Categories
Haile Selassie I - Anecdotes

The Request of Ras Asserate (1972)

“In the summer of 1972, festivities were held to mark the emperor’s eightieth birthday. My father told me that he and my mother went to the palace first thing in the morning to offer their congratulations. Haile Selassie received them in the drawing room that adjoined his bedroom. For his birthday present, Ras Asserate gave His Majesty a bespoke leather travel writing case specially designed by Algernon Asprey in London, which the emperor was evidently delighted with. Then my father suddenly fell at the emperor’s feet. Alarmed, Haile Selassie asked him: ‘What on earth has happened?’ The prince replied:

‘Your Majesty! In the name of my father, your loyal friend and servant Ras Kassa, I beseech you to grant me one great favour. Today is the day when Your Majesty has it in his power to give Ethiopia its greatest gift ever. When you go before the Ethiopian people presently to address them, please say this to vour subjects: <<My beloved people of Ethiopia. I have served you for almost sixty years. Now the time has come for me to retire and hand the reins of power to a new generation. Here is my son, into whose care I commend you. Serve him as faithfully as you have served me and be as loyal to him as you have been to your Emperor during all these years.>> If you do this, I guarantee that you will go down in history as the greatest emperor.’

The emperor was visibly moved and said nothing for a while. Then he told my father to get up and answered him: ‘Tell me, did King David abdicate? Or can you think of any other Ethiopian ruler who has done so? We shall reign as long as the Almighty allows Us to. And when the time has come for Us to depart, He will know what is best for Ethiopia’.

(Taken from “King of Kings”, Asfa-Wossen Asserate, Haus Publishing, 2015 p. 275)

Categories
Haile Selassie I - Anecdotes

The Chosen One (1955)

“The title ‘Elect of God’ carried by the Ethiopian emperor was much more than simply an expression of godliness. In any event, right up to the very end, Haile Selassie was steadfast in his belief that he really had been chosed by God to be king. Accordingly, this title was affirmed in the two Ethiopian constitutions that Haile Selassie enacted in 1931 and 1955. The consultations on the renewed constitution of 1955 saw lively debate on this passage among members of the constitutional commission. In particular, the American advisor John H. Spencer, who had been called in to help draft the new constitution, saw it as an anachronism. He spoke to the secretary of the constituent assembly, Lij Imru Zelleke, and asked him to prevail upon the emperor to have this clause dropped. But when Lij Imru approached the emperor with this request, Haile Selassie reacted furiously: ‘How can you presume to doubt it ?’ he shouted at Imru Zelleke, ‘Where would We be if We weren’t elected by God’. And not just the emperor himself, also his retainers and the majority of Ethiopians believed he was the Chosen One; this fact also went a long way towards explaining the unconditional loyalty that many people showed him right up to the end – while a new generation of Ethiopian intellectuals bridled at the very idea.”
(Taken from “King of Kings”, Asfa-Wossen Asserate, Haus Publishing, 2015 p. 93)
Categories
Haile Selassie I - Anecdotes

Tekle Hawariat’s Provocation

“On the day when Ras Tafari was introduced to us as the emperor’s successor, I was standing behind the minister of war’s chair. Ras Tafari entered the room, dressed in his official robes and with a prince’s crown on his head. He walked up to the war minister and kissed his feet. To try and provoke Ras Tafari, I asked: ‘Do you really think those narrow shoulders of yours will be strong enough to support such a great land as Ethiopia?’ Ras Tafari just smiled benignly and replied; ‘I’ll find everything easy with masters like you to guide me.’.”

(from “Autobiography – Yehiwot Tarik”, Tekle Hawariat Tekle Mariam, Addis Ababa 2006, p.304)

