Demystifying Haile Selassie
Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2004
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Selassie is a historical figure. If it does not matter who he is or what he did, then I guess people can use that same symbolic argument to worship Hitler or even Bush.
Selassie was a real person and also a symbolic inspiration to many, including colonized and Christianized Africans whose only source of learning, after they were uprooted from more indigenous ways, was the Christian Bible. But not all colonized Africans took the Christian Bible literally, and certainly many did not think Selassie was divine. Many were inspired by the presence of an African King in the midst of all the poor Black images and ideas fed to us through European miseducation. Even Garvey used Selassie to inspire Africans about their own greatness and ability to rival the British monarchy. Garvey never meant that Selassie was the new God for Black Africans.
But apart from the Africans who were Christianized, there were also other Africans/Rastas who rediscovered natural livity, and were not looking to any earthly symbolic head. They were quite convinced that they could relate to Jah through nature, and that ALL earthly governments and leaders were subject to corruption. This situation is not dissimilar to the Zionists in Israel. Look at the trouble in the world today from the ones who think Zion is a specific literal location on the earth. There were, and are, many Africans who disagreed with many of Selassie's moves, and certainly many of the Black kinky-haired Africans in Ethiopia who were not part of the ruling class felt Selassie alienated and negatively discriminated against them. No amount of mental gymnastics can nullify their lived reality.
Even within the African Rasta community there are many who may not be on the Internet who know that the whole over-glorification of Selassie is not right. To many Black Africans, Selassie means nothing, and no one can deny the validity of them holding on to their own older concepts of divinity, and choosing how it evolves. Selassie was not the defining aspect of Rasta, and the movement did not develop to worship any man.
So as much as Selassie was/is a symbol to some Africans, and WE learn from him like other African personalities, many here will have to accept the fact that many Africans can identify with other symbols of historical greatness and still be quite in order with Rasta.
Also, the meaning of Ras Tafari (head - he who inspires awe) cannot be the exclusive domain of one person. The concept of Ras and Tafari can be found in other African symbols, and in the way they paid respect to their elders. Certainly the meaning of Haile Selassie (Might of the Trinity) is an old African concept that has permeated all other cultures that conceptualize a Trinity. Languages evolve and new words developed while the essential meaning is the same. So even the words 'Ras Tafari' and their meanings are not the exclusive property of one group of Africans, as the words and meaning were around before Selassie the person.
Selassie was the Emperor of Ethiopia, which is home to a whole range of people who have their own ideas of spirituality and worship. I doubt he could have gotten them to give up their customs to worship him, and he certainly did not demand that.
So yes we can respect the symbolic and physical value of Selassie without casually moving the discussion into the illusive symbolic and ethereal domain just to make some feel comfortable.
Rasta is also about reasoning out issues. The Racism and Colorism as it relates to how Selassie is promoted above other African personalities like Garvey, could be reasoned on.
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