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Ethiopian & Rastafari
by Aster Sellassie, Millennium Ed.
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When I wrote this text three years ago, I didn't know about the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia and the famine of 2000. But the book was never about history, but the sources behind it. More than ever I believe that twenty five years since the death of Haile Sellassie I proved that Ethiopia lost it -- the directions, her self-identity and its future.

How could it be found and restored? Not until Haile Sellassie is restored to history of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is not a family anymore, but the war of strangers...

There is another event I didn't know about, when I wrote 2000 Chapter; the end of my own family. Is there any connections between the two catastrophies?

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HIM, Hyper-Biography

This is the chapter, which doesn't let me finish the book, the first chapter. I tried all possible tricks, beside the numerous rewrites; I broke it in two parts and even took it out of the manuscript all together -- nothing has worked. But I can't start the story without the end of it and to write about the end of family is painful. It is my family I have to write about. The book itself was a part of this process of realization... or the book and the web were results? I have no answers. I don't know...

I didn't have what I was looking for my, my entire life I was searching... My death took place in 1995 and dead man knows no family. But this is a subject of another book. There was something outside of me, something I saw as a real secret of the Haile Sellassie's fate: the verdict on blood. The rest -- history, country, home -- to follow.... what is the death of blood? No, children, not in heaven, the law of blood is dismissed here. That is what he lost. The blood became silent. Alone, alone.

How to write about it -- diaries? Just testimonials. The records. Oh, the temptations of the web! It would be nice to make the book in traditions of old manuscripts, before they met the printing press. With drawings, fancy lettering, something of a scrap book, yes, but I won't dare, I will continue to pretend to be a legitimate writer. For my comments on myself and my writing I have another place, another website...

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.
I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.
And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.
I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.
I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

[ Ecclesiastes 1 ]

The Family exhausted itself. For millenniums this institution ran history; the state and nation were its latest offsprings. It was the last Family could give out. The 3000 years of journey through time ended right here for me to see it. My wife, my children are not mine. The blood lost its powers, they belong to the world, whatever name you may choose to use -- human race, village, society. If the patriarch himself couldn't hold it together with all the kinetic energy of the past, how can I even hope? No, the family story ended, I have to agree with the Marxists. Is there a possibility of restoration? The possibility that the generations from Solomon and Sheba will rise and call my children.... I don't see it. Maybe like with H.S. this line shouldn't be exclusive anymore and belong to all? Alexander the Great isn't a Greek hero and Shakespeare is not an English writer. How to understand this globalization of everything, this expropriation of the most private, the last personal property? Maybe I don't know how to read history and Ethiopian omission of H.S. from its history is necessary for the world to make it into a property of all. Jesus never came back to Jews and the blood's submission to spirit was proved by the history. Joseph and Mary never became Christians.

Anatoly, child is no more a property of a clan, isn't it great? How can you, who did it to your own blood, reject this victory of the spirit? Yes, I asked for it. Family isn't a foundation anymore, there is no firmament, not grounds, no earth to stand on.
I don't know how to write about it and you will see my panic in the following disjointed thoughts about ethnicity and blood; I am not ready for this book and this revelation. Not even to be a Christian. It's too much to ask from a living man and I don't even dare to think how a woman could be a Christian soul. I don't know them who go with the family to the church to hear that they do not belong to each other. I don't understand the cries about family which come through MASS media. The very idea of God ends the intimacy with another, don't you remember the story of the original fall? But when this message is transmitted through high technology and public space and time, I know what message is about. Death to Family! The more they mention it, the less chance it has.

Oh, man, get going! We know the end of the story, tell us the rest.


[ image ]

Tomorrow's Views

Is your tomorrow friendly? Or the sweet morrow is full of fears of the day after? It's all about the survival. The events should take care of themselves while they last. That's why they are so hungry for attention, tomorrow everything will be forgotten.
Future has no memory, it's a natural enemy of the present. It kills it. Not to remember is to move on, to ignore, to step on. You, the worshipers of tomorrow, this dragon knows no past, your present is his past.
That's why we like immediate future, not too far away, the one we are in. Don't travel far, child, you can find the future without you, the time when you are dead and forgotten. Oh, yes, there's a death ahead, your death. We don't want to know. It's not fun anymore.

Not long ago, in the glorious times of modernity, we desired the future. Now I am concerned about the past. From the moment I remember myself I was to lose time, I treasure the future. I lived the future, I lived the time after the future, and at the end of the future I am afraid to lose the past.
Why? What is it good for?
Why in the past, before us, they did value Past?
What are my parents, delivery service? Gone. Them, their parents, and so on. Out of site, out. Our neglect of the past returned back as a rejection of the future. We lost it all, yes, time, space, reality, life...

