What a memorable day and night it was at the Nyabinghi Tabernacle Center in Shashemene when the community gathered to observe and Ilebrate the birth of Empress Menen on Thursday April 3rd 2014. Once again I could discern a maturity in the coming together of mansions, tribes, nations, races and genders to remember the best of Ras Tafari traditions regarding the person of Empress Menen, Sacred Consort of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I and Mother of the Nation.
Though several ideas were proposed for the best way to pay tribute to I n I Mother of Iration, the banquet was the brainchild of Sister Askale Selassie founder of the Empress Menen Foundation and MC for the event. With the support of other sistren and brethren, the programme took shape and attracted the participation of both the repatriated and home-grown Ethiopian community. Already there is talk of this becoming an annual event and that proposal has my full support.
First to arrive were our neighbours from the Yawenta Children’s Center. We were slightly overwhelmed when over 50 children and five teachers arrived, each child armed with his/her colouring of an outline of Empress Menen. In the Nyahbinghi office I am now under the scrutiny of Empress Menen from all sides of the room and cannot fail to remember her legacy. The children sang Melkam Lidet (Happy Birthday) to Empress Menen, then viewed a short slide presentation of photos and paintings of Empress Menen before returning to the school.
Following the invocation by Ras Hailu, Chaplain of The Ethiopian World Federation, he read Psalm 45 before inviting other readings and presentations reflecting the life, work, character and sacred nature of Empress Menen. Psalm 123 was also read in commemoration of the 123rd anniversary of the Empress’s birth.
Empress Menen was chosen as the perfect mate for His Majesty, who set new precedent in Ethiopia when he arranged for her coronation at the same time as his. Both Haile Selassie I and Empress Menen share the blood lines of the union of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and their marriage of 50 years produced six children. The Imperial couple suffered the loss of two children and when ‘the fate of Adam’ befell the Empress herself, the Emperor declared in his address to the nation that in Empress Menen he had found no fault. The Empress’ role in promoting education was highlighted – she was particularly concerned with the education of girls and the situation of women and persons with handicaps. According to Yared Gebre Michael writing on the occasion of Empress Menen’s 67th Earthlight, her kindness, charity to the poor, generosity to the church and general good deeds placed her in the category of ‘sacred women’. Speaker after speaker referred to Mama Menen as the perfect example of womanhood.
Several Sistren and Brethren, including Ras Imus visiting from the UK, contributed to the preparation of the sumptuous meal for the banquet. The menu comprised traditional injera with traditional lentil and non-traditional tofu wets/stews. Delectable greens, roasted potatoes, tossed green salad, steamed vegetables, stewed soy chunks and Jamaican style rice and peas cooked in coconut milk completed a well-rounded meal. Slices of bread baked by the Nyahbinghi bakery were also part of the meal. I tasted what I considered to be the perfect sorrel made by the host and there were other juices such as mango, pineapple and ginger in various combinations. Sister Terehas made a selection of cookies but the crème de la crème of her baking skills was the birthday cake which was as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate. I think Empress Menen was well-pleased.
Two additional features added interest to the day’s event. One was the mounting of an exhibit on Empress Menen in the Binghi office. The display included books, posters, calendars, photos and other art depicting Empress Menen, accompanied often by the Emperor and sometimes with children. The other was the coffee ceremony, ably hosted by Tigist, who was hired by Mama Baby I some years ago to help with chores at the Binghi House. One end of the verandah was prepared with the traditional grass and Tigest, dressed in Ethiopian garments for the occasion, roasted and brewed pot after pot. I am a one cup woman and that one cup helped me to keep my eyes open for the Nyahbinghi Ises after the banquet.
The Ises rode up on a high note with the children sometimes taking the lead both on the harps and in the chanting. Ras Imus’s kete cut like lightning, killing, cramping and paralysing all weakheart conceptions and I could not resist teasing ‘Binghi Asher’ of the EWF and the TTI, for I could see her state of rapture. Of course Binghi Bobo TTI Bev Reuben was most present and looked like Silver Angel #1, having celebrated her Earthstrong just the day before. The gathering evoked reflection yet again of the Shashemene experience in which membership loyalty issues are reconciled and people are able to bring their resources to the institutions of their choice without conflict.
Just before Ises sealed, Ilect of Records Ras Joseph raised the reasoning on ‘The spiritual significance of the union of HIM Haile Selassie I and Empress Menen’ highlighting the Empress as part of the triune Godhead in which Haile Selassie I is the ‘Power of the Trinity’. He reasoned of the presence of man with the womb (woman) from the very instance of creation in the Biblical exhortation/invitation to come let us make us a man – and the outcome, male and female created He them in His own image and likeness. He recounted the early questioning about whether God could have a wife and other reasoners acknowledged the role of the Nyahbinghi Order in restoring the Mother to her original place in the triune. Those present were urged to let the examples of Emperor Haile Selassie I and Empress Menen be reflected in InI behaviours with each other so that Rastafari can indeed be ‘the shining light in this dark world.’ This is not a mere turn of phrase when one considers that the name Menen means light. May the Light of Empress Menen, Comforter of the Comforter ever shine through Her daughters and sons of the Ras Tafari Nation.