Back when Britain loved Rastafari

On 21st April 1966, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I touched down in Palisadoes airport, Kingston, Jamaica. Thousands thronged the airport, rushing over barriers and through police lines towards the plane as it came to a stop. Ethiopian banners, ites gold and green colours flew everywhere. Chanting of His Majesty’s name filled the air. Never before had such an event taken place in Jamaica.

But a similar event had in fact happened before – thirty years prior in London, UK. The people were different. As were the times.  Yet the personality and presence was the same…

. . . . . . . . . . .

…This is the text of the report by Sylvia Pankhurst in her New Times and Ethiopian News of the arrival of Haile Selassie I into Britain on June 5th 1936 on a misison to raise support against the Italian invasion and inaction of the League of Nations:

 A Right Royal British Welcome

In London at Waterloo station, a huge crowd thronged the station itself, and mustered outside. The Friends of Abyssinia, organized by the splendid activity of Mrs Napier and her helpers, made the welcome colourful by great scarlet banners of welcome and flags and armlets in the Ethiopian colours. Members of the public also spontaneously displayed home-made banners, hat-bands, button holes and badges. Young and old, even to the children, showed generous sympathy for the nation attacked by a cruel aggressor, and the man who has stood for world peace. In the crowded special enclosure on the platform were the dean of Winchester, Dr E.G. Selywny, Sir Norman Angell, Mr Vyvyan Adams MP, Miss Eleanor Rathbone MP, Sir George Paish, Mr Philip Noel-Baker, Lady Sprigge, Lady Bailey, members of the Indian Political Group in London, of the various African societies, and organizations, of coloured peoles, some of them in their own picturesque dress. When the train steamed in at last, masses of people had waited more than six hours. The greeting was tremendously enthusiastic and eager.

Mr O.C. Harvey, private secretary to Mr Eden entered the train to meet the Emperor and his party. Mr Spenser and Count von Rosen, Captian Brophil, and the expelled correspondent of The Times were greeted with smiles of recognition. The people in the special enclosure surged round the Emperor. Flowers were presented to the Princess Tsahai. Professor Jevons read the Address of the Abyssinia Society pledging itself to work till Ethiopia is restored in that freedom and peace essential to her happiness and prosperity.

The Abyssinian Association presented the following address:

Your Majesty,

We … beg leave to welcome your Majesty on arrival in Britain on behalf of all the members of the association. We sympathise deeply with your Majesty, your family, and your people in the terrible sufferings and misfortunes to which you and they have been subjected from the wanton and ruthless invasion of your country by the Italian armies. We are deeply grieved by the continuing miseries of the Ethiopian people.

We greatly admire the steadfastness and courage with which your majesty and your government have defended your country and the manner in which you have complied with your obligations to the League of Nations both before and after the commencement of hostilities, and we deplore the failure of the league so far to give your country the protection to which it was entitled.

We shall continue to work to the end that your country shall be restored to your majesty and to your people and that it shall enjoy in future that freedom and peace essential to its happiness and prosperity.

Harold Moody, League of Coloured Peoples

An address was also presented by the Pan African Federation, and there were present on the platform representatives of the International Friends of Ethiopia, the Gold Coast Aborigines Protection Society, the Negro Welfare Association, the British Guiana Association, the League of Coloured Peoples, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Gold Coast Students Association, the Somalia Society, the Colonial Seamen’s Association and the Kikuyu Association of Kenya.

The emperor replied in Amharic, his address being translated by Mr Ephraim Medheu of his legation:

 I am deeply touched by the welcome which you have given me to-day at this most anxious time to me and the members of my family we must express our profound gratitude to you and to the British government, which has shown us its sympathy, and been of great comfort to us.

We feel that you share our sorrow for Ethiopia is the victim of a war which was forced upon her. We left Ethiopia because we wished to avoid more cruel bloodshed. We have done all that we could; but the aggressor poured gases upon our children and women, and all our people, and so we have come to appeal, to ask for judgment from Europe.

