HAILE SELASSIE EMPEROR OF ETHIOPIA
The Great Coronation
The Emperor has been three times crowned, first as Regent; then following the retirement of the Empress Zawditu from the active government of the State, when he took the rank of Negus or King; and finally after the death of Zawditu, when in the presence of delegates from every civilised kingdom he was anointed Negus Negusti or King of Kings by the head dignitary of the Coptic Church.
This ceremony which, following upon the admission of his country to the League of Nations, must be regarded as a supreme achievement, merits description. It is also instructive to see how the ambition to win such a coronation arose in the mind of the young Ras Tafari, whose first administrative post came to him at the age of seventeen and was the governorship of the southern province of Sidamo—a position he might well have held to the end of his days but for the urge implanted in him by his father. In this account the idealistic aspects of Ras Makonnen’s character have been stressed because certain superficial observers who have made little allowance for the times and conditions in which he lived have overlooked them. But it cannot be denied that the great Ras was ambitious and trained his boy to feel the same.
During his travels in Europe, of which some mention has been made, Ras Makonnen, the father of Haile Selassie, was present at the coronation of King Edward VII. His picturesque figure as he walked in the procession delighted the crowds, and he himself was delighted by the dignity and beauty of the ceremonies. He asked many questions concerning the inner significance of the elaborate ritual and was particularly interested in the part played by the Church in the structure of the State. Was the King in the power of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he questioned. Were the bishops also nobles? Did none of the peers ever conspire against the King? Had they no armed followers?
These matters were explained to Ras Makonnen, and as he began to appreciate the amazing harmony with which all the affairs of the State were conducted his admiration of British institutions grew and grew. He made careful notes of all the proceedings and reported in detail to the Emperor Menelek the magnificent spectacle which he had witnessed.
“It was in just such a manner that our great Kings of the past must have ridden to receive their crowns,” he said. “We have much the same ritual in the traditions of our land. But in England they have achieved perfection. Each man knows his place and the duties demanded of him.”
To his young son who questioned him eagerly as to his travels Ras Makonnen spoke many times of the great procession. “Everything was very solemn and splendid. There were not only all the nobles of the country present, but great men from other lands. They did not come as a sign of submission, but as guests who attend a wedding and bring gifts as tokens of good will.”
For it was the presence of foreign representatives which had especially impressed Ras Makonnen. He had resolved in his heart that were he called to the throne his coronation should be a great occasion, and that he would invite the monarchs of Europe to attend in person or by deputy. He could see the importance of being accepted as King not only by the nation but by the heads of other nations as well.
But Ras Makonnen was not destined to rule. When he saw that his end was near his thoughts centred upon the hope that his son might one day reign.
“Some men fear the throne as a place of danger, my son; and, indeed, for a man who is weak or a fool there can be no place of greater peril. But if a man is strong and wise the throne is the safest place for him. The people all look to the throne, and in this lies a king’s power. Unless he is unjust and oppressive so that his people learn to hate him he can always, by reason of the majesty of his position, be far more powerful than any other man. But a king must show his power to his people. He must surround himself with splendour. His people will not grudge him his magnificence for they will feel that they share his glory.”
These words were never forgotten by the son of Ras Makonnen. Throughout his reign he was ever a born ruler knowing always when to conciliate and when to crush, when to be humble and when magnificent; and in his coronation as Emperor in November, 1930, he achieved a pageant of such splendour that those who watched were spellbound.
In the spring of 1930 a serious rebellion brought home to the Emperor the need for the proper establishment of a central authority, single and powerful, to administer the new laws. Ras Gugsa, the divorced husband of Zawditu, was the prime mover in this outbreak which aimed at re-establishing the old order of things. That the Empress was a party to the plot is not certain, nor from one point of view does it seem likely since her relations with Ras Gugsa were by no means friendly. However, so great was her dislike of the Negus that she may well have felt that any ally was desirable in her struggle against him; and, further, it is quite possible that she had designs of her own which, while they depended on the help of Ras Gugsa, did not necessarily include his ascent to the throne. In this web of intrigue it is difficult to estimate motive; but balancing all the various probabilities it seems likely that the Empress was less involved in the affair than most people imagined. Certainly at this time she was deeply immersed in religious duties, the Church having obtained very great ascendancy over her. This being so it would appear that the revolt had she inspired it would have had considerable support from the priesthood; and there is little evidence of this. A few local priests were mixed up in the rising, but the main body of the Church was solidly behind the Negus, who had been careful to conciliate religious opinion even when pressing forward reforms to which the Church was at heart opposed. Probably had Ras Gugsa proved successful the Church would gladly have turned to him as a ruler likely to maintain the old regime; but there was no open support of the revolt.
