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Writing, Page One. Haile Sellassie Lion of Judah Fade Banner

ANOTHER (FICTION) PAGE

DEM

THE END OF LENT
It was near midnight on Good Friday, the last day of Magabit, according to the Abyssinian calendar. For people in the Tekl El Bab, it was the end of the sixth hour of the night in the year seven thousand four hundred eighty nine of the Era of the Martyrs, the last period within the New Era of Diocletian. Nobody here at Tekl El Bab remembered it, no one in the camp counted time. Before the famine they measured time by rainy seasons. Now only old people remembered rain, the water which comes from the sky. Old people could tell about rain, but in the time of starvation, they died first.
"Hail..."
The voice was lonely under the high, cold stars.
"Holy Church, Dwelling of God..."
Suddenly thousands of weak voices answered.
"...Pray for us..."

This cry was disappearing within the night air without any echo, any answer. The payer was for rain but the skies were drier than the cracked old earth below. Abba, the head priest, stood under the red umbrella, which was as dark in the dark night as old spilt blood. Abba was surrounded by monks and deacons, a group symbolizing the Ten Commandments. They all moved to the slow measures of a chant and the deep throb of drum-beats,
"...Pray for us..."

Nothing else moved on this old sky, full of blind, indifferent stars, and this flat, empty land was too big for praying people. Nothing had changed here since the times of Solomon and Sheba. Only a little red star was crossing the night spheres from east to west, passing the bright morning star...
This red midnight star was a military jet of the Ethiopian Air Force on its way to night bombing...

"Virgin Mary, Mother of God..."

This year of the Martyrs' Era was dedicated to St. John, who saw the end of the world, the last days, and the last men. The last was here and now, one long hour of death and dying without chronology and memory.
"Pray for us, Virgin Mary..." cried the people.
This night was the night of the new moon. There was an invisible star, Waq, which shot across the sky. A woman on earth takes the place of Waq and she is called "The Lord of Wagapaca." Waq himself chooses the woman. When Waq does this, he loosens the hair-dress of one of the many girls gathered together....

Under the tent of the Red Cross on the top of the hill were four women, two Catholic nuns praying in Italian and French, a young Ethiopian woman in European dress and another one in traditional costume, on the ground, with wide-open, sad eyes. Judith saw the star Waq, and Waq saw her. The night was cold, and Judith covered herself with a blanket, becoming like many of those around her. Waq was silent.
"What is your name?" Judith asked the girl on the ground and repeated her question to the nuns. "What is her name?"
The girl on the black plastic lay on her side; she was no more than sixteen. All Ethiopians in this camp were covered with those grey military blankets; all had no names.
"How do you pray for her without a name?"
"God knows her and her name," The French nun answered.
"Water?" the Italian nun asked Judith. "Water?"
"Her water hasn't broken yet. She has had no contractions. The baby isn't moving."
Two drops of milk came out of the girl's breasts, like tears. Judith put her hand on the girl's forehead. They both closed their eyes.
"Pray for us, Virgin Mary..."

Emerald green, magenta, turquoise blue, lemon yellow, burnt orange, vermilion, old rose, purple emerged from the gloom of the night, tense and heavy, with more life of color than in daytime. They dropped off their grey blankets, revealing white shammas, heads and faces wrapped in veils, showing only eyes... There were only women in this camp. Led by the abbot, this unreal procession passed slowly through the Tekl El Bab camp...

They circled the camp, as they had no other place to go. Waq could choose from so many of them. Waq had to choose one, and he saw her. Nord saw her too. For Waq there was no night, Waq was the light. Nord closed his eyes. There was too much light, too many colors.

Ethiopians generally move slowly, but now the divine liturgy asked them to slow down their already slow walk of starving people without reason to rush to life or death. Starvation, not hunger, takes away the body, leaving the soul alone, alien by its nature to space and gravity. In Lent the spirit feeds the soul. In starvation there is no spirit; the soul becomes airy, making blood pale and cold. After losing its form, the soul disperses into corners of the body, which feels light and transparent. It seems that the air goes through the skin and there is no need to breathe. No need at all. This is how peace and freedom come about. No, the Ethiopians have no special pride or dignity. The world simply never had a closer look at starving humans. Yes, death by starvation is noble. There is no agony, no struggle, no pain. Trees die this way. They stop breathing and fall asleep. Once the body surrenders its domineering powers, the soul wants to leave this world -- it is in another world already. Starving souls don't want to survive because they are saved. Others have to feed them and bring them back to our world. Starving is having no will to live; in heaven there is no will but peace.
"Pray for us, Virgin Mary..."


See the facts on Famine: 1984 and 25 Years After

Animated Dance in Addis
The photos I took in Addis Ababa of the Gurague dancers. I applied some special effects to give a sense of the dance.


Solomon and Sheba Painting Chapter Fifteen. 1891: BEFORE THE PAST

And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed... And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads... And the name of the second river is Ghion; the same as that which compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.