[ image ]


"And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." (R 5)

He is forgotten by his country. There are no streets in his name. There were too many before. The airport or the University -- his name was removed after the revolution of 1974 and never restored. Haile Sellassie the First, the last emperor of Ethiopia, has no grave. The old monk guards the casket with the bones dugout of a sewage. Nobody knows the last days the old man. Was he suffocated by the "marxist" ruler Mengistu, as rumors insist? After six years the trail of the leaders of revolutionary Ethiopia still is pending. The Lion Judah's face could be seen only at the vendors little shops on Markato -- for the tourists? (Hello? Not many of them around). What was his sin, what did this man do so bad to the country which he ruled through the half of the century?

He was loved by the world when he was in power. He had it all. He had too much. As much as one mortal could possible get in his life. His end and memory of him in Ethiopia are the exceptions to his lucky life. Tafari was a great success story -- why shouldn't he get what we all are getting? The misery.

Justice! Alright. What did they get in return? Now we know.

In the last days of his imprisonment, he, who was announced vegetarian, asked for raw meat. The old man cut the meat in four small pieces and threw it into the four corners of his cell. And cursed his country. That's the story of the monk who spent last days with the Emperor. We heard it on our visit to Ba'yeta, the church, where the emperor's bones placed in a wooden casket became a tourist attraction... You can see it for 5 birrs, if you an Ethiopian, foreigners are asked for US 5 dollars.

He was a proud man.
A man concerned with his dignity he couldn't arrange his first death and funeral. After two decades of violent history without him, the country still didn't bury Tafari. He died. As a private man, father, emperor, and now the only question remains -- will he die a second time, when the memory of him will be no more? Why is history so harsh on HIM?

Is it possible -- the apocalypse without the resurrection? Paradise of modernity without the Judgement Day? Do the dead ask for justice?

"Weep not..."


The book is (dis)organized in reversed chronology, I'm an archeologist who went back in time, from BP ("Before Present"; new politically correct idiotic chronology) to the distant past. Why not to write "straight" biography from Haile Sellassie's childhood to his death and legacy? His life is a perfect subject for such a book, the rise and fall of a ruler, king and man. That would be another book about Haile Sellassie; his life is a journey from the pre-modern into post-modern world. What a distance we cover in one century!

I never had any intentions to write a scholarly book. I have no ambitions of a historian. The book is a result of living in the shadow or the light of Haile Sellassie's legacy. I tried to understand the man in order to understand the history. To understand the past which was present in my wife's thoughts and is part of our children's future. Since she was rescued along with her five siblings at the peak of the Red Terror, Esther went through a rejection of the country which caused her mother's death in prison. It was a denial with the ten year long history when in 1985 she was fundraising in New York for the famine victims in Ethiopia. It took another ten years to re-visit Addis Ababa -- and recognize once again that the country was as far from her as ever.

The trip was a disaster.

In the Fall of 1995 we ran from Ethiopia after our son suffered from meningitis. My plans for a sabbatical at the Addis Ababa University Theatre department collapsed. Everything was wasted. money, time and hope. Computer, printer, copy-machine, camera. If not customs, then something else. Everything was for nothing. We have no future plans to go back. She relived the experience of non-belonging again. And again. Just before we went to Africa, we spent two years in Russia with the similar output. I knew that the final accident -- this week of hospitalization of our son -- was only a sign. I knew that nothing would come out of my arrangements with the National Theatre on production of Sheba and Solomon story. The idea of producing the play based on the life of Ras Tafari was "too hot" for the theatre. Haile Sellassie is still persona non grata in his own country. We left Ethiopia with a sense that very little of Ethiopia she knew and I imagined was alive in reality. I didn't find Russia in Russia also.

No, I have to go back. I have to start it again. Sorry, but I have to interrupt the story, I am not done with my introductions! I have to explain myself....

This book is born out of my notes, dairies, reading and thinking about the H.S. My difficulties come from the defining the "subject" -- since I had no interest in writing the biography of Haile Sellassie, my task was to discover the invisible within the known. (Although, I think that a good traditional biography is needed to understand the input of his life in the twentieth century history. It could give us some insights about not African history but OUR history.) I was keeping researching something which has no professional interest to me. The catastrophe of Russia was too close to home; to this day, after sixteen years in America, I have hard a time separating myself from the past. The similarities of Ethiopian history were striking, and its calamities took place within the time of my own generation. It was our nightly news.

What is this (definite) message the century tried to communicate? I wanted to cover what wasn't said about the country and the man because there are too many non-correct subjects to talk about. Too many myths and legends in Ethiopian history which compete with facts. Our perception of history is an integral part of history.

The book I wrote for myself and maybe for my family, the children. At some point in the future my questions will be theirs. Their answers will be different but I want them to have this Ethiopian agenda.

