07 December 1935
Report on the Nyabinghi Order by Frederico Philos
Nyabinghi drumming by First Man (left) and other members of the Rastafari Indigenous Village, Montego Bay, Jamaica, 2016. photo © Derek Bishton
THE first recorded instance of the word ‘Nyabinghi’ (1) entering Jamaican cultural discourse that I can discover comes with the publication of an account of the Nya-Binghi Order in Ethiopia and the Congo in The Jamaica Times, published in December 1935, just a few months after Italy had invaded Ethiopia. The article is clearly a crude piece of Fascist propaganda written to legitimise Mussolini’s colonial ambitions in the Horn of Africa. Nevertheless, it was embraced by early Rasta leaders and given an alternative reading and interpretation which led directly to the formation of the Nyabinghi Order of Rastafari in Jamaica.
The article is credited to an Italian journalist called Frederico Philos and was originally published in Austria and then in translation in Canada from whence it made its way to Jamaica.
Philos claimed that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, allied with Egypt and Liberia, had been elected in Moscow in 1930 to lead the Nya-Binghi Secret Order (allegedly founded in the 1920s by a Congolese king) whose army of 190 million were dedicated to the elimination and eradication of the White Race.
The Emperor is alleged to have stated: “Death to the oppressors of the Black Races” and the Nya-Binghi plan was to starve the whites and then annihilate them with weapons. Philos adds: “Wherever one mentions the word Negus the eyes of the blacks gleam with a mad fanaticism. They worship him as an idol. He is their God. To die for the Negus is to ensure admission to paradise. Bloody sacrifices are offered up to him.”
What is most significant about the article is the way it was interpreted in Jamaica by the emerging Rastafari movement and how the complicated and tangled mix of fact and propaganda came to inspire the early leaders such as Leonard Howell, leading to the formation of the Nyabinghi Order of Rastafari under the leadership of Ras Boanerges (aka Elder Bongo Watu) in the late 1940s.
In a fascinating paper published on Academia (2), Ian Cantwell speculates on how Muhumusa, an east African resistance fighter said to have been inspired by the spirit of a legendary African goddess Nyabinghi, might have come to the attention of black leaders, including Marcus Garvey, during the period of the Harlem renaissance. Muhumusa organised armed resistance against German colonialists. She was arrested and jailed in 1908 by German and Rwandan forces but released two years later. In 1911 Muhumusa launched her last attack in the form of an ambush on the Anglo-Belgian-Germany Boundary Commission. By this time, the British were involved in Rwanda and they responded by killing 40 of Muhumusa’s fighters before finally capturing her. Muhumusa was deported to Kampala, where she died in 1944. Her exploits were widely reported and although she had been expelled, she had inspired an anti-colonial struggle in Rwanda in the name of Nyabinghi. The British were so fearful of what she might inspire that they introduced the Witchcraft Ordinance of 1912 in Uganda, which outlawed ‘non-orthodox’ beliefs such as Nyabinghi.
Cantwell suggests that knowledge of Muhumusa in Garveyite circles in Jamaica facilitated the acceptance of Philos’s article about Nyabinghi, which was quickly absorbed into the new Rasta narrative of liberation, embodied in the Nyabinghi style of drumming and chanting which became a major influence on the development of ska and then reggae music. According to the Report on the Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica (3) the term Nyabinghi, for many Rastafari, came to mean ‘death to Black and white oppressors’. Those who were in accord with this ideology quickly adopted the title, Nyah-men.
The original article about Nyabinghi is reproduced in full below.
Nya-Binghi! By Frederico Philos
Reprinted from Magazine Digest by Jamaica Times December 7, 1935, pp.22-23.
Today it is a “black peril” which darkens the European horizon and which has eclipsed the yellow menace in the minds of the public. Up from the depths of the jungle and out of the hearts of modern cities, from all parts of the African Continent and from countries where coloured people live, the blacks are flocking to the standard of an organisation which dwarfs all similar federations. Hitherto, diverse religious beliefs coupled with the stupidity of primitive peoples prevented such an amalgamation. But today it is a fact! The blacks are welded into an ominous secret league, most remarkable of which is that its existence is scarcely known.
