Negus Tafari Makonnen of Shewa 22nd September 1928
The Emperor of Ethiopia is dubbed the “King of Kings” because he is the supreme ruler over all the chiefs or kings of provinces within Ethiopia. These kings of constituent states within Ethiopia (and Eritrea) were called by the title of “Negus” which means in ancient Ge’ez, “to reign.” To be named and crowned Negus of Shewa was of particular importance in the antiquity of Ethiopia, for this region was a capital for the royal House of Solomon/Menelek I, second to Gondar; and functioned autonomously for centuries. It is an abundantly rich and fertile region, in the very centre or heart of Ethiopia, and even partly borders the River Nile. Learning the Istory of King Tafari, many RasTafari are familiar with the towns of Debre Berhan, Ankober and Entoto which in addition to Addis Abeba were once capitals of Shewa.
Shewa is noted to have been a welfare state. It is divided with mainly Amhara Christians and Muslims in the North, but Oromo and Muslims in the South. In the oldest of histories, it was a part of Aksum before it was captured by Muslims. Shewa was the junior line of ascendancy, a branch of the paternal line of emperors which was rooted in Gondar. Emperor Menelek II was the last emperor under the paternal line of Shewa. Only the paternal line was supposed to ascend the throne, but this rule was often not followed in the 1700s and 1800s, where rulers proclaimed themselves with the majority backing of the nobility and church rather than by being legitimate heirs (hence why the traditional belief in direct succession from Solomon to Haile Sellassie is questionable).
Menelek II was King of Shewa and transferred that title to Emperor of Ethiopia when he proclaimed himself ruler over the entire country (he seized the throne from the son of his rival Kassai who had the Abuna crown him Negusa Negast Yohannes). He built and made Addis Abeba the capital of Shewa and of the monarchy. Ras Tafari was the last man of the family of Sahle Sellassie to be named Negus of Shewa. This happened when He was 37 years old on September 7th 1928, and He was the first Regent to be given the title under the ruling Emperor/Empress. He also named His firstborn son Asfa Wossen Meridasmach which means ‘Fearsome Commander.” This was a title only given to the Ruler of Shewa in the days before Emperor Sahle Sellassie, but when Sahle came into power, on personal preference, he changed it to Negus. Therefore, only the descendants of Sahle Sellassie were named Negus of Shewa.
Ras Tafari was granted this title Negus not on the freewill of the Empress, or by seizing the title for Himself as did His predecessors; but because of His popularity among the progressive members of the ruling class, and because it was the best way to avoid bloodshed between the conservatives and progressives. The empress was basically obliged to grant Him this title because of an event dubbed the “Palace Revolt.”
When Tafari was named Regent, He of course assumed the majority of the ruling duties, and was therefore constantly in the public eye, dealing with the people on a daily basis. Along with His wife Princess Menen He created a lot of new infrastructures based on European models. Printing presses for newspapers and books, telephones and roads were installed at the capital. People started to rise up in socio-economic class, because of booming trade. The Regent and His Wife encouraged nobles in other parts of the country to build schools in their towns, to which Princess Menen’s mother Woyzero Sehin Mikael obliged.
From Sandford’s and Parnell’s accounts, through Prince Tafari’s administration He and His wife became quite popular and respected by the nobility who were supportive of continuing Menelek II’s works for Ethiopian progress. Those who supported the traditional feudal system and who did not like all the foreigners Tafari brought to live and work in Abyssinia, nor the changes of society with the increase of wealth; gathered around the reclusive Empress Zauditu. They didn’t want Tafari to get too close to the throne. Rumours and biased opinions against Ras Tafari came to Zauditu’s ear, a conspiracy to have Him deposed as Regent was in full swing. On September 5th, with the conservative nobles of the cabinet, she summoned her cousin to her father’s main palace, the Big Ghibbi, where all official business was conducted. As soon as Ras Tafari had entered the palace, the doors and gates were barricaded with armed palace guards. He sat with the empress and she questioned Him about His secret plans to overthrow her reign.
The main accusation against the Regent was the treaty signed with Italy allowing them to build a road from Asab to Dessie. The empress had reluctantly signed it, but she continuously let it be known to her cousin that she was not happy about His foreign relations – it just wasn’t the “Ethiopian Way.” This access road would greatly reduce Ethiopia’s own tradition and natural defenses against the likes of invaders. Though this statement became true in the end, the invasion would have likely happened regardless. At least King Tafari knew the importance of keeping the enemy closer. If He had not been ruling at the time and keeping tabs on Europe via the League of Nations, Ethiopia would have been at a sore disadvantage when Italy invaded.
Denying all claims to His sedition against the crown and the country, Tafari left the palace with His integrity and beliefs intact. He stood strong before the disapproving faces of the crown council, those who did not share His vision for Ethiopia.
"Disposing scornfully of such allegations of disloyalty, Ras Tafari maintained complete self-possession in the face of the threatening soldiers of the palace guard. Ordering the great doors of the ghibbi to be thrown open he passed out and down the steps of the assembly hall. The force of his personality held the crowd." (Sandford 2009, page 52)
Hearing of what was happening at the palace, Princess Menen gathered her husband’s own soldiers, equipping them with whatever weapons She could find, and arrived with a tank bursting through the gates, to rescue Her husband. This led to a “hold-up” between the Regent’s own bodyguard and tank, with the empress’ palace officers. By the next day priests came to intervene and end the stand-off. It was clear who had the upper-hand in the situation as well. With a calm and silent sweep onto His mule, surrounded by His loyal supporters, Ras Tafari rode back to His home.
Witnessing the entire “trial,” and being thoroughly impressed by the maturity of the Regent, later on September 19th the progressive nobility insisted the empress crown the Ras as Negus of Shewa. On the 22nd Empress Zauditu proclaimed the Ras His Majesty Negus Tafari of Shewa; and on the 7th October 1928 the crown was bestowed. At the Church of the Trinity, the ceremony was held in great joy and pomp, reinforcing to the traditionalists/conservatives that there was soon going to be a shift in power. Princess Menen became Itege, or Queen Menen, meaning “the King’s Consort.”