Perhaps, I always was an old man. I use a reversed count of my age -- how many years are left. I wrote the book because of necessity and I hope that it could help me to finish my "Russian" and "American" books. They are other levels of my personal archeology....

A non-systematic style of the book reflects my fear to misread my own motives.... One of them is to sort out the heritage of my children. In a few years they will enter the adult world with all the requests for social self-identification. No matter how much we try to install in them that individuality is a basis for identity, they will face the black-and-white issue. Regardless internationalization of our life, the race conflict is not about to disappear. In class societies of the past the stratification was more focused on personal qualities. The mass culture had to bring some dimensions into its flat structure. The race idea was discovered. History of antiquity and even medieval literature do not speak much about races. Racial differentiations are not only product of modernity, but the curse of the future.

Often I think about the possibility of being born in America of the fifties, in the South -- in a segregated society. There is a sense of relief that I missed those times, but it comes with the realization that racism lost its visible, most obvious forms -- and in some ways became deeper. Did we discover the differences or did we institute them? Instead of ignoring cultural presence of blacks we established various African American programs -- trying to remedy we bring more divisions. Being myself on the borders of culture I am, never-the-less, conscious of multi-culturalism. The cultures compete no less than people an in global environment the fittest will survive. The one which could offer more to all. That's the reason why (American) pop-culture is so successful in conquering the world.

The past, even with its powerful treasury, has to find its way into the future. The selection and forgetting has its natural cleaning function. Since my teen years I am a subscriber to Spengler's theory of mortality of cultures. With desperation I watch the disappearance of Russian or Ethiopian civilizations. My writing is an attempt to fight this process. Without transforming the social uniqueness into aesthetic forms, the cultural is doomed to die. The preservation leads to museumization, but is there a way to keep them as living cultures?

I have no hope that my children will be fluent in Russian or Amharic to work with the languages as natives. After years of struggle I understand that this is not necessarily their or the parents fault. What need would they have for Russian or Amharic? Our life leave very little for extras, and unless Russia or Ethiopia would re-emerge as cultural giants, where would be their cultural gravity? Thus, the vicious circle the cultures do find themselves in -- they can't flourish without the best minds and the best moves to the places where they can flourish. The west.

Before my visit to Ethiopia I had hopes that a civilization which managed to survive through many centuries must have a power to make it into the future. Now I think that the isolation was the last hope of the ancient culture to stay alive. The nationalism of Bosnia or Rwanda is the agony of the national. The conflict between Muslims and Serbs has more serious grounds than inter-ethnic cleanses. They all fight for preservation of traditional identity because all traditional culture under the pressure of one world culture. They get at each other because they are neighbors and do not know how to fight the time. The same paradox with anti-American mood around the world; America is the source and representative of this one world culture system.
The superiority of the new is overwhelming.
And scary.

Have you ever heard of triage? Well, the triage concept was big in the seventies, because during World War I there were not many doctors in the battlefield. To compensate, they would divide the wounded into three parts---the walking wounded, the wounded that were probably going to die no matter what you did, and the group in the middle-if you gave them some help they might live. My feeling is that Africa is being triaged and it's being put in the third group. It this attitude like, "We have put in billions of dollars and it's going nowhere. Eastern Europe is now there for business. The Soviet Union is breaking apart. Environmental problems are bad everywhere. There are new problems and interests to worry about." So, there are a lot of factors floating up, and I think Africa is floating back to the bottom. My fear is that we are triaging Africa. We are saying, "We've tried, let's put our resources into places that are having success. I think Africa will go through a period of neglect -- they'll get some money, some help, like they've done in the past, they may even start to really democratize -- then you would think we would really help. However, the U.S. really isn't even doing that much for Eastern Europe. It's like, "Well what can we get out of them?" My feeling is that we don't think we can get anything out of Africa any more. The cold war is over, strategically it is no longer important. I think that is the dilemma Africa will face in the future. Maybe, during that period, they will have to come to terms with their own problems. Hopefully, they will start to get themselves organized. In the meantime, their environment is going downhill, droughts have plagued these countries since most of them have gained their independence. It would have been difficult even for a colonial power to maintain those countries. So getting independence and just learning how to run countries, in addition to dealing with the environment is bewildering. So, I'm not very optimistic for Africa's future.[1]

The Soviet Union fell apart without wars and revolutions, but years after the end of Marxism Ethiopia saw no rebirth. Was it the Emperor's curse that he had spell over the country? What did you do all those years, Ethiopia? Why can't you enter the modern age? Or did she?

I know this dust, the smell of it. I recognized it at the moment we stepped out of the plane. Unwashed floor of the airport, people drifting around -- are they working here? -- looking at you with eyes covered with the dust of dead time. You can see how the time of human life is going up in smoke -- and the ashes of the time are everywhere. Yes, you can smell it, the dead life. Wasted, dead souls...