By this time the Negus was used to dealing with rebellion and his technique was perfected. It depended first on a well organised intelligence service and constantly improving communications; secondly, an exact knowledge of the character of the various allies so that jealousies among them could be exploited to the full; and finally upon judicious use of a well-filled purse. Time and again in history the various parties to a revolt have all wished to wait till some degree of success was achieved before committing themselves—and it was thus with the allies of Ras Gugsa. They postponed striking until he could show evidence of his strength; and while they hesitated the forces of the Negus swooped down upon their leader who was killed in battle.
The following day the Empress Zawditu died in mysterious circumstances. It was widely rumoured that the Negus, warned of her complicity in the revolt, had arranged for her unofficial execution; but a careful consideration of the facts and the evidence of the attendants shows clearly the falsity of this report. The symptoms were those of heart-failure rather than poisoning and apart from the tragic coincidence of her death following so swiftly upon that of Ras Gugsa there was not a shadow of doubt in the minds of those best qualified to speak that it was due to natural causes. In Ethiopia such a coincidence as this was bound to lead to rumours, but so high was the reputation of the Negus that even among his enemies there were none who in their hearts suspected him of having had any hand in the death of the Empress Zawditu even though it cleared his path to the throne.
The heads of the Church were consulted. They desired unity for national purpose and an effective defence against possible Islamic revolt. They also desired the confirmation of their immemorial privileges. The Negus bargained with them, promising to uphold the Church in every way if in their turn they would help in his plans for the betterment of the country, and support him in his claim to imperial power. The Abuna, well aware that a strong emperor crowned by the head of the Church and pledged to uphold the Coptic faith was in the best interests of Church and State alike, gave ready consent, and a great ceremony was planned in which all the jarring elements in the country were to be united. An attempt was to be made to revive the splendours of Prester John and to show not only to the peoples of Ethiopia but to the whole world that the forgotten land of Abyssinia was once more a power with whom to reckon.
During the rainy season of 1930 the plans were carefully laid. The stories which he had heard from his father had determined Tafari Makonnen to celebrate his coronation as Emperor on a grand scale with English ceremonial as his model. A request was accordingly made to the British Foreign Office for a copy of the coronation ritual which was willingly supplied. It then was necessary to evolve an order of service which was a judicious blend of British custom with the rites of the Coptic Church. There were certain bishops who did not care for the least innovation, but since the direct instructions for the crowning of an Ethiopic monarch which were to be found in the ancient books were such as to allow some latitude, it was not easy to prescribe any exact traditional ceremony and when the priests learned that the Royal House of Great Britain can trace its ancestry to King David and that its coronation ritual is in essence of great antiquity their opposition was speedily removed.
Through the normal diplomatic channels invitations were sent to all the great powers enquiring would they wish to be represented at the ceremony and the replies were favourable in every instance. It was not only that policy suggested the advisability of not allowing rival countries to steal the limelight. Tafari Makonnen had made an excellent impression on European society during his tour some years before. Expecting a barbaric potentate, all Europe had been charmed by this quiet-mannered, cultured, and distinguished guest. In Sweden especially he had made a great impression—so much so that his subsequent welcoming of Swedes into his country was referred to by the jealous Italians as “the Swedish invasion ” and later the “Swedish menace”; but it was not alone the Swedes who had been won by his scholarly demeanour, for every nation which he had visited was glad to do him honour.
Great Britain, in return for the gracious compliment which the Negus had paid in making her coronation ritual the basis of his own ceremony, sent a prince of the blood royal to lead the coronation procession. His Majesty King George V announced that the Duke of Gloucester should represent him at Addis Ababa, an act for which Tafari Makonnen was deeply grateful and which, together with the cordial and tactful conduct of the British Legation staff, cemented the excellent relations which had for some time existed between the two countries in spite of the fact that England had opposed the admission of Abyssinia into the League of Nations.
