Emperor Haile Selassie’s New Year Lesson

If you want to have friends, shut one eye and close both ears.

Emperor Haile Selassie I, negus of Ethiopia

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1. Introduction

Emperor Haile Selassie I’s address to the League of Nations [French]

Emperor Haile Selassie I was Ethiopia’s last emperor—or negus. He was the Lion of Judah. To read more about him click or tap here. He had helped set up the League of Nations. Then in 1936, the League betrayed Ethiopia. No kitten, Negus Haile Selassie fought for the rights of Ethiopia and Africa. Read how here.

‘Let me tell you what I told my sons: my 6 tips for getting on in life.’

2. New Year Lesson

Negus Haile Selassie’s Ethiopian new year lesson happened in 1971 and 1972. He taught 9999 Ethiopian youth a lesson in 2 parts.

September is special in Ethiopia. It is Meskeram and the first month of the year in the Ethiopian calendar. In September 1971, Negus Haile Selassie gathered 10,000 young people from 15 provinces and brought them to Addis Ababa. They were diverse: of all religions, walks of life, and abilities. Some were visually impaired. Girls wore yellow adde flowers in clouds of curly hair or in their braids.

At the palace, he addressed the youths. In real life, when he wrote or spoke about himself, Haile Selassie used ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. European monarchy does this too. However, in this story, we have him use ‘I’.

Haile Selassie had organised a nutritious lunch for the guests. After they ate, he spoke.

‘My sons have been unlucky. One was killed in a light-aeroplane accident. My second son was travelling from Harer to Addis Ababa. His car crashed and he died on the spot. My eldest was shot — it is a mystery how it happened. Afterwards, he could neither walk or speak and he too died.’ The guests sat up straight. Few heirs to the crown were left.

‘Let me tell you what I told my sons: my 6 tips for getting on in life.’

If you want to heal yourself, forgive and forget.

6 Maxims

‘ONE: If you want to have friends, shut one eye and close both ears.

‘TWO: When you tell a like today, you might feel successful, but . . . Tell a lie and you’ll be ashamed for the rest of your life. You never achieve anything by lying.’ The audience barely breathed.

‘THREE: If you want to heal yourself, forgive and forget. If you keep remembering the past, you will end up with incurable diseases. If you love yourself, leave it behind.

‘FOUR: If you notice somebody else’s frailties, do not talk about them in front of anyone. One day, your own frailty will be worse.

‘FIVE: Do not discuss what people have given you. Do not expect anything from anybody. Rather, ask yourself what you have done for people.

‘SIX: The world is your temporary house. You are merely in transit. Leave it in good condition for those who follow. Life never stops. If you think there is nothing afterwards, you are foolish and selfish. Leave the world sweet and comfortable for the next generation. Do this whether you live 8 or 70 years. Do not abuse the environment. When your flesh changes into soil, your spirit will remain on earth. Leave behind a comfortable home for it.’

Wind blew and, through the open doors, came a sweet-earth smell. Haile Selassie said, ‘I give each of you a pot and one olive-tree seed. When you go, take mulch and plant it. This time next year, bring it back here.’

One Year Later

Ten thousand stood in the palace hall before their plant pots. Special guests lined the walls. Who would be chosen as heir to the crown? Emperor Haile Selassie I walked among them. He paused in front of a youth whose tree was a metre tall—and flowering.

An hour later, he smiled and stopped in front of a boy with an empty-plant pot. What was wrong with Negus Haile Selassie? He spoke quietly. The failed gardener’s face remained serious. Haile Selassie said, ‘This is my algawash.’ He meant ‘heir to the crown’. A few muttered, ‘He bypassed me. I looked after this plant 24/7 for 365 days.’ Observers said, ‘Negus Haile Selassie has gone crazy.’

He walked to the front of the hall. ‘Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine of you are liars. The only honest person among you stood before an empty plant-pot. You others would not be capable of raising a child, nurturing a marriage or sustaining a friendship. All of you are too dishonest.

The emperor’s 1971 speech would find its way to most other African countries.

‘All the seeds that I gave you were dead. They could never germinate let alone grow into trees. The only winner among you is he who came with no plant.’

Haile Selassie took the youth into the court to mentor him. What became of him I do not know. Within two years, revolution came. The emperor’s 1971 speech would find its way to most other African countries. People would even hear it in American ghettoes. It would become popular with evangelical religious maniacs. They would preach about it in town squares.

© Mesfin Tadesse, 2020

3. Ethiopian Calendar

Ethiopian New Year

Ethiopian New Year is on 11 September which is early spring in Addis Ababa. In some alpine areas, the temperature drops to below 10-degrees Celsius. Yellow adde flowers smother the countryside.

Thousands of Years Old

Many Ethiopians use 2 calendars: the Gregorian calendar of the West, and the Ethiopian calendar. To see Ethiopia’s, click here. Ethiopia’s calendar is behind the West’s by 7 or 8 years. From 1 January 2020 to 10 September 2020, it was 2012 in Ethiopia. Now it is the year 2013.

The first month is Meskeram. Like September, Meskeram has 30 days. So do the 11 months that follow: Ethiopia has an equal-months calendar. To memorise it, Ethiopian children do not need mnemonics such as Thirty days hath… For more about the Ethiopian calendar, click here.

