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The Prophetic Arrival of Haile Selassie I in Jamaica

By Mosiyah Tafari | April 17, 2019

Emperor Haile Selassie I arrives to a rousing welcome at Palisadoes Airport in Kingston, Jamaica on April 21, 1966.

T

he yearly celebration of Haile Selassie's visit to Jamaica on April 21, 1966 has come to be known as "Groundation Day" among Rastafarians. This date is celebrated as one of the most important holidays on our calendar, along with Haile Selassie's birthday (July 23, 1892) and His Coronation as King of Kings (November 2, 1930).

But Groundation Day isn't just another date among the many important events of Haile Selassie's reign. To Rastafarians, Groundation Day takes on special significance because it marks the occasion when His Imperial Majesty visited and interacted with the Rastafari community specifically. The first time most Rastafarians were able to see, with their own eyes, the King of Kings. The historic occasion of His Majesty's visit to Jamaica was also the scene of what Rastafarians consider to be the fulfillment of prophecy.

His Majesty Arrives in Jamaica

"Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers. The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun." Psalm 74:15-16

As His Imperial Majesty's plane neared Palisadoes Airport in Kingston on the morning of April 21st 1966, the thick clouds that hung over the proceedings drenched the spectators in rain. Dr. M. B. Douglas, an eyewitness to the event, described the conditions that morning: "The morning was rainy and many people were soaking wet. Before the arrival of the plane, the Rastafarians said that 'as soon as our God comes, the rain will stop.'" 1

As His Majesty approached the Airport, the rain did stop, and the bright light of the sun pierced the clouds. "On this occasion, too, Heaven sent a sign: it had been raining incessantly for hours, but as the aircraft carrying the Emperor came into view on its landing approach, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds." 2

Seven White Doves

"And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him." - John 1:32

Brother Alex, a Rastafari elder who was also present at the arrival of His Majesty, described the events of the day: "Rasta say him God no live in no sky, but God did come from the sky that day. When the plane break the clouds the rain stop immediately. And a wind blow, and all man dry again, just like a miracle. Then we see seven white doves, and the crowd of people go crazy." 3

The seven white doves reported by eyewitness testimony become even more significant when examined in the theological context of the Bible. The Gospels report that when Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. After this, the voice of God echoed from the clouds. Thus, Haile Selassie's arrival by airplane in Jamaica, heralded by seven white doves, was a clear sign to the Rastafarians of the time which signified the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and the beginning of the messianic age.

"At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near." 4 (Luke 21:27-28)

Selassie Wept

"And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes." Luke 19:41-42

Everywhere His Majesty traveled, huge crowds gathered to welcome Him. But nowhere was the reaction greater than in Jamaica. When the door of His plane was opened that morning, His Majesty was met with the awe-inspiring sight of tens of thousands of Rastafarians rejoicing at the occasion of His arrival.

"The crowd was so thick around the plane that the Emperor was unable to get out for close to thirty minutes... Martimo Planno... was called over the public address system to the plane. He went up the ramp, shook hands with the Emperor, turned and informed the crowd to clear the way for the descent of the Emperor." 5

As far as the eye could see, there was a sea of red, gold and green. The Rastafarians waved the Ethiopian colors and held pictures of Haile Selassie I as they rejoiced, along with banners and signs proclaiming the divinity of the Conquering Lion. Overwhelmed with emotion upon seeing this - Haile Selassie wept.

"[Planno] said when the plane door open and him did see His Majesty, the King was weeping." 6 Newspapers of the time corroborate His Majesty's tearful reaction to the tremendous crowd of Rastafarians who met Him that day. But some raised doubts about the reason for His tears: "The tears welled up in His eyes and rolled down His face. It will perhaps never be known whether He cried in sorrow at the uncontrollableness of the vast throng of Jamaicans who had gathered to meet him, or out of pure joy; but whatever it was, it was an emotional reaction to a highly emotional welcome." 7

But we know from His Majesty's own words that His tears were in fact tears of joy, in response to the "wonderful reception that was accorded" 8 to Him. "Of the welcome His Imperial Majesty said later that He was overwhelmed and deeply moved. It demonstrated, He said, the close ties and affection which bind the people of Jamaica to Africa and Ethiopia." 9

The Triumphal Entry

"On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord." John 12:12-13

As the Emperor descended from His aircraft, the enormous Rastafarian crowd waved palm leaves and sang songs of praise as they beat on binghi drums in a symbolic act to signify His arrival. Of this reaction, one cannot help but draw parallels to the welcome given by the ancient Hebrews to the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem recorded in the Gospels. A further reading of the Biblical text also points to counterparts in the Book of Revelation.