Arrangements for the housing and entertainment of the great influx of visitors and for their safe transport from and to the coast proceeded apace and within a few days from the date of the ceremony—which had been fixed for November 3rd—the capital was crowded with Europeans. Meanwhile from all around long caravans of dusky figures were converging on the city. From the top of a great hill some miles to the south the country could be seen in panorama, a great space of plain and mountain, the distance dotted with the moving shapes of men and beasts. Each descending hill on the far off slopes showed by its clouds of dust that riders were on their way. The dust shone whitely in the clear sunlight and at night the flicker of camp fires showed where the approaching caravans were resting. Those who had come within near reach of the city when night overtook them pushed on by torchlight. It was an eerie scene.
In the city streets the wondering crowds had begun to collect already. They moved in chattering groups from one thing of wonder to another. The flags which flamed on buildings and triumphant arches seemed less brightly coloured than the throngs which swarmed below. Here and there a policeman walked, proudly conscious of his smart white uniform and alert to suppress mischief while a few soldiers of the Imperial bodyguard kept back the crowd from the entrances of the principal buildings, but though everywhere there was noise and life there was excellent discipline.
As for the city itself it had been throughly swept and garnished. One visitor described it as appearing from some angles as a typical Mediterranean town; a naval officer said that “it looked like a battleship on review day”; while one or two cynical newspapermen wrote of “window dressing.” Everyone was impressed by the blaze of colour in the clear mountain air.
“I think that the thin air of these plateau altitudes produces an exhilaration of the senses which sharpens the mind towards colour,” wrote a young Frenchman who witnessed the scene, “for never have I felt so intensely the power of bright hues in the sunlight. Flags seemed to glitter like knives.”
The Emperor-elect may well feel proud as he gazes at his capital. All round the palace are fine new roads and triumphal arches. The newly-made square in front of St. George’s Cathedral, named after the great Menelek whose statue is soon to be unveiled, has sanded paths between regularly spaced beds of bright flowers and neat lawns of fresh green grass. It all looks rather new, to be sure, and lacks that air of age and permanence which gives to the London scene its peculiar dignity and charm, but it is a spacious and well-planned conception, symbolic of the new era into which he is leading his people. This has meant hard work, for there are few to whom he can safely delegate even the details of his schemes for the development of his city and his country. When he returned from Europe, his mind full of new ideas and his will steeled to carry out his plans, he had to face many discouragements. But so far he has succeeded, and will prevail further. Few of those who are his guests realise what he has accomplished, for they see the completed work, nothing remarkable by the standards to which they are accustomed, yet a miracle indeed in comparison to what was there before. They do not know with what difficulty the gangs of road makers were drilled into efficiency and how the Emperor himself surveyed the roads, issuing personal instructions. Seated in an open and rather battered car he would drive slowly along the streets his eyes scanning the roadway. Where repairs seemed called for the Emperor would cast a pebble as a sign to the labourers who would at once set to work with daemonic energy to re-make the surface of the road. Frequently there were delays. Materials had been wrongly delivered, workmen were unskilful, tools had been damaged. Always it was the Emperor who sought out the causes of the trouble and gave instructions as to how the difficulties might be surmounted. His gift for rapid calculation more than once defeated those who tried to steal roadbuilding materials claiming afterwards that they had been used. The Emperor always knew the right quantities which had to be accounted for, and any man who attempted to deceive him soon discovered to his cost that it was not easy. And through the driving force of his will the roads were made.
Now comes the day when the Statue of Menelek II is to be unveiled in the presence of delegates from almost every European country. Never in the history of Ethiopia has there been a pageant such as this.
In olden times the Kings of Ethiopia rode upon mules caparisoned in gold and silver. The modern emperor rides in a huge motor car, shining with silver and red. As escort ride the newly-formed Imperial Lancers, the Ethiopian colours—red, yellow and green—fluttering proudly at the tips of a bright forest of lances. Side by side with this military panoply of European type is to be seen the changeless past. The traditions of old Ethiopia are shown in splendid style by the marching chieftains, proud of their gaily coloured cloaks and their lions’ mane head-dresses, behind them their followers with spears and shields.
The Abuna rides in state, his head swathed in a long black veil and long black robes enveloping his figure, and beside him is the Crown Prince, young and handsome, simply but richly attired in a brown velvet cloak and a grey felt hat of striking curved brim. There is weird music as the procession moves forward for the Imperial band, boys from the school for freed slaves which is the Emperor’s most cherished institution, strike up a barbaric melody, bitter and penetrating sounds with a strange haunting rhythm. They are not playing native music in its purity; this air with which they play the Emperor to his throne is a compromise between the styles of east and west.
