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Bob Marley & Haile Selassie on the song "War"

Updated on July 24, 2015

Ethiopia to Jamaica, UN Speech to Reggae beats... the song "War"

As a long-time fan of reggae and Bob Marley and the Wailers, I was recently excited to stumble upon the Ethiopian origin of one of my favorite Marley songs as I read about my Ethiopian daughter's homeland.

The social justice message in the lyrics of the Bob Marley and the Wailers song "War" has long inspired me. When I did a online search to learn more about this song I found some really interesting information.  The lyrics are almost literally derived from a speech made by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie given to the United Nations General Assembly in 1963.

The song uses part of Selassie's speech that calls for equality among all without regard to race, class, or nationality. In the original speech, Selassie urged U.N. officials and country representatives to disarm nuclear weapons, and to end international exploitation of Africa.

Bob Marley's War Video - In Concert in Jamaica

So many ways to listen to Bob Marley's War - Bring War home

Here are some options of the famous song. Take your pick!

Haile Selassie's Speech - Compare Haile Selassie's speech to Bob Marley's song

Haile Selassie
Haile Selassie

Haile Selassie I Speech to the United Nations (excerpt)

New York City, NY October 4, 1963

"Last May, in Addis Ababa, I convened a meeting of Heads of African States and Governments. In three days, the thirty-two nations represented at that Conference demonstrated to the world that when the will and the determination exist, nations and peoples of diverse backgrounds can and will work together. In unity, to the achievement of common goals and the assurance of that equality and brotherhood which we desire. On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson:

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil."

Haile Selassie by G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress.
Haile Selassie by G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress.

Who is Haile Selassie of Ethiopia?

Monarch to Messiah?

Haile Selassie was an icon in his native Ethiopia. He was born July 23rd 1892 as Lij Tafari Makonnen in Harrar Ethiopia. Tafari in Amharic means "one who is respected." He would later become Ras Tafari Makonnen; "Ras" means "head" and is often translated to "prince". When he was crowned Emperor in 1930, he took the name Haile Selassie which translates as "Power of the Trinity." He traces his authority back to King Solomen & the Queen of Sheba and reigned for over 43 years; 1930-1974.

He was admired across Africa and globally for his diplomatic successes such as bringing Ethiopia into the League of Nations and the UN. He is credited for humanitarian measures such as bringing the first constitution to Ethiopia, and leading an admirable though failed resistance against the superior power of the Italian Fascists in 1935, speaking out against slavery and standing strong against Western Imperialism. His internationalist views made him a greatly respected international icon and his inauguration was followed globally even making the cover of Time magazine.

He started his reign with a pro-modernization program that introduced a central civil service, courts for the commoners, a newspaper & printing press, electricity, a reformed prison system, better health services, expanded transportation and improved educational opportunities including the nation's first college; Addis Ababa University.

However, in the politically tumultuous period of his later reign, he is often blamed for becoming more conservative, suppressing modernizing movements, repressing Eritrean nationality and losing touch with his people. Amid the challenges of an extended drought in the 1970s he was deposed in a military coup in 1974 and died in 1975 while under arrest.

Haile Selassie in Time magazine, 1930
Haile Selassie in Time magazine, 1930

Selassie's Link to the Rastafarian Movement

Willing Deity

The Rastafari movement which originated in Jamaica in the 1930s worshiped Haile Selassie as the New Testament Messiah who will return to "lead the peoples of Africa and the African diaspora to freedom." This is thought to have taken root after reports of his coronation reached Jamaica in Time Magazine.

His official titles are Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and King of Kings and Elect of God. Marley's song "Lion of Zion" is also said to be a reference to Haile Selassie.

It is debated whether Haile Selassie encouraged the Rastafari in their deifying him. It is said he replied to a reporter. "Who am I to disturb their belief?"

In fact, in 1948, Haile Selassie donated some land 250 km south of Addis Ababa at Shashamane for repatriation of Africans from the West Indies. Numerous Rastafari families resettled there and still live as a community their to this day. Ethiopians do not embrace this religion.

Bob Marley's wife is said to have converted to the Rastafari faith during Haile Selassie's 1948 visit to Jamaica which is now a holy day to the movement. She later encouraged Bob Marley's conversion.

Early Reggae Song "Haile Selassie" - by Laurel Aitken

Now that you know the connection between Haile Selassie and Reggae this song makes a bit more sense right?

Hear Haile Selassie's Speech put to music - Hear it in his native Amharic

Especially posted for all our friends back in Ethiopia! Wendi, Solomon, Aster, friends at the Toukol Orphanage SOS, AND, Ruthi, Henok, Sossi and Glory Rain!

An International Tribute to Marley's "War" - Playing for Change

Songs Around the World [Deluxe Edition CD/DVD]
Songs Around the World [Deluxe Edition CD/DVD]

This fantastic international project takes street and professional musicians from all over the world and dubs them together into amazing versions of favorite peace promoting songs such as Marley's "One Love" and "War." This version features Bono and a Belfast Kids choir plus some Israeli and Palestinian performers. Stunning!


Shashemene; where Ethiopia & Rastafarians coexist

Shashemene is the Ethiopian town south of Addis Ababa in which Haile Selassie donated land for the repatriation of West indians of African descent. Many Rastafarians took him up on the offer and a small community survives there still today. Fairly closed, it is possible to visit.

See Shashemene photos & essay here.

Rastafarian Items on Ebay - Dress for "War" Marley Style

Feel the groove by donning the reggae clothes.

One of my favorite Versions for a Cool Cause - Playing for Change

The Playing For Change Foundation is dedicated to the fundamental idea that peace and change are possible through the universal language of music. How cool that this version of the song included voices from performers in the Arab/Jewish Choir, Bono from Belfast & the Northern Ireland Youth Choir. That's the idea of uniting people through music.

Share One Love.

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    • Aladdins Cave profile image

      Aladdins Cave 4 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      WOW. Many thanks for this Lens. Its been many years since I heard the Haile Selassie.

      And Reggae / Bob Marley. I was in a HELL hole called Lagos, Nigeria in 1977. It was there I felt closest to what Bob Marley was singing about. Most amazing feelings that are to hard for me to put into words.

      Thank You for this lens.

      Cheers from DOWNUNDER

    • Mermaiden profile image

      Mermaiden 6 years ago

      This was an absolutely fascinating topic. I've always been intrigued by Haile Selassie and the lens was really informative (plus I loved the music!).