Categories
Haile Selassie I - Anecdotes

The Pool Game

“As a child, I found it hard to understand: on the one hand the emperor was part of our extended family – my grandfather, Ras Kassa Hailu, was his cousin and one of his most loyal companions from childhood to old age – yet at the same time he was unapproachable; he was the King of Kings, Abbaba Janhoy, the Great Father of the Nation, and everyone around him would bow and prostrate themselves as a sign of their great reverence for him. I, too, always found him to be surrounded by this imperial aura except for one single occasion. This encounter took place in the 1960s in Eritrea. The emperor had come to Asmara and taken up residence during his visit at the Viceroy’s palace, my father’s official seat of administration as governor-general of the then-province of Eritrea. When Haile Selassie and his cousin Ras Imru came to call on us one afternoon at my father’s private residence in the palace grounds, the emperor’s interest was piqued by the pool room. Evidently he felt inclined to have a game of pool. He slapped Ras Imru – who was actually several years younger than his cousin but looked somewhat older – on the shoulder and said: ‘Come on, old man! Can you still remember how we used to play in Lij Iyasu’s house when we were boys ? Let’s see if you’re still up to it !’. Ras Imru laughed, and the emperor took off his suit jacket and handed it to my father. ‘Come on, Asserate, you too!’, Ras Imru challenged my father. His Majesty’s jacket was duly passed to me, and the emperor broke off. Even after just a few shots, it was apparent that Haile Selassie was markedly superior to his cousin and his kinsman – though none of us or any of our acquaintances had ever seen the emperor with a pool cue in his hand. This was the first and only time I ever saw the emperor in shirt sleeves. All the gravitas of his office had fallen away from him, and at this moment he was just an ordinary person enjoying a game. I stood there rooted to the spot. Holding the emperor’s jacket in my outstretched hand, I watched enthralled as the emperor potted ball after ball. After the final one, the black eight-ball, had also disappeared into one of the pockets, he laid his cue aside and I passed him his suit jacket. He slipped into it, and in a trice he was transformed back into the Emperor of Ethiopia.”

(Taken from “King of Kings”, Asfa-Wossen Asserate, Haus Publishing, 2015 p. xx)

Categories
Haile Selassie I - Anecdotes

The Ice Cream Treat

“My first memories of the Ethiopian emperor take me back to my childhood, in 1956. I was eight years old at the time and had come down with mumps, which stubbornly refused to clear up even after treatment with a course of drugs. The doctors in the Haile Selassie Hospital in Addis Ababa decided to operate on me, removing parts of my parotid gland that had become infected. To this day, I can clearly remember this procedure: being anaesthetised with ether and the intense nausea that subsequently overcame me. But above all I recall the moment when I woke up from the anaesthetic: as I slowly came to, the first person my gaze focused upon was none than the Negusa Negast, the King of Kings. He was wearing his field marshal’s uniform, over which he had draped his kabba, the traditional cloak of the Ethiopian nobility. Next to him stood my grandfather Ras Kassa and my father Ras Asserate, both looking worried. The emperor laid his hand on my forehead and said: ‘Now wait just a moment, my boy, and there will be ice cream as a treat !’. Saying this, he took his leave in French of Professor Leutze, the hospital’s German clinical director, and of the German surgeon who had performed the operation, thanking them for their splendid work. I later learned that the doctor who had operated on me was given a gold coin in gratitude by the emperor, while my parents sent him a set of gold cufflinks. I lived the next few days in a world of make-believe. For a whole week, as I lay in my sick bed, I received daily deliveries of a large Thermos flask, emblazoned with a golden imperial lion and filled with the most diverse and wonderful flavours of ice cream. The delicacies were specially prepared for me from fresh ingredients by the emperor’s Swiss head chef in the nearby Genete-Leul Palace.

(Taken from “King of Kings”, Asfa-Wossen Asserate, Haus Publishing, 2015 p. xvii)

Categories
Haile Selassie I - Anecdotes

The Library of Enrico Cerulli

“I had travelled to Ethiopia via Rome and had visited Enrico Cerulli (born 1898), the greatest living master of Ethiopian studies, scholar, diplomat, and proconsul. In that last capacity he had been Vice-Governor General of Ethiopia during two years of the short-lived Fascist occupation. (…) He was then (and, for that matter, has remained ever since) one of the very few foreigners to possess a fluent command of Amharic. When I was received by the Emperor during my 1958 visit, one of his first questions was about Cerulli. In fact, this was the occasion of a royal repartee which I remember very clearly. His Majesty had asked me about my library of Ethiopian books; I told him that it was quite good but could not compare with Cerulli’s splendid collection. ‘Ah’, he replied, ‘but you have bought your books !’ (irso gin matsahifton baganzab gaztawal – in the rather more telling Amharic original).”

