij Tafari."Lij", like the term"Ras", is an Ethiopian title given to people of royal blood, except it is generally used the less powerful men. Fortunately, Makonnen saw to this education early because in 1906 he took ill and died (GORHAM 26) leaving his fourteen year old son to be raised in the house of Menelik. The death of his father removed young Lij Tafari as a candidate for emperor.

Taking the throne without his father's help was going to be hard enough for Tafari, but he was also faced with competition. Menelik's wife, Taitu, wanted to be crowned Empress, the first female ruler of Ethiopia since the Queen of Sheba. Ras Mikael, husband of one of Menelik's daughters, wanted his son, Lij Yasu, to take the throne.

The Emperor, anxious to see Lij Tafari live up to his father's stature and take the throne when the time came, made the young man, now of seventeen years, Governor of the southern province of Sidamo. He won the trust of the people and, more importantly, the Emperor. After holding this position for eighteen months, Lij Tafari received word that he had been made Governor of Harar in the province of Harege, his homeland (GORHAM 36).

It was around this time that Lij Tafari found a wife and was ready to marry. Through the Ethiopian Coptic Church he married Waizero Menin at the age of 19. His wife was the cousin of his rival, Lij Yasu.

In 1907, Menelik suffered a stroke and as a result formed the Council of Ministers to aid him in his decisions, especially as his health was failing (CLAPHAM 15). His wife, Queen Taitu, took advantage of his weakened state and convinced him to name the adolescent Lij Yasu as successor (GORHAM 4 1). The Queen pushed for Yasu with the intention of easily controlling him and his regent, Ras Tasamma.

Ethiopia went through a series of trials and tribulations during this period in its history. When Menelik took control in the late nineteenth century, he centralized the government and made the Rases who ruled the individual provinces respect the authority of the King of Kings. This, in effect, reduced the power of these Rases. When the young successor was named, these Rases were hungry to get that power back.

Aside from the internal power struggles Ethiopia was experiencing, it had other problems. Britain, France, Italy, Germany and the Turkish Empire were all looking at Ethiopia with greedy eyes. The country would soon face the threat of Islamic conversion and the possibility of civil war.

Lij Yasu would prove to be a poor choice for the throne of Ethiopia. He was more interested in the slave trade and the Muslim religion than his own country's affairs. While Lij Tafari had spent a good deal of his upbringing reading books, Lij Yasu spent it drinking tej, a native Ethiopian drink.

Menelik could see the evil inherent in Yasu and refused to crown him Emperor. Yasu reduced his opposition by arresting some of the head Rases that opposed him. Yasu also made attempts on Selassie's life, and assassinated many other Rases.

Yasu increasingly listened to and met with the Mohemmedan Chieftains. It became apparent that he intended to change Ethiopia, one of the oldest Christian states, into a Muslim nation (GORHAM 5 1). Yasu's popularity was quickly fading.

Under pressure from the Church, the Council of Ministers declared a new successor to the throne of Ethiopia. Menelik's daughter, Zauditu, became Empress with Ras Tafari as her regent. Lij Yasu was excommunicated and denounced from any position of power (GORHAM 59). He remained at large and, with his father, made several attempts to regain control, none of which succeeded.

Tafari was finally in control of Ethiopia in 1916. Although he was not Emperor yet, he essentially ran the country for the next sixty years.

Queen Taitu soon died and the rest of Tafari's enemies were thrown in jail. Zauditu, however, could see that Tafari was hungry for the throne, and plotted against him. The Minister of War, Hapta Giorgis, and the Archbishop Matteo both believed in and supported Tafari but kept his modern ideas under control.

From the beginning, Ras Tafari pushed the development of Ethiopia and stressed the importance of education. The Ethiopians had steered away from this direction for thousands of years, avoiding the dreaded ferengi (foreigners) and their ways of life. Sadly, education was viewed as one of the ferengi's ways, and so more than ninety-nine percent of the Ethiopian population at that time was illiterate (GORHAM 73). Education was also kept from the people because once a culture learned to read or write, it was only one step further to be able to think. This was a way of ensuring power to those in control, and keeping it from those not in control. It was an Amharic trait to hoard power and to keep it from those that didn't have it. Ethiopia still had hundreds of thousands of slaves. Addis Ababa, founded less than a generation before Ras Tafari came into Menelik's court, was a mere mud village with no paved roads. There were no highways or railroads that connected Ethiopia. What is worse is that there was a severe lack of professional men: no engineers, no doctors, no teachers, no educated men or women.

