The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I


About the honour of invitations extended to Us to visit Europe

Ethiopia is a realm which has lived steadfast in her independence for more than three millennia. But in the early sixteenth century Ahmad Gran emerged from the east of Ethiopia, from Zeila, penetrated into central Ethiopia, and fought with Emperor Lebna Dengel; the latter struggled retreating towards northern Ethiopia, while Gran set fire to all the palaces and churches; apart from a few books which had remained hidden in caves and islands, he burnt the majority of works of history and culture.

Nevertheless, if anyone seeks to know Ethiopia’s antiquity, there exist many books which discuss Ethiopian history written in Greek, Latin, Portuguese, and Arabic, and by reading these he will be able to inform himself of her great age. It is a fact that many people had come to Ethiopia, before the birth of our Lord, from Jerusalem, Greece, Arabia, and Egypt. After the birth of our Lord, from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth, visits by some foreigners to Ethiopia were fairly continuous [the reference is again no doubt to the 16th-19th cent.].

It is only in this 19th century that the Italians have begun to cast their eyes upon Ethiopia.

There are many who went abroad on the part of the Ethiopian clergy. On the part of the government, however, my father H.H. Ras Makonnen had gone to Italy in 1881 (= 1888/9) and to England during the reign of H.M. King Edward VII in 1894 (= 1902). In the same year he had visited France en route. Other leaders had gone on missions to Germany, Russia, France, and Turkey.

Since for this reason Ethiopia had become known throughout Europe and since Emperor Menelik had concluded treaties of friendship and commerce with various governments, the countries mentioned above had begun to establish consulates and legations at Addis Ababa on account of the many foreign traders and travellers arriving in Ethiopia.

Later, in 1909 (= 1916), when Queen Zawditu sat on the throne, she being without son and heir, I was chosen, by the will of God and by the wish of the people, as Crown Prince and Regent Plenipotentiary of the Ethiopian realm; and, consequently, I gave full expression to the desire that the friendship with European governments, begun in Emperor Menelik’s time, be progressively widened and strengthened to the utmost. Because the European governments had heard from their envoys at Addis Ababa and had become convinced of the fact that this my desire was real and true, they extended to Us the honour of an invitation to come to their respective countries to see the prosperity of their country, the good fortune and riches of their people, the beauty of their cities, and the wisdom and knowledge of their scholars. The first invitation was from the President of the French Council of Ministers, M. Poincare; this was followed by invitations from the King of the Belgians, H.M. Albert, from the Italian king, H.M. Victor Emmanuel, from the King of England and Emperor of India, H.M. George V, from the King of Egypt, H.M. Fuad I, from the President of the Greek Republic, Admiral Condouriotes, and from the Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg.

As We have shown above, some nobles had gone to Europe on various missions, yet it was not customary for the Crown Prince and Regent Plenipotentiary of the Realm to go abroad; and, there­fore, this distinguished invitation which the European governments had extended to Us was a strange thing for all the princes and nobles and the army; they had thus great difficulty over this matter. When We heard this, We gave instructions to have the princes and nobles convened in a great assembly. In the end, they all accepted the matter with pleasure, because We had convinced them that, by Our planning to go on extending our friendship with the governments of Europe, We were causing people to meet in trade and in work and getting to know each other as a sign of friendship; that for this main purpose kings and princes were being brought closer together in mutual direct discussions and that this would induce them to come and visit our country.

After the question of Our journey had come before the assembly and had been decided, We gave orders that everything necessary for Our travel be prepared. We gave instructions that, while Our War Minister, Fitawrari Habta Giyorgis, carried the principal responsibility for the affairs of the government, each minister was to be responsible for the work of his department and that all of them should report to H.M. Queen Zawditu on every­thing they had done.

I had the hope and conviction that my journey to Europe would give me three benefits: (1) to see with my own eyes European civilization and the beauty of the cities of Paris, London, Rome, Brussels, Athens, and Cairo about which I had read in books, first at school and later on in office; (2) when returning to my country after my visit to Europe, I thought it would be possible to initiate some aspects of civilization I had observed with my own eyes, although it would be impossible to carry this out all at once and in full; (3) to find a sea-port; prior to Our journey We had received some encouragement from France and Italy as regards access to the sea.