"After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." - Revelation 7:9-10

Publicans and Sinners

"And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?" Luke 5:29-30

As part of His stay in Jamaica, His Majesty insisted that He meet with elders from the Rastafari community. Before His visit, the suppression and mistreatment of Rastafarians by the Jamaican government was brutal. The horrific Coral Gardens massacre of Rastafarians by the Jamaican police had taken place only a few years earlier. So when the harsh treatment of Rastafarians by the Jamaican government is compared with the generousity and respect afforded them by His Imperial Majesty, the practical impact of His visit becomes clear.

Brother Bongo, a Rastafari elder, provides details of the meetings between the Rastafari and Haile Selassie I: "We were invited to three separate occasions with His Majesty. One at Kings House, one at the stadium when His Majesty was at the National Stadium, and one at Sheraton Hotel where He met all the people."" 10 Certainly there were those of the upper echelon of Jamaican society who were appalled at the sight of dreadlocked Rastafarians in the renowned King's House. But Haile Selassie, true to His mission, welcomed the outcasts of society by inviting them to dine with Him in the most prestigious setting possible:

 

"Haile Selassie I sent a powerful message. The Emperor, by inviting the Rastafari to eat with Him, and by giving them gifts of gold medals, used His authority and presence as a monarch and world diplomat to empower them. Moreover, the Emperor acted in a Christ-like fashion. He sat and broke bread with pariahs... The authorities who spurned Rastafari now had to sit with them." 11

Not only had His Majesty welcomed the Rastafarians to join Him in the company of the most influential leaders of Jamaican society, but He also awarded them for their courage by giving them gifts. "Haile Selassie met a delegation of Rastafarians in the King's House, the governor-general of Jamaica's residence in the capital. He gave them gold medallions as gifts..." 12

This calls to mind the Messianic prophecies of Psalm 72. A Psalm which, interestingly, was also read at the Coronation of His Imperial Majesty as Emperor on November 2nd, 1930.

"Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him. For he shall deliver the needy when he cries; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight. And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised." - Psalm 72:11-15

One Rastafari elder added, of the events which took place that weekend in 1966, "His coming lifted us from the dust and caused us to sit with princes of this country;" while yet another saw His visit as comparable to the triumphal entry of Christ in Jerusalem." 13

Conclusion

The Rastafari movement began when Tafari Makonnen was crowned Emperor in 1930, taking as His royal name Haile Selassie I. For the three and a half decades that followed, members of the Rastfari movement had been ridiculed and labeled as outcasts of society. They were oppressed and humiliated by the authorities who sought to suppress the movement and wipe Rastafari from the map.

Through it all, Rastafari persevered. When His Majesty visited Jamaica on Groundation Day, He gave the Rastafari movement legitimacy and laid the foundation for us to grow into the worldwide culture that we are today. None of this would have been possible without His trip to Jamaica.

Footnotes

1 Barrett Sr., Leonard E. The Rastafarians (p.158). Beacon Press.

2 Asserate, Asfa-Wossen. King of Kings: The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (p.293). Haus Publishing.

3 Price, Charles. Becoming Rasta: Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica (p. 89). New York University Press.

4 Luke 21:27-28

5 Barrett Sr., Leonard E. The Rastafarians (p.159). Beacon Press.

6 Price, Charles. Becoming Rasta: Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica (p. 89). New York University Press.

7 Daily Gleaner (p. 1), April 22, 1966.

8 Selassie I, Haile. Selected Speeches (p.140). Lion of Judah Society Press.

9 Daily Gleaner (p. 1), April 22, 1966.

10 Price, Charles. Becoming Rasta: Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica (p. 90). New York University Press.

11 Price, Charles. Becoming Rasta: Origins of Rastafari Identity in Jamaica (p. 91). New York University Press.

12 Asserate, Asfa-Wossen. King of Kings: The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (p.294). Haus Publishing.

13 Barrett Sr., Leonard E. The Rastafarians (p.160). Beacon Press.

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The Rastafari Coalition is a nondenominational organization whose main goal is to bring the various Mansions of Rastafari together in unity. To accomplish this, we seek to provide a platform through which all members of the Rastafari community can put their theological differences aside and work together to achieve the aims and objectives we share in common.