I live in Ethiopia. I had to do it, it’s probably my only chance.
I visited the Nyabhingi Temple in shashamene…
To be honest, I felt quite disrespectful entering the temple without knowing ANYTHING about the history or beliefs of Rastafarianism. For example, women must wear a dress and head cover to enter the temple. I had no idea, so I ended up going in wearing a wet bath towel around my waist and a T-shirt on my head. Comedy. (awkward though..low key).
The atmosphere of religious places of worship is really interesting to me. Whether it is the church I grew up in every sunday (GVCC), the Temple at Burning Man, the Nyahbingi in Shashamene Ethiopia, or just a group of worshippers singing around a camp fire. I can’t deny the supernatural effect that occurs when people gather together in pursuit of spirituality. I could go into that more, but ..no. Anyways, this experience motivated me to do a little bit of research into Rastafarianism. Self education mostly, but I thought I’d share.
Haile Selassie was emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 until 1974. The Rastafari movement (taken from Haile Selassie’s pre-imperial name “Ras Tafari” Ras– meaning Head – Tafari Makonnen- his birth name), emerged in Jamaica during the 1930s under the influence of Marcus Garvey’s “Pan Africanism” movement. Haile Selassie is viewed as the messiah who will lead the peoples of Africa and the African diaspora to freedom. The claim lies primarily in Haile Selassie’s lineage which is thought to be traceable to Solomon and Sheba (Queen makeda).
Haile Selassie himself is reported to have practiced Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity during his lifetime. However, he never denied his deity to his followers in Jamaica. in fact, In 1948, he donated a piece of land at Shashamane, 250 km south of Addis Ababa, for the use of people of African descent from the West Indies. Numerous Rastafari families settled there and still live as a community to this day- I personally met several of them during my visit to Shasha including one man who has been residing in Shashamene for over 40 years. I had lunch at his daughter’s restaurant.
Moving on to the Nhyabhingi, which is the temple i visited…
"Nyabhingi"has a number of overlapping meanings within the contemporary Rastafari Movement.
The term itself means “black victory” (niya = black, binghi = victory).
"Nyabhingi" also refers to the oldest and most orthodox mansion (organization) within the broader Rasta movement, known as the House of Nyabinghi or the Theocratic Government of Emperor Haile Selassie I. (other mansions include Bobo Shanti and 12 Tribes of Israel). Some other mansions don’t believe that Haile Selassie was actually God- they honor him as a spiritual father or prophet. But Nyahbingi’s are orthodox in their beliefs about Haile Selassie as a Diety. Nyabhingi Rastas pledge "death to black and white oppressors", though they do not believe in violence, because they believe that only Jah has the right to destroy. Rather they believe that only when all of Jah’s children make this pledge together, the oppressors will be destroyed. Nyabhingi rastas are often non-violent or follow the non-aggression principle and are known specifically to be very anti-racist. They also eat only organic produce and attempt to speak Amharic the ethiopian national language.
The group is named after Queen Nyahbinghi who ruled Uganda in the 19th Century and helped reduce the influence of colonial powers. Tribal Clans originating in modern day Uganda/Rwanda came to be known as “the Niyabinghi Cult” because their culture was based on the veneration of the goddess spirit, Niyabinghi, who would possess various women in the tribes. Women who received Niyabinghi’s blessings and were said to be possessed by Niyabinghi gained political dominion and became governors of the tribal people until 1930 when they lost their land to British, German, and Belgian imperialists. Queen Nyabinghi was known for playing her powerful, mystical trance drum. The Nyabinghi rhythms of resistance have long played a major role in Rastafarian culture. Its rhythms are the basis of reggae music.
Nyahbhingi drumming uses Three kinds of drums (called “harps”) in 4x4 time:
1. bass, also known as the “Pope Smasher” or “Vatican Basher”, reflecting a Rasta association between Catholicism and Babylon. the bass drum strikes loudly on the first beat, and softly on the third beat (of four). (DID u know- this 1st/3rd drum beat is the main difference between a reggae beat and a Rock N Roll beat? Rock n Roll uses a repetitive snare drum back beat on beats two and four. If you take a rock song and move the drum beat to 1/3 it sounds oddly like reggae!!)
2. the middle-pitched funde: the funde plays a regular one-two beat
3. highest pitched akete. The akete (also known as the “repeater”) plays an improvised syncopation. When groups of players get together, only one akete player may play at any one time. The other drums keep regular rhythms while the akete players solo in the form of a conversation.
Only Rasta-men are allowed to play drums at Nyahbingi. It was interesting, i visited the temple on Saturday (sabbath) so there was a drumming ceremony going on and i definitely noticed the three types of drums and the rhythms. I was asked to stay in the back row and only the men were invited to drum.
So…I guess I am still a little bit unclear about WHY the original group of Rastafarians in the 1930’s recognized Haile Selassie in particular, as God’s incarnation. It seems like a kind of random selection, I’d like to explore more about how this connection actually originated.
But overall I feel a bit more educated about this religion and I hope you do too!