Come on! In my heart I knew from that first minute -- I won't be able to work here. I remembered Russia which we left just a year ago. If not for the gangsters who run the country, Russia would be like this -- sleepwalking society of lost souls. They have noting to rush for, no tomorrow born today -- it will be the same forever. You feel as you die yourself. You know that no matter how much you will run, you never will leave the same spot. Everything you do -- will fall apart before you can finish it. The people, they own the space, and therefore -- the time. It's their property and nothing you can do about it.

In those twenty years Korea became a "little tiger of Asia." The economies of Brazil, Mexico, Peru lifted their nations from the pit of poverty. In twenty years even the former trouble giants -- India and China -- developed their enormous markets. What about you, Africa?

Not the world forgot about you, Africa was consumed with social creativity -- fighting itself, trying to define where one nation starts and another begins. African politics were at the expense of the economy. From the "awakening continent" a quarter century ago Africa became the biggest lost chance of the history. Look at their policies -- the climate for foreign investment, taxation, developing the work force -- what a disaster! "Ethiopia above all"? Above Ethiopians! What did they gain in their national pride?

The past, the present... Wait, it's just a part of the story. The future is not less interesting than the past. I know -- nothing I lived through in my adult life was in my plans or visions. Who said that the future evolves out of the past? Not in Resurrection Times. In postmodernity the present is a shadow of the future.

"Jah" -- that made my interest focused. Rastafarian belief that resurrection already took place was a life long feeling. Perhaps, I came to this revelation out of my Soviet experience (of the postmodern) and the Orthodox roots which were hidden from myself. As in their case it was more of emotional realization than intellectual understanding. Nothing in my experience indicated that I do live, it was that well research "existence" -- I was there, present, and I watch my own life. I and the rest of my generation were removed by the Iron Curtain from the Euro-marxists and post-modernists. My discovery of the New French was a confirmation that my perception of the world wasn't a desperation of an aged boy in Moscow. If Esther's great grand father was an emperor, mine was a slave. More important, I was a slave. More of a slave than my ancestors. I was a property of the state, not of a single master or even a society. No, sir, I never saw the "progress" as a process of liberation but -- the deepening of the serfdom. Foucault studied the nature of power-to-come with the same conclusion -- "progress" is the name of further imprisonment. My escape from the Soviet Union didn't change the overall situation; from the Hell of Paradise I arrived to the Paradise of Hell. It took a few years to realize that America which for the land of the vulgar for generation of Russian intellectuals is the producer of the evil. Rasta call it "Babylon."

Babylon is a lovely and very noisy place.

In conclusion (there is no conclusions, trust me), I have to give some reflection of some existing literature on the matter. There are many books recycling the same historical data, there will be many more. And there is, of course, the opposite. I was a journalist in my youth, I know the killer instinct -- go get it, make them read it! There are some thoughts (not a review) of one book "Emperor."[2] It's a POV: "Kapuscinski's Records of History."

History still knows no methods of Cultural Anthropology. What is first -- Facts or Interpretations under the name of facts? What are facts? Reference cycles run on interpretations. "Noisy Connections" -- what could we know about what we don't know? Only what somebody tell us.


Emperor? Something from fairy tales? History books?
What empire? After the Romans, Alexander the Great, Mongol and Turks, China and Japan, Spain and Arabs, Habsburgs, British... the list is too long. It was just a word "empire" -- next to what? Get real! What influence did Ethiopians have on the world? The imperial elite guards had no boots marching to fight Mussolini.

As far as the life of humanity was concerned Ethiopians vanished in antiquity. What should we know about them? What for? What possibly can we learn from people who couldn't even learn from their own past? The burden for the rest of the humanity, nothing more. Leave it to ten specialists and a couple guys in the State Department.

Listen, the sooner they would forget about being Ethiopians and start thinking business, the better for them. Wake up, brother!


Legends were making up the core of Ethiopian history for too long. In the past, myths were the material and method of thinking about the past. Scientific modernity insisted on facts, postmodern got wiser. There are facts and interpretations, and we can't get to the facts without interpretations. Very often there are no facts left, because what we think about history more important than the facts. The fiction take the place of the real to help us get through the present. What is this past good for if not to help me with the future?! Postmodern thought discovered this undying ability of history to fantasize about itself. We know that we produce fiction every time we think of history. The last century is no exception. Forget the historical Jesus, Haile Sellassie died only a generation ago, living in times of heavily recorded history -- look what a myth we managed to get out of the historical data!

