This Day in World History
November 2, 1930
Haile Selassie I takes throne of Ethiopia
On Sunday, November 2, 1930, thirty-eight-year old Ras (Prince) Tafari Makonnen was proclaimed emperor of Ethiopia, taking the name Haile Selassie I, which means “Power of the Trinity.” Though taking place in the twentieth century, the ceremony reached back thousands of years, as Ethiopia’s Menelik dynasty claimed descent from Solomon, ancient king of Israel, and the Queen of Sheba, one of his wives.
To prepare for the coronation, seven groups of seven priests gathered in the seven corners of the national cathedral and chanted for seven days and seven nights psalms written by King David. The morning of the coronation, priests chanted and drummers drummed. Then, the emperor, wearing white silken robes, marched solemnly into the cathedral behind attendants waving incense burners. He took his seat on the imperial throne, and the Abuna Kyrillos—the highest official in Ethiopia’s Coptic Christian Church—presided. After the emperor pledged to carry out his royal duties, he received the symbols of his office—gold and red robes, a jeweled sword, a golden scepter, an orb, a diamond-studded ring, and two golden lances. Finally, the cleric anointed the new emperor’s head with oil, as had been done to the kings of Israel millennia before.
As emperor, Selassie enacted social and economic reforms but his efforts to improve his the lives of his people were cut short in 1935 when Italy invaded Ethiopia. He led his troops in resistance but was forced to flee the country. It was not until after World War II, with the backing of British troops, that Selassie was able to return and regain power. In the 1960s, Selassie spearheaded the effort to form the Organization of African Unity, bringing together newly independent African states. By 1974, though, unable to solve growing economic problems and a terrible famine, he was ousted by a military coup. He died the following year. Selassie’s attraction lives on, though, as he is the idolized figure of the Rastafarian movement, which sees him as a spiritual leader.