post To Menelik in a Motor-Car

September 16th, 2008

Filed under: Historical Stories — Lissan Magazine @ 16:41

Bede J. F. Bentley and his good and faithful friend and mechanician Reginald G. Wells drove all the way from Djibouti to Addis Ababa with a motor-car, going through many adventurous experiences on their route. They took this journey to present this new technology of that era to the Emperor Menilik.

This section of the story is taken from the book “TO MENELEK IN A MOTOR-CAR” by Clifford Halle in 1913.


To Menelik in a Motor-Car
…Menelek, they were informed, was awaiting them in the Hall of Audience, and therefore, leaving the car at the door in charge of Wells and as many of the escort as could crowd into the still vacant spaces in the courtyards, the Ministers and Bentley were formally led into the presence of the King of Kings.

The Emperor was seated in state. In the agitation of the moment Bentley had only time to note that he had a shrewd and kindly black face ; that he wore, evidently with the intention of going out presently, quite the most enormous clergyman’s hat he had ever seen, black robes of rich silk set off with red, and brilliant purple silk socks on shoeless feet, while beside him, rather spoihng the picture, was a pair of enormous ” jemimas,” by which name Bentley had learnt in his youth to designate the spring-side boots dear to old ladies.

Emperor Menelik laughs at the simplicity of the drip feed lubricator. British and Russian Ministers in back of car.

The presentation was made in due form, and after a few kindly words of praise for Bentley’s achievement, through the medium of an interpreter, Menelek intimated that it was his pleasure to at once inspect the car.

Attendant slaves inserted his feet into the ” jemimas,” and he got up—a tall and commanding figure in his rich robes and enormous hat, in spite of the incongruous footgear.

They walked in procession to the porch of the Palace, and there Bentley gave a short lecture as to the working of a motor-car. Menelek proved an attentive and intelligent listener, not allowing a single part to be left until he fully comprehended its functions.

At length, when everything had been explained, Menelek suddenly remarked to Mr. Hohler, ” Yes, yes. He does not look like an anarchist who has come all this way to kill me; and the machine does not seem so very dangerous, as I have been told.”

Bentley could only stare in astonishment when this was interpreted to him, and he began to have visions of himself minus arms and legs, which, from the number of cripples about, seemed to be a favourite form of punishment in the country; but he was reassured by the gleam of amusement in the Emperor’s eyes. “Yes,” continued Menelek, “I have been told almost daily for the past month, that the moment I sat in the car I should be blown up. When I said I thought that was foolish, for those in the car would be blown up with me, I was told that perhaps, instead of blowing me up, I should be driven over a precipice, and that those who drove the car had practised jumping off at the last moment.” The old man placed his hand in a friendly fashion on Bentley’s shoulder and told him that he did not think he looked as though he contemplated doing any of those dreadful things.

Bentley, through the medium of Mr. Hohler, responded with a flowery speech, and then, while the Emperor was again bending over the car, Mr.Hohler whispered hurriedly in his ear, ” Bet you five pounds you don’t get the old man to take a drive.”

” Done,” said Bentley promptly, and he asked Mr. Hohler to suggest that perhaps the Emperor would like to see the car in action.

Menelek nodded, and Bentley suggested that he should be accompanied by two members of the Court. Menelek nodded again, and intimated to two dignitaries that they might have the honour.

The two chosen ones did not absolutely rush for their seats. In fact, their ascent into the car might be described as careful and gingerly.

Bentley intimated that he proposed running down to the market-place and back, and asked the Emperor how long it generally took a man on a mule to do the double journey.

The market-place was about two miles off, and the road thereto was an excellent one and in sight of the Palace all the way. Menelek produced a watch to match his hat—he evidently liked large things and said that half an hour, there and back, was considered very good going. He also said that, as a token that he had really been there, Bentley could bring him a httle basket of fruit from the shop at the end of the market.

Bentley suggested that, as he was anxious to go rather quickly, it would be as well if some of the crowds were removed. Then it was seen that Menelek was indeed Emperor. He said one or two short, sharp words and, in less time than it takes to write the fact, the road to the market-place began to clear, and as though by magic the teeming multitudes disappeared into side streets, leaving an absolutely clear road to their destination.

Wells turned the car in the courtyard, and as he did so, Bentley, who sat beside him, whispered in his ear, ” Wells, I want to do two things: Get back as quickly as ever we can and incidentally frighten the souls of these two gentlemen behind out of their cases.”

” Right, sir,” said Wells, as usual. They went. There is no mistake about it that they went to that market-place, for the car was nicely tuned up, the road was excellent, and Wells had been unable to reheve his feehngs for some time.

There was also no mistake as to the feelings of the dignitaries inside the car. Their faces paled as much as the colour would allow, while they clutched nervously at the sides of the car and at each other absolutely speechless from fright.

As has been said, the car was nicely tuned up, and they were presently doing a comfortable fifty miles an hour, and by this time the dignitaries were limp lumps of wabbling flesh, allowing themselves to be bumped about helplessly, their eyes staring into vacancy and nearly starting out of their sockets.

