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The Birthday of Haile Selassie

Themes of celebration, remembering an important person, African culture, equality

by Caroline Donne

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


Celebration; remembering an important person; African culture; equality of all people.


  • Rastafarians take their name from Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia who was also known as Ras (Prince) Tafari. The faith, known as Rastafari, began in Jamaica in the 1920s and took its name when Haile Selassie I was crowned emperor in 1930, although he was not a Rastafarian and was a devout Christian. Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie was descended from King Solomon in the Bible and they believe that he is the incarnation of God. It is believed that Ras Tafari will help black people who trace their roots to the slave trade to return to Africa. So Africa, and in particular Ethiopia, is the spiritual home of Rastafarianism.
  • The Rastafarian belief is also a way of life and has strong links with the Jewish and Christian faiths. Study of the Bible is important, in particular the Old Testament. Haile Selassie's birthday is seen as one of the holiest days of the year for Rastafarians. He was born on 23 July 1892 and died in 1975.


  • If possible find a recording of Nyahbinghi (Rastafarian drumming and chanting) from the local library; or reggae music, particularly by Bob Marley.
  • Display a flag of Ethiopia or a poster with yellow, red, green and black strips - the colours of the Ethiopian flag.
  • Display a picture of Haile Selassie.


  1. Begin the assembly with music, as above. Explain that this music is very important for Rastafarians, who live all over the world but especially in the Caribbean islands and in Europe and Africa. Through this music they sing about their lives and they worship God.

  2. Explain that 23 July is a very important day for Rastafarians because they remember the birth of a man called Ras Tafari, who became Emperor of Ethiopia, a country in Africa. Point out the colours of the Ethiopian flag and explain that these colours are important for Rastafarians. They often wear these colours.

  3. Go on to explain that Ras Tafari took the name Haile Selassie I when he was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia. Rastafarians believe that God shows himself on earth from time to time as a human and that Haile Selassie was God in human form. The birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie is one of the most important days for Rastafarians. They will meet together to dance and to worship God. There are often art exhibitions - the art of Africa is very important because Haile Selassie was born there. Food is shared; Rastafarians are vegetarian and healthy eating is very important for them.

Focus on the themes

Explain that the Rastafarian faith began in the Caribbean islands. Many people who live there are descended from Africans, because a long time ago their ancestors were taken away by force from their homes in Africa to work as slaves in the Caribbean. Rastafarians believe that Emperor Haile Selassie was important because he spoke up for black people who had suffered because of slavery. It is important for Rastafarians to speak out against situations where people are treated unfairly.

Time for reflection

Talk about situations you have heard about where people are treated unfairly because of the colour of their skin, or because of what they believe. Why do you think this is? How might it feel?

In a time of quiet, invite children to pray or to think about what they have heard. Invite them to pray for peace and understanding between people, whatever their differences. Invite them to give thanks for all those people who are working to bring peace and understanding in the world.
Or use this prayer:

God of all people,
Thank you for the world that you have made.
Help us to see that we belong to your world-wide family of people on earth.
Help us to treat one another fairly and to try to understand each other.


Publication date: January 2003   (Vol.5 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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