23rd July is one of the holiest days of the Rastafarian year
There are an estimated 700,000 to 1 million Rastafari around the world. They celebrate the birthday of HM Haile Selassie 1 with Nyahbinghi drumming sessions, hymns and prayers. This is because many Rastafari believe that HM Haile Selassie 1 was their God incarnate. However, this is not a universally held belief – some Rastafari think of him as ‘simply’ a prophet, a messenger of God. Both groups celebrate his birthday enthusiastically!
Born in a mud hut in Ethiopia in 1892, his birth name was Tafari Makonnen. His father was a regional governor. Selassie served as Ethiopia’s regent from 1916-1930; and was crowned Emperor in 1930 after a complex struggle for succession. He reigned until 1974 when unrest, partly connected to the Ethiopian famine of 1973, led to his removal from the throne. He died in 1975 when he was strangled following a coup d’état. After some of his bones were found under a slab in the Imperial Palace in Addis Ababa, he was given a full state funeral in 2000. Haile Selassie was Ethiopia’s last Emperor.
Many years prior to Haile Selassie’s enthronement, American black-nationalist leader Marcus Garvey began preaching of a coming messiah who would lead the peoples of Africa, and the African diaspora, into freedom. When news of Selassie’s coronation reached Jamaica, some saw him as the foretold messiah. Rastafari quote certain prophesies in the New Testament of the Bible as proof of Selassie’s status; as well as the fact that he could trace his lineage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
Interestingly, Selassie himself remained a lifelong Christian, and never reproached the Rastafari for their beliefs in him as the returned messiah.
The Rastafari receive their name from the combination of Ras, an honorific title meaning “head”, and Tafari, part of Selassie’s birth name.