EMPEROR HAILE SELASSIE I
Haile Selassie was born Lij Tafari Makonnen, on July 23, 1892, to Makonnen Wolde-Mikael Gudessa and Yeshimebet Mikael. Makonnen was a general in the Ethiopan army and governor of the Harar province, as well as a cousin of the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II. In Ethiopian dynastic traditions, all rulers trace their ancestry back to Menelik I, who was a son of King Solomon and Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. Tafari, as he was known in his early years, was educated at home by French missionaries, and was by all accounts an excellent student with strong critical thinking skills. When he was thirteen, Tafari was given the title of Dejazmach, which is the equivalent of Count.
Ascension to the Regency
In 1916, Iyasu was deposed, and fled Ethiopia. Although there is some question about how involved Tafari was in the coup, following these events, Iyasu's aunt Zewditu—who was Menelik II's daughter—took the throne. Tafari was elevated to the rank of Ras (equivalent to Duke), and made a crown prince. In addition, Zewditu named him as her heir and regent, and promised that she would be a just ruler with his counsel.
Over the next two decades, he attempted to reform the country's governmental structure by introducing taxation on church properties, abolishing slavery, and attempting to reduce conflict between Ethiopia's various ethnic groups. Unfortunately, civil rights suffered under Selassie's reign, and in 1960s and 1970s, there were countless atrocities committed upon civilians by the Ethiopian army. In addition, a mass famine heavily impacted the population of several provinces.
The Rastafari Movement
During the 1930s, Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey followed the coronation and rise of Haile Selassie with interest. Garvey famously said, "Look to Africa when a Black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is near." Many of Garvey's followers in Jamaica believed that Selassie, originally called Ras Tafari, was the Black king of the prophecy. If Ras Tafari was the king, then it stood to reason that deliverance was coming soon.
Over the next few decades, a movement in Jamaica grew, honoring Selassie as the divine messenger of God. When he visited the country in 1966, he was greeted as a holy redeemer. African-descended Jamaicans had spent centuries as slaves, taken from their homelands in Africa. They saw Selassie, the man who stood up to the White Italian army and took back his homeland, as a messianic figure, who would lead Black people into a golden age of eternal peace, prosperity, and righteousness.
As a descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Selassie was referred to as the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The Rastafarians believed that Jah—the Rasta name for God—had simply inhabited the body of Haile Selassie, and that when he died, it was "a sign that Jah was not just a human being but also a spirit."
Today's Rastafarians believe that they will be repatriated to Ethiopia to live in freedom, led by Haile Selassie.