World War I came to an end and the League of Nations had been developed. Ras Tafari pushed Ethiopia onto the international level when it was accepted to the League of Nations in 1924 (GORHAM 74). After being accepted with some of the greatest powers in the world Ras Tafari took it upon himself to see the what Europe was truly like. He visited London and Paris delivering lions as gifts to the King of England and the King of France.

Ras Tafari was impressed by what he saw in these foreign lands. What is more is that he now recognized the importance of education. If Ethiopia was to pull itself out of the dark ages, it would have to educate itself. He saw the paved roads, and the grand buildings that these old towns had built over the years. Tafari wanted the same for his country. He pushed reform harder than before and the abolition of slavery was added to the list.

Hapta Giorgis and the Archbishop, two of the head figures that were standing in Tafari's way of reform, died within a few months of each other. Tafari quickly moved his men into Giorgis's territory before the Empress could act, and freed the slaves of that province (GORHAM 79).

Now the only person that stood in his way of reform was the Empress. Zauditu could see Tafari closing in on her. She plotted against him and stirred up dissent among the Imperial Guard. By keeping his cool and being patient, a characteristic that would result in many of Tafari's victories, he won the respect of the Guard and crushed Zauditu's attempted revolt. As a result, in 1928 Ras Tafari was made a Negus with the title of King (GORHAM 83). Zauditu became a mere figurehead now, and all of the power lay in the hands of the King.

Tafari knew that Ethiopia needed roads. In order to have roads, the country needed money. Ras Tafari signed a trade agreement with Italy, and, to the dismay of many Ethiopians, opened the country to trade with the dreaded ferengi.

The Empress made one more attempt to remove Tafari Makonnen from power. In 1930, the Italian-backed Ras Gugsa rode to Addis Ababa with 35,000 men to depose the new King. Tafari attacked the army from the air with the country's four planes, and the rebel army retreated. Ras Gugsa was killed in action (GORHAM 88).

On November 2nd, 1930, Ras Tafari, at the age of thirty-seven, was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie 1, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah (FELLEMAN). From this point on, he ruled as Emperor of Ethiopia for the next forty-four years.

Within one year of the coronation, Haile Selassie made a major step in Ethiopia's history. In 1931 he made the people of Ethiopia citizens and gave them a constitution (CLAPHAM 17) . The constitution was limited in the power it gave the Ethiopians. To make the country free would certainly mean disaster to the largely uneducated masses. The Emperor remained as the sovereign authority. The constitution's main purpose was to give Ethiopia a sense of nationality. Selassie was trying to centralize the government.

The constitution also created the country's first Parliament (CLAPHAM 17). Limited in power as well, the Parliament served more as a chance for the Ethiopians to gain experience in running the country. The head authority remained to be the Emperor.

Selassie's rule and Ethiopia's independence would be interrupted for a period of five years in 1935. After Mussolini realized that the Italians were not going to be able to control Selassie as a puppet figure, they invaded Ethiopia (GORHAM 105). The Italian army, superior to the Ethiopian army in almost every way, proved to be too much for the country. Haile Selassie left for exile in 1936 and the Italians occupied Ethiopia for the next five years.

Selassie appeared in front of the League of Nations in 1936 in Geneva and asked for help against the invading Italians (GORHAM 3). Ethiopia would never see that help. In 194 1, with British aid, Selassie pushed the Italians out of Ethiopia.

Selassie ruled Ethiopia for thirty years until his overthrow in 1974. In that time, Ethiopia would regain control of Eritrea in 1952, a former Ethiopian province that had been under Italian control since the late nineteenth century (GORHAM 142). An attempted military coup in 1960 was cut short in a matter of days because it did not have the backing of the people.

The power in Ethiopia rested on the person of the Emperor and the institution of the Empire (LEFORT 3 1). The Emperor was growing old and senile, and the Empire's state was still below average. Selassie's government slowly came to a head. An aged and senile Emperor was overthrown in 1974 by rebels in the Ethiopian Army, and a military government was established. Since this time, socialism has been the system of government in Ethiopia.

Haile Selassie accomplished many great things during his rein as Emperor of Ethiopia. Perhaps his most important contribution was his efforts to further the education of his people. Education was pressed forwards on all levels - primary, secondary and at the university level (GORHAM 140). What is even more important is that this education was offered to both boys and girls. He sent numerous students to study abroad in some of Europe's and America's finest schools (SCOTT 168). He built numerous primary and secondary schools,. including a university which he named after himself (HARBESON 77). In 1951 the University College of Addis Ababa was also formed (CLAPHAM 22). He was also a key founder in the Organization for African Unity.