The words mean “Death to the Whites” or “Death to the Europeans.” This is the name of this secret society. It sprang to life in the Belgian Congo. Angered by the penetration of white people into their territories, King Mocambo the Second and his nephew formed a dual alliance and swore bloody revenge on the intruders. At the time of its inauguration in 1923 it was insignificant, but since then it has become a menace to Europe. Although the news of the alliance flew like wild-fire across the continent and despite alarming telegrams from colonial officials in European colonies to their home governments, no one in Europe really took the matter seriously except the French and Belgian governments. But today all the European powers are decidedly uneasy. It is an incontestable fact that this movement of the coloured races against Europeans is a well organised one. It has vast stores of gold at its disposal. All the soldiers, serving today under the banners of European powers are members. When one considers that the whites number one to two hundred blacks, the danger is obvious.
Conscious of Strength
The blacks know now that their weakness has lain in a lack of cohesion which the whites, through superior knowledge and clever colonizing methods, took advantage of. But at the present time they are conscious of their strength. They have united under the leadership of Islam focussed in the semi-independent negro states of Abyssinia, Egypt, and Liberia. Dissatisfaction and hatred for the white immigrant are fermenting in all European colonies, even in the least significant African tribe. Nevertheless there is an insurmountable obstacle to the unification of the conspiring group: the impossibility of immediate mutual understanding among the blacks themselves. All attempts to organise general conferences were suppressed by the colonial governments. Ras Tafari, regent of Abyssinia, who later ascended the throne and is now known as Haile Selassie, started the ball rolling by allying with Egypt and Liberia in order to facilitate cooperation. The act encouraged unity and expanded the power of the negro union. The Negus (the head of the Negro Races) proposed a Pan-Negro Congress in Europe, to forge plans to check the growing influx of Europeans into Africa, and eventually to drive them out of these parts. The Congress was supposed to be for the discussion of social problems. European governments, however, guessed its real nature. The leaders and potentates of colourdom who were to be the delegates to the congress of 1930 had difficulty in securing a meeting-place. The governments of Europe knew that the conference was in reality an assembly of the dangerous Nya-Binghi. Russia was the only country which welcomed the negro representatives.
Altogether there were 82 delegates from all countries of the world. Aside from Abyssinia, Egypt and Liberia there were representatives from Nigeria, Sudan, Algeria, Tunis, Morocco, the Azores, Madeira, Tripoli, and the former German colonies especially Togo and Cameroon. 190,000,000 blacks were thus represented. The Congress lasted 14 days. Its deliberations and decisions were kept strictly secret. At its close the leader of this giant Pan-negro organization was announced. The negro, Haile Sellassie was unanimously voted supreme powers in the Nya-Binghi. He accepted the position and swore to make war on the Europeans. Quoting his own words at the time: “Death to the oppressors of the black races.” The Ku-Klux-Klan, the American Secret organization whose activities are directed against the blacks, was the first to become aware of the power of the Nya-Binghi. Clan leaders in numerous American cities, such as New York and Washington, were smitten with a strange disease. The illness was fatal. They could not determine its mysterious nature. One day Sam O. Wiking, the Assistant Chief of the Ku-Klux-Klan, was found dead in his room at No.720 on the 26th floor of the Birmingham Hotel. The news spread. Members of the clan fled the country! The Ku-Klux-Klan was beaten! Black hands had poisoned its members! The rest of them would be marked by the Nya-Binghi!
At the Moscow Congress in 1930 the Negus realised that the first step in ridding Africa of Europeans was to get an outlet to the sea. Now Abyssinia is the only negro kingdom which presents any military significance. But to carry out his plan, the Negus needed soldiers and a basis of operation. Haile Selassie early recognized the need for a complete reorganisation of his administration and of his army. Since his own subjects were incapable of undertaking this work, he hired Swedish, Belgian, Swiss and Dutch experts. It is ironical that white Europeans should be assisting the blacks, in their concerted efforts against the Europeans. As stated before, Abyssinia is fighting for an outlet to the Red Sea. Upon accomplishing this, the rebellion of the blacks against the European powers with colonies in Africa is inevitable. An Abyssinian war against Italy attended by possible victory for the Abyssinians, would lead to a revolt of the blacks against the white. In such an event, it is more than doubtful whether Europe would have the strength to pit against such a black avalanche. In the organization of the Nya-Binghi, Haile Selassie first of all dispatched people to organize the negroes whose countries are annexed or which are under a protectorate, and to get them to recognize Haile Selassie as their Ruler by Divine Right. They were to weld the various classes into groups. These groups then, were detailed to carry out various duties, such as the provision of food and water during a war. In this department, the weaker of the women and the children were to be recruited. The stronger of the women were to undergo rigid military training, and to see that the warriors are supplied with arms and munitions. The old and decrepit were to look after the children. Everything else was up to the warriors.
