Let me tell you what I told my sons: my 6 tips for getting on in life.__Emperor Haile Selassie I, negus of Ethiopia
The 2 kittens photographed here are apprentice restaurant cats. At dusk when Yod Abyssinia Restaurant in southern Addis Ababa opens, they will perfect their ravenous-cat opera. Our favourite Ethiopian restaurants tolerate them; customers may offer them tidbits. Bole International Airport has them: jet-lagged travellers think they are seeing things. From the time of Emperor Menelik II until the communist Derg came in 1974, traditional Addis Ababa Restaurant kept a pair of black-headed lions out the back and wedding couples posed for photographs with them. Now, it has restaurant cats. You are welcome to ignore them; no true African will meddle with your rights.
Ethiopia’s last emperor was Emperor Haile Selassie I (Atse Haile Selassie): negus (king) and Lion of Judah. No kitten on the world stage, he had helped set up the League of Nations.
Atse defended the rights of everybody in Africa and championed the rest of the world. In 1968 when I was 14, he visited my remote city: Perth, Western Australia. He waved to a silent crowd from an open-top limousine in St George’s Terrace; Saint George is Giyorgis, Ethiopia’s own. Our geography teacher did not show a map of Ethiopia nor mention her culture, but scared me with, ‘Rabies is everywhere in Africa.’ 5 decades later, I began this Ethiopia Blog.
What Will Come to Your Doorstep?
In 1936, the League of Nations betrayed Ethiopia. Atse Haile Selassie told the assembly, racist journalists and blackshirt hecklers about the twisting of history by dominant nations. They never condemned the invasion of Ethiopia by Italian fascists in 1935. Some even provided the aggressors with fighter jets and weapons.
Atse foretold how this aggression would come to the doorsteps of Europeans. 3 years later, Hitler invaded Poland, World War II began, France fell and the United Kingdom was blitzed. Today, superpowers dismantle 1 country after another and support the criminal TPLF – a minority that has bullied most Ethiopians for decades. Last month, it declared war upon its own people once again, the US backed them and Egypt declared war upon Ethiopia.
When Mesfin knew him, Atse made light of petty provocation. A foreign reporter asked him, ‘Is it true that your lavatory seat is made of gold?’
Atse replied, ‘We have plenty to spare and use it like any metal.’
The reporter asked, ‘What is your favourite time of day?’
Atse said, ‘When I sit on the toilet.’
Ethiopian New Year
Ethiopian New Year is on 11 September which is early spring in Addis Ababa. The 1st month is meskeram. In some alpine areas, the temperature drops to below 10-degrees Celsius. Yellow addis adey flowers smother the countryside. The festival is called Enkutatash in Amharic, Ethiopia’s national language.
New Year Lesson Recount
This recount is by Mesfin Tadesse. When he wrote or spoke about himself, Haile Selassie used ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. European monarchy does this too. Here, we have him use ‘I’. His Ethiopian New Year lesson was in 2 parts, in 1971 and 1972.
September 11, 1971
Atse gathered 10,000 young people from 15 provinces and brought them to the palace in Addis Ababa. They were of all religions, walks of life and abilities. Some were visually impaired. Girls wore yellow addis adey flowers in clouds of curly hair or in their braids. Haile Selassie had organised a nutritious lunch for the guests. After they ate, he spoke.
‘My sons have been unlucky. One was killed in a light-aeroplane accident. My second son was travelling from Harer to Addis Ababa. His car crashed and he died on the spot. My eldest was shot – it is a mystery how it happened. Afterwards, he could neither walk or speak and he too died.’ The guests sat up straight. Few heirs to the crown were left.
‘Let me tell you what I told my sons: my 6 tips for getting on in life.’
Haile Selassie’s 6 Maxims
‘ONE: If you want to have friends, shut one eye and close both ears.
‘TWO: When you tell a like today, you might feel successful, but . . . Tell a lie and you’ll be ashamed for the rest of your life. You never achieve anything by lying.’
‘THREE: If you want to heal yourself, forgive and forget. If you keep remembering the past, you will end up with incurable diseases. If you love yourself, leave it behind.
‘FOUR: If you notice somebody else’s frailties, do not talk about them in front of anyone. One day, your own frailty will be worse.
‘FIVE: Do not discuss what people have given you. Do not expect anything from anybody. Rather, ask yourself what you have done for people.
‘SIX: The world is your temporary house. You are merely in transit. Leave it in good condition for those who follow. Life never stops. If you think there is nothing afterwards, you are foolish and selfish. Leave the world sweet and comfortable for the next generation. Do this whether you live 8 or 70 years. Do not abuse the environment. When your flesh changes into soil, your spirit will remain on earth. Leave behind a comfortable home for it.’
Through open doors, came a sweet-earth smell. Atse Haile Selassie said, ‘I give each of you a pot and one olive-tree seed. When you go, take mulch and plant it. This time next year, bring it back here.’
