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Secondary: Festivals of World Religions

The birthday of Haile Selassie
By Caroline Donne

This Rastafarian holy day is on 23 July.


> Themes

  • Celebration
  • Remembering an important person
  • African culture
  • Equality of all people


> Background

  • Rastafarians take their name from Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, who was also known as Ras (Prince) Tafari. The faith, known as Rastafari, began in Jamaica in the 1920s and took its name when Haile Selassie I was crowned Emperor in 1930, although he was not a Rastafarian and was a devout Christian. Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie was descended from King Solomon in the Bible, and they believe that he is the incarnation of God. It is believed that Ras Tafari will help black people who trace their roots to the slave trade to return to Africa. So Africa, and in particular Ethiopia, is the spiritual focus of Rastafarianism.
  • The Rastafarian belief is also a way of life and has strong links with the Jewish and Christian faiths. Study of the Bible is important, in particular the Old Testament. Haile Selassie’s birthday is seen as one of the holiest days of the year for Rastafarians. He was born on 23 July 1892 and died in 1975.



> Materials

  • If possible, find a recording of Nyahbinghi (Rastafarian drumming and chanting) from the local library; or reggae music, particularly by Bob Marley.
  • Display a flag of Ethiopia or a poster with yellow, red, green and black stripes – the colours of the Ethiopian flag.
  • Display a picture of Haile Selassie (suggested website: www.bobartsinstitute.edu/Selassie.htm).


> Assembly
  1. Begin the assembly with music, as above. See how many students can identify Bob Marley and the Wailers. Explain that this music is very important for Rastafarians, who live all over the world but especially in the Caribbean islands, Europe and Africa. Through this music they sing about their lives and worship God.
  2. Explain that 23 July is a special day for Rastafarians because they remember the birth of a man called Ras Tafari, who became Emperor of the African country of Ethiopia. Point out the colours of the Ethiopian flag and explain that the colours are important for Rastafarians. They often wear these colours.

  3. Go on to explain that Ras Tafari took the name Haile Selassie I when he was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia. Rastafarians believe that God shows himself on earth from time to time as a human, and that Haile Selassie was God in human form although Haile Selassie himself was a Christian. The birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie is one of the most noteworthy days for Rastafarians. They will meet together to dance and to worship God. There are often art exhibitions – the art of Africa is significant because Haile Selassie was born there. Food is shared; Rastafarians are vegetarian and healthy eating is very important for them.



> Focus on the themes

Explain that the Rastafarian faith began in the Caribbean islands. Many people who live there are descended from Africans who were taken as slaves to the Caribbean. Rastafarians believe that Emperor Haile Selassie was outstanding because he spoke up for black people who had suffered because of slavery. Rastafarians consider it important to speak out against situations where people are treated unfairly.




> Time for reflection

Use this as an opportunity to talk about the school’s anti-racism policies if appropriate.


In a time of quiet, invite students to think or pray about what they have heard. Invite them to pray for peace and understanding between people, whatever their differences. Invite them to give thanks for all those people who are working to bring peace and understanding in the world.

Ask them to think about how they could bring peace and understanding in their lives today.

Or use this prayer:

God of all people,
Thank you for the world that you have made.
Help us to see that we belong to your worldwide family of people on earth.
Help us to treat one another fairly and to try to understand one another.
Amen.




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