The problem is not WHAT do we know, we know a lot; the old problem is that the knowing is the forgetting. Please, please, not another book on the subject; the reading list is very long. Forget the data, so you can see the story. The walls of knowledge will never let me know the truth about life of Haile Sellassie. And what is that, the truth? It's not that we don't know the history, we don't understand it. Oh, it's very possible to know and not to understand. The mystery is the motivations of history and our knowledge about it, which is another story and our history. We have to examine the source, the intention, the instinct of what now is known as historicity. (From my Ethiopian diaries).

Maybe history is too (much) connected with reality. This phenomena of the Present (who said that history is about the past?) causes a lot of trouble for the future. My intentions were not of a historical but of an ontological nature. More on the side of understanding than knowing. What subject? Not the life of Haile Sellassie but the secrets of our time. An attempt to discover the meaning of the changes we live through. To get beyond a social or political understanding. What is a theological view of imperial power and how can it help me to understand the end of empires at the age of imperialism. Why the power has to be taken away from the one for the benefit of many? Why is the ancient model not beneficial for us anymore?

Questioning is always done out of personal reasons. I had mine. Ethiopian past became a part of my present (my wife) and my future (children). If I didn't have enough questions about my Soviet and Russian past? This African intervention in my identity coincided with another invasion -- my American present, which by now has its own past.


Monarchy was a model of governing for centuries preceding modernity. Ethiopia happened to be one of the last to arrive modernity. The transition from that model to democracy historically comes after the stage of "imperialism." Capitalism reached the stage of imperialism when the leading powers developed their colonial ambitions. According to Marxist analysis, there were two other featured -- concentration of capital and the wars for reshaping the borders. Interesting enough Ethiopia joined the world as an empire during the Menelik time without going through any capitalist formations In Ethiopian history the final formation of the empire took place in the nineteenth century. At this time the power structure was consistent with the three major elements of "imperialism": the traditional aristocracy, the Orthodox Church, and the monarchy. This focus on Ethiopian monarchy model from an anthropological point of view is the subject. There are no new documents in this book, but an attempt to "read" the life of Haile Sellassie.

Oh, yes, he, the source of all evils, did it all. He wrote a book. The autobiography of a king? Written while he was in power, what it could tell us about him? It was for public consumption, for the History and public relations. Nothing personal. A historian might find useful the Haile Sellassie autobiography recently translated (part two) by Harold Marcus. Not for someone who is looking to understand the character of HIM. Even Haile Sellassie speeches could tell you more about the man. How Ethiopian was he?

How special is the Ethiopian case? What could be compared with Ethiopia? Egypt? African countries? Middle East? At the begining of his reforms Haile Sellassie liked to model them after Japan of the turn of the century. Oh, Ethiopia was too special to place next to anything -- she was next to everything in the deep past, and away -- in the near past.

Haile Sellassie was a paradigm of Ethiopioness. He was Ethiopia. And Ethiopia rejected him for this very reason. Ethiopia didn't want to be Ethiopia anymore. Too much ahead of his nation at the begining, he discovered at the end that he is if not behind than out of history of Ethiopia.

They all, his offsprings, use the symbolic power of his name and keep the distance from the Emperor. They are uncomfortable with being nobel and elite. They want to have it both ways. Without real power they feel that they have to be apologetic about all the wrongs of the past. None of them equipped with the a statesman's mind, they don't understand that Emperor will end up being responsible for everything. Not many dare to mention the good H.S. done throughout his long statesman's life, but they are ready to accept the blame, which most of the time has nothing to do with HIM.


Or is it fiction which takes place of facts? And why not?


Oh, the paradox of Africa, when they learn about themselves from the books written about them by visitors! Better than nothing, don't you think?

The only popular book on Haile Sellassie after his death is written by a Polish. Ryszard Kapuscinski who has written about all falling empires from Iranian Shah to the Soviet Union. His book "Emperor" was just another one of many. We only could guess on matters of Kapuscinki's knowledge of Ethiopian culture. His book has no list of bibliography, no citations, no notes. He is a journalist, not a professor. A Polish journalist with no previous books on Ethiopia. A foreigner with no "native" knowledge of the culture be a good analytical source. (In italics Kapuscinski glues the miscellaneous "testimonials" with his narrative writing. Does this second structural element of the book help the loose chronological approach?) Kapuscinski visited Addis Ababa several times between 1963 and 1974. How did he get his information? "No, I was not alone. I had a guide. Now that he is no longer alive, I can say his name: Teffera Gebrewold."1 Kapuscinski wouldn't come back again to this mysterious Teffera Gebrewold and we will never know why this man agreed to guide Mr. Kapuscinki in the middle of a revolution, and we will also not know how this mysterious source died.

