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A two-part Documentary

"Jah Jah Live, Children Yeah!"
The video documentary on the Haile Selassie Burial in Addis Ababa and the Voices of Rastafari in Shashamane – a Review “

Werner Zips

Haile Selassie Burial - DVD Cover
Although the assassination of Haile Selassie I by Marxist coup plotters was reported as early as 1975, the burial ceremony did not take place until November 2000 in Addis Ababa. Twenty more years later, the Max Planck Institute's ethnology department has released a two-part film about it. The first part documents the ceremony itself, the second deals with the Rastafari views of the event, which for them stands in stark contradiction to their concept of divinity.

Part I: The Burial of Emperor Haile Selassie I
A film by Verena Böll, Georg Haneke and Günther Schlee


The film about Haile Selassie's funeral is a historical document of inestimable value. More than a quarter of a century after Haile Selassie's reported “death”, announced by the Derg military council, an agreement on a ceremonial funeral of Haile Selassie I. was reached. It brought a long tug-of-war with the royal family to an end, by allowing the Haile Selassie Memorial Association and all remaining family members, who survived the wave of extra-judicial killings of the aristocracy by the Derg, to pay their last respects to Ethiopia's last King of Kings in a dignified ritual.

For his Ethiopian and Rastafari followers Haile Selassie is seen as the "Father of Peace". A portrait of Haile Selassie, specially crafted for this occasion, bore this honorary title with an Amharic inscription. It depicted the Emperor, topped with a crown carved from wood, in the contours of the African continent, painted on animal skin.

Haile Selassie Burial

Haile Selassie Burial

Haile Selassie Burial

Portrait of Haile Selassie in the contours of the African continent at The Holy Trinity Cathedral

The camera of Günther Schlee and Georg Haneke was far from being the only one during the ceremonies on November 5th, 2000, as the pictures clearly show. But the resulting 45-minutes film probably provides a unique comprehensive documentation of the event. It is therefore also suitable as a contemporary document that can counter any possible future creation of a myth with a realistic picture.

Haile Selassie Film Project - Team Haile Selassie Film Project - DCD-Cover

Links: The Film-Team, Ambaye Ogato and Verena Böll, together with the Rastafarians Ras Gyone and Wubshet in front their hut in Shashamane, Ethiopia, October 2018.
Rechts: Cover of the booklet from the Haile Selassie I Documentation

Its completion by members of the Max-Planck-Institute for Ethnological Research in Halle took almost twenty years. One of the most important reasons for this long production time was probably the awareness that such a document should not be published without the voices of those who upheld the memory of Haile Selassie over many decades and ultimately made the King of Kings immortal, namely Rastafari in Jamaica, Ethiopia and the rest of the world. First and foremost, Bob Marley and The Wailers, who recorded the song Jah Live (1975)i just days after the news of his death at the hands of Ethiopian coup plotters on August 27th, 1975:

“Fools say in their hearts
Rasta, your God is dead
But I and I know, Jah Jah
Dread it shall be dreaded and dread (…)
Jah Jah live, children, yeah
Let Jah arise
Now that the enemies are scattered”

Prehistory and context

The actual burial on 5.11.2000 was preceded by a memorial mass on 2nd November 2000 in the Entoto Mariam Church – exactly 70 years to the day after Haile Selassie's coronation. It has deep meaning that this commemorative service took place at a highly symbolic location. It was here that the welcome ceremony for the returned King of Kings took place on May 5th, 1941, after the victory over fascist Italy. Haile Selassie writes about this occasion extensively in his autobiography (Part II, p. 160) and expresses his feelings freely: "We could not control our tears and heartfelt emotions."ii

HIM Funeral Invitation - Page 5 HIM Funeral Invitation - Page 7

HIM Funeral Invitation - Page 2 HIM Funeral Invitation - Page 4

Extracts from the official Funeral Invitation for November 5th, 2000 (pages 5, 7, 2, 4)

EHSIMA Addis Ababa

The Emperor Haile Selassie I Memorial Association (EHSIMA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia collects the written and visual material about Haile Selassie. Together with the family and the association of the patriots it organized the burial of Haile Selassie in the year 2000.

Exactly 70 years after Haile Selassie's coronation, the Max-Planck footage documents the same feelings among members of the Arbegnoch (Amharic for patriots) during the burial ceremonies. Their tears flow at the liturgical climax of the solemn ritual surrounding the laying out of the sarcophagus in front of the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Some of those present may have served in that famous elite unit. It became known by the code name Gideon Force (and included soldiers from England and other partner countries rallied under the Ethiopian flag through Haile Selassie’s brilliant diplomacy).