(Taken from “The Two Zions”, E.Ullendorff, Oxford 1988, p. 202-203)

Categories
Haile Selassie I - Anecdotes

The Age of the World

“One evening at the dinner table a conversation was going on in French between some of the guests. Suddenly the Emperor turned to me and asked, ‘What do you believe? How old is the world?’ #QHS

‘If we are to believe the Bible,” I said, “it is about six thousand years old.’

‘Impossible,’ someone spoke up. ‘It is at least six million years old.’ This person attempted to explain how scientists had discovered certain animals in artic regions and how they reasoned that the world must be millions of years old to allow time for all the changes in the earth to come about.

‘To me it is not a question that concerns my salvation,’ I replied ‘and I never argue with anyone as to how old the earth is.’

The Emperor agreed at once, saying, ‘That is true. Salvation is sure, and these things really do not matter. #QHS

(Taken from: “For God and Emperor”, Herbert and Della Hanson, 1958, page 150)

Categories
Haile Selassie I - Anecdotes

The Broken Wrist

“He knew how to wait – and he showed no sign of anger when he was thwarted. Towards pain, as towards disappointment, he had a stoic implacability. Once, when out riding with the Emperor on the plains outside the city, Tafari’s horse had stumbled in a rabbit hole and flung him into a blackberry bush, from which he emerged scratched and dishevelled. The ten-year-old grandson of the Emperor, Lij Yasu, already an arrogant boy with a cutting tongue, laughed at Tafari’s discomfiture and rode away to persuade the Court minstrel to make up a song to mark his cousin’s ‘clumsy horsemanship’. As the minstrel’s mocking verses started the royal retinue tittering, Tafari (who had remounted) urged his pony ahead and was immediatelly challenged to a race by Lij Yasu. Tafari not only easily outrode the boy but treated the entourage to a dazzling display of horsemanship, jumping streams, stopping short, wheeling round and rearing up his mount on its hind legs before the Emperor – and doing it all with one hand. It was not until the cortège reached the palace that it was discovered Tafari had broken a wrist in his fall and must for some time have been in considerable pain. The less observant members of the Court nick-named Tafari ‘The Shy One’ and jeered at his lack of words, but Menelik was one of the few who realised that he had all the qualities of a hawk, and sighed at the thought that he would never see him pounce and on whom it would be.”
(Taken from “Haile Selassie. The Conquering Lion”, L.Mosley, 1964)
Categories
Haile Selassie I - Anecdotes

Imperial Shooting

“Possibly you have read that when the Emperor goes out shooting the official who accompanies him always shoots first and misses while the Emperor then brings off the winning shot. This sort of anecdote though true enough in uninterpreted fact gives a very wrong impression. To begin with a second shot is often a good deal more difficult than a first – and Haile Selassie is admitted by all who know him to be a very fine shot indeed; while it is incorrect that the ceremonial – a very ancient prescription – is carried out whenever the Emperor shoots. A young Frenchman of my acquaintance, an almost miraculous shot, told me how some years ago he had the pleasure of a few hours informal shooting with the Emperor whom he paid the compliment of treating simply as a fellow sportsman and beating at the game – though by a very small margin.

‘When it was all over’, he said, ‘I watched for signs of sulkiness, or alternatively that glassy politeness which is even more indicative of the bad loser with whom the fault is inborn. I will swear that I saw no such sign. The Emperor was genuinely glad to have found an antagonist willing to meet him on equal terms and being beaten in a fair trial of skill perturbed him not in the least.’ “

(Taken from “”Haile Selassie Emperor of Ethiopia”, Princess Asfa Yilma, London 1936).
Categories
Haile Selassie I - Anecdotes

The Wild Horse

“Once when a wild horse had been brought in from the hill pastures and only partly tamed, Lidj Yassu went so far as to place Tafari Makonnen on its back and send it galloping off madly with a sharp slash of his hide whip. The horse careered wildly down the slope, young Tafari clinging for dear life to the shaggy mane. His eyes showed terror, but he clung on. With drawn face and set teeth he stuck to the mount until it tired. Yassu took great delight in this joke of his and repeated it on several occasions. He was courted by everyone in Addis Ababa since it was guessed that he would one day be Emperor. There was thus no one to interfere.
Tafari learned to take a beating, to be desperately afraid and yet to hang on. That lesson was to mould his whole character. In after years he never showed reckless bravery, but once he had set his hand to anything he never let go.”
(Taken from “”Haile Selassie Emperor of Ethiopia”, Princess Asfa Yilma, London 1936).