Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What "Lion" Means In Rastafari Culture

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a three part series* about the symbolical meanings of the lion among Rastas.

This post presents general information from Wikipedia about the meaning of the referent "Lion of Judah" and information from that page about the meaning of that term for Rastas.

This post also presents excerpts about the symbolism of the lion from the 2011 book Dread Jesus by William David Spencer.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II features five sound files of Rastafari music that includes symbolic references to lions. Each of those records are mentioned in the text of the book excerpt given below.

Click for Part III of this series. Part III showcases five examples of Bob Marley performing his song "Lion Of Judah" ("Conquering Lion").

*This series initially included just two posts.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, folkloric, and religious purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the editors of the Wikipedia page that is quoted in this post. Thanks also to William David Spencer, author of the book Dread Jesus and thanks to Dennis Forsythe who is quoted in the excerpts from that book which are featured in this post.

"The Lion of Judah is the symbol of the Hebrew tribe of Judah (the Jewish tribe). According to the Torah, the tribe consists of the descendants of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob. The association between Judah and the lion, most likely the Asiatic lion, can first be found in the blessing given by Jacob to Judah in the Book of Genesis.[1] The Lion of Judah is also mentioned in the Book of Revelation, as a term representing Jesus, according to Christian theology.[2] The lion of Judah was also one of the titles of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and was depicted on the flag of Ethiopia from 1897-1974. Due to its association with Selassie, it continues to be an important symbol among members of the Rastafari movement...

Ethiopian history
Ethiopia's history as recorded and elaborated in a 13th-century treatise, the "Kebre Negest", asserts descent from a retinue of Israelites who returned with Makeda, the Queen of Sheba from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem, by whom she had conceived the Solomonic dynasty's founder Menelik I. As Solomon was of the tribe of Judah, his son Menelik I would continue the line, which according to Ethiopian history was passed directly down from King to King until Emperor Haile Selassie I (ostensibly the 225th king from King David) was deposed in 1974. Both Christian and Jewish Ethiopian history have it that there were also immigrants of the Tribes of Dan and Judah that accompanied Makeda back from her visit to Solomon; hence the Ge'ez motto Mo`a 'Anbessa Ze'imnegede Yihuda ("The Lion of Judah has conquered"), included among the titles of the Emperor throughout the Solomonic Dynasty. It is unknown whether John of Patmos was directly aware of this hereditary title when he penned it into the text of the prophecy.

The Lion of Judah motif figured prominently on the old imperial flag, currency, stamps, etc. and may still be seen gracing the terrace of the capital as a national symbol...

Rastafari movement
In the Rastafari movement "The Lion of Judah" mentioned in Genesis 49:9 and Revelation 5:5 is considered to be a reference to Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selasie is believed to be the biblical lion of Judah because he was crowned on November 2, 1930 with the titles "KING of Kings, LORD of lords, Conquering Lion of Judah, Elect of God, the Light of the World" and is a descendant of the tribe of Judah through the lineage of King David and King Solomon."...

by William David Spencer, Wipf and Stock Publishers, Jun 14, 2011 (Religion, 238 pages)
(from the Google book edition)
Page 66
..."[Dennis] Forsythe positions Selassie in the primary place of honor among all the ‘lions’ of “Black Power”, But now the lion concept, not necessarily any particular lion, not even the man crowned with the title ‘Lion of Judah’ is presented as what one should follow:

The lion in general is an international symbol of some of the more ‘ancient’ qualities which man have always cherished. He is the Emperor by Universal (popular) consensus, the universal specimen of nature’s compact wholeness and power, used by rich and poor alike, black and white.
Lest anyone misunderstand the magnitude of what he is saying, [Dennis] Forsythe drives this point home in a pivotal statement that opens the way for a post-Selassie Rastafari, even underlining the key points:*

Lionism transcends even Haille Selassie who merely came into the name of the ‘The Conquering Lion of Judah’ or as the 'man from Mount Zion.’ The face, features, and the presence of the Lion have become more firmly implanted on the consciousness of Rastas than the face of H.I.M.- it is becoming more openly acknowledged as representing the ideals and essence of the Rasta movement. Even the non-Rasta Jamaican population now associates lions immediately with Rastas. Since the fall of the Emperor from his Ethiopian throne by the military junta on September 13, 1974, the Lion totem (by itself) has become even more prominent.
Having laid all the groundwork, Forsythe proceeds to demythologize the figure of the fallen emperor:
Haile Selassie, in his person and at phrases of his life exhibited some of the qualities which make him a clear cut example of a Rasta man. Haile Selassie himself saw the African Lion as embodying a spiritual force higher than himself, and symbolizing both abstractly and concretely his ideals of African manhood. Haile Selassie tried, therefore, to fuse his power and spirit with that of the Lion...

In light of the importance of this lion-image to Rasta, we must view Haille Selassie I, as part of this larger and more universal concept of lionism, as a servant to the spiritual force of the lion, and in his concrete individual form, embodying some of his spirit.
Forstythe’s approach is brilliant, setting up the poles of ‘lionism’ and ‘anancyism’ and then locating the emperor within that larger schema....

Page 68
After all, ever since Haile Selassie had been crowned ‘Lion of Judah’, his potent lionine African image had fascinated Rastas. One of the earliest gospel songs appropriated by Rastas proclaimed: “The Lion of Judah shall break every chain/and give us the victory again and again. This phase is weaved through many Rastafarian songs, just as the image of the lion is ubiquitous throughout Rasta artwork, eventually finding its way into craftwork, carvings, paintings, and on album covers.

page 69
...As the depiction of a lion appears everywhere throughout Rastafari, so does the traditional hymn applied to Haile Selassie echo in the Morwells’ “Jah Lion”..., in the Mystic Revealers “Conquering Lion”, in Judy Morwatt’s beautiful “Get Up Chant”... The Conquering Lion is also extolled in Yabby You’s song of that name on “One Love One Heart”.

...the reference [to a lion in the Ital’s song “Don’t Wake The Lion”] was not simply to Haile Selassie: “It was a universal reference, This generalization of the “Lion Heart” that can be stirred to anger by evil, whether it be the emperor’s or a greater universal Jah’s or an individual Rasta’s heart, is the response of Rastas to the leonine aspect of the emperor. As “Samson” and “Moses” before Selassie, the Rasta can be a “Black Lion” as Jah Lion sings. Rastas have a ‘lion heart’ intones Carl Hawkins on his Nonstop to River Jordan 12 inch 1983 Sydcal title track. The ‘Rastaman’ is the ‘Roaring lion’ chant Albert Griffiths and the Gladiators on their Symbol of Reality title song, for, as the Roots Radics explain on their Forward Ever, Backwards Never collection Rasta is “Strong Like A Lion”. Perhaps the best summary of the implications of identifying with the emperor can be found on Winston ‘Burning Spear’ Rodney’s 1991 Jah Kingdom, a logical follow through of his 1976 plea to spare the African symbol (Don’t kill the) Lion’ , In Jah Kingsom, all kind of Rastas, Twelve Tribes, Bobo Dreads, Nyabinghi, are considered to be lions in the reign of Jah. Clearly, when Dennis Forsythe centered the image of the lion, he had pierced to the central core of what it meant to be Rasta."
*The sentences or words that are underlined in these excerpts are given here in italics.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment