A KINGDOM for a CELL
for St. Elesbaan, otherwise known as
19:21, there is that well known verse, from that conversation between
Jesus and the Rich Man - concerning the giving of his wealth to the
poor. Emperor Kaleb, the subject of this piece, not only gave up his
wealth - but gave up his kingdom too.
He gave everything up. This
conquering hero of Christianity, who took ships across the Red Sea, to
defend the persecuted, wailing in Himyarite Yemen. New champion,
honoured in Constantinople, as well as Axum. Magnified network, enhanced
trade; the apogee of Axum.
But at the height of
his popularity, his international esteem - he changed velvet for
sackcloth. He turned his back, on salutations and stardom. One
night, he removed his crown for the last time, to don the garb of an
everyday penitent. Into the night he went, trodding; until he reached
the doors, of Abba Pantelewos Monastery.
He remained there, for the last
fifteen years of his life. Praying, fasting and praising God. How does a
man volunteer, to go from being the Emperor, to being a monk? From
King of Kings, to a hermit? A Kingdom for a cell.
© Natty Mark Samuels, 2014. African School.
A POEM of LOVE
a poem for voices
to Sister Mary Ites, of Rastaites. For all that she does.
They say that behind every great man,
there is a great woman. So it was with Tafari Makonnen, a young man,
from the Ethiopian nobility.
From 1911, the year of their marriage
ceremony, until 1962, the year of her physical passing; Menen Asfaw,
became his trusted confidant and adviser. This princess, born in Wollo
province. It was said that at their first meeting, there was a
recognisable mutual attraction.
With a deep faith in God and an
abiding belief in each other, they generated an aura of love.
fifty years, he turned his ear to her; his beloved wife of quite wisdom.
So if you chant Ethiopia,
Empress Menen too.
When unravelling a puzzle,
deciphered the clue.
Another day begins,
see her rising from the bed.
Humming to herself,
repertoire of Saint Yared.
Everyday began with
Invocation before sleep as well.
She was joyful at the
Of every church bell.
She who had funded the restoration and building,of many
churches and monasteries; especially of those, located in the poorest
areas. Money from her own resources; land of her personal holding.
devout woman, who always gave. Of her time, skills and finances. Like a
patron saint of generosity.
Both these dreamers,
Wanted education for all -
female as well as male.
She founded Siwaswe Birhan School,
those of without sight;
For those in need of braille.
She saw the children,
Eyes tearing -
Tortured by trachoma.
Worsened by the sun,
The omnipresent dust;
The daily need of fire.
Blinking became painful
When lashes turned
They call it 'Hair in the Eye.'
Infection of eyelids,
Scratching of the cornea;
A micro-organism and a fly.
So she supported hospitals, as well as
schools; for healthy bodies, ready to learn.
Took seriously her
position, as Patroness of the Ethiopian Red Cross. During the bombing,
she went from place to place in a car; dispensing first aid – uplifting
Like her beloved, manning a gun at the front; she also
spent time, in the heat of the battle.
Against their three hundred
What could six planes do?
dropping of something new.
The removal of Marshall de Bono
Became the curse of Badoglio
Women and children too
Died from the deadly gas;
soldier as well as the Ras.
removal of Marshall Bono
the curse of Badoglio
She took all
her roles seriously. Like that of Patroness, of the Jerusalem Society.
An organisation of her founding, to facilitate pilgrimage to the Holy
Land. To make it easier, for those who wanted to draw strength, from the
holy sites: and pray in the Ethiopian Church, in Jerusalem.
She would go there herself,
To pray for Ethiopia.
She built a church there too,
the banks of the Jordan River.
To kneel again -
Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
shed a quiet tear,
And converse with the Creator.
Are you getting the picture? Beginning to understand, the
depth of respect, between them. The reason why Ras Tafari broke with
tradition, at the time of coronation. Coronated Princess Menen, the same
day he was. In the past, this would have happened, three days after his.
As an example of his devotion, they walked out together, from St. George
Cathedral - Empress Menen, alongside Emperor Haille Selaisse.
Crowned side by side -
mandate to provide.
out together -
Two birds of one feather.
How it must have torn her heart, to see him on his return,
from the front. Tired, worn out. Slow step of mind and foot. A man
despair came near,
She'd sit beside him,
of the trials,
And the victories -
In the lives of the Nine
And when 'her school' was
By a bomb entitled demolish.
He offered to help rebuild it.
After liberation -
Reality followed the wish.
In 1942, as well as the rebuilding of
the Empress Menen School for Girls, she founded the Empress Menen
Handicraft School. But first, let me return to the former. This school
for girls, probably her most well known project, was founded in 1930 -
the first school for girls in Ethiopia. It took borders, as well as day
students. She made regular visits there, officiating at the graduation
ceremonies. Enlarging its student intake, as time went on.
Like her husband sending young men,
She funded female
They held the dream in tandem;
For Ethiopia's first University.
The Handicraft School was a training centre for artisans,
female as well as male. Offering instruction, in crafts such as silver
working, embroidery, carpet weaving and dyeing. As well as English,
Maths and Amharic. New aspirations, for the common man.
Emerging from the Handicraft School,
Came the people of
Smiths, weavers and dyers;
To help their country,
Surmount the feudal hill.
so much. This woman who knew personal tragedy as well as national
mourning. Her life with Ras Tafari, was blessed with six children. They
buried their daughter, Princess Tsehay, in 1942; their son, Prince
Makonnen, in 1957.
below the sod.
They wept together,
Continuing to follow God.
Seeing light through the dark mystery.
Lived without pedestal or perch.
Her Fridays of special prayers,
Immersed in a chapel or a church.
Never strayed from the path of humility.
They dreamed and implemented together.
In his endeavours to eradicate slavery, she set up schools, to educate
those who were formerly owned.
They were the prop and pillar of each
other. Through external manipulation and internal conservatism. Through
war and asylum. Like an eternal treaty, between Sister Solace and
In the time
In the city that loved them;
I imagine them walking,
Around Victoria Park,
And the gardens named Empress Menen.
Sitting in the garden,
Of a haven
called Fairfield Villa;
His Majesty said of
''She was without evil or malice.''
For five decades,
Through shared vision and mutual support,
They drank from a loving
She travelled on horseback
for forty-five days,
To marry Ras Tafari.
From Addis Ababa to the
city of Harar,
A union destined to be;
Guided by the Most High
©Natty Mark Samuels, 2012. African School.