21 April, 1966: thousands of Rastafarians descended on Kingston’s Palisadoes Airport (now Norman Manley International Airport) awaiting the arrival of HIM Haile Selassie. They waited patiently at the airport, playing drums and smoking sacramental marijuana.
When Haile Selassie’s Ethiopian Airlines flight landed at 1:30 PM, the crowd surrounded his plane on the tarmac. The day had been overcast and stormy. After about half an hour, the door swung open and the emperor appeared. A deafening tumult was heard from the crowd, who beat calabash drums, lit firecrackers, waved signs, and sounded the Abeng horns of the Maroons. All protocol was dropped as the crowd pressed past the security forces and onto the red carpet that had been laid out for the reception. Selassie waved from the top of the steps. He then returned into the plane, disappearing for several more minutes. Finally Jamaican authorities asked Ras Mortimer Planno to climb the steps, enter the plane, and negotiate the Emperor’s descent. When Planno reemerged, he announced to the crowd:
The Emperor has instructed me to tell you to be calm. Step back and let the Emperor land.
After Planno escorted the African monarch down the steps, journalists were puzzled by Selassie’s refusal to walk on the red carpet on the way to his limousine. Hence grounation, Iyaric equivalent of foundation, “uplifted” with the sound of the word ground in the sense of “making contact with the soil”.
As a result of Planno’s actions, the Jamaican authorities were asked to ensure that Rastafari representatives were present at all state functions attended by His Majesty, and Rastafari elders, including Planno and Joseph Hibbert, also obtained a private audience with the Emperor, where he reportedly told them that they should not immigrate to Ethiopia until they had first liberated the people of Jamaica. This dictum came to be known as “liberation before repatriation”.
Defying expectations of the Jamaican authorities, Selassie never rebuked the Rastafari for their belief in him as the Messiah. Instead, he presented the movement’s faithful elders with gold medallions bearing the Ethiopian seal – the only recipients of such an honour on this visit.
Because of Haile Selassie’s visit, April 21 is celebrated as Grounation Day. The “Abu Ye! Abu Ye Abu ye! Abu ye!” chant is an element of Grounation Day festivities.