In the essential Part II, representatives of these patriot associations and family members express their deep satisfaction with the solemn ceremony. For more than a quarter of a century, they fought against the secular Ethiopian rulers for the "last honor" for the Emperor. This included having the sarcophagus wrapped in an Ethiopian flag with Haile Selassie on his beloved white horse depicted in its center. It was carried by nobles and Ethiopian commanders (Dejazmatches) with royal headdresses made of lions’ manes.

HIM Procession - Meskel Square

HIM Procession - Meskel Square

The Procession floats during the festivities on the Meskel Square

With their long multi-colored robes – immortalized by Dennis Brown as "Joseph's Coat of many Colors" – and their ceremonial shoulder capes bearing the emblem of the Victorious Lion of Judah, they recalled the glorious days of the Empire. At the time of the burial event, Ethiopia's political elite wanted to hear nothing of this. Rather, they were conspicuous by their demonstrative absence.

But the passive acquiescence of the government allowed the organizers to arrange the paying of "last respects" entirely according to their own ideas. The funeral ceremony began in front of St. George's Cathedral in Addis Ababa. There, Haile Selassie I had been crowned together with Empress Menen Asfaw in a full-day ritual on November 2nd, 1930. This act marked the global charisma of the Negusa Nagast by attracting unprecedented media attention for a non-European monarch and high-ranking representation from all major European nations.

On the eve of the coronation celebrations, Haile Selassie had the equestrian statue of Menelik II, the victorious King of Kings in the Battle of Adwa against the Italians (1896), unveiled near the St. George’s Cathedral. Haile Selassie’s diplomatic genius and internationalism expressed itself by giving the assignment for the design to the German architect Curtin Specingler. Additionally, he bestowed the honor of unveiling the monument to the third son of the British monarch George V, Prince Henry William Frederick Albert I, Duke of Gloucester. By these symbolic gestures, he sought to gather British support and send out a warning to the Italian representatives. It may seem significant in the light of the joint liberation of Ethiopia in 1941 by a united British-Ethiopian army, the so-called Gideon Force (as he describes in great personal detail in his autobiography; Pt. I, p. 175).iii

It was probably one reason that the St. George’s Cathedral, where the day-long coronation had taken place, was burned (in 1937) by the Italian fascists during World War II, like so many other places of worship (during the occupation). After the disgrace of Adwa (in 1892), they saw in this monument, which was unveiled in the presence of the royal Italian representative, the Prince of Udine, on the eve of the coronation of Haile Selassie I and Menen II (in 1930) yet another humiliation.

After the liberation of Ethiopia in 1941, Haile Selassie had the St. George's Cathedral immediately restored. It had been built in 1896 by order of Emperor Menelik II, to commemorate the victorious Battle of Adwa in the first war against the Italian invaders. This historically rare victory of a David against the Goliath of the technologically superior Italian army gave strength to Haile Selassie’s belief in the Ethiopian chances of yet another victorious throwback of the same national invader.

The St. George's Cathedral’s founding myth is based on its tabot. This is because, according to tradition, the tabot of Saint George, to whom the Cathedral is dedicated, was brought to the battlefield of Adwa to ensure victory and thus the preservation of Ethiopia's freedom. It is one of the most important tabots of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, generally referring to The Ten Commandments and the biblical Ark of the Covenant.

The Historical Event for the "Father of Peace"

The document, respectfully filmed (visibly from the second row), proves that it was not a state or secular event, with a strong political and military presence, but a family celebration with closest confidants and sympathizers, gathering under the "canopy" of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Haile Selassie I was considered as its Guardian. Not least because in 1959 he had achieved the independence of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church from the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria (Egypt), under its first Patriarch Abuna Basilios.

The official organizers were the Emperor Haile Selassie I Memorial Foundation, the Crown Council in Exile, the War Veterans Association, and that part of the royal family that had survived the Marxist-Leninist military rule in exile (1974 until at least 1991). Between 1975 und 1977 tens of thousands of Ethiopians in presumed opposition to the new regime were arrested, tortured and murdered by the Derg including the former aristocratic ruling class. Asfa-Wossen Asserate gives account of 500.000 so-called anti-socialist class enemies in Ethiopia from 1979 to 1989.iv

Although it was anything but a “Babylonian set-up” in the Rastafarian understanding, only relatively few Rastas might have taken part in it. In any case, neither Rita Marley nor the hundreds of Rastas of whom Asfa-Wossen Asserate writes are to be seen on the pictures of November 5th, 2000. Perhaps they were present at the commemoration ceremonies in the Entoto Mariam Church on 2.11.2000. After all, that would be the sacred day celebrated by Rasta communities worldwide as Coronation Day with Nyahbinghis.