Round the Imperial throne which stands on a carpeted dais and is sheltered by an awning of light blue silk, the foreign envoys are placed in a semicircle, the Duke of Gloucester, who is wearing the full-dress uniform of the Hussars, in the place of honour at the Emperor’s right. Behind the throne stand five Coptic bishops all in voluminous robes of black silk, each carrying an ornate gold cross of beautiful yet strangely complex design. They also hold small scarlet umbrellas fringed with drooping tassels of bright gold. Slightly to one side stands a magnificent figure, the King’s High Minister of State, in a dress of gorgeous colour and amazingly intricate pattern, and the Kantiba or Mayor of the city in black and gold. Then, as if to add one final touch of the ultra modern to this scene in which the old and the new are so strikingly blended, there are, right opposite the Emperor’s throne, two strange looking objects draped in the national colours yet strangely foreign to the glorious past this day invokes.
They are microphones...
The ceremony was simple. The Emperor received from the hand of his Minister of State a paper from which he read in slow clear tones a formal speech praising the virtues of Menelek the Great and making a solemn pledge that the work which he began should be carried out. It also referred to the presence of guests from beyond the seas and expressed the hope that with the aid of the undoubted friendship of which their presence was proof Ethiopia would share in the benefits of civilisation and worthily fulfil her great traditions.
His speech ended the Emperor descended from the dais and advanced towards the statue. Behind him walked the official delegates, the Duke of Gloucester leading the way, and the bishops holding up their golden crosses which gleamed magnificently in the sun. As the party reached the statue the shroud of red, yellow and green in which it was hidden slid away.
The Emperor Menelek was commemorated in European fashion. The statue portrayed him seated upon his horse just as the various forgotten generals whose grimy memorials are so common in London are displayed. This was rather a disappointment to those connoisseurs of Ethiopic art who had hoped, perhaps, for something more characteristically national. The only hint of the exotic was the brightness of the gilt. The statue was, however, a sound enough piece of work and made a great impression, its emergence from its draperies being greeted with long applause. The Emperor paused a moment before the memorial as if in prayer, then walked to his waiting car. Immediately behind him throughout the ceremony there had stood a splendidly arrayed imperial lackey who held an ornate umbrella. He now took his place at the rear of the car and the procession prepared to move off.
At this moment there came a sharp word of command from the far side of the square where the detachment of Royal Marines from the British cruiser Effingham had been posted, and then there crashed upon the air the first notes of the Ethiopian national anthem played with cheerful precision by their band. The music, so loud and gay, was in striking contrast with the mournful harmonies of the Ethiopian musicians. In a flash its robust resonance had transformed the Great Square of Menelek into St. James’ Courtyard and the Admiralty Arch.
The Emperor ordered his car to stop and listened with a cheerful smile while the band was playing. Then the procession continued on its way amid the cheering crowds. Meanwhile the chiefs filed passed the statue. Each man first kissed the steps of the monument and then embraced his neighbour—this being a sign that in reverence to the Emperor Menelek and his successors all Ethiopia was united.
“The Conquering Lion of Judah, Haile Selassie I, Elect of God, King of Kings, Emperor of All Ethiopia....” Thus ran the impressive proclamation.
The solemn coronation of the Emperor was carried out with due dignity and all magnificence at the Cathedral of St. George. Like all the Ethiopian churches this is a small building, and the ceremony was therefore performed not within its walls but in a huge outer structure built specially for the occasion against the west door. Though only of canvas, this gave an amazing impression of space and solidity, for it was an extremely sound piece of work, the wooden supports being cleverly reinforced with steel. The total length of the annexe was over 200 feet, and the western end was raised three steps above the remainder to give the effect of a chancel. A curtain of crimson silk twenty feet high acted as reredos, before which, on three tables, lay the Imperial Mantle and the various items of the Ethiopian Regalia. Under a great canopy of red and gold stood the throne of the Emperor, placed at the entrance to the chancel and facing east.
The Emperor had spent the night in solitary vigil within the Cathedral, having driven there in the utmost secrecy in accordance with ancient custom. So secret was his arrival that the crowds which during the night were already thronging the street had no idea that their ruler had passed among them.
