Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Coronation Day - Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia

Today marks the 81st anniversary of the coronation of Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974.  Previous to his succession to this throne, he had been known as Ras Tafari Makonnen, "Ras" being his title, usually translated as "prince."  Hence comes the name of the Rastafari movement which started in Jamaica immediately following this coronation, which was thought to have been prophesied by Marcus Garvey as the "coming of a black king," and the fulfillment of some events predicted in the Book of Revelation.  Living under the oppressive rule of Great Britain, many black Jamaicans listened hopefully to leaders like Garvey, embracing their African identity and hoping for repatriation.  So, when Selassie was crowned, some of these Jamaicans began to teach that not only was this a sign of progress for Africa, but it was also the return of Christ to save his people, the true Israelites, the black race.

Selassie's coronation was attended by representatives from 72 nations, an unprecedented number symbolic of the industrial progress that Ras Tafari had promised to bring to an impoverished Africa.  Time magazine reported on the event, and in the following June's issue of National Geographic, 67 pages were devoted to the country and its new Emperor, including several color photographs.  While giving me a private tour of the Discovering Rastafari! exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History, curator and friend Jake Homiak showed me a copy of this National Geographic issue and told me that some of the first Rastas would walk around the streets of Kingston, evangelizing, carrying a Bible in one hand and the National Geographic in the other, showing people how the coronation fulfilled a series of events in Revelation.  While, for the Ethiopians, the rituals performed in this coronation were virtually identical to those of previous emperors, the circumstances surrounding this occasion, in the view of some Africans in diaspora, allowed for a certain eschatological interpretation.  Thus the Rastafari faith was born among black Jamaicans who awaited their Savior.

Here is a brief slideshow of photos from the coronation in Addis Ababa, November 2, 1930, accompanied by Nyahbinghi chanting.

When I went to Jamaica last year, I had the privilege of attending a conference at the University of the West Indies, sponsored by the Rastafari Youth Initiative Council, celebrating the 80th anniversary of Selassie's coronation.  Members of many different Rasta mansions (sects) were in attendance, and it was my first up-close-and-personal exposure to the diversity within the movement.  Below is a clip of the binghi drumming and chanting at the end of the night.  I thought this selection was appropriate for Coronation Day, as the congregation is singing, "All nations have to bow, and crown H.I.M. King of Kings."

Enjoy - or as the Rastafari would say, "Fulljoy!"  For all of my friends out there who follow Rasta, may you have a blessed Coronation Day!

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