Two Selassie films half-century apart - Anniversary of 1966 visit observed at UWI
Two documentaries were shown at the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, last Friday evening, the anniversary of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie's April 21, 1966, arrival in Jamaica.
The audiovisual recordings were done half-century apart, the first covering the Ethiopian monarch's time in Jamaica from April 21-23 and the other following Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie on last year's trip to Jamaica.
During his trip to Jamaica 50 years after Haile Selassie's visit, Prince Ermias went to many of the places his grandfather did in 1966, among them National Heroes Circle, Jamaica College, and the University of the West Indies (UWI). However, he could not take the train cross-country and depart Jamaica from Montego Bay, as Haile Selassie did, since the very limited rail service no longer goes across the island.
Franklyn 'Chappie' St Juste was on the tarmac when Haile Selassie , and Mel Tewahade, who is also an emissary for Prince Ermias, directed the film for the 2016 visit.
St Juste spoke at length about his experience, from his plans to visit Carnival in Trinidad with his wife being derailed by the royal visit to the cross-country departure trek with stops in Denbigh, Williamsfield, Maggotty, and other towns. He reiterated some of the well-known stories about Haile Selassie's arrival such as the sun breaking through rainy conditions at the moment of the plane's arrival and "a roar from the crowd" as it landed.
But there was the experience he alone had such as being caught in the crowd's rush towards the aeroplane. His first instinct was to protect the camera, and, having hoisted it, he said, "I found myself heading towards the plane and I was not walking."
From his observation of Selassie just outside the plane, St Juste said, "He didn't look like he wanted to come down the stairs".
The crowds that swept St Juste up also prevented him from getting to his next location - the National Stadium. With all the stops on the way to Montego Bay, St Juste said, "It was a very long trip." On the way to Spanish Town from Kingston, a policeman advised that Haile Selassie not get off the train as there had been chaos.
When they got there, St Juste said, "Not one chair (laid out for the official ceremony) was left upright." Looking for a shot to capture the essence of the scene, St Juste settled on "the little boy with one foot, hopping among the chairs". The striking image has just been shown in the documentary.
"It is 50 years. I did not even realise it because it seems like yesterday," St Juste said.