HIM Funeral - Holy Trinity Cathedral

HIM Funeral - Holy Trinity Cathedral

The Procession arrives at Holy Trinity Cathedral

The actual burial in the northern transept of the Holy Trinity Cathedral followed a procession from Meskel Square in the city center and a dignified memorial Service in front of the Cathedral. It involved the highest spiritual dignitaries, orthodox priests, monks, church musicians, as well as a large choir and dance group (called Dabtara). The latter, in their white robes and turbans, remind one at first glance of Bobo Shanti in Jamaica – an important Rasta house with a “churchical” and governmental organization (as Bobo Shanti refer to it).v

Even their swaying dance to the sounds of a large bass drum is strongly reminiscent of the weekly Sabbath ceremonies in the Tabernacle or "New Jerusalem School Room" of the Bobo Headquarters of Bull Bay (Jamaica). With Old Testament reference, this headquarters is called the "Royal Ethiopian Embassy in Egypt," Egypt standing for Jamaica as modern-day Babylon. Even the full name of the Bobos indicates identification with Ethiopia: Ethiopian Black International Congress Church of Salvation.

HIM Funeral - Holy Trinity Cathedral

HIM Funeral - Holy Trinity Cathedral

HIM Funeral - Holy Trinity Cathedral

Music and dance to receive the sarcophagus at Holy Trinity Cathedral

After the tribute by the Dejazmatches (Warriors) and the church musicians (singers and players of instruments), it was incumbent upon the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Abuna Paulos, to pay tribute to the King of Kings or – as Rastas would call it in many Reggae songs – “hail the King”. His oration hailed the "Power of the Trinity" (Amharic for the coronation name of Haile Selassie I), emblematically in front of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, as the final resting place. For this reason alone, the film would already be an extremely important historical document.

In his speech, Abuna Paulos recalled once again the "great lesson" that Haile Selassie had taught the world (albeit unsuccessfully at the time) through his League of Nations address in 1936. At this historic occasion Haile Selassie had warned the world in vain of the dramatic consequences of sanctioning, if only tacitly, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. He predicted the collapse of collective security and, indeed, the League of Nations (as it happened). Moreover, Abuna Paulos emphasized Haile Selassie’s importance for the liberation of Africa from the yoke of colonialism. And finally, the Patriarch reveals that Haile Selassie himself wanted to be buried in this sacred place, next to Empress Menen.

HIM Funeral - Holy Trinity Cathedral

HIM Funeral - Holy Trinity Cathedral

Haile Selassie's grandchildren and great-grandchildren take over the sarcophagus and carry it to the church.

In this sense, perhaps the burial at the side of his beloved spouse, Empress Menen, has something comforting even for those Rastas who consider the idea of Haile Selassie's bodily transience incompatible with God's immortality. A starting point for this may be found in the words of the patriarch: "His name will remain immortal".

Ato Neguse Ambo

Prince Beede Mariam Mekonen

The grandson of Emperor Haile Selassie, Beede-Mariam Mekonen, is watching the first part of the documentary, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 2018.

Here Part I of the film before we come to the review of Part II:

Film: Part I - The Burial of Emperor Haile Selassie I

Part II: Emperor Haile Selassie I and his ‘Burial’
Perspectives of the Rastafarians in Shashamane, Ethiopia

A film by Verena Böll, Ambaye Ogato and Robert Dobslaw


The fact that this film project took almost two decades to complete is perhaps primarily due to its ethical dimension. Rastafari never accepted and ferociously resisted the report of the “revolutionary council” Derg that Haile Selassie died on 27th August 1975. It was them who kept Haile Selassie alive throughout the period since then through countless reggae songs, books, speech acts, frequent ceremonies such as Nyahbinghis, performances in film, theater, dance and so forth. The very idea of "funeral" or "burial" contradicts their concept of divinity. A film about the emperor's burial can therefore only be understood as infringing and offending provocation.

The filmmakers were highly aware of this dilemma. Therefore, they wanted to publish the historical document only with a second part, which is predominantly dedicated (or rather “livicated” in Rasta speech or “Iyah-logue”) to the Rasta perspective. In this sense, Part II represents the necessary and indispensable counterpart to the Ethiopian goals of and sentiments on the "Burial" ceremony, included in this part with the voices of the Emperor Haile Selassie Memorial Foundation. The Rasta overstanding was filmed exclusively in Shashamane, Ethiopia. This decision may have had practical and contextual reasons leaving the scope of the film to Ethiopia.

