Jamaican sheroes score trifecta from Ethiopian crown

Prince Ermias Selassie of Ethiopia presents Orders of Chivalry to Jamaica's Minister of Culture, Olivia Grange on March 4.
Prince Ermias Selassie of Ethiopia presents Orders of Chivalry to Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Olivia Grange on March 4.
Courtesy Jamaica Information Service

Jamaica captured the triple crown during Women’s History Month when two prominent citizens from the Caribbean island received Ethiopia’s highest honors of distinction from His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie, grandson of former Emperor Haile Selassie I.

The awards also extended acknowledgement of the island’s indigenous Rastafarians who revere the royal as a descendant of their spiritual leader.

During a ceremony fraught with pomp and pageantry befitting a sovereign leader from the African nation, Barbara Blake Hanna, cultural liaison and head of the Rastafari Secretariat in the government of Jamaica was named an officer of the Imperial Order of the Star.

Olivia Grange, minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport on the island was bequeathed a Dame Grand Cross of the Imperial Order of the Star of Honor of Ethiopia, the highest possible award of the Order.

The two distinguished citizens received the prestigious titles from the Ethiopian Crown Council in Washington D.C. where an anniversary commemoration of a significant victorious event also highlighted the occasion.

“We are celebrating this evening the 127th anniversary of the Battle of Adwa, which took place in 1896,” Prince Ermias said.

“The importance of the battle of Adwa was the victory that, yes, we can do. And it was the first time an African army was able to defeat a European army and thereby preserve our nation’s sovereignty, which became an inspiration to people of African descent and oppressed people the world over.”

He punctuated his statement, saying: “we can’t think of a more honorable person to reward on this occasion, such as Minister Grange (and) Barbara Blake Hannah from Jamaica, who worked so hard to make our visit in Jamaica possible.”

Barbara Blake Hanna (left) and Olivia Grange.
Barbara Blake Hanna (left) and Olivia Grange. Courtesy Jamaica Information Service

Blake, a devoted Rastafarian advocate responded saying: “It’s quite an honor because this award represents three persons. First, Emperor Haile Selassie, who it honors through his grandson, Prince Ermias. It represents Priest Abuna Yesaq, who the emperor sent to Jamaica to introduce the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to those who looked on him as divine. And through him, I’ve been blessed with a superior knowledge of Ethiopian Christianity.”

“And that is the link that has brought me here today. Those are the links, those three persons, the emperor, the archbishop and the prince that have inspired me to continue working for Ethiopia, to continue making Ethiopia as great as it was when Menilek won the battle of Adwa.” 

Parliamentarian Grange expressed appreciation of the honor by explaining how the Rastafarian community had impacted her understanding of African history.

“I’m pent up with emotion because I grew up hearing about Ethiopia as no other country. I grew up hearing about Ethiopia because of the Rastafarian faith; because Haile Selassie has been that symbol of Black royalty and for me today to be recognized by the Crown Counsel and to be bestowed with the Dame of the Grand Cross by His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie’s grandson, Prince Ermias, is something that I would not have ever dreamt would happen.”

“Today is truly a very special day for me. I’ve always dreamt of the day when I would feel very much a part of the continent of Africa. In addition to recognizing that my ancestry is predominantly African, the fact that I have been recognized by a nation in Africa, the continent of Africa, and particularly Ethiopia is something that has made me so overjoyed.”

The presentation was made in reciprocation of the hospitality shown to the royal when he visited Jamaica last year during Heritage Week as the island celebrated 60 years of independence with a theme “Reigniting Greatness Through our Heritage.”

As hosts of the distinguished guest, the award recipients scheduled a week-long itinerary ensuring inclusive activities with the Rastafarian community — whose members contend his ancestry connects with lineage traced from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

In the Second City of Montego Bay, he was greeted with music from drummers beating melodious conviction of the arrival of the ‘Lion of Juda.”

The mayor there presented him with an honorary key to the city.

In the capital city of Kingston, members of the Rastafarian community repeated the gratuitous gesture while members of the diplomatic and political corps regaled the presence of a world figure.

In addition to declaring reverence of the former emperor, crowds entreated the visitor with reggae music recalling Bob Marley’s “War,” a lyricized version of an address HIM Selassie I made to the United Nation.

The African emperor toured the island in 1966.

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