As far as civil rights were concerned, the Emperor had pushed for the abolition of slavery since he was regent back in the 1920s. He also promulgated a new constitution in 1958 which gave the citizens the right to vote (GORHAM 140).

In the government judicial systems were reformed, the power of the Rases was controlled by the government, a State Police Force was formed, and the army was modernized. Ethiopia had developed its own currency, backed by the United States dollar held by the State Bank of Ethiopia (GORHAM 141).

Selassie was also a large advocate for peace. In his speech to the United Nations in October of 1968, he stresses the importance of disarmament.

Disarmament has become the urgent imperative of our time. I do not say this because I equate the absence of arms to peace, or because I believe that bringing an end to the nuclear arms race automatically guarantees the peace... Disarmament is vital today, quite simply, because of the immense destructive capacity of which men dispose.

In that same speech, his words have become immortalized in the Bob Marley song,"War":

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation: that until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes: that Until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race: that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.

Haile Selassie ruled Ethiopia nobly. He looked for the betterment of his people, and the modernization of his country. He wanted the benefits of what a good education can do for a country. He compared his simple country to the great nations of Europe. He brought Ethiopia into the international scene when it was accepted into the League of Nations in 1928. He made the world understand that his country lived and bled like all others when he pleaded for help against the Italians in Geneva in 1936. He held his people in regard when he drafted Ethiopia's two constitutions in 1931 and 1958. Selassie wanted to pull Ethiopia out of its dark ages and bring it into modern times.

There was corruption in Haile Selassie's government, as is the case in almost all governments. Despite his efforts to make his country a more modem and united nation, greed, negligence and racial issues plague Haile Selassie's reputation.

Land is the one true need in Ethiopia. Land is the key to becoming rich, but only the rich have access to it (LEFORT 8). As seen by many cultures, land is the only thing of true value. Arable land especially so when considering Ethiopia's mountainous terrain.

Land is valuable in other ways than just producing food, even though agriculture remains the basic reason behind its value. The amount of land one has to distribute is directly proportional to the amount of power one has. Land shortage also means that the people can be exploited easier (LEFORT 9). This was the case in over-populated northern Ethiopia.

During his rule, Selassie had handed out over five million hectares of land to his people. Only twenty-one percent of it was given to poor peasants who had no land. The rest of it was distributed amongst nobles, the church, government officials, and army and police officers (LEFORT 9).

The Amhara's had a bad reputation of hoarding power. They enjoyed having it, and kept it from those who didn't. This was another problem that plagued the predominantly Amharic government. Like other Ethiopian emperors, Selassie established the imperial superiority over the provincial dynasties (LEFORT 14).

The weather has a lot of influence on the fate of a population, especially one that is largely agrarian. The effects of the drought that occurred in 1972 were devastating. The famine that ensued could have been alleviated if the government had acted promptly. It is estimated that over 250,000 people died from the famine, and over 1.6 million people were affected by it (HARBERSON 84). When famine strikes a population, it is almost always accompanied by disease and epidemics. Ethiopia fell victim to the diseases that commonly plague a malnourished people.

The rains had been decreasing since the early 1960s. The Ministry of Agriculture had reports in 1973 that predicted bad harvests for many crop-producing districts (HARBESON 84). If the government had acted immediately and gotten food to the northern provinces, the famine could have been greatly reduced. Foreign governments were concerned, but did not attempt to get food to the country until the Ethiopian government itself recognized the problem. It wasn't until Dimbleby, a British reporter, discovered and reported the horrors of the famine in north Ethiopia, that the government acknowledged the famine.

Unfortunately, it is read that Selassie's government and person, could have possibly taken a racist viewpoint on many issues. One of his colonel's claim that he denounced his black officials' opinions and trusted the views of the white man more (SCOTT 164). It should also be noted that although representatives of England, France, Italy and many other countries were invited to the Emperor's coronation in 1930, there were no black representatives invited or present. There were no invitations to any of the leading countries in Africa (SCOTT 203).

Just as Haile Selassie has many positive accomplishments and aspirations, he has his share of negative traits as well. Selassie's neglect for the famine can not go unnoticed. How could the King of Kings spend millions of dollars on entertaining representatives from other countries, and neglect this widespread famine? Selassie's control and distribution of land is also a matter for speculation.

