All Hail the King of Kings, the Lion of Judah, the Almighty One, Ye shall break every chain again and again...
Text of a welcome banner held aloft at Montego Bay's civic reception for Emperor Haile Selassie I, April 23, 1966.
THE HEAT that rose from the tarmac of Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport was nothing compared to the level of expectation that was seeping through the thousands gathered on the tarmac that 21st day of April, 1966. The day was declared a public holiday in honour of the Emperor and people had started arriving from Wednesday night from places near and far, to form the largest crowd to have ever assembled at the Norman Manley International Airport. They came to the airport any way they could by car, by truck, by bus, by bicycle, by foot. Drum beats and chants were heard almost non-stop, providing an almost hypnotic rhythm. The smell of ganja wafted through the air completing a welcome unprecedented in size and expectation for the Emperor on his first state visit to Jamaica.
Interpreter at right translates the speech of Emperor Haile Selassie, given in Arabic, as he addressed both houses of Parliament at Gordon House. On the throne with His Imperial Majesty is Governor-General Sir Clifford Campbell. Seated at left is Lady Campbell.
Brother George Huggins of Accompong, explained the enthusiastic welcome, "it is hard to put in words what seeing this man, this great man, the Lord of lords, in Jamaica meant to us in the Rastafarian community. We had heard so much about him for so long." On the tarmac, some waved palm leaves, some red, green and gold Ethiopian flags, and some blew the Maroon cowhorn known as the abeng in welcome. Everyone kept their eyes on the sky wondering when the plane carrying His Imperial Majesty from Trinidad and Tobago would arrive. Rain began to fall and the crowd continued to wait, hoping even for just a glimpse of the plane through the thick clouds that had formed.
When the insignia of a roaring lion and stripes of red, green and gold finally came into view, the rain stopped. People shouted, "See how God stop de rain." The sound from the crowd was deafening as masses of people rushed to get closer to the island's distinguished visitor. The crowd simply broke down any barriers that stood in their way in their eagerness to position themselves as close as possible to the "King of Kings." But the Lion of Judah did not appear immediately as expected. Instead the plane stood there, silent in a sea of activity and sound. No movement could be seen from within the cabin. The door to the plane finally opened forty-five minutes later, close to 2:15 p.m., and His Imperial Majesty came to the top of the stairs to deplane. The crowd responded with a roar that "was louder than the sound of thunder rolling, louder even than an explosion" recalls Mitsy Seaga who accompanied her husband, Edward Seaga, the then Minister of Development and Welfare. Seaga himself remembers the event as awesome in every sense of the word.