We landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and got a taxi to our hotel. Hardly ten minutes into the ride the taxi driver mentioned the name Haile Selassie. Of course I knew who he was, but I had underestimated his importance in Ethiopian, African and, indeed, world history.
A few days in Ethiopia corrected my mistake.
Haile Selassie: His Story
Haile Selassie (1892-1975) was Regent (1916-1930) and then Emperor (1930-1974) of Ethiopia. His lineage can be traced back 3000 years to the legendary union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Thus he was aligned with the ancient Kingdom of Judah whose symbol is the lion, which is figured in the title image. The Star of David is also a symbol in prominent use by those who belong to this line.
Ethiopia accepted Christianity in the 4th century AD, and Haile Selassie, like most of his countrymen, was Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.
Haile Selassie had an internationalist view of the world, and Ethiopia was a charter member of the United Nations in 1945.President Kennedy held a state dinner for him in 1963.He was also the chair of the Organization of African Unity on various occasions in the 1960s. (The organization was established in 1963 and ceased operation in 2002.)
The 1973 famine in Ethiopia led to a coup d’état in 1974 and his ouster at age 82. He died the next year.
Haile Selassie: His Influence
Haile Selassie was his baptism name and means ‘Power of Trinity.’
His birth name was Tafari Mekonnen.
He has had at least three realms of influence:
Ras Tafari means Duke (or Head) Tafari.
In the 1930s the religious movement known as Rastafarianism started in Jamaica. It holds that Emperor Haile Selassie is the Messiah and identifies black people as the chosen ones who will eventually return to their African homeland.
Bob Marley (1945-1981) was a Jamaican who helped popularize Rastafarianism in the 1970s.
Here’s his Rastaman Vibration.
Speaking of Bob Marley, here’s an image of him I saw on a three-wheeler, known as a tuk-tuk, outside an historic church in Gondar, Ethiopia:
The Colors of Other African Flags
Here is Ethiopia’s current flag:
A version of this flag has been in existence for over 150 years, and in any of its incarnations the green, gold and red bands have been the constant.
The green symbolizes the land and development.
The gold symbolizes the sun and peace.
The red symbolizes blood and sacrifice.
Because Ethiopia was never colonized and was always an independent kingdom, other African countries who gained independence from their colonizers after World War II followed Ethiopia’s lead and fashioned flags of green, gold and red.
In fact, 14 nations follow the color scheme, including Cameroon:
Then, of course, there’s the Rastafari flag:
And let’s not forget the flag of the Black Power movement in the United States in the 1960s:
This flag was also used by the Black Panther Party founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in 1966.
Black Panther: The Superhero and The Movie
Speaking of black panthers, Black Panther, the superhero, first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966.
In the Marvel comics series his real name is T’Challah, which Elias, our guide in Ethiopia, informed us means ‘Victorious’ in Oromeana, an Ethiopian language. Elias also informed us that black panthers exist only in the forests of Ethiopia.
Note: The African language used in the movie is Xhosa, a Bantu language spoken in South Africa, so the movie took a Pan-African approach.
Elias also pointed out the religious garb the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) wore (here on the Red Carpet) is distinctly Ethiopian with its Christian crosses:
In other words, there is no doubt that the fictional Wakanda, invented in the 1960s at the height of Haile Selassie’s power, is a stand-in for Ethiopia, the African nation that was never colonized.
Elias assured us that he and all other Ethiopians he knew loved the movie.
See Washington Post February 2018: Africa’s Real Wakanda and the Struggle to Stay Uncolonized
See also: All Africa Blogs
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen