Jamaicans of Ethiopian Origin and the Rastafarian Faith
by P. Napti
Today in Ethiopia and throughout the world there are many misconceptions regarding the Rastafarian faith. These misconceptions or distortions may have been brought about by some who are not of Ethiopia who wish to keep the people from understanding the truth about our faith.
Centuries ago over 100 million Africans were kidnapped from their native home and enslaved by European and Arab slave traders. Although most of these Africans were stolen or sold from West Africa, it is important to note that slaves were taken from as far as MT. Kenya in Africa. In 1961 (Western calendar) when a delegation of Jamaicans visited Ethiopia, they were told by the late Abuna Basillos that the people were taken were told by from Ethiopia and brought to the Western world centuries ago. When His Imperial Majesty Emporer Haile Selassie I visited Jamaica in 1966, he told us that "Ethiopians and Jamaicans have a relationship going back for a very long time," and that "Jamaicans and Ethiopians were brothers by blood." Furthermore, during the time of the Emperor Lalibela there was a great war, and many supporters of the Solomonic Dynasty were exiled. Some reached the Caribbean. Our forefathers have left us history from the 18th Century A.D. of their support for the Royal House of Solomon. This spirit and tradition has survived to the present time. Therfore, we believe that our heritage has it's roots in the union of the Royal House of Solomon and Sheba and even beyond that point.
During the African's enslavement, the Euopeans made vicious attempts to sesrtoy our language and religion. We were told that the land of our forefathers was a land of savages and uncivilized people, and that we were taken from Africa to become Christians and be civilized by the so-called superior white man. This brainwashing process was done to break our foreparents' spirit and to make the humble and willing slaves. They also claimed to be teaching our people about the bible.
When a few of our forefathers learned and began to read in English they took up the Holy Bible and read it for themselves. and behold, in the very first book of Genesis, Chapter 2 vs. 13 they read that out of the garden of Eden there flowed a river which seperated into four parts. One of these was the river Gihon which flowed over the land of Ethiopia. Our fathers wisely concluded that Ethiopia. Our fathers wisely concluded that Ethiopia must logically be part of the Garden of Eden, the cradle of mankind. How then could we be inferior to whites when man originated in our country?
It must be noted that slaves were not permitted to read, and therefore they had to secretly read the Bible. Being inspired and enlightened, our forefathers read on and came upon a story of Moses and his marriage to an Ethiopian woman,(see Num.ch 12). Aaron and Miriam, (Moses' brother and sister) were upset and spoke against Moses' marriage because his wife was an Ethiopian. Jahvah punished and afflicted Miriam with leprosy for criticizing Moses. Moses pleaded with Jahvah to forgive them, and Miriam was cured.
The Bible described a land to our forefathers that resembled the land of their fathers, and the Bible customs, names and stories sounded all too familiar. In the Psalms of David ch 68 vs. 31 they read that Princes and Princesses would come out of Egypt(Africa), and that Ethiopia would soon stretch her hands unto God. This gave our fathers hope because they knew they were once Princes in Africa and were now sure that God would deliver them. In the book of Amos, ch9 vs. 7, they read how the children of Israel were likened unto the children of Ethiopia by God. Also in the book of Acts of the Ethiopian Jew who was on his way to Jerusalem to worship. These constant references to Ethiopa inspired African people to form their own churches and to give their churches Ethiopian names. For example in southern Africa and in the Caribbean there emerged over 200 independent African churches with Ethiopian names. The Ethiopian Zion Church, the Ethiopian Baptist Church, the Ethiopian Methodest Church and the Abbyssinia Coptic Church are just a few names adopted by our forefathers to identify with Ethiopia.
As literacy in the English language increased among Africans in the late 19th century, brilliant scholars of Ethiopian history emerged. Such names as Casely Hayford, Edward Blyden and Marcus Mosiah Garvey are to be noted for their contribtions. They provided others historical materials written by Greek historians, who referred to all Africa as Ethiopia, not only the present day geographical boundries. These scholors found that the Greeks spoke of Ethiopia as "the land where the Gods loved to be" and of Ethiopians as the "blameless race." They provided other literature that showed that civilization "came down the River Nile," from Ethiopia to Egypt and then to Greece and then to Rome." These revelations about Ethiopia came at a time when all other African people, inside and outside of Africa were under White rule. Only Ethiopia had never been conquered by the white man. Ethiopia was the independence and pride.
More inspiring events took place in 1896 when Italy's army was utterly defeated by the armies of Emperor Menenlik II on Ethiopian soil. This news managed to leak out to Africans under colonial rule. There was great rejoicing by Africans everwhere, and the hope of freedom was rekindled.
It was out of this rich and fertile tradition of love for Ethiopians that the Rastafarian faith was born. In 1930 news came of the crowning of an Ethiopian King. This was not merely another King being crowned. This King was crowned His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, Light of this World, King of Zion. This King was reported as being the 225thth restores of the Solomonic Dynasty. It was attended by many nations, including the Duke of Gloucester, the representative of the British Crown who returned the Emperor the sacred scepter stolen from Ethiopia many years before.