September 11, 1972
10,000 youth assembled in the palace hall with their plant pots. Special guests lined the walls. Who would be chosen as heir to the crown? Atse walked among them. He paused in front of a youth whose tree was a metre tall and flowering.
An hour later, he smiled and stopped in front of a boy with an empty plant pot. What was wrong with Atse? He spoke quietly and the failed gardener remained serious.
The emperor said, ‘This is my algawash.’ He meant heir to the crown.
A few muttered, ‘He bypassed me. I looked after this plant 24/7 for 365 days.’ Observers said, ‘Atse Haile Selassie has gone crazy.’
He walked to the front of the hall. ‘Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine of you are liars. The only honest person among you stood before an empty plant pot. You others would not be capable of raising a child, nurturing a marriage or sustaining a friendship. All of you are dishonest.
‘The seeds that I gave you all were dead. They could never germinate let alone grow into trees. The only winner among you is he who came with no plant.’
Haile Selassie took the youth into the court to mentor him, but within 2 years, revolution came. His 1971 speech would find its way to most other African countries. People would even hear it in American ghettoes. It would become popular with evangelical religious maniacs, who would preach about it in town squares.
More About Atse Haile Selassie
Lucy’s People: An Ethiopian Memoir by Mesfin Tadesse contains insights into the emperor’s humanity, pan-Africanism and assassination attempts by superpowers. He inspired generations. Read his 1963 speech here. Hear some lines sung by Bob Marley. Do you believe that his message is relevant today? Ethiopian and African leaders inspire me.
Many Ethiopians use 2 calendars: the Gregorian calendar of the West, and their ancient Ethiopian calendar. It is now the year 2015 in Ethiopia. The calendar is integral to Ethiopian astronomy and cultural and religious observances. For 17 months, I followed 2 calendars – simple because 12 of Ethiopia’s months have 30 days. No need for mnemonics such as Thirty days hath… Read more about how it works here.
A 13th month called Pagme takes up the 5 or 6 days left at the end of the year. As in the West, every 4 years there is a leap year. Then Ethiopian New Year falls on 12 September.
Do you enjoy mental arithmetic? Here is how you calculate whether next year, 2023, will be a leap year in the West: divide 2023 by 4 = 55 with a remainder of 3. The following year, 2024, there is no remainder when you divide by 4. Therefore it is a leap year.
The calculation is different for Ethiopia. This is for the current year 2015:
- Add 5500 to 2015 = 7,515
- Divide by 4 = 1,878 with a remainder of 3
A remainder of 3 means that it is a leap year in Ethiopia. The 13th month will have 6 days and Ethiopian New Year will be on 12 September 2023 in the Gregorian (Western) calendar.
4 Year Cycle
Atse Haile Selassie died—most likely murdered—just before the Ethiopian new year in September 1975. Then Somalia invaded and the war killed hundreds of thousands. Of the year beginning September 1975, Ethiopia’s Orit Orthodox (Ethiopian Jewish) astronomers had said, ‘Beware of disease and natural disaster.’ This was the year of Mateus which comes every 4 years.
The 3 other years are Yohanes, Liquas and Markos: each challenges humanity differently. Mesfin observes that the COVID 19 pandemic began 44 years after that spring of 1975 – at the end of 2019, the start of the year of Mateus.
In Ethiopia, 12 o’clock is at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. – sunrise and sunset, which suits the length of days. In Addis Ababa, close to the latitude of 8 degrees north, these do not differ greatly throughout the year unlike in higher latitudes with barely any night in summer and brief days in winters. Locals are fluent in both time systems, although I misinterpreted arrangements. We arrived 6 hours early for a rendezvous, but restaurant cats and honey wine entertained us.
- British Pathe. “Une Declaration de Negus Avant La Reunion de la SDN Geneve”. April 13, 2014. YouTube video, 1:02 min. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fET3QOdKp0>
- Haile Selassie’s Address to the United Nations, 1963. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Haile_Selassie%27s_address_to_the_United_Nations,_1963
- Bob Marley. “War / No More Trouble”. 1977. YouTube video, 7:51 min. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPZydAotVOY>
- Wilson, Jackie, Yilma Haile Michael, & Hilse, Gwendolin. “Haile Selassie: Ethiopia’s ‘Lion of Judah’”. African Roots. June 15, 2018. https://www.dw.com/en/haile-selassie-ethiopias-lion-of-judah/a-44009647
- HistoryNet. Joseph Avenol’s Betrayal of the League of Nations. December 06, 2006. <https://www.historynet.com/joseph-avenols-betrayal-of-the-league-of-nations/?f>
- Ethiopian Calendar Today. https://www.ethiopiancalendar.net/
- Selamta. Ethiopian Calendar. http://ethiopian-online.com/Ethiopian%20Calendar.htmSelamta
- Featured image: Ethiopian Restaurant Cats © Mesfin Tadesse 2020
- Photos: Yellow [Addis Adey] Flowers—calendarstemplates.com; Entoto Tej “Honey Wine” Bermil © Mesfin Tadesse 2016