Empress Menen biography – full translation available

Empress Menen biography – full translation available

Greetings in the name of Jah Rastafari

I saw that you have presented some of the info from the book written about Empress Menen of 1962 shortly after she passed away.

I was gifted this rare book while I was in Ethiopia. After permission from the Imperial Family, I had the entire book translated from Ge’ez to Amharic to English at great expense, and have been working for two years to create “Empress Menen, The Mother of the Ethiopian Nation” Part of the proceeds, after cost is covered, will be given to the Ethiopian Crown Council for their ongoing charitable work. This work has been like a gift from God and so I share it with the world.

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 revere. 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, 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 EC (January of 2009 GC). On our first day in Addis Ababa we visited Holy Trinity Cathedral, and it was here where we met a young university student named Abey Chanie. 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. 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 matching granite sarcophagi in the nave of the church and 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 to Tafari Mekonnen, the infant who later became Emperor Haile Sellassie I. Earlier that day we visited the house where the Emperor had lived as a child.

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. 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 where Empress Menen was born,” he replied. 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 with Abey Chanie again after his morning prayers at Holy Trinity Cathedral and greeted him warmly. Excitedly, the young man 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 photographs of Empress Menen. This biography, entitled Her Imperial Majesty Menen Asfaw was written 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.

Abey Chanie 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 (1974), a time when many books about the Imperial Family were destroyed. When the professor learned that both of Abey’s parents had passed away and that he was struggling financially to complete degrees in theology and engineering, the professor decided to entrust the biography of Empress Menen to him. Abey Chanie was given edifying advice, and full rights and responsibility to bring this book to light once again. Abey Chanie had made a copy of the book and passed it over to me. Feeling deeply honored and grateful, and with a keen sense of responsibility and divine guidance, Abey Chanie and I agreed to work together 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. Ermias Selassie said that after all the plagiarism about his family, he was glad that someone asked permission to reprint this book. Abey Chanie 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 Abey Chanie was taken from a book published in 1950 (1958) to honor Empress Menen’s 67th birthday, which is now widely available on the Internet. This book was entitled Empress Menen, The Wife to His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Memorial for Empress Menen Asfaw’s Birthday. This remarkable record of Empress Menen’s life, written by a clergyman named Yared Gebre Michael, 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. When Empress Menen’s grandson, Ermias, read the final manuscript, he was surprised at the depth of the book, he learned details about her that he never knew before.


My Journey with Empress Menen

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.

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, funded the construction and upgrading of many churches, assumed the administrative responsibility of Ethiopia while her husband, Haile Sellassie, was on the battlefield, established childcare centers and handicraft schools, and pursued successful business ventures 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.

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.


Empress Menen’s Earthstrong (Date of Birth)

All calendar dates in the newly published book are listed in both the Ethiopian Calendar (EC) and the more common Gregorian Calendar (GC). The dates in the original book were recorded in the Ethiopian Calendar and were converted into the western Gregorian Calendar. Most of the dates that I found in my research were in the Gregorian Calendar, so those had to be converted to Ethiopian Calendar date. I spent a lot of time on this task alone.

I especially wanted to make sure Empress Menen’s birthdate was correct. I asked Abey Chanie, the young man who handed me the original book in Ethiopia, to triple check his copy of the original manuscript. Each time he reported that the date was recorded as Maggabit 25, 1883 (EC). After consulting several calendar conversion programs, I found that a date from that far back in history was rarely correct. The date generated was April 2, 1891 (GC), but when I looked at the Ethiopian date for New Year of the previous year in the calendar conversion program, which should fall on September 11 (GC), it was recorded as September 10 (GC). This is why her birthdate was one day earlier than the actual date of April 3, 1991.

For the sake of accuracy, I went so far as to plot the Ethiopian Calendar from Ethiopian New Years, Meskerem 1, 1882 (EC) or September 11, 1890 (GC) up to her date of birth of Maggabit 25, 1883 (EC), or April 3, 1891 (GC). Many of us celebrate Empress Menen’s birthdate on March 25 and why not celebrate the kind nature of Empress Menen from that date up until April 3?

Abey Chanie was also asked to confirm the dates of the births and deaths of Menen’s six children with Haile Sellassie I. To do so, he asked an Ethiopian Orthodox cleric to go into the crypt beneath Trinity Church and write down the dates which he conveyed to me. He also went to the Church of Beate Mariam, where their daughter Tsehay was entombed near Emperor Menelik I and his wife Empress Taitu.

In this new biography, 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. Check the website www.roots-publishing.com


Anjahli Parnell