Afterwards, on Thursday, 8th Miyazya 1916 (= 16th April 1924), We set out from Addis Ababa and went down to Jibuti. Here are the names of the princes and nobles to whom it had been granted to accompany Us: Ras Haylu Takla Haymanot, Ras Seyum Mangasha, Dejazmatch Nadaw Abba Wallo, Dejazmatch Giissasa Walda Hanna, Dejazmatch Gabra Sellasse Barya Gaber, Dejazmatch Mullugeta Yegazu, Dejazmatch Hayla Sellasse Abaynah, Ligaba Wadaje Webe, Blatta Heruy Walda Sellasse, Ledj Makonnen Endalkatchaw, Dejazmatch Wand Bawassan Kassa, Ato Sahle Tsadalu.

When We reached Jibuti, the governor M. Julien received Us with honour, and after that, on 12th Miyazya (= 20th April), We embarked on the Messageries Maritimes Company's boat ‘Porthos’ and travelled to the Suez Canal.

As we reached the Suez Canal, an envoy of H.M. King Fuad arrived and transmitted to Us the King's greetings. The Patriarch Abuna Qerillos sent Abuna Yohannes, who became Patriarch later on, and gave Us his blessing.

When We reached Kantara, We travelled to Jerusalem on the special train which H.M. King Fuad had arranged for Us. At Jerusalem the British High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, and the bishops of the various churches came to the railway station and did Us the honour of welcoming Us.

As by the chance of good fortune the festival of the Resurrec­tion (Easter) was approaching, We thanked God for granting Us to see the light of the Easter festival. Afterwards, as We toured Jerusalem and its districts, We visited and kissed all the holy places, including Bethlehem where our Lord was born, Nazareth where he grew up, the Jordan in which he was baptized, Cana of Galilee where he did miracles, the Sea of Tiberias where he taught, and the neighbouring Capernaum, Beth-Saida, Magdala, as well as Hebron where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are buried. Although a beginning had been made in discussing the affairs of our sanctuary at Jerusalem with our Coptic fathers in faith, the matter had remained unresolved, and therefore We informed the Coptic Archbishop at Jerusalem, Abuna Timotewos, in writing that he should persist pondering on Our proposals, for We had suggested that we should conclude the matter, after friendly discussion, upon Our return from Europe. He wrote to Us the following reply: ‘I have already made known your intentions to the Coptic community.’

Afterwards, as We had heard that the Greeks possessed an area of many chambers in Golgotha, We requested the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem, Abuna Demyanos, through the intermediacy of Dr. Zervos, the Greek Consul General at Addis Ababa, that he should give one room to the Ethiopian monks as a patrimony for the celebration of holy mass. When he replied that they would give one room as patrimony in the Monastery of Abraham, We said that We on Our part would assign a benefice to the Greek monastery in Ethiopia; after reaching agreement and accord on the proposal, We signed the following written convention:

‘The Ethiopian Crown Prince and Regent Plenipotentiary, Tafari Makonnen, on one hand, in the name of the Ethiopian people, and Patriarch Demyanos of Jerusalem, on the other, in the name of the Greek Orthodox Community, have agreed and contracted as follows:

First: His Beatitude Demyanos, in his capacity as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and all Palestine, on the occasion of the visit of pilgrimage to Jerusalem of the Ethiopian Crown Prince and Regent Plenipotentiary, while desirous to manifest his great good intentions for the Ethiopian people and the staunch friend­ship which has existed for a long time between the Ethiopian people and the Holy Church in Jerusalem, has assigned to the Ethiopian people as outright patrimony a room in the Holy Monastery of Abraham near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The length of the room is 18-70 metres. Its width is 8-95 metres, and its height 4-95 metres. The room, being the basement underneath the dining hall of the Fathers, has a strong vaulted ceiling; its ancient door leads to the place where the Holy Cross was found. This room has been given for the requirements of the service of the Ethiopian clergy.

Second: This room is to be connected by a door to Deir el Sultan. It shall be the duty of the Ethiopians to have the opening made. The Patriarch will extend his help so that this door be opened.

Third: The two front doors leading to Abraham's Monastery shall be closed, but the windows are not to be blocked.