An image of the last emperor has its attraction for popular culture. China, Russia, or Ethiopia (as the most recent), they all have their share of speculations. From Bertolucci to Anastasia, history like stories. The end of traditional Ethiopian power structure isn't the real interest for Kapuscinki. Or even the story of the Emperor in his last days? How did he die? The cause? According to the official version of 1975, he died of natural causes. Now the former leaders of communist Ethiopia are charged with several dozen executions, Haile Sellassie's name on this list. What is the book? Rumors and anecdotes, mostly about the peculiar elements of imperial rituals and protocols. Something from the biblical times full of obscured stipulations and superstitions. As if our obsessions with time, money, news are not less ridiculous? Give history some time and the future generations would laugh at our serious matters.

"Downfall of An Autocrat" -- the subtitle reads. The study of the end of Ethiopian monarchy? The book has three parts: The Throne. It's Coming, It's Coming. The Collapse. How does Kapuscinki understand the idea of "Throne"? Throne and royal court. What is the difference? Royal of imperial, Christian, Judaic or pagan origins? The emperor was a bridge between the past and the present, he was a "text" for his subjects to read. Why should it a surprise that his every move has to have presentational and representational mode? For a alien the culture's signs are meaningless theatricality. For somebody who doesn't speak the language, it looks like funny sounds without message and logic.

Whenever he could be seen by a human eye, he felt himself to be on duty and performing his royal office: not even a servant should ever be given an opportunity to see him in an undignified situation and be able to ridicule him behind his back... For the time, such as it was , that he spent with his family, could not be regarded solely as private because in this particular capacity also he felt that he was serving as an exemplar to a nation structured on the lines of family clans. At the same time, he was taking care of his obligations as head of the imperial clan. (Lockot 54).

This is an insightful description of "performance" by the monarch, which is not a private person by definition, since he is the image of God. For an outsider any of our ritual could be a theatre "act" (Super-ball, Oscar awards, even our advertising industry); for a believer the monarch's behavior is the way of communicating with God and people. The throne is the centerpiece of the court and the royal family, nobles, people -- they all are the players in this divine drama.

In addition, we only could guess how much the emperor himself saw his public persona as the means of governing. "Cultural revolution" (education), imposed by the emperor on Ethiopian aristocracy, destroyed the "ancient" ideology. Addis Ababa student unrests, which are mentioned by Kapuscinki, went on for a decade (since the coup of 1960) before the ideological decomposition of the traditional power model resulted in the 1974 revolution.


Not a single immediate affiliate of Haile Sellassie wrote a book. It would give us some insights about how to understand the lost power which was picked up by the army because it was laying on the street. Maybe for the same reason the Emperor had nobody to pass the crown, nobody was there to give a new life to the concept of monarchy. Furthermore, the members of the inner throne circle are not talking to tell the story. Many members of the royal family, including the Crown Prince, were outside of Ethiopia. So were the former ministers of the cabinets and officials who had connections with the emperor? Silence. Washington D.C. alone has Ethiopian population of forty thousand. Many of them were openly engaged in opposition to the Dergue regime, and -- to the emperor. The testimonials are of the low, the simplest (servants) sources in regard to the emperor -- do they give a unique perspective of the end of the monarchy?

It would be very beneficial to investigate the perception of the common people of the last days of the empire, but they are probably the least representative group to choose for understanding the events of the revolution. Also, we should remember that the traditional view of the very position of an absolute autocrat would prevent him from sharing his thoughts or emotions with anybody.

Haile Selassie's ability not to reveal his inner self -- his feelings, thoughts and character -- was often noted. The impenetrable nature of his reserve becomes clear to anyone investigating the range of his linguistic skills. Nobody who had not hears the Emperor use a particular language could know which languages he was able to speak. The learned Ethiopians who assisted him in his private studies -- often people who held inconspicuous and lowly positions -- would not reveal even that they had access to the Emperor at all, let alone the exact way in which they had assisted him, or how great was the Emperor's knowledge in their fields of learning. (Lockot 44-45)

This testimony by Lockot would be important to remember in separating the issue of Haile Sellassie's personality from the Ethiopian imperial code of behavior which a king has to impose upon himself. Absolutism or Autocracy means that a monarch in image and likeness of God is alone. Thus are the limitations of the individual imperial model of power. "Up till his death, he remained the solo virtuoso." (Lockot 55)


In the evening I was listened to those who had known the Emperor's court. Once they had been people of the Palace or had enjoyed the right of admission there. Not many of them remained. Some had perished, shot by the firing squad. Some had escaped the country; others had been locked in the dungeons beneath the Palace, cast down from the chambers to the cellars. Some were hiding in the mountains or living disguised as monks in cloisters. Everyone was trying to survive in his own way, according to the possibilities open to him. Only a handful remained in Addis Ababa where, apparently, it was easiest to outwit the authorities's vigilance. (K. 4)

This opening paragraph, full of contradictions, leads us to the original sources of the book; who are they? "F.," "L.C.," "Y.M."? How were the interviews conducted? Through the interpreter (Teffera?), who for some reason is unable to sustain a genuine and a colloquial style in his speech? Were the conversations taped? Because these so-called testimonials are in quotes we could safely assume that there is an implication of a primary source. The taping itself makes the challenge of meeting a foreigner by the former palace employees highly unlikely. "Gaining the confidence of informants required time and patience," writes Marcus in his book, "especially when one was inquiring about individuals whose records might be blemished in some way." (Marcus, XV).