Nor have the emissaries of the Nya-Binghi been slow to adopt European Methods. They employ agents and provocateurs (agitators) to stir up the blacks against the whites. The various uprisings in the Sudan and French Morocco point to the activities of the Nya-Binghi. The same thing is going on throughout the colonies. One of the most important items of the Nya-Binghi programme is to win over the colonial troops, so that at a moment’s notice, they will turn on their white officers. Indeed, it would be easy to carry this out in view of the paucity of European soldiery. And they are succeeding. The lesser revolts among the English, Spanish, French and Italian colonial troops are proof of the activity of the Nya-Binghi whose adherents or friends now number 190,000,000 blacks. Should this black avalanche drag into its train the Yellow races, it would sound the alarm for India and all the other coloured peoples. True, these million of blacks are not skilled in war. But, primitive people mature young. At fourteen they are fit for service and the women think nothing of doing the work of men. On the other hand, the leaders of the Nya-Binghi are highly educated men. They have studied at European and American high schools and attended military academies. The most exacting instructions are issued to them from the central department, situated in Addis Ababa. The head of the Nya-Binghi is the Negus, Haile Selassie. Next to him is Ras Cassa Sebalit, the ambitious general of the Abyssinian troops. His right-hand man is Deggiac Beiene Mered, while the brains of the espionage department is Deggiac Aialen. Ras Cassa and Deggiac Aialen have sent ambassadors to Japan on business for the Negus. They set out on the fourth of August with a Japanese alliance as their undoubted objective. The Negus’s programme is worked out to the most minute detail, and in the utmost secrecy. Haile Selassie is regarded as a veritable Messiah, as a saviour of the coloured people, the Emperor of the Negro Kingdom. Wherever one mentions the word “Negus” the eyes of the black gleam with a mad fanaticism. They worship him as an idol. He is their God. To die for the Negus is to ensure admission to paradise. Bloody sacrifices are offered up to him. The Negus who himself subscribes to European customs, has tried to stamp out such demonstrations but his ambassadors have worked so excellently that he dare not call a halt.
Army of 20,000,000
In carrying out their plans, they plan to starve out the whites, and then destroy them with arms. But above all, though, Abyssinia must have a harbour on the Red Sea, so she has set her heart on winning Somaliland. A high official of the Nya-Binghi, R.W.Cann, Finance Controller, said recently to a black merchant he was approaching for a contribution to the war fund, “The Nya-Binghi must have the means to maintain an army of 20,000,000 men and to finance a ten-year war.” The Nya-Binghi espionage network spreads over the whole world. It functions according to modern principles. The president is the well-known Congo Negro Sami Amora. Their agents have carried out other quite important business: the provision of arms and munitions, sometimes openly, sometimes smuggling them in secretly. Chemical and pharmaceutical preparations have been provided, and technical staffs have been formed, especially in American cities like Washington, St Louis, Philadelphia and Chicago. Aeroplanes, autos and even railways are arranged for, and the whites are supplying the weapons which are bound to lead to their own destruction!
By Frederico Philos
(1) The word ‘nyabinghi’ appears in Rasta literature with several variant spellings – ‘nyabingi’,‘nyahbinghi’, ‘nyabhingi’, ‘nyabhinghi’ etc.
(2) The Transatlantic Transformation of Nyabingi and Muhumusa: From Kigezi to Jamaica via the ‘Babylonian’ Media by Ian Cantwell, https://www.academia.edu/36185358/The_Transatlantic_Transformation_of_Nyabingi_and_Muhumusa_From_Kigezi_to_Jamaica_via_the_Babylonian_Media
(3) Report on the Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica (Smith et al, 1960)