Born in Jamaica in 1887, Marcus Garvey was the inspiration behind the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), an organisation dedicated to the liberation of black people from the disasterous effects of slavery. A gifted orator, he did much to restore the pride and esteem of a demoralised people; a progenitor of the ‘black is beautiful’ campaign, Garvey is also remembered as the champion of the back-to-Africa movement, which aimed to return the descendants of those sold into slavery to the homeworld: the sign of imminent redemption, Garvey preached, would be “the crowning of a king”, a prophecy that many perceived as fulfilled when Prince Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930.
The future emperor and spiritual figurehead of Rastafarianism was born Tafari Makonnen in 1892. As Ras Tafari he ruled Ethiopia as regent and crown prince from 1916 to 1928, and as negus (king) from 1928. On 2 November 1930 he was crowned emperor, at which time he became His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I.
Many of the Jamaican descendants of former slaves regarded Ethiopia as the symbol of all Africa, so the crowning of the new emperor was regarded as a highly propitious event. The Rastafari movement emerged in the 1930s, in large part inspired by the vision of Marcus Garvey and focussed on the belief that Haile Selassie was a divine being and the redeemer of the black people.
Although the anticipated mass repatriation to Africa has not occurred, the movement has spread throughout much of the world, largely through immigration and interest generated by reggae music—most notably, that of Bob Marley. For the more than one million Rastafarians worldwide the anniversary of the birth of Haile Selassie is considered one of the holiest days of the year. It is celebrated with Nyahbinghi* drumming, hymns and prayers.
|*In Rasta understanding Nyahbinghi is the power of the Most High to mete justice throughout the universe|