African Christian people now began asking many questions. The throne that Haile Selassie I represented was the oldest throne on earth, over 3,000 years old. The throne of the Royal House of Britain, the colonial sovereign of Jamaica was less than 500 years old. It was not only that African people saw that they had an African King exceeding all over colonial sovereigns in royal status and antiquity, but this King's throne represented the throne of God on earth, established by a covenant between God and King David as recorded in the Old Testament (IISam ch7).
Our people earnestly searched the scriptures and the prophecies concerning this throne in Ethiopia. In the book of Genesis(ch49 vs. 18-12), they read that God had promised the custodianship of his Kingdom of the Tribe of Judah. Moreover, God had mad an eternal promise to King David and King Solomon, that their throne and Dynasty would endure as long as the moon and the sun, and that David would never be short of a man-child to sit on his throne (see psalms 89). It must also be emphasized that the kings dynasty were not only the kings of Ethiopia, but the kings of the whole earth; representing the justice and judgment of God in human affairs (see Psalms 72). When God's people sinned He told them that He would punish them by famine, pestilence and the sword, and he would be ruled by a foreign power and be servants to other nations. But when they returned to God with all their hearts He would rise up one from the family of David and Solomon who would re-gather His people back into their own land, (see Ezekial 37, Isaiah 43, Jerm. 23, and 33). Then God promised that by the seed of David, the Tribe of Judah, He would set up His promised Kingdom on earth, which would be a light to the world. His people would be returned to their land and no more would they suffer.
H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I, born July 23, (the beginning of the astrological sign of the Lion), by the dignity of His stature, the discipline of His character, and eyes that reflect a sense of purpose and mission, was seen by Bible students as the promised Messiah from the House of Judah. His titles fit only man on earth "worthy to open the book and to loose the seven seals" of Revelation Chapter 5. Known before his Coronation as Ras Tafari, our people who saw him as the long awaited Messiah, began calling themselves by his name, Rastafarians. To the Rastafarians, this King was the one promised from the House of David, who would re-gather them from their lands of captivity and bring them again into their own land.
The ORIGINAL CHRISTIAN FAITH
I would like to stress a very important point to my Ethiopian brothers and sisters. The belief that the throne of Ethiopia was given by God is part of your own history and tradition. This history of Solomon's and Sheba son Menelik I, the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant to Axum and the 12,000 sons of Israel's nobles and high priests who returned to Ethiopia with Menelik, was a great historical significance to the Orthodox Church and gave legitimacy to government. Before Jesus Christ and His disciples (except John) were murdered, Christ's gospel was about His Father's Kingdom. This was the key message foe which Jesus and all of the prophets were martyred. Was it not the clergy in the time of Jesus Christ who had sold out to Rome not to preach to the people about the Davidic Covenant and settle for semi-autonomy and a life of comfort? Because of the popularity of Jesus Christ, who taught the people as the prophets did about His Promised Kingdom, the puppet Jewish Clergy informed Rome that Jesus said that He was the promised King of the Jews. Jesus was arrested and charged with sedition against Rome.
For many years the early Christian Church was persecuted because of their belief in Jesus Christ's message, ie: God's coming Kingdom on earth. Soon most churches left out this teaching in their sermons. It was seen as political propaganda because it suggested an alternative government of righteousness and truth. Only the Ethiopian Church preserved this teaching until the invasion by Rome in 1936. These different invasions were attempts to be continues...to destroy the seed of David (as Herod attempted to do at the birth of Jesus) and to take possession of the Ark of the Covenant, sacred manuscripts and documents of Ethiopia. Then as they planned, this promise of a Kingdom of God to our people, Would be put away forever, (see Psalms 2). So what Ras-Tafarians are really representing is what the Orthodox Church and the early Christians once stood for.
WHAT RASTAFARIANS BELIEVE
We believe as the Bible teaches that God is a spirit. However, this spirit manifested in and represented by our King H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I, who the nations of Babylon have conspired against, (see Psalms2). This spirit of God, through the grace of Jesus Christ also lives in the hearts of all believers. There is no other name by which man receives salvation but through the name and belief in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ was a direct descendant of King David. This family of King David is represented today by the Ethiopian Solomonic Dynasty bearing Ethiopian and Shemetic physical characteristics. Any artistic representation of Jesus Christ should therefore logically bear similar physical characteristics of living family members descended from this Royal House. We therefore reject Michaek Angelo's painting representing Jesus and Mary with Blonde hair and blue eyes. This misrepresentation of the racial characteristics of Jesus and Mary by European artist (which defies geography) is significant in that it can affect the national pride and self denied of this joy and dignity in accepting the reality that Jesus and Mary were people who looked like us. The psychological damage to Africans in perpetuating the myth of the past and coming white redeemer may be that of seeking outside of their own kith and kin for a solution of their condition.
We believe ourselves to be the original Lost Tribes of Israel that were once scattered, but now found because of the preservation and appearing of Judah, David's seed, in the person of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I. We will be returned to Ethiopia by God's will and power.
In concluding, it is hoped that this attempt to throw some light on the faith of Rastafarians will not have been in vain. I hope it will encourage Ethiopians to examine and study their rich history and culture and make a careful study of the Bible.
Ethiopia yesterday, today and FOR-IVER!
Bro. P. Napti is a Rastafarian and resides in Washington D.C. This article was printed in Feb./march 1995 in "Caribbean Lifestyles" magazine.
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