Welcome to The Rastafari Chronicles, a series of articles, utterances, links from the archives of Rastafari history. This is an encouragement to all Rastafari worldwide to revive memories of InI glorious trod.
Give thanks to ones and ones for helping to uplift this initiative, to share and exchange works, greetings, stories, memorabilia, reminiscences, and ephemera of Rastafari. Let InI rise up a thunderous orchestration of Ises to the Majesty and elevation of the Movement.
One perfect love in His Imperial Majesty and Empress Menen.
In July 1992 a delegation of 50 Rastafari brethren and sistren representing the international community traveled to Ethiopia to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I. Among them were noted elders from the Jamaican community, several youths aged 5-12, and an equal proportion of Rastamen and women averaging 30-50 years of age.
The pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Rastafari opened up a new chapter in the history of the movement. It fulfilled a longing for Repatriation echoed in the familiar words of Isiah 43 vs, 6: “Bring my sons from afar and my dawtas from the ends of the earth: everyone that is called by my name.”
For the majority of the delegates this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience: the chance to behold with their own eyes the Promised Land of Rastafari, the land of hope and redemption. The delegation was based in Kotebe, a quiet suburb of Addis Ababa. Kebele (community unit 2) House 508, was a secure 14-room villa that housed the group during their stay in Addis. A large VIP coach draped in the colours of the movement and festooned with flags, ferried the group daily to places of interest in and around Addis Ababa.
His Majesty’s personal room, now part of the Haile Selassie I university had been closed for 18 years. Through the efforts of Professor Pankhurst the room was opened up for viewing by delegates. An open conference scheduled for the University in early July had to be cancelled at the last minute. Instead, the group encamped on the spacious grounds of the campus where students gathered around them in droves to hear the word of Rastafari. An impromptu ‘Binghi’ session took the place of the conference. Hundreds of Ethiopians were soon massed around the gaily coloured entourage, some joining in the chanting, drumming and dancing, others content to observe attentively or pose for pictures with the group.
The mobbing crowds were to become a regular feature of the Ethiopian tour. In scenes reminiscent of a Biblical epic even the lame and the blind leaped up to join the throngs at each stop-off point.
At the St Mary of Zion Church on Mt Entoto overlooking Addis Ababa ancient monks came out to acknowledge the Rastafari presence. At the Haile Selassie I Trinity Church the thrones of the Emperor and Empress were unveiled for viewing by the delegates. At the Organisation of Rastafari Unity HQ, official protocol bowed to allow the delegation in with flags (but no drums) as official visitors. By mid-July the only other Centenary event in Ethiopia – the proposed re-burial of His Majesty – had to be hastily abandoned. Such was the impact and focus of interest generated by the Rastafari Centenary mission.
On Monday 20th July the group performed at the National Theatre, Addis Ababa’s most prestigious cultural venue, before a full-house audience of 1,000 Ethiopians. The evening’s presentation combined Nyahbinghi drum-chant and songs, with poignant extracts from the speeches of His Majesty. A horseshoe formation of 10 drummers sat on low stools, front stage. Behind them on raised levels were the Rastafari youths, elders and 20 members of the contingent who contributed to the program. All participants wore gaily coloured Rastafari regalia. Several carried the tricolore flag of the movement. A huge backdrop of Rastafari heads behind them created the illusion of massive numbers onstage, swaying and chanting in pulsating waves of sound and colour.
Several Rastafari youths sang and performed a rehearsed number: “We are the children of the ancient Africans”, each in turn giving a one-line testimony of their love for His Majesty, to the absolute delight of the packed house. 70-year old Ma Ashanti, revered Jamaican elder, sang her own composition ‘Africa Awaken’, a piercing solo with all the solemn resonances of a national anthem. Sister Navuma (former reggae star Joy Mack) enthralled the audience with her version of Bob Marley’s classic ‘Redemption Song’. Several Ethiopians joined the ensemble onstage dancing to this rousing finale.
In closing, a rainbow flag bearing the Lion emblem was presented to the National Theatre with a request that the Lion, which was removed under the Mengistu regime, should again adorn the Ethiopian flag. The delegation also requested that all places formerly bearing the name of His Imperial Majesty – such as the National Theatre – should revert to their original title: ‘Haile Selassie I’. The event was covered by a battery of local and international press agencies who had gathered in Ethiopia during Centenary month.
Next day the group headed for Shashemane in the lush lowlands of Shoa Province, a 7-hour drive by bus from Addis Ababa. Here they met with the Pioneer Settler Corps, a community of elderly Rastafari who had repatriated from the 1960s onwards to the Land Grant donated by His Imperial Majesty for Africans in the West who wished to return to Ethiopia. Among them were the legendary Mama and Papa Bough, who had braved a thousand hardships to ‘keep the home fires burning’ for a new generation of repatriates. And there was Papa Dyer, who had literally walked his way across Europe and North Africa to reach Ethiopia.
Nine days and nights of festivities followed, with the main contingent based in nearby Wondo Genet (Wonders of Paradise) where hot springs flowed trough an idyllic landscape, the former country retreat of the Emperor. Each day was filled with reasoning and debate: on the Rastafari code of conduct, the future of the movement, the development of the Land Grant. Each night was filled with Nyahbinghi drum-chant under a specially erected tabernacle on open ground facing the King’s Highway, which runs through Shashemane eastwards to Kenya.
It is perhaps to early to assess the full impact of the Centenary trod to Ethiopia. Certainly the bold presentations in honour of His Imperial Majesty took Ethiopians by storm and stirred deep memories that were suppressed for almost two decades under the Mengistu regime. The fortunes of the movement, still largely without international representation, could take a timely leap forward in the 1990s.
Shango Baku (Centenary Committee for Rastafari)