The Great River has many names, because many different people in their languages call it their mother-river. Nile has many faces. Many -- because people die but the river Nile is always there for others to come and give it a new name. And there are many rivers in one. It is too long to have one name; it begins in the heart of Africa and ends in another world of the Mediterranean. The river linked Europe and Africa, not the land, but the sides of the world. Only river remained blessed after the fall of Eden and only its waters were the gift for the cursed man and damned nature. It runs through the greatest desert which at the beginning of time was a paradise. To know the secret of blessed water one should look at the source of the river.

Everything has a beginning, even the endless Nile. The inhabitants of the Blue Nile region called it Giyon. The Arabs called it "Bahr-al-Azraq." The Ethiopians called it Small Abbay. Alexander the Great and Caesar tried to find the secret of the Nile's source. The point of its origin was in Gish, in the Sakala region, where the Small Abbay flowed into Lake Tana. The islands of the lake still have old monasteries where the monks are still waiting for the Lord's mercy. A church dedicated to St. Michael and Zar's Buruk was situated on the place of ancient pagan worship of the holy waters. The largest Ethiopian heart-shaped lake lays 6,000 feet above sea-level -- it is in heaven, the level of your air-travel, and had an area of about 1,250 square miles -- enough to have Eden at its bottom. The water is still blue and the land around it green....
The big mother-river, or Father Nile, begins at the overflow point at Chara-Chara Cataract, the small Abbay emerged as the Big Abbay, proceeding on its slow course of 1,000 miles to meet the White Nile at hot Khartoum. That's another world, another land of sand and heat. The muddy water on the way to Egypt is the only source of life.
The Lake Tana is crystal and quiet, as if it's getting ready to begin its new life as a mighty river. For over three centuries Ethiopians had their capital here -- Gondar. The ruin of the medieval castles are still there. They moved down south into the heart of the mountains under the pressure from the victorious Islam. Their paintings became darker, they lost the light and brilliance of the Axumites. No, they never travel down the Nile. Before the river leaves the highlands, it encompasses the large province of Gojjam and forms the great falls at Tis-east, "smoke of fire." Here's the place where the river leaves paradise. Abby doesn't want to leave Ethiopia and is angry at its destiny. But we have to accept it, the destiny.

In dusty Addis Ababa you can't remember it. Only at the rain season do you understand that the source of Nile is from the heavens. Oh, the great Alexander and Caesar, you should know it! Both never found it.

The river and the paradise are still there and will be there after us. We are here because others, before us, lived. But we can't really see the paradise; we arrive by air. We rush. We can't be old, because we are born under the non-earthly tv light. We are not here, we are tourists. We don't see it, the paradise.


THREE STORIES OF ONE LOVE STORY

As in every good story there's a beginning. And as always it's about man and woman. We know the man -- King Solomon. The wise, the powerful, who ended up in disgrace and madness. The Bible doesn't say why. One has to read Ethiopian books to know what really took place then, three thousand years ago.

The Story of QUEEN SHEBA

The book is very old -- "Kebra Negast" -- "The Glory of the Kings." According to a tradition and old books, in the beginning of the Sellassie's family was a love story. Makeda, the young virgin queen, who lived in the Virgin Land, had a dream. That was the name given to Ethiopia -- Virgin Land -- because of the queen. That's how Ethiopia became known for the first time by the world. The capital of her kingdom was Axum. Makeda reigned over parts of Southern Arabia in Sabea, called Sheba, and because of this was called Queen of Axum and Sheba. Sometimes saw was called Saba, by the Ethiopians. Arabs called her Belkis or Bilkis, depending on how you want to spell it.

