post Homage to Mulu

August 27th, 2012

Filed under: General Issue — Natty Mark Samuels @ 21:04

I would like to introduce three women to you. Mulu; her daughter Freha and her friend Julie. Although the story really begins with Mulu, I shall commence it here, with the friend of her daughter.


Julie is a colleague of mine, at the Donnington Youth Club, hosted by the Donnington Doorstep Family Centre, in East Oxford. It was her brilliant idea, to have her birthday celebration, at the monthly Ethiopian evening, held at the Magic Cafe; a well-known eatery, in the East Oxford area. And that is where Mulu and Freha Menaye come in….

Have you ever tasted Shiro wet? A dish to make your insides feel good, and bring a glow to your face. Consisting of chickpeas, red onion, berberi and garlic. Made by Freha – taught to her by Mulu. Freha has named the monthly celebrations of her homeland after her mother; who continues to be her greatest inspiration, after her physical passing, when Freha was sixteen. Mulu remains; is everywhere for her. As in the labelling. Mulu Oxford, the website; alongside Mulu Coffee and Mulu Dance – both of which can be sampled at the monthly sessions.

Talking of dance - we were treated to two short exhibitions, of traditional dance. Followed by a workshop, of joyful interaction. As well as her culinary skills, there are those of movement to music. She’s been dancing since the age of fourteen. Firstly with Circus Ethiopia, alongside juggling and bouncing. Then later on, a part of the Queens of Africa dance group, which toured throughout Ethiopia.

She has learnt various dance styles, such as that of the Tigrinya (Northern Ethiopia), and the Oromo, the largest ethnic group in the country. Like a treasure chest of cultural gems.

She has been in England for two years. The Magic Cafe sessions, which she runs with her English partner, David Thomas, have been running for the last ten months. Trying to balance things up. Changing the somewhat, warped image of Ethiopia. Wine named Axumite; after Axum, the first great state of Ethiopia; that traded across the Indian Ocean. Another entitled Gonder; commemorating the city of castles, built by Emperor Fasilades. A night of education and joy, for those who step through the door.

Here is what Tony Ruge, from Portugal had to say of the dance…” Absolutely amazing. Different to what I’m used to”. He said that previously, due to not being aware of it, Ethiopian cuisine wasn’t number one on his list. Having tried it and enjoyed it, he’s ready to tell others, of his culinary discovery!

I support the Mulu mission. As Freha and David search for other openings. Like the Farmers Market, formerly held in the Asian Cultural Centre; now hosted by East Oxford Primary School, where my son is a pupil. Where they can introduce Ethiopian cultures, in an accessible and affordable manner.

As I said earlier, a brilliant idea by my American colleague, Julie Bolitho-Lee; whose love affair with Ethiopia is deepening. Her favourite Mula dish is Alcha – yellow lentils, red onion and garlic. She spoke of Beta Israel, otherwise known as the Falashas – the Jews of Ethiopia; flown out, in the Solomon Airlift. She talked of visiting the stone churches of Lalibela; monolithic wonders of the world. In celebrating her birthday, she facilitated knowledge of Africa. To friends and colleagues, such as Kulbir, from Indian roots; Marie, Natalie; Sandra from Portugal; and Kwok, of Chinese parentage – her husband, who was the photographer of the festivity.

By gathering to celebrate Ethiopian cultures, we paid homage to a special woman; an inspirational spirit, called Mula Menaye.

© Natty Mark Samuels, 2012.

post A POEM of LOVE

August 14th, 2012

Filed under: Literature Corner — Natty Mark Samuels @ 23:26

a poem for voices
to Sister Mary Dread, 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.
For fifty years, he turned his ear to her; his beloved wife of quite wisdom.

1st Voice
So if you chant Ethiopia,
Sing of Empress Menen too.
When unravelling a puzzle,
She sometimes deciphered the clue.

Another day begins,
I see her rising from the bed.
Humming to herself,
From the repertoire of Saint Yared.

Everyday began with prayer,
Invocation before sleep as well.
She was joyful at the ringing,
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.
A devout woman, who always gave. Of her time, skills and finances. Like a patron saint of generosity.

2nd Voice
Both these dreamers,
Wanted education for all -
For female as well as male.
She founded Siwaswe Birhan School,
For 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 inward -
They call it ‘Hair in the Eye.’
Infection of eyelids,
Scratching of the cornea;
A microorganism 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 the fallen.
Like her beloved, manning a gun at the front; she also spent time, in the heat of the battle.

1st Voice
Against their three hundred
What could six planes do?
The dropping of something new.

2nd Voice
The removal of Marshall de Bono

1st Voice
Became the curse of Badoglio

2nd Voice
Women and children too
Died from the deadly gas;
Foot soldier as well as the Ras.

1st Voice
The removal of Marshall Bono

2nd Voice
Became 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.

1st Voice
She would go there herself,
During the exile -
To pray for Ethiopia.
She built a church there too,
On the banks of the Jordan River.

Visits to Jerusalem,
To kneel again -
Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
To 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.

1st Voice
Crowned side by side -
A joint mandate to provide.

2nd Voice
They walked 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 approaching desperation.

1st Voice
When despair came near,
Feeling faint.
She’d sit beside him,
To talk of the trials,
And the victories -
In the lives of the Nine Saints.

2nd Voice
And when ‘her school’ was hit,
By a bomb entitled demolish.
He offered to help rebuild it.
In 1942,
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 it’s student intake, as time went on.

1st Voice
Like her husband sending young men,
She funded female foreign studies.
They held the dream in tandem;
Donated their palace,
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.

2nd Voice
Emerging from the Handicraft School,
Came the people of skill.
Smiths, weavers and dyers;
To help their country,
Surmount the feudal hill.

She done so much. This women, 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.

1st Voice
Their children below the sod.
They wept together,
Continuing to follow God.

Seeing light through the dark mystery.

2nd Voice
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 Brother Boost.

1st Voice
In the time of exile,
In the city that loved them;
I imagine them walking,
Around Victoria Park,
And the gardens named Empress Menem.

2nd Voice
Sitting in the garden,
Of a haven called Fairfield Villa;
Eating fruit,
Drinking coffee,
Homesick for Ethiopia.

1st Voice
His Majesty said of her,
”She was without evil or malice.”
For five decades,
Through shared vision and mutual support,
They drank from a loving chalice

2nd Voice
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.

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