By seven o’clock in the morning the crowds were dense and within the sacred precincts notabilities were gathered in a dazzling array. The bright November weather— for that month is the late spring of the year in Abyssinia, was perfect, and light and warmth poured through the pure mountain air. The priesthood entered first to the number of close on two hundred chanting solemnly and holding aloft their glowing tapers. At length, when all were in position, the bishops commenced a slow and stately repetition of the words of the 122nd Psalm:
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.
These magnificent words were of the Emperor’s own choosing, and in their selection he had shown admirable taste, for they laid stress on the unity of throne and church, being also a message of peace to the tribes of his kingdom.
It was a splendid setting for the entry of the Emperor who repeated the words of the Psalm. He looked tired from his long vigil, yet in his eyes was a burning sincerity of purpose and the poise of his body suggested not so much triumph as spiritual exaltation. Before him were ranged the princes of the blood royal, each crowned; and behind were the governors of provinces, their cloaks richly jewelled and embroidered in beautiful colours. At their side were the envoys of foreign powers with their staffs, a brilliant muster of uniforms; and with each delegation was a high official of Ethiopia to act as guide and adviser.
The Duke of Gloucester, a distinguished figure in his uniform (which was that of the 10th Hussars) was close to the throne of the Empress, his suite ranged behind him. Nearby stood the Abuna, Primate of Ethiopia, with a magnificent golden mitre towering upon his brow and a cope of cloth of gold upon his shoulders. Five bishops attended him, their long cloaks of silver brocade sweeping the ground as they moved in slow procession to their places, the gold crosses skilfully embroidered upon the backs of the robes glinting brightly. Ten young choristers in white and gold were also in attendance, while the remaining dignitaries of the Church wore brocade of red and green.
The head-dress of the principal bishops was a tasselled hood, but many of the lesser churchmen wore crowns of intricate design. Prominent among the bishops was the deputy of the Patriarch of Alexandria. His was a high degree of precedence since he represented the head of the Most Sacred Coptic Church.
Well placed in the body of the nave were scores of Europeans, either residents or visitors, who were present in good positions by special invitation of the Emperor; and behind was the great mass of chiefs from the outlying provinces. There had been many delicate questions of precedence to be dealt with in allotting their positions, for it seemed that the lesser the rank of a chieftain the more stoutly he would quarrel to assert it, but the Emperor had issued a tactfully worded instruction emphasising that all men were as nothing in the sight of God and within his holy dwelling and urging friendliness and forbearance. The message was supplemented by a definite warning from the King’s High Minister that the slightest breach of the peace would be dealt with in exemplary fashion.
It was not this threat, however, which hushed into the deepest silence these rude warriors from the hills. For all their sorry records they were at heart true children of their Church. They might pay off a score from time to time in murderous fashion, but always they would ask the blessing of God upon their venture, pausing perhaps in a wayside church to pray that they might find their enemy at home; and now, proud participants in the most sacred rites of their faith, they had laid aside all thoughts of old quarrels. Not one unhappy incident marred the whole proceedings though often life-long enemies were side by side.
Near to the provincial chieftains, their neat uniforms a strange touch of western life amid the barbaric lions’ mane head-dresses which surrounded them, was the band of the Royal Marines, to whom, as a signal honour was entrusted the playing of the Ethiopian National Anthem at the very moment of the coronation.
As soon as the Emperor was seated and the repetition of the psalm had ceased a second procession, that of the Empress and her Ladies in Waiting filed into view. The Empress, whose face was hidden by a long white veil, wore flowing robes of white silk and moved with great dignity amid the glistening folds of the drapery. The Ladies of the Court wore bright colours, but all had white veils which fell neatly from the edges of the broad- brimmed felt hats. Standing beside the Empress were two of her closest friends, one a European, Frau Hartel, a German lady, who wore a white dress devoid of any ornament and surmounted by a short white cape.
The Crown Prince was seated on a throne of state at his father’s left hand, while little five-year old Makonnen, the Emperor’s youngest son, sat on a low stool at his father’s feet. The Emperor was a striking figure in a loose cape of heavy silk of spotless whiteness beneath which red trousers showed. While the Imperial Mantle and certain other regalia were placed upon him he was hidden from the gaze of the multitude by a curtain of white silk which the priests held before him, a custom going back at least two thousand years. The Mantle, a lovely robe of deep red velvet beautifully embroidered with gold, was fastened to the shoulders and did not conceal the white cloak below which served to throw into prominence the gorgeous colour and design. Red draperies, somewhat in Arab fashion, framed the keen face of the Emperor.
