His body was buried beneath a lavatory in the royal palace at Addis Ababa and only discovered eight years ago, after the collapse of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam’s regime. Since then the last emperor of Ethiopia’s bones have remained in a box marked `Do Not Touch’ while the current government argued with his descendants over what to do. After two aborted attempts at a state burial, the remains have been transferred to a narrow casket draped in a silver-threaded shroud. From there, if all goes to plan, they will be moved to a larger casket and Haile Selassie will be buried beside his wife in the crypt of Holy Trinity church. Yet controversy still rages over a man who, to many Ethiopians, is not merely a symbol of long-gone royal power but part of the oldest dynasty in the world, a ruler who claimed direct descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Lionised by Rastafarians, who took his name – he was originally called Ras Tafari – as the basis for their religion, Haile Selassie was hailed by them as the Messiah and Ethiopia as the promised land. Nor was this worship confined to Africa. Haile Selassie’s charisma made him an early symbol of black pride. He was recognised as the Messiah by the Jamaican-born US civil rights leader Marcus Garvey and named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1935. His reputation grew from inauspicious beginnings. Crowned in 1930, he had been Emperor for only six years when Benito Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, then called Abyssinia, forced him into exile in Bath. In June 1936 he captured the world’s imagination, eloquently pleading his cause, and unsuccessfully for aid, at the League of Nations. After Italy entered the second world war, help from the allies enabled him to regain his throne, ruling Ethiopia until 1974. Yet, behind the image of an independent African ruler lurked a dirtier picture. For while Haile Selassie liked to think of himself as an enlightened ruler – the benevolent father of his nation – the reality was that the Lion of Judah lived in autocratic splendour, ignoring both the crucial need for land reform and the poverty of his people. In 1974 he was deposed by the Marxist Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, his immediate family were placed under arrest and 11 months later Haile Selassie was said to have died of natural causes. Rumours persisted that he had been murdered and in February 1992, not long after Col Mengistu was himself overthrown by the current leader of Ethiopia, previously silent eye witnesses led digging crews to the ground under the Mengistu offices where a set of bones, claimed to be the emperor’s, were discovered. Yet even this has been disputed. The remains have never been DNA tested and doubts about their authenticity remain; meanwhile strict Rastafarians, who believe Haile Selassie did not die but ascended into heaven, have denounced the forthcoming burial as a fake.
Source: GUARDIAN 03/11/2000 P18
Thursday, November 2 9:50 PM SGT Ethiopia pays tribute to Haile Selassie ADDIS ABABA, Nov 2 (AFP) – Members of Ethiopia’s royal family, Christians and people who were close to the late emperor Haile Selassie flocked Thursday to churches here to pray for his soul, 70 years after he was crowned. Hundreds of people gathered before daybreak at the Saint George and Trinity churches of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith in the capital Addis Ababa to pay tribute to the “King of Kings”, who was overthrown in a 1974 military coup. A group of 60 members of the royal family and more than 100 dignitaries and former aides went to the Taeka Negest Baata Mariam Geda church where the relics of the monarch have been kept since 1992, witnesses said. Haile Selassie’s eldest daughter, the octogenarian Princess Tenagnework, and his granddaughters, the princesses Aida, Seble and Sofia, and grandsons Haile Selassie and princes Zara Yacob Asfaw Wossen, Ermias Sahle Selassie, Beide Mariam Mekonen and Teferi were among those to attend the private Fethate Tselot mass of prayers for the soul and the forgiveness of sins. Members of the family, who had arrived during the past fortnight from the United States, Canada and Europe, went into the imperial crypt during a ceremony that lasted for more than three hours, witnesses said. “People were weeping, it was solemn but very emotional,” a participant told AFP. On Sunday, the remains of the former monarch, who was born on July 23, 1882, in the eastern Harar region, are to be transferred to the Trinity church in a state funeral ceremony starting at noon (0900 GMT). The memorial events were sought by the royal family, who had asked the coalition government of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to be allowed to proceed, and met with some opposition, according to local press reports. Haile Selassie’s foes reproach his 44-year reign of absolute power and a failure to change land policy or to make the government of his Horn of Africa country truly representative of the people, which is a patchwork of many different ethnic and religious groups. Opponents also say Haile Selassie I, a name which means “power of the Trinity”, refused to respond to protests by students and minority groups and did not act quickly to end the 1974 famine in Wollo in northeastern Ethiopia that killed 200,000 people. However, the emperor, held to be the 225th descendant in the royal line of Menelik, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, also placed Addis Ababa on the map as an international capital, headquarters to the Organization of African Unity and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Seventy years ago, on November 2, 1930, the former Ras (Duke) Teferi Mekonen, was crowned emperor in full pomp and circumstance in Addis Ababa after he had already served as regent of the Abyssinian empire for 14 years. The crowned heads of Belgium, Egypt, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom and the presidents of Germany and the United States were invited to the ceremony, where Haile Selassie, who had already been proclaimed Negus or king, was made the Negus Negast, seven months after the death of the Empress Zewditu. Former French ambassador to Ethiopia Gontran de Juniac, author of Le Dernier Roi des Rois (The Last King of Kings), recalled that Britain and Italy respectively sent the Duke of Gloucester and Princess Udine, while France sent Marshal Franchet d’Esperey. That coronation ceremony, which began during the night at the Cathedral of Saint George, saw his imperial majesty take the crown, sceptre and sword of Abyssinia and impressed the world. Haile Selassie died, according to the official version, of a “failure of his blood circulation system” on the night of August 26, 1975, at the age of 82. The belief persists, however, that he was murdered by the military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, who overthrew him the previous year, to be ousted in turn by rebel armies whose leaders are now Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the president of independent Eritrea, formerly a province of Ethiopia.