Article published Feb 10, 2006
Juliet makes sad pilgrimage for long-time friend's service
BERMUDIAN Juliet Wilkinson made a sad pilgrimage to Jamaica last
month to attend a thanksgiving service for her long-time friend Abuna
Yesehaq, Ethiopian Orthodox Church Archbishop in the Western
Hemisphere held at the same National Arena in Kingston where she
watched the late cleric preside over the memorial service for reggae
superstar Bob Marley in 1981.
Ms Wilkinson, who befriended the Ethiopian cleric in 1980 and
remained close to him until his death December, said the Archbishop
a monk from the age of three had no children of his own but treated
those in his inner-circle as an unofficial extended family.
"He was such a good friend," said Ms Wilkinson. "I first met His
Eminence in 1980 and considered him a friend, a confidante in some
ways my father and my mother.
"When I was around him I truly felt I was in the presence of a holy
man, a devout Christian man from many generations back.
"Although I am not a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, he did
bless me and gave me an Ethiopian name which means 'My Light'."
Abba Laike Mandefro was born in Addis Ababa in 1933. He attended
first lay then liturgical schools in Ethiopia and was ordained a
deacon and priest there. The young prelate was among several taken
under Emperor's Haile Selassie's wing. Abba Laike Mandfredo was
invested as Abuna Yesahaq, Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox
Church in the Western Hemisphere, in 1979.
He established the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Bermuda as part of
his mission and visited the island at least four times, the last
visit coming in the late 1990s when he presided at a funeral here.
Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq was perhaps best known to the non-religious
world as godfather and spiritual adviser to Bob and Rita Marley and
their children. He is credited with introducing Ethiopian Orthodox
Christianity to Rastafarians throughout the Caribbean region,
baptised an estimated 45,000 of them into the church.
His most famous Rastafarian convert was Marley.
"I did baptise Bob Marley in the presence of his wife Rita and his
children. Only the family, because he was not so willing to have it
officially, it was difficult for him . . . which I don't want to
describe," he told the Jamaican Gleaner newspaper in 1984.
Although Marley's conversion was shrouded in secrecy during his
lifetime to avoid offending Rastafarian sensibilities, Archbishop
Yesehaq did send a photograph of the ceremony to Miss Wilkinson in
Bermuda which has never before been published.
Ms Wilkinson was visiting Jamaica and staying with Abuna Yesehaq when
Bob Marley succumbed to cancer in 1981.
"His Eminence was actually living in Bob Marley's homestead at the
time his retinue on one side of the property, the Marley family on
the other side," recalled Ms Wilkinson. "The day before the funeral
the Marley family was in and out all day, visiting with him and being
consoled by him.
"That evening, after His Eminence had finished giving dictation to
his secretary, he went into his room. At first I smelled incense.
Later on I heard him begin chanting in (the ancient Ethiopian
languages) Geez and Amharic.
"He was praying for Bob. He sang from about nine in the evening until
the crack of dawn. I don't know if you have ever heard these
languages but it was like listening to the angels sing. It was
"The next day, of course, he had to preside over Bob Marley's funeral
at the National Stadium in Kingston."
THE funeral attracted tens of thousands of mourners, Miss Wilkinson
recalled. From her vantage place as a guest of the Archbishop, she
listened to readings from the Bible by Jamaica's Governor General,
and by Michael Manley, then Leader of the Opposition Party. Edward
Seaga, the Prime Minister, eulogised Marley.
Marley's band The Wailers, with the I-Threes (Rita Marley, Judy
Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths), backing them up on vocals, performed
some of his songs. The Melody Makers, a group consisting of four of
Bob and Rita Marley's children, led by their eldest son Ziggy, also
performed in his honour. His mother, Mrs. Cedella Booker, sang Coming
In From the Cold, one of the last songs Marley wrote.
Abuna Yesehaq died at the Beth Israel Hospital in New Jersey on
Thursday, December 22, 2005 at the age of 72. His funeral at the
National Arena in Jamaica on January 20 drew hundreds of mourners
including Jamaican politicians, celebrities and members of the
AMONG those who paid glowing tributes to the late Archbishop's life
and work during the service of thanksgiving at the National Arena
were Dr. Peter Phillips, the National Security Minister, Bruce
Golding, the Opposition Leader, Portia Simpson Miller, the Local
Government Minister, and Rev. Ashley Smith from the United
Theological College of the West Indies.
The Attorney General, A.J. Nicholson, represented Prime Minister P.J.
The Archbishop, who established branches of the Ethiopian Orthodox
Church in Jamaica, Bermuda, England, Canada, South Africa, Trinidad
and Tobago, the US Virgin Islands, Guyana and St. Kitts, had
specifically requested to be buried in Jamaica.
"The most important reason he is being buried in Jamaica, is because
he came here on a mission specifically directed by His Majesty,
Emperor Haile Selassie I, to establish the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
This was because of the love the Jamaican people have for Ethiopia
and His Majesty," a spokesperson of the church explained to the
Jamaica Observer newspaper.
At the funeral, Dr. Phillips echoed similar sentiments.
"It is a tribute to his love for us . . . his love for the people of
Jamaica and the people of the western hemisphere, but it is a special
tribute that he does for us when he wished that out of all the
countries in the Western hemisphere which he served, he wished for
his remains to be here in Jamaica," Dr. Phillips explained.
Ms Wilkinson said the funeral service marked by lengthy rituals of
liturgical drumming and chanting in the ancient Ethiopian languages
of Geez and Amharic was "overwhelming".
"It was a beautiful experience," she said.