Among many followers of the Rastafari movement, which developed in the 1930s in Jamaica under the influence of Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, Haile Selassie is seen as God incarnate, the Black Messiah who will lead the peoples of Africa to freedom.
Haile Selassie was never a member of the Rastafarian faith, nor did he have any role in organizing the religion. During his lifetime, the Emperor was a devout member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
His views towards the Rastafarians varied from polite interest to unsettled concern. The Emperor did not personally believe the divine claims made of him by the Rastafarians. When interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Bill McNeil in 1967, Haile Selassie denied that a man could be an emanation from God. Haile Selassie never claiming to be God, this never worried the believers, meaning that the real God would never claim to be so just to get worldly acclaim and power.
As a gesture of kindness to the Rastafarians and their aspirations of returning to Africa, the Emperor donated a piece of land at Shashamane, for the use of Jamaican Rastafarians.
Shashamane is a small town in the southern part of the Shoa province, 250 km south of Addis Ababa.
Between 1952 and 1974 approximately 22 families migrated to Shashamane. The vast majority of these early settlers came from Jamaica, as the Rastafarian groups in Jamaica were most appreciative of the Emperor’s gift and stretched forth their hands to receive it.
There is still a community there, and it’s rather well known among the Ethiopians and foreigners, but almost no one hears any news from them.
Some Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie is still alive, and that his purported death was part of a conspiracy to discredit their religion. In addition to being a political and historical figure, Haile Selassie has become a popular culture symbol through the Rastafarian movement.