The legacy of Haile Selassie

Statue of emperor Haile Selassie teaching 12 students at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. Picture: Stephen Scourfield

There’s a little drum riff, the brass section comes in on the off-beat, then there’s Bob Marley’s unmistakable voice . . .

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior . . .

And another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned . . .

Everywhere is war . . .

It’s Marley’s song War, a powerful anthem for equality, and the lyrics are mostly the words delivered by Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to the United Nations General Assembly in June 1963.

The emperor had ended his list of unacceptable inequalities across Africa with the words “the African continent will not know peace”, but Marley introduced the word “war”.

Despite his death from cancer, Marley is still the most visible devotee of the Rastafarian movement which, though more associated with his home country of Jamaica, has its roots here in Ethiopia.

Emperor Haile Selassie I took this name as the ruler of what may be described as the world’s original country (the country in which human ancestors developed, and which we first walked out of), but his original name was Tafari, and “ras” means “head” or leader.

He was born in 1892, crowned emperor in 1930, but lived in exile during the brutal Italian occupation of Ethiopia from 1935 to 1941 – some of it staying in the Abbey Hotel in Malvern, Worcestershire, while his daughters attended Clarendon School in North Malvern (I was later nearby at North Malvern Primary School).

During his time in Malvern he attended services at Holy Trinity Church, in Link Top (where, incidentally, my mother and father were married and opposite my grandfather’s pharmacy).

When Haile Selassie returned as emperor of Ethiopia in 1941, he set about modernising the country.

Political opposition, rising unemployment and famine are seen as contributing to him being ousted in 1974 by a Soviet-backed junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam which, it is believed, finally killed him.

So, how does the music of Jamaica, and Bob Marley in particular, fit into all that?

Many Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie was God incarnate, or the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, in her book No Woman, No Cry, Marley’s wife Rita, also a Rastafarian, claimed she had seen a stigmata on the palm of Haile Selassie’s hand, resembling the marks left by Christ being nailed to the cross, as Selassie waved to crowds during his visit to Jamaica in 1966.

Other Rastafarians might just see him as God’s chosen king on Earth.

In using his words, Marley furthers the two aspects of the emperor – as head of State and as the living God of Rastafarian belief.

Haile Selassie’s shadow can still be seen in Ethiopia, though some Ethiopians I talk with comment that it may be the long-time ruler Meles Zenawi, who died last year, who did even more in advancing the country than the former emperor.

Haile Selassie’s tomb is alongside that of his wife in the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.

And the last words to Emperor Haile Selassie – some of the words from that speech to the UN in 1963, used in Marley’s song . . .

. . . until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; that until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour 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 fleeting illusions,

to be pursued but never attained . . .

until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest

have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and goodwill;

until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men,

as they are in the eyes of Heaven;

until that day, the African continent will not know peace.

FACT FILE

Days in Ethiopia is part of Travel Directors’ African Dawn tour – a 28-day journey through Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia from January 4-31, 2015. It’s a mix of diverse experiences and sights, from Lake Victoria and the source of the Nile in Uganda, to the rare mountain gorillas of Rwanda and on to Ethiopia, the cradle of civilisation. The tour costs $18,880 per person twin share and the single supplement is $3250 per person. It includes economy-class international airfares, internal flights in Africa, accommodation, meals, Travel Directors tour leader and local guides, entrance fees, the US$750 ($802) permit to visit mountain gorillas in Rwanda and visas. 9242 4200 and traveldirectors.com.au.

For those wanting a shorter trip, in Ethiopia alone, Across Abyssinia has packages and group tours but also caters for individuals, couples and small groups. They can follow Across Abyssinia’s itineraries, or amend them. But in looking at the website, consider the Northern Historic Route (14 days on road, or eight days flying). Visit adventureabyssinia.com, phone +251 911 440 145 or email info@adventureabyssinia.com.

Qatar Airways flies daily direct between Perth and Doha and connects to Africa, among its 130 global destinations. qatarairways.com/au and 1300 340 600.

Stephen Scourfield was a guest of Travel Directors and Qatar Airways.

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Posted by on May 9, 2014. Filed under NEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

One Response to The legacy of Haile Selassie

  1. Abegaz Reply

    May 9, 2014 at 5:37 AM

    Haile Selassie was a great king. First he was human. He never killed students like Zenawi or Haile Mariam did. He did a lot for his country and on his own. He started from scratch to build this nation. Zenawi got an organized country and received lots of funds from the international community. His achievemts are insignificant when compared to Haile Selassie.

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