August 14th, 2012
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.
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.
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.
Against their three hundred
What could six planes do?
The dropping of something new.
The removal of Marshall de Bono
Became the curse of Badoglio
Women and children too
Died from the deadly gas;
Foot soldier as well as the Ras.
The removal of Marshall Bono
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.
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.
Crowned side by side -
A joint mandate to provide.
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.
When despair came near,
She’d sit beside him,
To talk of the trials,
And the victories -
In the lives of the Nine Saints.
And when ‘her school’ was hit,
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 it’s student intake, as time went on.
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.
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.
Their children 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 Brother Boost.
In the time of exile,
In the city that loved them;
I imagine them walking,
Around Victoria Park,
And the gardens named Empress Menem.
Sitting in the garden,
Of a haven called Fairfield Villa;
Homesick for Ethiopia.
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
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.