How this Rare Biography

Came to Light


How this Blessed Book Came to Light

Before leaving on our first tour to Ethiopia, my husband and I planned our trip to Africa with several intentions in mind. My husband is Jamaican and of the Rastafari faith, and although I knew of Haile Sellassie, it is through my ‘kingman’ that I became interested in the Ethiopian emperor, who the Rastafari venerate. We wanted to see the countryside and the historical sites, and to visit the Jamaican enclave in Shashamene. We were also interested in the Ethiopian coffee culture as we are organic coffee farmers in Kona, Hawaii, and the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Finally, but most importantly, After asking for diving guidance, it was my intention to find out more about the life of such a significant woman, Empress Menen.

     We arrived in the mile-high capital city of Addis Ababa on a chilly winter’s night in Tahsas 2002 Ethiopian Calendar (January of 2009 Gregorian Calendar). On our first day in Addis Ababa we visited Holy Trinity Cathedral, and it was here where we met a young university student. As he showed us around the magnificent church, we learned that this young man was a deacon from Lalibela and was staying in the capital while he furthered his studies in theology and the sciences. Understanding our desire to learn about the Imperial Family, he opened two sets of red velvet curtains to reveal the wooden thrones used by Emperor Haile Sellassie and Empress Menen. He then showed us Their Majesties matching granite sarcophagi in the nave of the church. We visited the museum, which housed crowns, garments and other memorabilia donated by various members of the Imperial Family.

     Our next flight took us to the town of Dire Dawa and on to Harar with our driver, Anthony and guide Degu. At dusk, we watched the moon rise as we stood outside the old city wall. We looked up to the mountaintops that formed the shape of a “W” and were told that this distant place was where Woizero Yashimabet had given birth. Her infant son was Tafari Mekonnen who later became Emperor Haile Sellassie I. Earlier that day we visited the house where the Emperor had lived as a child, and where he lived as a young newlywed with Empress Menen.

    It was nearly midnight when we returned to the congested city of Addis Ababa. We were up before dawn to catch a flight to Lalibela, where we were looking forward to attending Timkat, the Christian celebration of Epiphany. Timkat is one of the most colorful and meaningful holy days in the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar, marking the baptism of Jesus Christ. After waiting two hours in a crowded airport, we were bumped off the flight and ended up back in the van for the arduous two-day journey to Lalibela.

    A few months before this trip I’d had a vivid dream of traveling past a lake surrounded by an expanse of farmland, flanked by a distant mountain cloaked in billowing cloud. It was late afternoon when the scene outside the van looked very much like that in my dream, I immediately asked our guide Degu, “Where are we?” “That is Ambassel. Empress Menen was born on the amba you can see,” he repied. In that instant it felt as if God had intervened to allow me my own moment of epiphany as we passed the place where Menen spent her childhood. Had I been sitting in an airplane I would have missed this fateful moment, which seemed like a clear confirmation that I was on the right path through Ethiopia.

    When we returned to Addis Ababa, we met the young student again after his morning prayers at Holy Trinity Cathedral and greeted him warmly. Excitedly, he pulled a red leather-bound book from his backpack and handed it to me. The cover was embossed with a golden crown and I opened it to see an ancient-looking text, together with photograph after photograph of Empress Menen. This biography, entitled Her Imperial Majesty Menen Asfaw was written in Ge’ez to commemorate Empress Menen’s passing in 1954 EC (1962 GC). This volume was far more than I had ever expected to find and I was delighted, although I was unable to read what was written in the red leather book.

    The young deacon explained that when he had made enquiries about Empress Menen, on my behalf, a professor of Ethiopian Orthodox History had given this volume to him. The professor had kept this book safe after Emperor Haile Sellassie I was deposed by the Derg regime in 1966 EC (1974 GC, a time when many books about the Imperial Family were destroyed. The professor gave the young student edifying advice, and the responsibility to bring this book to light once again. I paid to have the book copied and feeling deeply honored and grateful, and with a keen sense of responsibility and divine guidance, I agreed to work with this young man on translating and enhancing this important chronicle of Empress Menen’s life.




Permission, Translation and Additions to the Original Manuscript

Upon returning home from Ethiopia, I contacted the Imperial Family. After seven weeks of anxious anticipation, I received word from Ermias Sahle Selassie, the current president of the Ethiopian Crown Council in exile, granting me permission to translate and reprint this book. John Abey, the young theology student we had met in Ethiopia, began the difficult task of translating the classical Ge’ez text, which included a number of biblical terms, to modern Amharic, and then to English.

    In order to create an interesting read about the life of this remarkable woman, I decided to place all information in chronological order, as well as to incorporate milestones from the reign of Empress Menen’s husband, Emperor Haile Sellassie I. It turns out that a large portion of the original biography that I received from John Abey was taken from a book published in 1950 (1958) to honor Empress Menen’s 67th birthday. This earlier biography, entitled Empress Menen, The Wife to His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Memorial for Empress Menen Asfaw’s Birthday, is widely available on the world wide web. This remarkable record of Empress Menen’s life was written by a clergyman named Yared Gebre Michael, and provided the chronological backbone for the present biography.

    To make a more complete story, I have added some description of historical events mentioned in the biography, and included features of the geography and culture of Ethiopia to help the reader get a better sense of Empress Menen’s life. Some of the religious practices of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have been woven in, as the Empress was a devout Christian.

    There are sixty-two photographs, although they are not of good quality, many have never been commonly seen and give the reader a chance to view Empress Menen and her family.

My Journey with Empress Menen

    Empress Menen had a farsighted view, and was exemplary in seemingly every aspect of her life. In Ethiopia she established the Empress Menen School for Girls and assumed the administrative responsibility of Ethiopia while her husband, Emperor Haile Sellassie, was on the battlefield. She also established childcare centers, handicraft schools, and funded the construction and upgrading of many churches. Her successful business ventures helped to maintain her many charities. She managed all of this while always attending to the needs of her family. Outside of Ethiopia, Empress Menen built a church and monastery on the banks of the Jordan River. During her lifetime the Empress also experienced a great deal of sorrow and hardship. She endured the loss of seven of her ten children, spent five years in exile during the Italian occupation of her Ethiopian homeland, and coped with the everyday struggle of on-going health problems.

    Taking a roughly translated manuscript and then researching the material to create a true and comprehensive picture of the long and remarkable life of Empress Menen has been an absorbing and enlightening process. This entire project has felt like a gift from God, and so it is offered to the world with that in mind. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to highlight such an extraordinary woman, Empress Menen. May her good works be remembered and treasured.

                                                                           To order:

                        Empress Menen, The Mother of the Ethiopian Nation


                                                         or phone 1-800-BookLog

From: Anjahli Parnell

Roots Publishing  *  Orange Bay  *  Portland, Jamaica