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Definition: Haile Selassie I from Philip's Encyclopedia

(Ras Tafari Makonnen) Emperor of Ethiopia (1930-74). When Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, he was forced into exile (1936), despite appeals to the League of Nations. He drove out the Italians with British aid in 1941. He became a leader among independent African nations, helping to found the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. In 1974 he was deposed by a military coup. He died while under arrest. See also Rastafarianism

Summary Article: SELASSIE I, HAILE (1892-1975)
from Africa and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Lion of Judah, was emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. He was born Tafari Mekonnen but changed his name to Haile Selassie (“Power of the Trinity”) when he was crowned emperor on November 2, 1930. Because Ethiopia was never colonized by a European power, except for a brief occupation by the Italians from 1935 to 1941, Haile Selassie was a beacon of hope for colonized countries throughout Africa and the Caribbean, as well as for African American activists in the United States. Regarded as God incarnate, he inspired the Rastafari movement (from Ras Tafari, his preimperial title and name) among working-class blacks in Jamaica. In an editorial following Selassie’s coronation, Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey suggested that Selassie was the answer to a biblical prophecy of a kingdom reaching out from the East. This essentially launched the Rastafarian movement, which has since spread worldwide. A devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, and therefore uneasy about the movement’s religious beliefs, Haile Selassie was nevertheless touched by Rastas’ desire to return to Africa and in the 1940s granted them a parcel of land in the town of Shashamane, 150 miles (241 kilometers) south of Addis Ababa. Some 200 Rastas, mainly of Jamaican and American origin, continue to live there.

Considerable controversy surrounds Haile Selassie’s reign—he is seen by some as a feudal despot and by others as a force for enlightened modernization. As regent, before becoming emperor, he abolished slavery so that Ethiopia could enter the League of Nations in 1923. He toured Europe and was inspired to begin a substantial modernization program, including public education and agricultural production. The League of Nations then failed to lend support when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, and he went into exile in England until he secured British assistance to oust the Italians in 1941. Haile Selassie ruled until he was deposed in a military-led Marxist coup d’état in 1974. He died a year later, still held under house arrest by the new government.

  • Getachew, Indrias. Beyond the Throne: The Enduring Legacy of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Edited by Richard Pankhurst. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Shama Books, 2001.
  • Haile, Selassie I. My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress. Edited by Harold Marcus with Ezekiel Gebissa and Tibebe Eshete. Translated by Ezekiel Gebissa. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1994.
  • Harris, Joseph E. African-American Reactions to War in Ethiopia, 1936-1941. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.
  • Schwab, Peter. Haile Selassie I: Ethiopia’s Lion of Judah. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979.
  • Jericho Burg

    Copyright © 2008 by ABC-CLIO, Inc.

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