The first stage of the impressive ceremony was over. Now the Abuna came forward and called upon the Princes and Governors to behold their Emperor.
“O Princes of the Royal House, and Counsellors of the King, O Nobles of Ethiopia, Lords of the Church, Learned Teachers and Holy Priests, see here before you, a humble servant of the Most High God, Haile Selassie, descended from the line of Menelek, firstborn of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, a line of kings mighty and righteous which has endured without ever a break till this our time. To Him you shall give all obedience not in deeds only but even within your hearts!”
The proclamation was received in silence. Then, the Primate, placing his hand upon a gold-bound volume of the Holy Scriptures turned towards the throne.
“Do you, Haile Selassie, swear to uphold with all your strength the Holy Faith of the Alexandrine Church?”
The Emperor, his hand outstretched upon the Bible, swore that he would do these things. A book, richly bound, was handed to the Abuna who solemnly placed it before the Emperor. A pen was placed in his hand and he signed the written statement of the vows which he had sworn.
Meanwhile the perfumes of strange incense were spreading through the great tent from censers slowly swung by two priests with attendant deacons who approached the throne. Crosses were everywhere uplifted and the Abuna commenced the measured recitation of the 72nd Psalm.
The prayers of the Evangelists were now uttered in low tones by the priesthood, but at the words ‘May the gifts of the Faithful ever be acceptable to our God,’ the Keeper of the Royal Treasury came forward and placed upon the altar table ten ounces of pure gold, the offering of the Emperor to the Church. There was next a reading from the gospels, a number of chosen deacons each taking the book in turn; and then came a solemn blessing of both Emperor and Empress.
The ten singers now advanced towards the throne, while the Archbishop of Lusta, taking in his hands the rich vestments came before the Abuna and offered them for his blessing. This done they were handed by the Abuna to the Bishop of the Northern Churches who, when he had pronounced his own blessing, approached the Emperor for the investiture.
At once the ten pure voices of the singers were raised in an old melody, the canticle commencing: “From my heart flow excellent words. . . .” Once more the forest of crosses was prominent in the gorgeous background and the censers were again swung to and fro. The singers paused at the words: “Gird your sword to your side in your splendour, in your Majesty. . . .” There was a moment of utter quiet, and then the High Priest of the South came forward with the Sword of Solomon.
The Abuna pronounced his blessing upon the glittering weapon, the hilt of which was wrought very richly, and then it was placed before the Emperor who rose to receive it.
“By this sword,” cried the Abuna, “shall you do justice. You shall protect the Holy Church, succour the widow and the orphan and all who are oppressed by wrong; you shall restore that which lies in ruins and you shall maintain all that which you shall restore. With this sword you shall chastise the wicked and do the righteous honour; and every act you shall perform shall be in the service of Christ Jesus our Saviour!”
“May God make me worthy,” said the Emperor, as he girded the sword at his side.
The sceptre was blessed and handed to the king, and next the orb was tendered in the same manner. Two bishops next approached and placed each a ring on either hand of the Emperor. That on the left hand was a symbol of devotion to God; that on the right hand was a symbol of earthly glory.
“May your imperial splendour be bright even as these jewels,” said the bishop on the right hand when the ring was in place. Next two glittering lances were presented, their surface magnificent with chased gold. The Emperor made a motion and from behind the throne the Master of the King’s Horse came forward to receive the lances in token of his office. There was then a solemn pause.
The priests now commenced to chant the 44th Psalm, the choristers leading, and while they sang the Abuna solemnly anointed Haile Selassie, pronouncing as he did so these words: “As Samuel anointed David, as Zadok and Nathan anointed Solomon, I anoint you with this most sacred oil.” The ceremony of anointing was performed in two stages. First with a light touch of his finger the Abuna anointed the Emperor’s forehead, and then he bent his head in prayer. At the words: “May your heart delight in justice,” the Abuna raised his head and touched the breasts of the Emperor. He then solemnly withdrew.