This introductory note was written by a well known and reputable scholar of Ethiopia after the Dergue regime was gone. Ababa Zewde, Esther's uncle, Dej. Zewde Gabre Sellassie, who was present at the times of the imperial finale, who saw it all wrote a book about emperor Yohaness, not Haile Sellassie. Talkative and articulate, he would avoid the experiences of the year 1974. As if the ghost of the emperor sealed the lips of his relatives. What is it? Guilt?

Look, who is speaking; Kapuscinki "Y.M.":

And here I would like to make one thing clear: His Venerable Majesty was no reader. For him, neither the written nor the printed word existed; everything had to be relayed by word of mouth. (Kapuscinski, p. 7.)

What? What is that? Never-mind, that the man wrote his own speeches, and there are many of them. His library, the books he loved from the time of his teen years:

Of these, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Napoleon Bonaparte, Machiavelli, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas a Kempis, Voltaire and Goethe were the starts that occupied the firmament of Lidj Tafari in his early youth, influenced as he then was by his father Ras Makonnen and by his teachers. (Lockot, 2)

To this day those titles are not translated in Amharic, he read them in French. Who was the "Y.M." quoted by Kapuscinski we would never know. But the illiteracy of the ruler is sensational, and -- makes sense; the revolution should replace somebody for whom "the written nor the printed word existed." Were so many fooled or mistaken, assuming that the emperor was a reader? (In several languages). Why is this agenda of equality so transparent? Why do we have to drag down the best; great politician, artist, scientist? What if they are not like us? What if some are better than others? What if we are wrong in our pursuit of a total equality?2


The most important lessons of studying any culture is that it teaches us not to "package" data in familiar concepts but treat data archaeologically. Facts and events must be understood within the context of culture, without leaving the framework of its fixed meanings. "Visible events had their roots in the tangled web of Ethiopian society." (Lockot 55) In the nets of memories. Not surprisingly, we know little. But do we know that?

Haile Sellassie was born on July 23, 1892, Western style. What does it say to you? The end of 19th century, summer... Actually, it's the rainy season in Ethiopia, the last before the year in September. Oh, I guess now it's different frame all together. According to Ethiopian calendar it was 1885 (seven years behind) and their understanding of the century is different from yours and mine. He was born after the great victory over the Italian in Adwa, which was more important for an Ethiopian than an invention of an oil engine which took place at the same year. He was born after the feast of St. Paul and Peter. Don't you think that an American who happened to be born on the Forth of July (not the day before or after) would be affected by this fact in shaping his identity? Was it important that at the age of 38, Ras Tafari got a new name and identity!? Not Tafari but Haile Sellassie. What difference does it make was he a ras, negus or negusa negus? For him and all around him it was a matter of vital importance. Try it on yourself and try to understand the complexity of this ancient universe. Maybe there was some wisdom in changing a name at the time of great changes; let say from Bill to something else, since Bill happened to be a president now. Perhaps, this different sense of yourself could help in being different, being higher, better, wiser.


I have gone to much trouble to detail the careers of people mentioned in the autobiography. As a whole, the life histories reveal much about the types of people who dominated post-war Ethiopia. They help to explain how Haile Sellassie exercised leadership, and they clarify often obscure social and political relations. Thus, the annotations transform an important original source into a reference book for those who wish to study the reign of Haile Sellassie. (Marcus, XVII)[18]

This is an important point, in order for us to "read" any testimonials we need to "read" the informants, we need to position them within the socio-cultural context of present reality.

"He would appear..." (K, 147). "He descend on them..." (147). "... I would read aloud to him..." (158). "There I would leave him..." (159). He? Him? And at the same time Kapuscinki would insert all possible "His Most Exceptional Majesty," "His Merciful Highness," "His Venerable Majesty," because he understands the exotics of imperial lexicon. He doesn't understand that "he" or "his" wouldn't be used by the servants of an "autocrat." It's not a matter of speech but a mentality. Yes, we have trouble in understanding how a single person could refer to himself as "We"! Whatever we don't understand, we ridicule -- that's the way to deal with the past.

