During our Religious Hardtalk dialogue about my book Revelations on Ras Tafari rebroadcast on TVJ, June 24, 2009, Mutabaruka advanced the view that the early Rastas saw Emperor Haile Selassie as God because of a statement made by Marcus Garvey. The contention in my book is that the early Rastas confused statements made about Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation with the reported names and titles of the Emperor owing to ignorance of the territorial nuances of the Emperor’s title ‘King of kings’ as well as ignorance that ‘Lord of lords’ was never ever used as an imperial title in Ethiopia.
Muta could not remember the exact statement in Garvey or the reference but seemed to recall it was from Philosophy and Opinions. I have checked carefully Garvey’s writings as edited by his widow and can’t find anything that could even remotely qualify as the statement Muta had in mind. Of course my search was not exhaustive but there are some hard facts that significantly reduce the possibility of anyone finding the statement Muta had in mind. Naturally, the burden of proof remains with Muta.
Ponder this though. The first two volumes of Philosophy and Opinions came out in 1923 and 1925, the third volume in 1977. Garvey, in these books, was critical of Emperor Haile Selassie’s handling of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and we learn elsewhere that he challenged one of the founding fathers of the Ras Tafari Movement concerning claims of divinity for the Emperor.
Leading Garvey scholar, Professor Rupert Lewis, writes in Nathaniel Murrell et al, Chanting Down Babylon, 1998, 151,
“At the very beginning of the Rastafarian movement, Garvey challenged Leonard Howell’s claim that Selassie was divine. Garvey respected the emperor only for the important role he saw him playing in African politics at the time; but he criticized Selassie openly for his political ineptitude and his defense of his Semitic ancestry at the expense of his African heritage…For Garvey, Selassie was a secular figure, not a religious one, and absolutely not God.”
It is possible but neither probable nor plausible that despite Garvey’s challenge, Howell may have recalled something else Garvey had said or written that pointed to Emperor Haile Selassie as of special religious significance.
Until Muta provides the evidence from Garvey to support his thesis, discerning viewers should regard his idea as another Rasta myth or misconception.
Since we have mentioned Garvey let it be clear that Garvey had no problem with the word ‘Negro’, his preferred term for us as a people/race. Indeed Garvey’s organization was the UNIA, the Universal Negro Improvement Association.