It was plain to every beholder that the ceremony was now approaching its climax. At a sign from the Abuna the choristers stepped forward in readiness, and then, as the high priest of Aksum presented the crown to his superior for the final act of coronation, there was a splendid outburst of singing, the words being those of the 45th Psalm—the fifth verse:
With the imperial crown before him, the Abuna then read the 21st Psalm, a thanksgiving of David for victory and a prayer for further success:
Reading through these psalms again years after the ceremony it is noticeable not only with what perfect judgment they are chosen but how prophetic they were of the trials which were to come. The references to the plans of evil doers and the promise of God that they shall be thwarted:
“For they intended evil against thee, they have imagined a mischievous device which they are not able to perform....” seem strangely applicable to later events. So also are the invocations to the hills which will protect God’s people. The fundamental link between Ethiopia and all Christian peoples becomes strikingly evident when it is remembered that the familiar lines of the Psalmist are their heritage no less than ours.
When the last words of the exultant utterance of the Hebrew King who was also so supreme a poet had ceased there came a moment of breathless silence. Then, slowly, the Abuna advanced towards the Emperor and placed the crown upon his head.
“May God grant that this crown be a halo of holiness and glory. May you, by your prayers, preserve your faith unshaken and unconquerable. May you be pure in heart even as this gold is pure. And when this crown is laid aside may you gain instead a crown of life eternal.”
The crowned monarch stood erect, his face uplifted, and the Abuna, also gazing toward Heaven, cried “Amen.”
The Primate now retired and the Emperor stepped forward. Standing before the great assembly, a figure of kingly dignity—humility and exaltation blending in the poise of his slender form, he repeated in clear tones a passage from the Holy Book. Especially moving was the moment when with an almost saintly fervour he implored his God to aid him.
“I am the least of my brethren....”
The words were spoken in a thronged gathering, yet it seemed to the listeners as though Haile Selassie was unaware of his surroundings and that his soul was alone with God.
In the coronation of the Empress, which followed immediately, the Emperor played a part. The Bishop of the Southern Provinces made the first offering, a diamond ring of great value. “Let your faith shine even as these jewels,” he said as he placed it upon her finger.
Meanwhile the Abuna had taken the Empress’s crown and was holding it out towards her consort. The Emperor took it in his hands for a few moments and then handed it back to his Primate, saying: “As I have been blessed to receive from your hands the Crown of Empire which our God has granted unto me, so now is it my firm desire that my Empress shall share in my glory, receiving from me this crown which I ask your Holiness to place upon her.”
A blessing was pronounced upon the crown by the Abuna who then placed it solemnly upon the head of the Empress. She now came forward and made a deep obeisance to the Emperor, after which she received homage from the entire multitude who bowed their heads and murmured ‘So be it. . . .’ At this moment the ladies of her court burst into shrill cries of delight, a sound so strange to European ears that some of the visitors looked up in startled fashion to see what was happening. The cries lasted for some moments while four princes of the blood royal bowed humbly before the Empress and then filed into position behind her throne.
Now came the great procession of rejoicing, the most impressive spectacle that the streets of Addis Ababa had ever seen. Their Majesties, wearing full regalia, their officers of State attending them, walked to two open air thrones which had been erected in the great square. The envoys of the foreign powers walked behind them, the Duke of Gloucester, as guest of honour, leading the way. They emerged from the western door of the canvas sanctuary to be dazzled by the brilliant light of the Ethiopian skies and deafened by the roar of cheering which continued without intermission for the whole period of fifteen minutes or more during which their Majesties sat in State before the vast concourse of their loyal subjects.
Then came the drive back to the palace between cheering masses of excited yet well disciplined crowds. A double file of soldiers had been set along the whole line of the route yet so orderly were the people that there was little for the soldiers to do.
Before their return to the palace their Majesties witnessed a ceremonial dance of which the origins are lost in the mists of history. A band of twenty priests in two lines of ten facing each other, their silver sistra glistening, tinkling and throbbing weirdly in their hands, danced with the slow wavering rhythm of the ancient ritual. This was the dance of David before the Lord, a glimpse of Biblical lore made suddenly real and vivid to modern eyes.
A shortening of the prolonged and ecstatic evolutions of the ancient days had been decided upon by the Emperor out of deference to the comfort of his guests from overseas. Yet though the weird dance was robbed of the spellbinding power of endless repetition its strange beauty made an instant appeal to all who witnessed it. Those who “knew their Abyssinia” shook their heads however and said: “This would have lasted for hours in the old days. I expect the priests don’t much care for having their ceremonies cut short like this.” And then: “You must come to the next feast day of the Church if you want to see the real thing.” Most Europeans who saw this dancing remembered the throb of the two huge drums which reinforced the rhythm beneath the free cadences of the sistra. It was easy to imagine the hypnotic effect which this rhythm might have exercised when sounding hour after hour.