Shashamane – Rastafari in Ethiopia

Shashamane is key for the global Rastafari claim for repatriation. It consists of a 500-ha land grant reserved by Haile Selassie himself in 1948 for the return migration of Diasporan Africans, particularly Rastas. Following the Mission to Africa-delegation of 1961 (referred to above) and the subsequent return visit of Haile Selassie in Jamaica in April 1966, it was predominantly Rastas who remigrated after 400 years of However, most Rastafari will not recognize it as official “repatriation”. For this would require the financial and material obligation of contemporary successor states to the slavery regimes under international law.vii

Shashamane 2018

A junction on the main road in Shashamane, Ethiopia, October 20 18.

The directors Verena Böll, Ambaye Ogato and Robert Dobslaw cannot be thanked enough for their commitment to the project, which demanded several film shootings in consecutive years (2012, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019) for adequate feedback from the Shashamane community. Above all, their approach to participatory filmmaking ensured that the voices of Rastafari got the attention they deserve. This is more than a semantic difference from the paternalistic approach of "giving someone a voice." Rastafari do have voices, they are just not heard accordingly, at least not outside the "Reggaeverse".

This standard of cooperative filmmaking has become established for ethnographic film projects in general. Thus, members of the Shashamane community have been actively involved in the various stages. The multiple trips to Shashamane served as feedback loops and allowed for participant Rastafari control of the final content before publication.

In the end, this resulted in a much more substantial film treatise, than a mere query of opinions. Rather, Part II tells tales of Rastafari (rejectionist) conceptions of death. It opens up for their philosophical and spiritual worldviews on eternal life (life everliving). Their perspectives focus – unsurprisingly for reggae fans – on all-encompassing “livity”. This Rasta notion refers to an idea of a way of life and living that transcends generations. Accordingly, Rasta life does not end with death, but means living on in the community of all living and future generations – in other words: I and I. Of course, this applies to Haile Selassie I in an unrestricted and thus "absolute" sense. According to my own experiences in this regard, the Shashamane interviews are quite representative for Rasta conceptions in general, although a broader empirical perspective including the various Rasta houses in Jamaica would certainly prove rewarding.

When asked in the film whether Emperor Haile Selassie is dead, Sister Ijahnya Christian answers that this is a question based on the assumption that he has passed away and can therefore only be remembered. At the same time, she insists emphatically, he would never leave Rastafari. In her own wording: "I'm not in the business of remembering. I am in the business of living and learning from the example set by His Majesty. So that he will never go. He will never, actually never ever, leave us."

Ras Kawintseb + Jaden + Alemtsega

The Rastafarians, who venerate Emperor Haile Selassie I as God and Messiah, deny his death on the 27th of August 1975. The documentary about the burial ceremony started a vivid exchange among the Rastafarians Ras Kawintseb, Jaden and Alemtsega.

The film clarifies the differences in the conceptions of God betweenRastafari and Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. One could write thousand-page treatises about this, but condensed to one sentence, they consist in the Rastafari perception of God being embodied in all living beings. In this respect, according to Rasta overstanding, God lives in the everlasting creation, in its human and social manifestations, i.e., in I and I.

“Creation is ever living!”

Ras Kabinda expresses it in the film in this way: "Yeah, we don’t consider this death. This “death thing” is a different meditation on man. We come to live as man. Selassie I will live to eternity. Tomorrow, he is a star in the sky. But this death thing, no. That is not. That is what they say, they try to beat in your head. Yeah, so you will not respect creation. Creation have no death. Creation is ever living. Yeah!"

Ras Kabinda + Ras Fwè

Ras Kabinda (second from left) and Ras Fwè Jah Jah (second from right) are sitting in their living room, together with other Rastafarians. They are amused about the dancing of Ras Fwè Jah Jah in the second part of the documentary.

Ras Kawintseb

Ras Kawintseb, a Rastafarian musician is wellknown for his bare feet. The Rastafarians are living a sustainable way of life, using natural materials of the area and cultivating their garden with nutritional food. Living in Ethiopia means living in the promised land, which requires a mindful approach towards nature.

Zion Train Lodge - Alex & Sandrine

Sitting at their table in the Zion Train Lodge the Rastafarians Sandrine, Alex and their son are watching the rough draft of the second part of the documentary. Their reactions and comments were included in the final version. The Rastafarians appreciate to participate in the making of the documentary.

Not least in Jamaica and Ethiopia, Rastas are asked the ironic question ad nauseam, where Haile Selassie is today, if he is still alive. Sister Ijahnya Christian answers with a winning smile in the film: "But you’re talking to Rastafari as a living I. H.I.M. Haile Selassie I and Her Majesty Empress Menen, they not only live, but they re-live in I and I hearts!"

Some of the apparent contradictions between Ethiopians and Rastafari can be relatively easily resolved. If the differences are resolved in actual reasonings, in my opinion. Ultimately, the funeral ritual was about honoring the accomplishments and personalities of Emperor Haile Selassie and Empress Menen as a legacy directed toward the future of Africa, the African Diaspora and the entire globe – in this sequence of priority.

The Bobo Shanti wrote in one of their publications that, “On May 31st, 1994, King Emmanuel Charles Edwards went on a celestial unfathomable journey (divine mystical tradition), leaving his faithful servants to use and increase their God given talents” (EABIC 1998: 5). King Emmanuel Charles Edwards, the founder of the Bobo Shanti house, is seen by Bobo adherents as the High Priest within the Holy Trinity of Haile Selassie as King, and Marcus Garvey as Prophet. On emphatic examination, both the official speeches at the "funeral" and most Rastafarian conceptions, such as the Bobo Shanti framing of King Emmanuel’s “ascension to Zion”, seem to boil down to quite similar commonalities rooted in traditional African views of ancestral “life”.

In conclusion, the Ethiopian and Rastafari perspectives are united by the important agreement on the need for unity. This synopsis is offered by visions expressed on camera. In the words of Rastaman Jaden, it sounds like this: "Haile Selassie, he worked to bring this continent together. And that’s the best thing he do, because he created some place where African people can meet and … see the solution to make ourselves to unite, you know. And Haile Selassie do that. No one do it before him, no one do after him. The colour of Rasta is unity." In the words of Haile Selassie’s great-nephew Asfa-Wossen Asserate: "We need in Ethiopia the motto: "Unity in diversity and diversity in unity."viii

Here Part II of the film:

Film: Part II: Emperor Haile Selassie I and his ‘Burial’
On the start screen you see: Ras Iron Gad, Sister Ijahnya Christian and ElderZion Gad (from left to right) comment on the raw cut of the second part of the documentary. They are from the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Nyabinghi Tabernacle Centre. Spontaneously they sang a song for the film team, which was incorporated into the final version.

i Bob Marley & The Wailers: Jah Live (Single, Tuff Gong/Island Records 1975).
ii Haile Sellassie: My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress Volume 2: Addis Ababa 1966. An Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of Judah. Volume II. (English translation and annotations: Harold G. Marcus and Ezekiel Gebissa), Frontline: Chicago 1999.
iii Haile Sellassie: My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress, Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of Judah. Volume I: 1892 – 1937. (English translation and annotations: Edward Ullendorff, Frontline: Chicago 1997 (Orig. 1976).
iv Asfa-Wossen Asserate: King of Kings. The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ehtiopia (London: Haus Publishing, 2015).
v See Werner Zips: „Repatriation is a Must!“ The Rastafari Struggle to Utterly Downstroy Slavery. In: Werner Zips (ed.), Rastafari. A Universal Philosophy in the Third Millennium. Kingston/Jamaica and Miami: Ian Randle Publishers.
vi The 23 pages-strong booklet of the “Report of Mission to Africa” including the voices of Rasta participants Filmore Alvaranga, Douglas Mack and Mortimer Planno represents a conclusive document on the Rastafari conception of repatriation, particularly in its (Rastafari) Minority Report (Government Printer, Kingston 1961).
vii See in more detail: Werner Zips: „Repatriation is a Must!“ The Rastafari Struggle to Utterly Downstroy Slavery. In: Werner Zips (ed.), Rastafari. A Universal Philosophy in the Third Millennium. Kingston/Jamaica and Miami: Ian Randle Publishers (2006).
viii It appears adequate to leave the final words to Asfa-Wossen Asserate who wrote the most comprehensive and informed biography of Haile Selassie to date: King of Kings. The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ehtiopia (London: Haus Publishing, 2015).

On the Author:

Werner Zips is Editor of the book „ Rastafari. A Universal Philosophy in the Third Millennium” (Ian Randle Publishers, 2006) and Author of „Hail di Riddim – Reportagen aus dem Reggaeversum JamaicAfrica“ (Promedia, 2015).
These works are only a selection from numerous publications, as they fit the topic.

Further information on the film project:

Booklet for DVD, postcard collection with film motifs and even the downloads for the film can be found here.
Werner Zips - Rastafari

All photos and videos included here were published with the approval of the project team and the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle (Saale), Germany.


Haile Selassie WappenHaile Selassie Siegel