As all league members have the right to expect the discharge of obligations which are imposed upon the rest, we have no doubt that our appeal will meet with the response that it deserves.

We are deeply grateful to your association for all the help which it has given our cause and we cannot find words to express our gratitude for the sympathy extended to us by the public opinion of great Britain. May justice reign over the earth for always. May the British crown and people live for ever. We pray to god, long live the king.

Una Marson, famous Jamaican author, secretary to the Imperial Ethiopian legation during 1936

The Indians, the Africans from Kenya and elsewhere came up with their addresses of welcome, and the  New Times and Ethiopia News, on behalf of its contributors and staff, an address which has been illuminated by Philip Cole. Mrs Napier presented the beautiful colours, the vellum scroll was lettered in script, in the colours red, gold, and green, and decorated with the lion of Juddah and a sacred picture from the Kebra Negast, the glory of the kings of Ethiopia.

At the [Ethiopian] Legation a crowd so vast collected that the police barriers were broken. The Emperor from the Balcony thanked the people for their welcome and the Princess [Tsehai] spoke to them in English.

For days the BBC had broadcast the fascist versions of Italy rejoicing over her Ethiopian victories without a word on the Ethiopian side.  Britain’s great welcome broke down in a measure this boycott, but some foreign broadcasting stations, notably the Danish, gave much filler accounts of the British welcome than that of the BBC.

At the Emperor’s reception for diplomats and others in the Legation, at Prince’s gate, were the ambassadors of Argentina, and China, the Finnish, Nepalese, Iraqi, Persian and Uruguayan ministers, the charges d’affaires of Japan, Paraguay, Columbia and Egypt. Lord Cranborne, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hore-Belisha, minister of transport, Mr Lloyd George MP, Captain V.A. Cazalet Mp, Sir Robert Gower MP, Commander Locker-Lampson, Lord Allen of Hurtwood, Prof Gilert Murray, Dr T. Drummond Shiles, General Evangeline Booth, Prof Stanley Jevons, Miss Eleanor Rathbone MP, Miss Sylvia Pankhurst and Mr Kryakas Mikhail, of the Nile Society, Mrs Napier and Mr R.C. Hawkin and Mr Herbert Morrison of the labour party.

In the drawing room, the Emperor, his sad eyes recalling the martyrdom of his country, with gentle simplicity, received the guests, supported by the young princess and her brothers, and the fine old warrior Ras Kassa, a figure of rugged loyalty and stoic courage.

Later, downstairs in the tea room, one saw Lord Cranborne representing the British Government, first in an animated conversation with the Emperor; then endeavouring to assure Sylvia Pankhurst and Mrs Napier that the national government really intends justice to Ethiopia, and that the return of Sir Samuel Hoare to the cabinet does not portend any lifting of sanctions or betrayal of the struggle to uphold Abyssinia and the covenant. One heard Mr Lloyd George asking to be presented to the emperor for whom he declared profound respect and admiration and then insisting vivaciously that Mr Eden would have Britain at his back and be the most popular man in the country if he clearly insisted on strong action to overthrow the Italian aggression, when the league assembly meets. Mr A.C. Hawkin, for many years secretary for the Eighty Club, replied with a challenge to Lloyd George himself “YOU can get the man’s country back for him!” One heard Eleanor Rathbone expressing the wish for a flash of the fire which made the old suffragette militancy, to stir the League.

. . . . . . . . . . .

H.I.M. arriving at Bath in aug 1936

Some issues of New Times and Ethiopian News later, Hazel Napier remembers the following during this reception:

“We will do our utmost for Ethiopia”, I said. The words were re-interpreted into Amharic. He answered in Amharic and then moved toward the window. Cheer after cheer arose from the waiting London crowd. They too, would do their utmost for Ethiopia. And yet…

Were those African delegations at Waterloo present outside the Legation? Waiting for the British establishment to invite their presence onto the guest list also?

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