Haile Selassie Biography

Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia and a revered figure in the Rastafarian religion, was a prominent political figure who shaped the Ethiopian government. Known for his progressive policies, he became an international celebrity through his flamboyant world tours. Despite facing exile during the fascist regime in Italy, Selassie appealed to the ‘League of Nations’ for support and successfully regained control of his country. However, his rule was later marred by rebellion and he was ultimately deposed in a coup. Despite this, he is still revered by some Rastafarians as God incarnate.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Tafari Makonnen
  • Died At Age: 83
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Menen Asfaw (m. 1911–1962), Woizero Altayech
    • Father: Makonnen Wolde Mikael
    • Mother: Yeshimebet Ali
    • Siblings: Dejazmatch Yilma Makonnen
    • Children: Amha Selassie, Prince Makonnen, Prince Sahle Selassie, Princess Romanework, Princess Tenagnework, Princess Tsehai, Princess Zenebework
  • Born Country: Ethiopia
  • Quotes By Haile Selassie
  • Emperors & Kings
  • Height: 1.57 m
  • Political ideology: Regent Plenipotentiary of Ethiopia – 27 September 1916 – 2 April 1930, 1st & 5th Chairman of the Organization of African Unity – 25 May 1963 – 17 July 1964, Emperor of Ethiopia – 2 April 1930 – 12 September 1974
  • Died on: August 27, 1975
  • Place of death: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Organisation of African Unity
  • More Facts
  • Awards: Order of the Nile, Order of the White Rose of Finland, Order of the Yugoslav Star, Order of the White Eagle, Order of the Holy Trinity, Order of the Star of Romania

Childhood & Early Life

Haile Selassie was born Tafari Makonnen on July 23, 1892, in Ejersa Goro, Imperial Ethiopia. He was the son of Ras (Prince) Makonnen, a chief adviser to the emperor of Ethiopia. He belonged to the royal family from his father’s and mother’s side.

Tafari received private education and his intellect soon caught the attention of Emperor Menelik II. He was singled out for early promotion, receiving the noble title of Dejazmach at the age of 13. Shortly after, his father died.

In 1906, at the age of 14, Tafari became governor of a minor province in Ethiopia. Over the next few years, under the protective wing of Emperor Menelik II, he became governor of several other small provinces. He also continued his studies.

Accession & Reign

When Tafari’s mentor Emperor Menelik II died, the emperor’s grandson Lij Iyasu took over the throne and served as emperor from 1913 to 1916. Despite his claim to the throne, Iyasu was an unpopular ruler. He was criticized for embracing Islam in a largely Christian country.

Tafari headed the opposition against the emperor and deposed him in 1916. Subsequently, Menelik II’s daughter Zewditu was made the new empress.

Empress Zewditu was crowned on February 11, 1917. Tafari was named as her Prince Regent. Although he played a key role in the daily affairs of the government, the empress had the last say in all matters.

Even under the conservative reign of Empress Zewditu, his progressive policies gained national attention. He was seen by the Ethiopian people as an enthusiastic leader who could represent Ethiopia on the world stage. His popularity increased after he secured Ethiopia’s entry into the ‘League of Nations’ in 1923 with a promise to halt slavery.

In 1924, Tafari and his entourage embarked on a world tour, becoming the first Ethiopian leader to travel abroad. His vibrant and unique appearance made him a popular figure, and his travels were sensationalized by the media.

In 1928, he took on the title and responsibilities of the king. When Empress Zewditu died two years later, he became the emperor and assumed the title Haile Selassie, which translates to ‘Power of the Trinity.’ Shortly after, he cemented his authority and began reforming the constitution to strengthen his own power. These reforms also benefitted his country as he expanded education and the police force.

During the 1930s, Ethiopia was targeted and attacked by Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy. From 1936 to 1941, Selassie was forced into exile when Italy invaded his country. He spent the intervening time in Bath, England. He appealed to the ‘League of Nations,’ condemning the invasion, and won the support of England in his mission to liberate Ethiopia and reinstate himself as emperor.

After reclaiming his position as emperor, Selassie went about restoring his power by enforcing social, economic, and educational reform. In 1955, he granted a new constitution that reestablished his ultimate power over the Ethiopian government.

By the early-1970s, an extended famine had brought about soaring unemployment and crime rates, weakening his reign. In 1974, mutinies broke out among his own forces. Subsequently, he was ousted in a coup. He was forced to spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

Personal Life & Legacy

Tafari is regarded by the Rastafarian religion as God incarnate messiah of the African race. Rastafarians believe that he was born to unify the African races. The name of the religion is derived from ‘Ras’ and ‘Tafari,’ a combination of his name and the noble title ‘Ras,’ which translates to ‘prince.’

He died under house arrest in 1975 as the last emperor of Ethiopia. Although his death was ruled to be of natural causes, later investigation revealed that he may have been strangled. His remains were found long after his death and were buried in Addis Ababa.


Bob Marley’s wife Rita Marley got converted to Rastafarian after meeting Tafari during his trip to Jamaica.

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