Fourth: It is not permitted to sell, to exchange, or to mortgage this room or to assign it to any other purposes except to the service of the clergy mentioned above.

Fifth: Before this room is redecorated, it is necessary to inform the Patriarch. He will send a person expert in this kind of work.

Sixth: If someone else comes along laying claim to the room given to the Ethiopian community, H.B. the Patriarch accepts responsibility to argue the case.

As the Crown Prince of Ethiopia and Regent Plenipotentiary, H.H. Tafari Makonnen, desires that the friendship which exists between the Ethiopian people and the Patriarch be strengthened, he has granted permission that a representative of the Patriarch should permanently reside in Ethiopia, that the following gift be handed over and that the deed be inscribed in the (land) register in the name of the Patriarch in accordance with the custom of the country.

The gift is as follows:
(1) Five gashas of arable land for the church and residence of the clergy, located no further from Addis Ababa than a day’s journey;
(2) He will provide one gasha of land, for the building of the convent and the church, in the neighbourhood of Addis Ababa, in the Gullale or Shola regions. These six gashas of land, it has been agreed, are not to be transferred for whatever reason to a non-orthodox community or a non-orthodox church.

Seventh: The two parties who have made these mutual gifts have caused this convention to be made out in two equal copies and have set their seals and signatures to it. Written in the holy city of Jerusalem on 16th Miyazya 1916 (= 24th April 1924).’

But as it was not God’s will, this treaty never came into force.

After We had concluded Our business at Jerusalem, We went to Cairo by train on Miyazya 23rd (= 1st May 1924). At Cairo H.M. King Fuad received Us with honour at his palace. Our pleasure was exceedingly great when both of us expressed the wish in our discussions to go on in future developing the friend­ship which had remained firm between our two governments since ancient times.

On the next day the Patriarch, Abuna Qerillos, informed Us of his intention to hold mass and prayers in Our honour in the Church of St. Mark and We went to the church. The Patriarch, suffering from the weariness of old age, was seated on his throne by the altar and gave Us his blessing. As the Churches of Egypt and Ethiopia were in a relationship of mother and child and because the Patriarch had for long had the desire and intention of coming to Ethiopia to see his children in faith, he spoke at length of his sadness at his continued inability to come on account of the distance, while at the same time revealing the fulfilment of his desire and thought at seeing, with his own eyes, Our arrival at Cairo today.

Afterwards, while We were in the church, the Patriarch entered the reception hall for guests at one side—We having brought him, in order to honour our father in faith, a golden crown and golden cross, a golden staff, a silk tunic embroidered with gold, and a cape. He was, therefore, waiting for Us wearing the crown and cape, holding the golden cross in his right hand and the golden staff in his left; he was thinking to please Us, although because of his great age and weariness he was not really capable; as We entered the hall from the Church he attempted to receive Us standing, but he was not able to do so. Although We were pleased in Our heart at seeing His Holiness in this dignity, We felt much grief at thinking of his old age and weariness.

The following are the sights which We visited during Our stay at Cairo and which have remained memorable to Us: the pyramids and the Sphinx, the great museum of antiquities, the great schools and hospitals of the government and of the Copts, the old churches of early times, the antiquities of Luxor and the tomb of Tutankhamun which had been discovered at the exca­vations near-by, as well as great mosques and the famous Islamic college called Al-Azhar. Subsequently, when We saw four students from Ethiopia, We were pleased as their teacher said that they would return to Ethiopia within two years upon conclusion of their studies.

From Cairo We went to Alexandria and paid homage at the tomb of St. Mark; We then saw the school at which they are teaching more than 4,000 boys and which had been instituted, near the Church, by Abuna Yohannes, the deputy Archbishop of the See of St. Mark. After this We visited Victoria College which had been built at a place called Ramleh near Alexandria and where some boys from Ethiopia were studying. The head­master of the school, Mr. Reed, was like a father particularly to the boys from Ethiopia, and We had heard of his gentle treat­ment and of his teaching; and among the boys there We met Sirak Heruy. Our heart was touched with joy when We saw them face to face. The son of Ras Mullugeta, Asrata, and a boy called Gabra Madhen Awwaqa had come with Us in order to study at this school, and We handed them over into the head­master’s care and trust.

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