Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Rastas to honor `Lion of Judah'

Community to mark anniversary of Selassie's ascension in Ethiopia.
By Alva James-Johnson
Staff Writer, Sun Sentinel
Posted November 5 2005


Ras Rainbow was yearning for a glimpse of God when the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I graced Jamaica with his presence. So at first, he did a double take.

"I was looking for a tall man, but he was short," Rainbow said, recalling the magical moment in 1966 when Selassie got off the plane. "A lot of people said, `How God so little?' But the Rasta said, `Don't worry 'bout that, he's the most powerful man in the world.'"

That was April 21, 1966, when thousands of Rastafarians made the pilgrimage from every corner of the island to witness the arrival of the man they consider "King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Conquering Lion of Judah" at Kingston Airport.

"It was a historic moment to see so many people come to see one person," said Rainbow, of Opa-locka. "It inspired me to come out of certain things. I'm not rich, but now I'm rich in spirit and I try to do my best anywhere I live."

At 61, Rainbow will celebrate another historic event in the Rastafarian community -- the 75th anniversary of Selassie's ascension to the Ethiopian throne, which drew dignitaries from far and wide to the African nation Nov. 2, 1930.

On Sunday, South Florida Rastas will re-enact the king's coronation at the Lauderdale Lakes Multi-purpose Center with a colorful display of royal pageantry. The event will feature seven custom-made symbols of kingship, including replicas of the triple crown of Ethiopia, the sword of Solomon, an imperial scepter and golden globe. Royal white attire is required.

Born Tafari Makonnenin, Selassie claimed to be the direct descendant of the queen of Sheba and King Solomon. He used the title "Ras," meaning prince, which when combined with "Tafari" led to the term "Rastafarian" adopted by his followers.

Haile Selassie means "Power of the Trinity." He never claimed to be God, but Rastafarians have considered him the black Messiah ever since the Jamaican black nationalist Marcus Garvey quoted the Bible as saying, "Princes would come out of Egypt and Ethiopia would stretch forth her hands unto God."

Selassie's reign ended in 1974 during a military coup. He died under house arrest in 1975, but Rastafarians are convinced he still lives.

"We know our flesh comes to stay a certain time, but the spirit in the flesh can never die," Rainbow said. "So we have him alive all the time, because we know his work and his spirit live in us."

While there are no official statistics on the number of Rastafarians living in South Florida, experts say there are thousands and the population is growing.

"This is the second-largest Caribbean community in the United States, so I wouldn't be surprised if it's the second-largest Rasta community," said Ras Michael Barnett, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Florida International University.

Adherents of the faith are mostly known for their knotty dreadlocks, strict vegetarian diets, smoking of ganja (marijuana) and the reggae music made popular by Bob Marley and other Jamaican artists. But Rastafarianism is also a movement that fights against injustice and what Rastafarians consider the "Babylonian" establishment that oppresses the poor and people of African descent.

"Rastafarians have seen religions to be as negative as often as they have been positive," said Don Rico Ricketts, a member of the South Florida Rasta community. "We like to say Rastafari is a way of life because it indicates a wider world view than just the religious world view."

Divided into three main houses or denominations, Rastafarians hold different views on issues ranging from divinity to lifestyle. The branches are: The Twelve Tribes of Israel, the BoboShante House and the Nyahbinghi Order.

Some Rastas attend weekly spiritual gatherings called "binghis" to practice their faith from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Others attend binghis only on special occasions to commemorate the birthdays of Garvey and Selassie and also Selassie's coronation and his trip to Jamaica.

Adwa Donovan, 31, lives in a North Lauderdale neighborhood with her boyfriend, Steven Gordon, who she calls her "Kingman."

"When I told my mother I want to be Rasta, she said not in my house," she recalled. "She's a traditional Pentecostal."

But Donovan said devotion to Selassie offered her freedom.

"We don't believe in following doctrine," she explained. "Jah [God] speaks to the heart of all of us."

Alva James-Johnson can be reached at ajjohnson@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4523.

1 comment:

Vee said...

Greetings I find your blog to be very informative on Reggae and the Rasta faith. I am not a rasta but have read the Kebra Negaste and a few books on the Rasta faith.
Thanks I'll be checking your your blog more often.