Status was also reflected in grammar, for the use of pronouns and the conjugation of verbs in Amharic served to indicate rank and respect. Persons speaking to their equals would employ the second person singular, for verb as well as pronoun. (Pankhurst, 166)

Popular reference to a person of emperor "Jan Hoy" (Amharic for His Majesty" or "Your Majesty" was never used in Kapuscinski's book. Also, very common abbreviation "H.I.M." (His Imperial Majesty) is not in any of the texts. But that is the way his relatives to this day refer to Haile Sellassie. He never was a dad, or grand-daddy. They themselves never were in a position of just a kid or baby; they had their roles to play in the complicated speeches of public behavior. They all were public property before they were born. Life was a mission, and, of course, it had not only a meaning but was full of purpose.


God forbid, this book could become a subject of Reference Cycles on Haile Sellassie. I tried to find the way not to speak about something that was said before me. Look what the loose genre of Mr. Kapuscinki's book produced?

As one of the emperor's palace retainers explained: `First of all death from hunger had existed in our Empire for hundreds of years, an everyday, natural thing, and it never occurred to anyone to make any noise about it. Drought would come and the earth would dry up, the cattle would drop dead, the peasants would starve. Ordinary, in accordance with the laws of nature and the eternal order of things... Consider also... that it is not bad for national order and sense of national humility that the subjects be rendered skinner, thinned down a bit. [Kapuscinski, 1983, 111-112.]
And how did the emperor responded to all the suffering and misery? (Schwab, 1985, 15).

Peter Schwab is the author of several books on Ethiopia and has been cited by many other Ethiopianists. Kapuscinki's text made it's way into another (academic) book, and the reader of Schwab's texts would take Kapuscinki's text as a source. It follows then that Schwab's text with Kapuscinki's inclusion becomes a source for another researcher.

"Noisy Connections" are normal. Connections do come with noise. The distance from the events does not necessarily clear up the picture from the rumors and myths. Any communication brings in an additional level of noise and distortion.

In the eyes of many today, his image appears blurred, but the most striking characteristic of Western public opinion, where the person of Haile Sellassie is concerned, in ignorance -- ignorance which only appears to deepen as the date of his fall and death recedes into the past. Stereotyped political slogans, unfounded accusations and simple slander are commonly accepted as fact. (Lockot v)

Second, the study of the monarchy as a social model of power (which survived through so many centuries) is not only our scholastic obligations to the past but the working knowledge of our own societal relations of the present.

There was much that confused me: it was obvious that life had been more satisfactory in Ethiopia during his regime than later; and that educated Ethiopians, during the last fifteen years of the emperor's reign, had talked optimistically about the future, a quality lost in the mayhem of the period 1974-78. As Mengistu Haile Mariam lurched from crisis to crisis without solving the country's many problems, I concluded that thoughtful people would want to know why and how Haile Sellassie had been able to keep the country relatively peaceful, while providing a statesman like leadership that had been creative and reassuring. This certainly led me to undertake a biography of the emperor. (Marcus xiv).

The situation, regarding the historical position of the last emperor, is no better even after the fall of the Dergue in 1991. Haile Sellassie is still persona non grata in Ethiopian official history. One would think that since a political "urgency and recency" of the royal power isn't an issue anymore we could (and should) see the historical phenomena of many constitutional monarchies from the cultural studies point of view. These may be indication that his legacy is too big for the Ethiopians to deal with.

But what about the scholars of Ethiopia? Tell me, do we still have this anti-monarchy agenda? Is the history still too close to us? Why can't we re-examine the meaning of what was for so long a "classical" form of power distribution? It would add some sense to the tabloid level of understand of British monarchy, which occupies American tabloid media. What is there for me? History was a traditional reservoir for anthropology but what did we learn? What can we pass on?...

Today is February 21, 1997. A month ago my wife's grandfather, Asfa Wossen, died. She didn't go to Washington D.C., she didn't fly to Ethiopia for the funeral. She stayed at home in Fairbanks, AK. There were several calls, we talked, in the morning we all went to work -- Esther, I and our two children (to school). December and January were very cold this year, some days under forty minus. Alaska is a state of the United States of America and you have to work all the time, if you plan to stay "middle class." The news were from another world, taxing and unwanted. Her grandfather had little input on Esther's life, as well as her father. Even the visit with her two children, the only great grandchildren of the Crown Prince, self-proclaimed Emperor of Ethiopia in 1989, changed nothing. The abyss was too wide to bridge. He died thirty seven years behind his expected death. As a son of Haile Sellassie he died in 1960. Second time he did in 1974. In 1997 it was the final death.
Was it?
What was the death of Ethiopia's (exiled, never crowned) monarch in 1997? It was his father's death. It was the death of the family. My children too. Esther was sick for a few days without understanding what was taking place.


I am gratefull to all the writers I just bashed for their time and interest in Haile Sellassie life. It's a matter of disaggrement, not the lack of appreciation.

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