Birthday of Haile Selassie I: Rastas party hardy around the world

TUESDAY, JULY 23: Bashes commence from Barbados to London, from Las Vegas to Tokyo as Rastas worldwide celebrate the birth anniversary of Haile Selassie I. The Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, Selassie—born Ras Tafari Makonnen on this date in 1892—is a messianic figure in the Rastafari religion. (Wikipedia has details on his life.) Rastafari hold that Ethiopia is their spiritual homeland, and that Selassie will lead those of the African Diaspora into a future Golden Age of peace, righteousness and affluence.

The central concept of Rastafari began 10 years before Selassie was even crowned, with a Jamaican-American nationalist leader known as Marcus Garvey. When Garvey began preaching of a “black king” and “the day of deliverance” in 1920, his words were interpreted as prophesies when Ras Tafari was crowned emperor in 1930. The Rastafari movement began almost immediately, with the additional support of Selassie’s family—who identified him as a descendent of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Today, followers debate beliefs about Selassie and the nature of divinity, but he remains a revered, sacred figure. The religion claims between 200,000 and 800,000 followers today. The majority of Rastas reside in Jamaica.


Jamaica is in the midst of a weeklong Reggae Sumfest on the birthday of Haile Selassie this year, as artists hit the stage for this annual show. Meanwhile, Rastas in cities around the world beckon celebrants for Haile Selassie’s birthday, with concerts, drum fests, stage shows and more in London, Tokyo, Las Vegas, Barbados, California and New York. (Get a full list of events here.)

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(Originally published at, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Grounation, aka Groundation, Day: Rastafari families recall Haile Selassie’s triumphant visit to Jamaica

SUNDAY, APRIL 21: Grounation Day marks a turn of events that shifted the worldview of the Rastafari religious movement—and converted Bob Marley’s wife to this faith with roots in Jamaica.

“GROUNATION” vs. “GROUNDATION”: As you will read below, the holiday’s name references the earth itself in a term often rendered “groun” in Jamaican media. However, the spelling is complicated by a popular tendency to add a “d” and make it “ground.” The “d” spelling now summons far more links via Google than the spelling minus a “d,” including a lot of independently designed Rastafari greeting cards and other media marking the holiday. Editors at the Wikipedia encyclopedia and the Urban Dictionary have adopted spellings without a “d.” But, it’s really your choice at the moment—”d” or no “d.” Read on and enjoy this fascinating story …


At 1:30 p.m. on this date in 1966, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie—who was already regarded as the Messiah of the fledgling Rastafari religion—touched down in Jamaica, beginning a short trip that would be his only visit to the country. (Wikipedia has details.) Reporters estimated that 100,000 Rastafari swarmed the Palisadoes Airport in Kingston, ready to welcome the Ethiopian leader whom they considered to be divine. The throng was so massive that Selassie couldn’t emerge from his plane. Then, Jamaican leader Ras Mortimer Planno stepped in to negotiate a proper entrance; Ras Mortimer Planno eventually would become a spiritual guru of Bob Marley.


Born in 1892, Haile Selassie I was Ethiopia’s regent from 1916 to 1930, ascending to the position of Emperor in 1930 and remaining there until 1974. Selassie was heir to a dynasty that could trace its origins, by tradition, to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Why did the Rastafari draw their spiritual connections? They were inspired by a famous Jamaican-American, the black nationalist Marcus Garvey (1887-1940). Many Jamaicans regard Garvey as a John the Baptist figure in their religious movement, especially as Garvey proclaimed: “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned for the day of deliverance is at hand!” This kind of statement, often repeated by Garvey, was seen as pointing toward Haile Selassie.

From Selassie’s first years as Emperor, the Rastafari movement grew in Jamaica. Selassie was seen as a messianic figure who would lead oppressed people to a future golden age of peace, righteousness and prosperity. Selassie retained his own Ethiopian Orthodox Christian faith throughout his life, although while in Jamaica, he never rebuked the Rastafari for their beliefs. Selassie appeared to encourage Rastafari elders by presenting them with gold medallions during his trip to Jamaica.


Selassie’s visit not only cemented respect for Rastafari in international headlines, but also changed the life of Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s wife. While a nonbeliever prior to this visit, she reportedly saw a stigma on Haile Selassie’s hand as he waved to the crowd, instantaneously making her aware of his divinity. Just moments prior, Selassie’s refusal to walk on a red carpet from his plane to the limousine translated into the Rastafari acceptance of grounation, indicating his “making contact with the soil”—and, furthermore, the name of this day as Grounation (or Groundation) Day.


Following the death of childhood friend Nate Dogg in 2011, Snoop Dogg began what many consider his most extreme transition yet: his acceptance of the Rastafari faith, which promotes peace, nonviolence and general kindness. After consultations with Rastafari elders, a documentary and a month-long recording session in Jamaica, Snoop has turned out 16 tracks in an album entitled, Reincarnated. Tracks will be available on iTunes April 23.