When at length the car drew up at the marketplace, after what really was less than a three-minutes’ run, but which to them no doubt appeared a few centuries, with simultaneous promptitude each dignitary alighted from his own door, and when he reached terra firma ejaculated something which was no doubt the Amheric equivalent of “Thank God!”

But Bentley was not out to lose time. He bought his little basket and made a sign to Wells, and without more ado, each bundled a dignitary back into the car, slammed the door to, and before they had time to protest, much less get out again. Wells was in his seat, Bentley beside him, and they were off again, a little quicker perhaps than they had come, for the road was now, if anything, down-hill.

This time the dignitaries fairly howled, and held on to each other like two affrighted children. They were both big men, and gorgeously attired, and no doubt, in ordinary circumstances, brave enough, but all sense of self-respect fled from them on that return journey.

Going, they had held on to their feelings as much as they possibly could, which was not a very large amount ; coming back, they were simply pitiable objects, their eyes streaming, their mouths gibbering, and their beautiful robes one mass of dust.

“Keep her going. Wells, as long as you dare,” said Bentley, “I want the old man to get a good view of the pretty Punch and Judy show we’ve got in the back.”

Wells obeyed, and had to use the brakes pretty sharply as he swung into the first courtyard, just past the Emperor, who had walked to the entrance to watch.

Bentley stepped out and handed his basket to the Emperor, who was delighted, and pointed to his watch to show that they had been gone under the six minutes. He then said with one of his roguish smiles, “I see that you have frightened my poor Ministers a good deal,” for those two worthies were still sitting in the car, too paralysed to move.

Bentley signed to Wells to help them out, which he did, and while they were slowly crawling up to the Emperor, Bentley, speaking loud, said to Mr. Hohler, “Tell the Emperor I say that all the populace having seen the terror of his Ministers, what an opportunity for His Majesty to show that he has no fear.”

No sooner had Mr. Hohler translated, than the old man (Menelik) jumped at the idea. He chaffed his Ministers unmercifully when they came up, and announced that he himself was going for a drive.

The Ministers almost prostrated themselves before him in their agonized endeavours to protect him from the ordeal they had just been through. To them it seemed impossible that such a thing could happen twice without deadly harm coming to everybody in the car.

The more they pleaded, the more Menelek laughed, and he walked straight up to the car and seated himself beside Wells.

Mr. Hohler and Bentley at once got into the back and Menelek signed to Wells to start slowly.

It is the custom that whenever Menelek moves, he is escorted by an army of soldiers, both cavalry and infantry, as a duty, while any few odd thousands who happen to be about join as volunteers. Therefore, as soon as Wells let in the clutch one or two regiments of cavalry and some battalions of infantry lined up as escort.

Even at the slow pace that Wells kept up at first, the infantry were soon left behind, although they struggled manfully to, at any rate, keep in sight of the car.

Presently, however, the Emperor turned to Mr. Hohler and said that he would Hke to go a little faster, so Wells was told to gradually put on speed.

The old man had much sounder nerves than his Ministers, for, as the speed increased, he began to laugh like a boy, and was soon urging Wells to go faster and faster.

Wells, nothing loath, responded with full-speed ahead, and presently they were flying along on top speed, for Wells, watching the august presence beside him with one eye, to see how much he could stand, gradually let the car out to full throttle, and the old Emperor sat laughing and puffing for breath, with his goggleless eyes streaming, as happy as a schoolboy, while the now galloping escort was left somewhere on the horizon.

After a splendid run of about ten miles, Menelek bethought him of his people and laid his hand gently on Wells’ arm as a signal to pull up, and with a comical grimace at Mr. Hohler, through the thick coating of dust that made his black face almost white, suggested that perhaps they had better return.

They went back at the same flying pace, and as they drew near the town they heard above the hum of the car a sort of long-drawn wail as of a nation howling in unison.

By and by they met the cavalry, still galloping madly on nearly-spent horses. They pulled up at the first sight of the car, and the men jumped from their horses and prostrated themselves in the dust at the sight of their Emperor, still alive and happy.

post Rainy Party

September 14th, 2008

Filed under: Events — Admassu @ 21:13

We were nervous the whole week about the party we were organizing for the 12th of September. Me and my fellow organizers were permanently connected via mobile and email. I felt sometimes as if we were leading some huge financial establishment. The preparation was so intense and time-robbing. Going through the whole arsenal of our music CDs, converting the songs to mp3 in order to play them with the DJ software, the huge grocery which has devoured most of our financial asset, buying beverages suitable for our fellow citizens and guests, and looking for kind friends who would help us preparing the food and looking for friendly girls to take care of the bar.

We have distributed enough flyers 3 weeks prior to the occasion and we were sure that the news of our preparation was received positively by most of our Ethiopian community in Frankfurt and surrounding.  We have estimated to have at least 200 guests. So the whole process of our preparation was meant to deal with this amount of guests.

12th of September arrived carrying unpredicted weather. The day begun and ended with continues rainfall, creepy Grey daylight, and  with a sneaky cold and wet air. For the first time in the last 4 or more months, the sun has completely disappeared from the sky and the evening came without seeing a glimpse of it’s light.

