Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet. Genesis 49: 9-10.
On the cover of 1984's best-selling posthumous album 'Legend” is the picture of Bob Marley's arm resting on his chin, his forefinger taping his lower lip.
Noticeably in his middle finger is the emblematic Lion of Judah ring worn by the late singer in the last five years of his life and before him, said to have belonged to the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I.
The ring bears the royal insignia of late Ethiopian monarchy, a lion holding a scepter. It is said to be a precious relic containing actual fragments of Biblical King Solomon's ring.
The ring turned out to have been one of Bob's prized possessions and also the most coveted upon his death in 1981.
How did Marley, a man of peasantry heritage, come to possess such a ring which caused so much anguish, contestation and drama on his death?
In Catch A Fire, The life of Bob Marley, Timothy White traces the story of the royal ring to a dream that Bob had in Delaware in 1966 when he laboured in a Chrysler plant as a casual.
One evening while resting at his mother's house he fell asleep on the sofa and had a dream that would disturb him for the next decade.
In the dream, White recounts, a short man dressed in Khaki and an old fedora came through the front door of the house and stood next to the sofa.
The man then slid his hand into the jacket and produced a black ring embossed with an insignia the dreamy lad could not immediately figure out. He then took Bob's hand and pushed it into his forefinger saying; “this is all I have to give you.”
When Bob's mother Cedella Booker came from a grocery trip, he found his son dazed and they both tried to figure it out.
For the mom, it was all clear. She simply went upstairs and pulled out a ring she thought she had gotten from his father Captain Norval Marley.
“Norval was a short mon, jus' like yuh, an' him dress in dat same fashion. He never give yuh anyt'ing when him alive, suh maybe him want ya ta have a blessing' now,” White quotes Ciddy telling Bob.
Bob took the ring but did not like it. White says he took it off at the end of the week telling the mum that it made him feel uncomfortable.
Fast forward to 1977 with Bob having quite made it musically, become a Rasta and exiled in London following an assassination attempt in Jamaica.
White says prominent Rastas in London put him in touch with officials of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. One thing led to another and before long he got an audience with Crown Prince Asfa Wossen.
Wossen was a son of Selassie, also living in exile in London after his father was deposed on September 12, 1974. He had been briefly proclaimed the new emperor, a proclamation he declined, before the military junta abolished the monarchy in March 1975.
His father, whom Bob had worshiped as Jesus-reincarnate, had died in prison in 1975. Bob had refused to believe that the man-god had died and instead released a single assuring his children that “Jah lives.”
In the song, Marley mocks “fools” for saying that Rasta God is dead.
During the two-hour meeting between Bob and Wossen, White says in his book, the Crown Prince spoke about his life, betrayal and about his late father. He lamented the circumstances of his father's death.
“As Marley was leaving, the crown prince said he had something for him. 'This belonged to His Majesty,' he said, 'you are the one who should wear it.' He showed the Rasta a ring,” White reports.
He says Bob was dumbstruck. It was the ring he had seen in his dream in Delaware - a black stone bearing the figure of the lion of Judah.
Just like the man in the dream, the crown prince slipped in into Bob's forefinger fitting it perfectly. It is said the prince noticed what White describes as “mixture of terror and joy” in Bob's face and asked if something was wrong.
Bob simply told him that a riddle he had lived with for a long time had just been solved. The LP Bob released that year, Exodus: Movement of Jah People went on to become Time's album of the century, also reputed as the album which propelled him to international stardom.
Around 1980, Selassie's granddaughter and nephew visited Bob in Miami. White says that while they chatted in the living room, Bob pointed to the ring and posed: “Dis indeed was His Majesty's ring?”
The Ethiopians nodded saying the late Emperor had worn it all through his life. White says Bob went silent for a while then “softly, matter-of-factly, but, in a voice that trembled in a way Cedella had never thought possible, he said: Ya know, sometimes dis ring, it burn my finger, like fire.”
Later that year, Bob's health deteriorated and doctors gave him a few months to live. He wandered around different cancer clinics before settling to fly to Germany for some unorthodox treatment late in the year.
Before leaving for Germany, White says, Bob took off the ring and gave it to his lawyer Diane Jobson for safe-keeping. White says that at first he had mulled at the idea of entrusting it to her to be given to his eldest son David “Ziggy” but pulled the thought away.
The ring would later cause quite a drama on Bob's demise in May 1981. White reports that Vernon Carrington, popularly known as Prophet Gad, the founder of Twelve Tribes of Israel to which Bob belonged, had let it be known that when Bob died he would liken to have the ring.
He says Gad waged unrelenting campaign to obtain the ring “from the moment Bob died until the final minutes before he was sealed in his coffin.” The ring was on his finger when Bob lay in state in Jamaica but that was the last seen of it.
White writes: “Once the coffin was sealed in a closed-door ceremony, the question of its whereabouts was likewise sealed.”
He says as the actual internment of Bob approached, Prophet Gad was said to be “in a righteous rage beyond describing.”
Seething with anger, the Twelve Tribes of Israel orderlies would later slap Bob's family with a three thousand dollar bill for “ceremonial services rendered by the sect during the funeral services.”
The no nonsense Jobson dismissed them: “Yuh nuh get yar t'irty pieces a silver from me, Judases.”
The officials later confronted Bob's mother Cedella demanding to know what had become of it. She too had a blunt retort for them: “De ring gwan back ta where it come from, same as Bob.”
When they persisted to know exactly where it could be found, White says, she looked up her eyes narrowing and smilingly but firmly closed the inquiry:
“De ring gwan back from whence it come. It back on His Majesty's mighty hand. And yuh... yuh know neither de day nor de hour.”
Bob would have been 69 years old today.