The Ethiopian calendar is thousands of years old. It fits with the country’s rich culture. The ancient baptism festival of Temket is on 19 January. Ethiopians of all religions celebrate it.

Short Month

The Ethiopian year has 365 or 366 days. There are 12 months, each of 30 days. What about the remaining 5 or 6 days?

Ethiopia has a 13th month called Pagume. It has 5 days and comes just before the new year. Every 4 years, there is a leap year when Pagume lasts for 6 days. However, Ethiopian leap years do not always coincide with Western-leap years.

To read an article about Pagume and leap years by Dr Aberra Molla, click here.

Spring festival

Calculating Leap Years

Western, or Gregorian, calendar
  • Divide the year by 4.
  • If there is no remainder, it is a leap year.
  • For example, divide 2020 by 4. The result is 55 with no remainder. Therefore, 2020 is a leap year.
Ethiopian calendar
  • Add 5500 to the current year.
  • Divide the sum by 4.
  • If the remainder is 3, it is a leap year in Ethiopia.
The current Ethiopian year is 2013. Is it a leap year?
  • 5500 + 2013 = 7513
  • Divide 7513 by 4
  • The result is 1878. There is a remainder of 1. Therefore, 2013 is not a leap year.

4 Year Cycle

Haile Selassie died — most likely he was murdered — just before the Ethiopian new year in September 1975. Somalia invaded. The war killed hundreds of thousands.

Of the year beginning September 1975, Ethiopia’s Orit Yehuda (Ethiopian Jewish) astronomers had said, ‘Beware of disease and natural disaster.’ This was the year of Mateus which comes every 4 years.

The 3 other years are Yohanes, Liquas and Markos: each challenges humanity differently.

The Covid-19 pandemic began 44 years after that spring of 1975 — at the end of 2019, the start of the year of Mateus.

They smuggled things…

4. Story: The Swede, the German, the Frenchman and the Emperor


Imagine being invaded by fascists and getting rid of them. How would you feel if you were then forced to give them a job? That happened to Ethiopia. It was after World War II ended in 1945.

Europeans were unleashed upon Ethiopian organisations. They had run perfectly without them.

Mussolini’s fascists had devastated Ethiopia. The United Nations (UN) then awarded Ethiopia compensation for rebuilding. The catch was that Emperor Haile Selassie I had to employ Europeans: Swedes, Norwegians, English, French and Belgians. Unrepentant Italians and Germans also came. Europeans were unleashed upon Ethiopian organisations. They had run perfectly without them.

The Swedish Telecom director made it his own safari. One day, his son wanted to visit Arba Minch. Dad’s Landcruiser was at the garage, so the director lent him a technician’s mini-van. For 10 days until the boy returned, a whole area was without Telecom technical services.

The director of the Ministry of Railway Transport was French; and the director of the Ministry of Chamber was English: They smuggled things: live-exotic animals, ivory and precious stones.

The Ministry of Light and Power got a German director with an English wife. He had 10 huge dogs. As punishment, he set them upon Ethiopian workers. They killed 4 and permanently disabled three.

‘Bite him!’

One day, he brought a worker to his mansion for punishment.

The man said, ‘Let me feed and groom the dogs and clean up the yard. Punish me afterwards.’

‘Ok. Feed them. After 10 days, I will punish you.’

On Day 11, the director invited his Italian and English friends to view the dog punishment. Laughing, they packed into the garden. But the dogs did not attack. Instead, all 10 were friendly and played with the worker.

The director’s wife hit one dog. ‘Bite him!’ It turned on her and bit her.

The boss was disappointed.

Her husband complained to Haile Selassie. He said, ‘The Ethiopian did something to the dogs to make them attack.’ Haile Selassie said, ‘This is the whole story?’

He called the worker who said, ‘I am good with animals and the dogs refused to attack me. The boss was disappointed. He wanted me to cry and shit.’

The emperor said, ‘These people took our freedom. We do not need their power over us. We had our own services.’ The worker said, ‘The next war will not be with such little fascists and nazis. If they stay on, we will end up murdering them all. Ask them about their work.’

First the fascist occupation. Soon after freedom, came war-disaster compensation—in name only: it was another disaster. Haile Selassie summonsed all the Europeans.

Leave Here

Emperor Haile Selassie I said, ‘The UN told us to accept you, but we did not know what you were doing in our country, to our people. We will not be your source of income. From the front, you look like horses. From the back, you are pigs. Leave here. Walk straight to the airport. An aeroplane is ready. If any of you is 30 minutes late, our people will chop you into pieces.’

That day, Haile Selassie terminated the contracts of all foreigners, and employed Ethiopians in their place. The Railway Transport Director sent a 10-carriage train from Djibouti to collect his wife. It had 250 empty seats with 21 crew including kitchen staff. The Frenchman’s wife was the only passenger.

© Mesfin Tadesse, 2020

  • Featured image: Ethiopian Cats © Mesfin Tadesse, 2020
  • Photos: [Yellow] Adde Flowers—calendarstemplates.com; Temket Festival— thetravelmagazine.net
  • First mentions: Haile Selassie I with children in Lucy’s People: Ch. 2; Italian Occupation 1935-41: Ch. 4

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