On his way back to the palace the Emperor, though obviously tired out by the strain to which he had been subjected, looked very happy. The sun smiled down upon him and all around were resounding cheers. He had achieved his aim. Ethiopia was now recognised as a nation among nations. In a magnificent yet restrained and truly beautiful ceremonial he had glorified not only his own high office, but the people who looked up to him for guidance, and the God to whom he turned so constantly for help. Further, from the standpoint of less exalted considerations, he had set a notable example in organisation to a land which had much to learn concerning this. The ceremony in all its complexity had proceeded without the least difficulty or delay. This was an achievement which an Englishman, used to the clockwork precision of the London pageants, would not value highly enough; but to those who knew Abyssinia the smoothness with which everything had moved came as a startling surprise.
Yet the procession ended on a note which must have seemed a knell of warning to many far-sighted spectators, including doubtless the Emperor himself. Out of the blue came a sudden roaring and seven aeroplanes swooped low over the city. Three were British, three displayed the Ethiopian colours, and one was Italian. The machines roared by and then returned. A flutter of white was seen in the air and then a cloud of papers floated earthwards. It was the proclamation of the coronation scattered abroad that all might read.
The natives of the capital and the vast concourse of tribesmen from the outlying provinces, to many of whom an aeroplane was an incredible wonder seen now for the first time, scrambled for these precious papers some of which are treasured still to-day as charms of great power. Little did they realise that these strange monsters who first alarmed and then delighted them might one day come with terrible cargo and shower flaming destruction upon their defenceless land.
There are many delightful anecdotes of the feasting which followed. Although the Emperor’s staff served excellent food and exquisitely chosen wines, not all of his tribal guests were at home in the western atmosphere and there were occasional throwbacks to more primitive manners which annoyed the Emperor and delighted those of his European guests whose sense of proportion functioned. There were, too, occasional alarums and excursions behind the scenes owing to the misunderstanding of certain orders. The keeper of the palace stores had been ordered not to part with anything to unauthorised persons and had probably been warned that if he did this and any shortage resulted he would be visited by his Royal Master’s severest displeasure. True to his instructions he defended his storehouse with the utmost vigilance, and when the chef, to whom had been entrusted the preparation of a banquet which the Duke of Gloucester was to give in the Emperor’s honour, came with a request for fuel he was required to produce an order. Time was precious and after much delay the order was not forthcoming since all the officials who might have given it were elsewhere at that time. The chef grew desperate. At length he managed to enlist the aid of an Ethiopian who had travelled widely in Europe and who understood the situation. This man pointed out to the store-keeper that the banquet for which the fuel was required was to be in the Emperor’s honour; but it was no use. The man stuck to his point—no permit, no fuel. The chef and the westernised Ethiopian consulted together and decided on force. Making a concerted attack they seized and bound the protesting servant and carried off all the fuel that they needed. The situation was saved. The banquet was a great success.
The Duke of Gloucester was very popular in Addis Ababa, his distinguished bearing yet affable nature delighting all who met him. But it was the band of the Royal Marines which scored the biggest popular success. At first the inhabitants listened with puzzled faces to these unfamiliar sounds, but they soon learned to like them. There are several military bands in Addis Ababa to-day. It is a cult which may easily spread.
The banquets were consumed, the speeches were made, gifts were presented and warriors from the hills were feasted lavishly at the Emperor’s expense. Then the Rhinoceros Express slid down the long incline toward the coast dragging carriage-loads of distinguished visitors back to Jibuti. Journalists, cameramen, authors, artists, officials, all gossiped of their experiences and of the surprises with which the trip had provided them. Ethiopia had been placed once and for all on the map, and the general opinion was that it would stay there. No one talked of war or annexation. But in the foreign offices of Europe there were whisperings already of trouble ahead. Soon the pressmen were to find themselves once more at Addis Ababa—“The New Flower”—and under less happy circumstances. For the future was dark and uncertain. It was summed up with admirable brevity by an American ‘observer’ who when told that the name ‘Haile Selassie’ signified ‘Might of the Trinity’ remarked, “He’ll need all that—and more....”
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June 24, 2021