Quiet presence supporting the throne. Powerhouse political spouse. Champion of women’s rights. Peace lover. Gracious wearer of tiaras. Are you intrigued yet?
Menen Asfaw was the wife of the last Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, and Empress consort from 1930 to 1962. The reign of Haile Selassie is worthy of a hundred blog posts in and of itself, but the condensed version is that he served as Emperor for 44 years, a period of intense change and modernization for the country. He was also posthumously derided as a despot and a tyrant, and is considered to be God by Rastafarians. Menen Asfaw was crowned Queen of Queens with him in 1930, and remained Empress until her death in 1962.
Baptised Walatta Giyorgis, Menen Asfaw entered an arranged marriage at a very young age, as was the custom of the country and the times. She had been married twice before meeting the future emperor at age 20.
The Empress was an intensely religious woman and devoted political spouse, but she was also an inspiring public presence, promoting education for girls – who she believed had been left behind in society due to a lack of resources. She was the force behind establishing schools for the blind and disenfranchised, sponsoring trade schools for local crafts, and mobilizing the women of Ethiopia during the Italian occupation. And more!
During the Italian occupation of 1936 to 1941, the Empress was exiled from Ethiopia. Cut off from her home, the Empress visited Bethlehem, and made a pledge to gift her coronation crown to the church if Ethiopia were liberated from occupation. At the occupation’s end, the Empress returned to Ethiopia. She had a replica of the crown made for future Empresses, and the original crown sent to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. She would wear a tiara at public events, but would never again wear a full crown.
I hope we can all agree that Empress could wear the heck out of her tiaras and crowns. Every photo I found of her absolutely exuded gravitas and intelligence. The first tiara – or crown – intrigued me with the unusual inverse fringe design. Unfortunately, there is little to no information on any of the tiaras, and no intel on where they are now. Haile was the last emperor of Ethiopia, and the family has few occasions to publicly wear tiaras since.
Tiara Mania recently did a post on the third tiara in the series of photos above, a delicate diamond design that reminds me strongly of some of the tiaras in the Japanese Imperial collection. We are all hoping that someone, somewhere, can come up with some more information.
In 1955, the Empress made a world famous speech on the terrible effects of war on women and children. If you listen, you can see where her reputation as a serious force came from.
Haile Salassie and Menen Asfaw had six children. Additional information on the Empress and her fascinating life can be found here.