Marcus Garvey preached his concept of Ethiopianism to attentive audiences in Jamaica through out the early nineteen hundreds. His idea of Ethiopianism was a Back-To-Africa movement, calling black men and women to their native land. Before his departure to spread his word in America, Marcus Garvey left his Jamaican followers with the words:"Look to Africa for the crowning of a Black King; he shall be the Redeemer"(BARRETT 8 1).

When Ras Tafari was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia and took the name Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Jamaicans who believed in Garvey's words found this to be far from coincidental. The coronation fulfilled one of Marcus prophesies. The Bible tells of others. Revelation 19:16,"And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords"(BARRETT 83). Even his name, Haile Selassie, literally means"Power of the Holy Trinity".

Leonard Howell and three other men, saw the deep spiritual meaning behind all of this and created a following that would later come to be known as the Rastafarians, taking their name directly from their savior (BARRETT 82).

Although there is no organized church of the Rastafarians, there are some basic principles that all Rastas hold to be true. First and foremost is that they all accept Haile Selassie as their living god in one way or another. That the white person is inferior to the black person is another belief. The idea that Jamaica is hell and Ethiopia is heaven and that Selassie is preparing for the repatriation of black men to Ethiopia were also commonly held beliefs (BARRETT 104). Marijuana use was a practice that many Rastafarians used in their spiritual invocations of the spirit of Haile Selassie.
The Jamaicans viewed Ethiopia as Zion. Jamaica, likewise was Babylon. Babylon is a concept the Rastafarians use to label anything that represent oppression or evil. Babylon is a personal concept, and the meaning can be different from one individual to another. It is the Christian equivalent to hell, except on a more real level. Cities could be viewed as babylon, the oppression of the busy streets and high concrete buildings.

The Rastas beliefs in Haile Selassie fall in contradiction to the realities and beliefs of the man himself. Perhaps most important, Haile Selassie was a Christian. He took faith in Christianity and the Bible.

Today man sees all his hopes and aspirations crumble before him. He is perplexed and knows not whither he is drifting. But he must realize that the solution of his present difficulties and guidance for his future action is the Bible. Unless he accepts with clear conscience the Bible and its great message, he cannot hope for salvation. For myself, I glory in the Bible.

For someone to call him the living savior was blasphemy.

The Emperor never drank alcohol. In his earlier days, when Selassie was known as Ras Tafari, the successor to the throne, Lij Yasu, was influenced by the practices of the Muslims. It is noted that he developed a licking for hashish, a drug similar to marijuana, and that this further inhibited his ability to run the country (GORHAM 5 1). Surely, Selassie saw the faults of using these drugs. How did smoking marijuana and the Emperor Haile Selassie end up in the same belief system?
Contrary to the Rastas beliefs, the Emperor was not preparing ships for their repatriation to Ethiopia. The Emperor did not want them. There were enough people with enough problems in Ethiopia as is.

The belief that blacks are superior to whites is outlandish as well. Especially when viewed parallel to the views of the Emperor. It was quoted earlier in his speech to United Nations in 1968,"That until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes the African continent will not know peace."

How can the Jamaicans ignore these blatant contradictions to their beliefs? How can they overlook the corruption that was inherent in Selassie's government? How can they ignore his neglect for the famine that cost the lives of so many Ethiopians? These questions do not have answers. Many Jamaicans could claim that these faults are the workings of Babylon and not their savior.

Haile Selassie, King of Kings, Lion of the tribe of Judah, was a noble leader for his country. At the same time, he fell victim to the evils that often plague positions of such authority and power. Whether or not Haile Selassie valued a white person's opinion over that of his own kind, no one can answer. Whether or not Haile Selassie viewed the 1973 famine as a regular cycle of Ethiopian history and therefor did little to extinguish the problem, no one knows. What is known is that the famine indeed went on, and that numerous people lost their lives. Selassie controlled all of the land in Ethiopia, and the majority of the people had none. At the time of his dethronement, only two percent of Ethiopia was accessible by paved roads. The rest of the country remained a series of dirt paths and mud villages.

It is also known that he pushed the idea of peace in all that he did. He worked for the betterment of his country and the education of his people. He saw what education had to offer a society, and aspired to bring his country out of his dark ages and into the twentieth century. He gave citizenship to the people of Ethiopia, and brought his country onto the international level. He had good in his heart and good intentions.

To he label him a savior remains a personal belief.


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