Despite various unexpected obstacles of technical nature, we have managed to finish our preparation of the party-hall on the right time. We had great food, a lot of beverages to serve, and a great music collection appropriate for the New Year event.

We celebrated till early morning though our guests weren’t as many as we assumed. Those who were there haven’t regret the uncomfortable fact of going through the wet weather to come to us. We are grateful that they have made it. We hope the weather God will be kind to us on our next party which we certainly will organize in the next possible occasion.

We wish all Ethiopians and friends the best year.

post TEZA

September 1st, 2008

Filed under: Events — Lissan Magazine @ 09:40

Haile Gerima’s latest film TEZA@Biennale Venice 08


Hope this finds you all well and that I did not jam anybodies mailbox. Im really sorry if I did.

I am happy to spread the word that Haile Gerimas (famous for SANKOFA) latest film TEZA will be shown at the Biennale in Venice 08, the premiere being on the 2nd of September.


TEZA also embraces the bond between Continental and Diasporan realities. The still much to hidden his/her stories of the African Diaspora in Germany are being embodied by the characters of Cassandra and Teodross.

Below a few extracts from the pressbook:

The idea of identity and liberation is perhaps the defining goal for me and my vision for an independent cinema. To tell one’s story is to place one’s name on the map of history and to do so while honoring the struggle of ancestors is essential to ensure that future generations have the documentation to create their own blueprint of survival. The history, culture and socio-economic well-being of all peoples of African descent is my primary concern, but above all the preservation of their humanity is the greatest motivation for me as a filmmaker.”

Haile Gerima - Biography:
“Haile is perhaps best known as the writer, producer and director of Sankofa (1993). With this historically inspired dramatic tale of African resistance to slavery he won international acclaim: he was awarded First Prize at the African Film Festival in Milan, Italy. Best Cinematography at Africa’s premier Festival of Pan African Countries known as FESPACO and competing for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.”

For further information, if you are interested in reporting on TEZA
feel free to contact me. Telephoninterviews with Haile Gerima can be arranged.

Teza, set in Ethiopia and Germany, chronicles the return of the African intellectual Anberber to his country of birth during the repressive Marxist regime of Haile Mariam Mengistu and the recognition of his own displacement and powerlessness at the dissolution of his people’s humanity and social values.

After Anberber spends several years in Germany studying medicine, he returns to Ethiopia only to find the country of his youth replaced by turmoil. His dream of using his craft to improve the health of Ethiopians is squashed by a military junta that uses scientists for their own political ends. Seeking the comfort of his countryside home, Anberber finds no shelter from violence. The solace that the memories of his youth provide is quickly replaced by the competing forces of the military and rebelling factions. Anberber must determine if he can bear the strain or piece together a life from the fragments that lay around him.

Director’s Note
Teza provides me with the opportunity to tell the story of those African intellectuals who find themselves dislocated by a series of complicated historical circumstances. To evade the larger world, Anberber, the principal character of Teza, retreats to the land of his childhood – even if that becomes the ultimate end of his existence. But immediately he is faced with all the socio-economic ills of his birthplace,lacking a place to hide. Like Prometheus, he went to bring the fire of modernization from Europe … however the fire he has acquired can’t help him cure the ills of his village, a village so inundated with countless needs. Consequently, as I did in real life, he mentally escapes to his childhood memory, when things appeared fantastic and yet prosperous, mentally it becomes his last refuge from everything that is real.

Even though he wants to be inactive in the daily dramatic reality of his village … the reality of his village, at least morally, still has the capacity to incriminate him. Moreover, his past isn’t something he can easily forget either. It belongs to a memory that is collective of his generation.

Every immigrant, when getting older, hears the soundtracks of childhood. Now, like in Teza, when I go to Ethiopia, the present Ethiopia is a nightmare for me, I create a psychological refuge and hide in my past when it was still fantastic. When trees had fruits, when we were kids. It’s not only your parents that feed you. The land fed me. Wild fruits, raspberrys, blueberrys, everything you can think of. When I went to shootTeza in 2004, I couldn’t find the trees where I used to eat those wild fruits. It’s part of the desertification, the global ecological change has even destroyed the memory of taste.

I come from a family where my father was a storyteller, a playwright. My grandmother is a very good storyteller as well. I was born in a house where electricity only came much later. So I was around the fire with my grandmother most of my adolescence years, before I am exposed to the cinema, listening to her stories. And there are these aesthetics that are passed down to me from my grandmother and my father as well as my stories. When my father did plays I went with him to various provinces. He was a nationalistic writer and he himself fought during the Italian occupation. Logically most of his plays were about Ethiopian patriots, who fought invaders including the Turkish Empire as well as during the Italian attempt of colonize Ethiopia. I grew around stories and songs and narrative drama that come out of my particular cultural aesthetics.

The idea of identity and liberation is perhaps the defining goal for me and my vision for an independent cinema. To tell one’s story is to place one’s name on the map of history and to do so while honoring the struggle of ancestors is essential to ensure that future generations have the documentation to create their own blueprint of survival. The history, culture and socio-economic well-being of all peoples of African descent is my primary concern, but above all the preservation of their humanity is the greatest motivation for me as a filmmaker.

best wishes
Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur

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