Bob Marley feature film adds to awareness of Rastafari celebration of Haile Selassie

TUESDAY, JULY 23, 2024—Critics were divided in their reviews of the 2024 feature film Bob Marley: One Love, but there is no question: Millions of moviegoers around the world are freshly aware of Marley’s remarkable life, his stirring music and his devotion to Halie Selassie through Marley’s own participation in the Jamaican Rastafari religious movement.

So, this summer, we are likely to see more public awareness of Selassie’s birthday on July 23, 1892. This would have been his 132nd birthday. (To learn more about the movie, which continues to circulate via streaming, DVD and Bluray, here is a link to Edward McNulty’s review.)

Rastafari around the world—estimated to number 700,000 to 1 million—hold Nyabingi drumming sessions to remember Haile Selassie I as God incarnate. (Note: The belief that Selassie is God incarnate is not universally held; some Rastas regard Selassie as a messenger of God.)


Beginnings were meager for this emperor-to-be, born in a mud hut in Ethiopia. Selassie—originally named Tafari Makonnen—was a governor’s son, assuming the throne of Ethiopia in a complex struggle for succession. The nation’s leaders favored Tafari for the role of emperor—and, in 1930, he was crowned. Selassie would become Ethiopia’s last emperor.

Years prior to Haile Selassie’s enthronement, American black-nationalist leader Marcus Garvey began preaching of a coming messiah who would lead the peoples of Africa, and the African diaspora, into freedom. When news of Selassie’s coronation reached Jamaica, it became evident to some that Selassie was this foretold messiah. Beyond the prophesies in the book of Revelation and New Testament that Rastafari point to as proof of Selassie’s status, the emperor also could trace his lineage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Rastafari pointed to Selassie as the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David and the King of Kings.

Did you know? The Rastafari receive their name from the combination of Ras—an honorific title, meaning “head”—and Tafari, part of Selassie’s birth name.

Selassie remained a lifelong Christian, but never reproached the Rastafari for their beliefs in him as the returned messiah.


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