July 23 marks the birthday of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie 1, the former Ras Tafari Makonnen whose life inspired descendants of slaves in Jamaica to seek the Kingdom of Righteousness and to name their religion and themselves as Rastafari.
The controversial belief that Haile Selassie was the living embodiment of God on earth was deemed heretical and blasphemous by those whose belief in God was inherited from generations of European Christianity. But the foundations of the Rastafari faith were undeniably rooted in the same Christian Bible, albeit viewed by intellects inspired by another Jamaican - Marcus Garvey - to see God in their own African image.
That Emperor Selassie denied the divinity claimed by his followers did not deter many, who based their proof on how the positive influence of this man has led so many - not just in Jamaica but the world - to make a conscious effort to follow the pathway of Right Living based on the teachings of the Bible and its avatar Jesus, the Christ.
Selassie himself was an Orthodox Christian with the title Defender of the Faith of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church, founded in the time of the Apostles when Ethiopian Empress Candace and her Eunuch went to Jerusalem to find out about the recently ascended Christ, met disciple Phillip, was baptised and returned to Ethiopia to found the first Christian church outside Jerusalem.
After his monumental visit to Jamaica where he saw and met Rastafarians in person and witnessed their religious zeal and faith, he was so keen that they should adopt and be baptised into the faith of which he was head, that he sent his personal priest Abba Mandefro to found the first branch of the EOTC in Jamaica and the West Indies.
Not all Rastafari have followed the Emperor's directive, because of the church's insistence that they adapt their view of Selassie as God Incarnate and see him instead as the divine human that led them to JAH and Christ in His original blackness.
But Christ to so many still evokes images of the blonde, blue-eyed symbol of European enslavers, colonisers and mis-informers, that many Rastafarians still state that one is not "a Rasta" unless one says the Emperor is God and Christ - a statement argued over by Rastafarians of differing mansions, who state that if to be "a Rasta" is to be like the Emperor, then a "Rasta" should also be part of the church in which he prayed daily.
Notwithstanding this yet-to-be-resolved issue, the enormous impact the Rastafari faith has made globally in music, culture and the positive image of Jamaica, shows the uplifting influence of this unique man who became famous - not for wealth, scandal or criminal acts - but for inspiring a new and uniquely Afrocentric religious pathway towards godliness. Hail, His Imperial Majesty.
Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah