Ethiopia royals' tribute to Marley
Wednesday, February 2, 2005 Posted: 8:58 AM EST (1358 GMT)
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (Reuters) -- Ethiopian royals paid tribute to late reggae icon Bob Marley at his 60th anniversary celebrations for championing their cause long after the ouster of Emperor Haile Selassie ended centuries of imperial rule.
Marley, whose Rastafarian faith considers Haile Selassie as a black Messiah, often defended the emperor as a man who toiled for the cause of African unity before Marxist officers overthrew his feudal government in 1974 and he died a year later.
Under dictator Haile Mariam Mengistu, whose government killed tens of thousands of its critics, it was taboo to speak of the emperor, or of his family, who were exiled until Mengistu was himself toppled in 1991.
"Marley struggled in favor of history in defending Emperor Haile Selassie even in the dark days when it was almost considered as a subversive act to utter the name Selassie I," said Prince Beedemariam Mekonnen, the emperor's grandson.
"It is only a matter of justice that Marley, who defended him vengefully, would be celebrated today in Ethiopia," he added, speaking late on Tuesday at the opening of a month of festivities to mark the 60th anniversary of Marley's birth.
Rastafarians took their name from Ras Tafari, Haile Selassie's title before he was crowned emperor in 1930, described in legend as a descendent of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba who ruled 2,000 years ago.
Despite bearing the title -- "King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah" -- neither Haile Selassie nor his family ever claimed he was divine as Rastafarians believe.
Most Ethiopians are too young to remember Selassie's glory years, in which he survived an invasion from Mussolini's Italian army and began Ethiopia's modernization, building roads and opening schools across the country.
Instead, they think of the turbulent last period of his 44-year reign, when famine in the countryside and protests in Addis Ababa tore down the mystique surrounding Selassie and allowed Marxist military officers to seize power.
Peasant farmers look back at the emperor's era as one in which they were virtual slaves of absentee landlords.
The emperor was apparently murdered by the soldiers who had toppled him and kept him prisoner. His body was then buried in the dirt near a latrine and reburied in 2000.
Beedemariam hailed Marley, who died of cancer in 1981, as a man who achieved global iconic status among millions throughout Africa, the Caribbean and the rest of the world through songs decrying oppression and discrimination.
"His music touched hearts everywhere and left many pondering and reflecting on his lyrics till today," he added.
Prince Zera-Yacob, the crown prince of the former Ethiopian Imperial dynasty, praised the Marley family for making a proposal to build a museum to house historical treasures as well as the emperor's crowns and scepters in Addis Ababa.
"The museum could be most useful to protect the treasures of the former emperor. His treasures are part of Ethiopian history and as such should be given the respect they deserve," he told Reuters.
"King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah"...the sissy titles of some European monarchs have nothing on this!