Haile Selassie 23 July 1892 – 27 August 1975), born Ras Tafari Makonnen, was Ethiopia's regent from 1916 to 1930 and emperor from 1930 to 1974. He is a defining figure in Ethiopian history.
He was a member of the Solomonic Dynasty who traced his lineage to Emperor Menelik I via his Shewan royal ancestors as a great-grandson of king Sahle Selassie. Haile Selassie's father was Makonnen Wolde-Mikael Gudessa and his mother was Yeshimebet Ali Aba Jifar .
His internationalist views led to Ethiopia becoming a charter member of the United Nations, and his political thought and experience in promoting multilateralism and collective security have proved seminal and enduring. At the League of Nations in 1936, the emperor condemned the use of chemical weapons by Italy against his people during the Second Italo–Ethiopian War.
His suppression of rebellions among the landed aristocracy (the mesafint), which consistently opposed his reforms, as well as what some critics perceived to be Ethiopia's failure to modernize rapidly enough, earned him criticism among some contemporaries and historians. During his rule the Harari people were ethnically cleansed from the Harari Region. His regime was also criticized by human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, as autocratic and illiberal.
Among the Rastafari movement, whose followers are estimated to number between 700,000 and one million, Haile Selassie is revered as the returned messiah of the Bible, God incarnate. Beginning in Jamaica in the 1930s, the Rastafari movement perceives Haile Selassie as a messianic figure who will lead a future golden age of eternal peace, righteousness, and prosperity. Haile Selassie was an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian throughout his life.
The 1973 famine in Ethiopia led to Haile Selassie's eventual removal from the throne. He died on 27 August 1975 at the age of 83, following a coup d'état.
Haile Selassie was known as a child as Lij Tafari Makonnen (Amharic ልጅ ተፈሪ መኮንን; lij teferī mekōnnin). Lij is translated as “child”, and serves to indicate that a youth is of noble blood. His given name, Tafari, means “one who is respected or feared”. Like most Ethiopians, his personal name Tafari is followed by that of his father Makonnen and rarely that of his grandfather Woldemikael. His Ge'ez name Haile Selassie was given to him at his infant baptism and adopted again as part of his regnal name in 1930.
As Governor of Harar, he became known as Ras Tafari Makonnen listen (help·info). Ras is translated as “head” and is a rank of nobility equivalent to Duke; though it is often rendered in translation as “prince”. In 1916, Empress Zewditu I appointed him to the position of Balemulu Silt'an Enderase (Regent Plenipotentiary). In 1928, she granted him the throne of Shewa, elevating his title to Negus or “King”.
On 2 November 1930, after the death of Empress Zewditu, Tafari was crowned Negusa Nagast, literally King of Kings, rendered in English as “Emperor”. Upon his ascension, he took as his regnal name Haile Selassie I. Haile means in Ge'ez “Power of” and Selassie means trinity—therefore Haile Selassie roughly translates to “Power of the Trinity”.
Haile Selassie's full title in office was “By the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God”.[nb 3]This title reflects Ethiopian dynastic traditions, which hold that all monarchs must trace their lineage to Menelik I, who was the offspring of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
To Ethiopians, Haile Selassie has been known by many names, including Janhoy, Talaqu Meri, and Abba Tekel. The Rastafari movement employs many of these appellations, also referring to him as Jah, Jah Jah, Jah Rastafari, and HIM (the abbreviation of “His Imperial Majesty”).