When Haile Selassie was born in a village in eastern Ethiopia, he was named Lij Tafari. As a regent in the Ethiopian government, he took on the title Ras, meaning prince or chief. When he was crowned Emperor in 1930, he received another new name, this time a royal one: Haile Selassie, meaning “Power of the Trinity.” Remembering Father Hibbert, a founding father of the Rasta movement who proclaimed that Haile Selassie was divine
His coronation also gave rise to a new spiritual movement symbolized by his birth name, which began in Jamaica but is now practiced all over the globe. Many people call it “Rastafarianism”, however, the followers of the movement typically call themselves “Rastafari” or simply “Rasta.” The veneration of Selassie is closely connected with the Rasta ideology that considers Ethiopia to be Zion — the promised land for Black people.
Father Joseph Hibbert was one of the first people to proclaim that Haile Selassie was divine. He became one of the first preachers of the Rastafari movement, helping develop Rastafari in Jamaica in the 1930s. Born in Jamaica in 1894, Hibbert went to Costa Rica with his adopted father in 1911, where he spent about 20 years “workin’, learnin’, and I return back to Jamaica 1931, month of October, the 12th, I reach back in Jamaica. I start proper to preach the Ethiopian Coptic Church in 1932,” he told derekbishton.com in an interview in 1983.
While in Costa Rica, he farmed, leasing 28 acres, which he put in bananas. By 1924, he had joined the Ancient Mystic Order of Ethiopia, a Masonic society. Some say it was a fraternal order derived from Prince Hall Freemasonry. Hibbert became a Master Mason of this Order, before returning to Jamaica, where he started to “preach Haile Selassie as the King of Kings, the returned Messiah and the Redeemer of Israel.”
He started preaching at Benoah District, St. Andrew, starting his own ministry, the Ethiopian Coptic Faith, in St. Andrew Parish. He later moved his ministry to Kingston, and there he met Leonard P. Howell, a preacher who was already teaching Rastafari. Hibbert went on to develop the Ethiopian Coptic Faith without Howell after working with him for some time.
According to derekbishton.com, Hibbert’s sermon had Old Testament references and texts which proved “Ras Tafari is the reincarnated body of Jesus Christ. So we have new creation now, new everything.”
The website says reincarnation was the focus of Hibbert’s message. “The reincarnated Isiah became Elias who can now be proved to be – read Matthew 17 – John the Baptist. Today, Jesus Christ reincarnated back in the name of Ras Tafari. And John the Baptist came back in the name of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, another forerunner, mouthpiece and trumpeter.”
“When Moses hold the scroll of Joseph, he took that and lead the children out of Egypt to set us free. Well, Haile Selassie have led an army of 80,000 men and fought in an aircraft for seven months to set all the children free, and to set Africa free.”
To Hibbert and many other preachers of Rastafari, Emperor Haile Selassie is the “creator of Israel, the holy man of Israel, the king of men”.
Haile Selassie would inspire many Rastas through the years, from the speech at the League of Nations which later became the basis for Bob Marley’s hit song “War” to his involvement in creating the Organization for African Unity. Then in 1948, he showed special favor to the Rasta community when he set aside land at Shashamane for Rastas and others in the Diaspora to repatriate. He visited their settlement several times until the coup that ended his reign and drastically reduced the land granted to these repatriates.
Haile Selassie also visited Jamaica himself in 1966 to encourage the Rastafarians to move to Shashamane. It is believed that Hibbert was among the group of Rastafari elders who were able to meet Haile Selassie during the visit.
In 1986 when Hibbert passed away, most Rastafarians said they had heard of him as a pioneering teacher of the Rastafarian movement. Bongo Zack, a Rasta born in Jamaica but who had been living in Houston, Texas, spoke to derekbishton.com about seeing Hibbert in the early 1930s in Kingston.
“I was a boy and the first thing I can remember was that Mr. Hibbert, every Sunday, he used to march right past the front of our house carrying a red, gold and green Ethiopian flag. You know those leather belts, the ones with a cup to hoist a flag pole, well Mr. Hibbert he used to wear this white robe, with a red, gold and green sash, and this belt to hoist the flag, and he would march right down to the corner and signal everyone that a meeting was going to take place that evening. As a boy I remember looking at this man. B’cau as I boy I wear pants, trouser, and I was looking at Mr. Hibbert who was the first man we did a see wear a robe . . . He was a strange man. . . who came from Costa Rica.”