SATURDAY, August 27, marks the 47th anniversary of the assassination of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I.
To the average Jamaican, the slaying of the emperor, who ruled Ethiopia for 44 years (1930-1974), was a simple political blunder. But for others, especially in the Rastafarian community, who revered him as a descendant member of the Solomonic dynasty, and founder of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), later the African Union, this was a devastating loss in the battle for ideological supremacy in the 1970s.
To 29-year-old Lael A Foxe, who was confirmed on Sunday as abuna for the Church of Haile Selassie I (CHS-1), which is based at Oxford Street, yards from the Coronation Market in downtown Kingston, and close to the lines of demarcation between rival gangs in west Kingston, it finally gave credence to the belief of his late father and predecessor, Abuna Ammanuel Foxe, and the church’s belief that the return of the centuries-old dynasty to Addis Ababa is its main objective.
Last Sunday’s service revealed details about the little-known church, which is like an oasis in the middle of deserted street with aged buildings, including the church which was beautifully refurbished for its new engagements, including a treat for children and the elderly.
But as far as the young abuna is concerned, what makes the difference between the CHS-1 and similar churches is the intense responses from the members of the congregation to reading of the Bible, and their orderly indulgence in the activities, including leaving your shoes behind to enter the church, and walk backwards to do the door to fetch them when the service is over.
“My father founded this church here in west Kingston in 1987. Remember Rastafarian used to go to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the 1970s, but after 1974 and when the monarchy (Selassie) was abolished, they killed our patriarchs and they killed our abunas (in Ethiopia),” he recalled, as one of the main reasons for starting the church.
He said that main mission of the church now is to bring back the constitutional monarchy to Ethiopia.
The church also insists that Haile Selassie is God.
“In 1972 they abolished the throne (of Addis Ababa). History teaches us that it is a goal that we can’t let go of. It is like a fire that burns within us, and until we can see the throne come back to Ethiopia we will forever say that,” he stated.
“But, with the way to go forward, we have to be realistic. We have to be economically viable to help Ethiopia, and to help ourselves before we can think about anything else,” he added.
Foxe argued that the CHS-1 praises Selassie, not only as God but as the king of kings and the conquering lion of the Tribe of Judah and, with the church’s determination to survive, it is determined to spread its wings, which started with the official naming of the religion and continues with expansion into new places like New York, Barbados, Grenada, Haiti, and St Vincent.
“My father was a member of the Ethiopian World Federation (EWF), but after 1974, when everybody betrayed the emperor and socialism and communism took over, my father left the EWF and formed the Imperial Ethiopian World Federation (IEWF),” Foxe pointed out.
“He made it ‘Imperial’ to convert the ‘Royalists’, or the people who wanted the return of the imperial monarchy. My father asked for permission from the emperor to use his names and that’s how it became the Church of Haile Selassie I in English when it was formed in 1987,” he explained.
“We made the society learn that, yow, we are adults now, and we are capable of speaking on behalf of ourselves and Rastafarianism. So, the church has survived through the 80s and has grown much bigger, and we have our own building in Brooklyn,” he noted.
He said that the only new thing that he has brought to the church is the energy of the growing number of young people, because his father has already laid the platform for them to build on.
“And when I say energy I mean the youthfulness of the young members. Most of the youths nowadays they want to be gunslingers, especially right here where we live on Oxford Street, but through the church and the IEWF we try to make them more productive,” he said.
He noted that church was already engaged in farming programme for the youth in Moneague, St Ann, which it intends to develop into a useful investment.
“But the mission of the church is to restore the dynasty. That is a must. The main goal of the church and the IEWF is to restore the dynasty on the throne, or to bring back constitutional monarchy to Ethiopia. That is the goal for the church,” he insisted.