It were the troubled times when a generation came that would not believe in God unless a sign was shown them. That's why, being angered by their disbelief, Our Lord said, "The Queen of the South shall rise up in judgement with this generation and shall condemn it; for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, one greater than Solomon is here." All books are agreed on that -- Hebrew, Arab and Ethiopian. Sheba was young and beautiful. And Queen Saba said, "And I love him merely on hearing concerning him and without seeing him, and the whole story of him that hath been told me is to me as the desire of my heart, and like water to the thirsty man... Through wisdom I have dived down into the great sea and have seized in the place of wisdom's depth, a great pearl whereby I am rich. I went down like the great iron anchor whereby men anchor ships for the night on the high seas, and I received a lamp which lighted me, and I came up by the ropes of the boat of understanding. I went to sleep in the depths of the sea, and not being overwhelmed with the water, I dreamed a dream. And it seemed to me that there was a star in my womb and I marvelled there at and I laid hold upon it, and it lighted me with the splendor thereof." That's what she wrote to king Solomon. They say that she sent the letter with a pigeon, but we know that the traders brought it to Jerusalem.
And she waited.
She would circle the Temple Agwe before the sun rose. The sun could rise only after the queen had circled the Temple. Agwe, the great serpent, would release the sun and light only after the queen had served him. She walked around the walls of the palace for a longer day -- for the spring to come. She measured time for her people and when they needed rain, the queen would cry.... The serpent was old as the earth, tired of living and listening to people's voices, even to her beautiful voice. She was a woman and had no one to help her to provide for her people. The land was dry and the queen wept a lot.... praying to Agwe, skies, sun, demons....
One night the great king Solomon had a strange dream about the land he never saw and the woman he didn't know. She was there in his dream. (Or was it her dream?) Her name was Saba, and the life of her nation depended on her dreams. Every hour of her life was the hour of her people. Every night she walked into darkness and circled the walls until the birds would start singing and the east sky would get pale. He watched her every night. Her prayers were in long verses, because the queen talked to her gods, not to people: "From the day of vengeance: from the day of doom, How shall the soul escape?.."
He knew her songs. She talked only to the dead, to her ancestors, who were next to the gods. She stood between them and her people. She knew no Living God. She was dark. He could see this dream even in the middle of the day. It would hit him as his own memory, his own pain...
"Queen, our Lord isn't the sun!" cried Solomon in her language he hadn't spoken before. "The Lord created this world, skies and sun, and the sun will rise because He created this world perfect. Do you believe me, queen, that the sun will rise?" She looked at his eyes. "I haven't missed a day. I wouldn't know, my king." Her teeth were a gleaming white and her tongue was an exquisite rose.... The sky above Jerusalem's East Wall became light. The mighty King didn't sleep this night.
And Solomon got angry and he wrote back to Queen Sheba.

King was angry and the dazzling sun came down from the sky. Not the sun of Israel, but the bright disk of liquid gold. It came down and then it moved away. He wanted to stop it, he waited for the return of this African sun. But the sun did not come back to his city. Jerusalem was in darkness. The sun went away down south. It was gone to the country of the Southern Queen. And then the king cried out - "Greetings from Solomon, Son of David, and servant of the Most High God to Belkis, Queen of Saba..."
She heard his voice and his words.
"You are aware that God has made me lord and king," wrote Solomon, "Over the wild beasts and birds of heaven and over the devils and spirits and ghosts of the night..."
The voice of a man and the words of a king.
"You are aware that God made me great lord over all kings from the lands of the rising to the land of the setting sun..."

That night she couldn't sleep.
Malak Uqabe, the guardian angel, appeared at queen's right side. But Uqabe was separated from her by the darkness of her master the Zar, and she called upon the Angel, "Do not separate thyself from me by night or day!" The head of the angel was small, and he had no sword in his hand. He had no mouth, only eyes and the eyes were of the higher angel; his name was the Angel Fanuel. Fanuel didn't answer her, only looking at her with his big dark eyes. "Greetings to thee!" prayed Sheba, "Let the evil spirits be cut down and dispersed!"

"Rise, therefore, not up against me but come and surrender yourself unto me..." Solomon saw the Zar for the first time and the Spirit who ruled the land of his queen was dark and big. The demon-blacksmiths appeared behind their demon-king. They were struck with fear upon seeing Solomon, and asked him what he had in his belly. Solomon answered that he was full of the grace of God, and that this grace protected him against all evil spells. Then Solomon spoke some Words of Power. The King of the demon-blacksmiths was angered and ordered his servants to kill Solomon. "Lofham, lofham," said Solomon. And the executioner's mouth was locked up, the Zar had no eyes. The waters and fires came down on them. Some of his followers were drowned, others were reduced to ashes. The king alone survived. Solomon seized him by the throat, struck him, and commanded him to give up his secrets. The Zar revealed to the king his evil spells for appearing in many forms -- with the face of an ass, a horse, a dog, a lion...
"But if you disobey my command and try to resist me, I shall send against you my armies of ghosts, and devils which will slay you in your bed at night; and my armies of birds and wild beasts will tear your flesh and chew your bones... My armies of birds and wild beasts will tear your flesh and chew your bones..."

The journey was long, longer than the Jews' road from Egypt. But she was in love and covered the distance not in forty years but forty days.

Even today Ethiopia has no highways; only roads, sometimes tracks. For thousands of years they lived in isolation. Why would they need roads? Why should you travel the world when you live in paradise? Go in all four directions, to every corner of the world from the heart of this mountain kingdom and see for yourself. East, West, North -- heat and deserts. South -- jungles and diseases....

Wait! Let me see! Which gate of the city did Sheba enter? There's David's Hill south of Jerusalem and from where you can see the whole city. Good place. She reached the town at the end of the day, when the dying sun makes the air blue like the waters of Abby. Was the new Solomon's Temple complete for her to see? We don't know. They stopped; Sheba's caravan was enormous; like an army, the people and horses were tired. Jerusalem saw the multitude of the never-seen-before dark people -- and panicked. But the king calmed his people; he knew that the Queen of the South had arrived.

What do we know about the past? There were no news crews, no photographers, no reporters. Only pictures and poetry could tell us was took place in Jerusalem at the time of Sheba's visit.

They say that she talked and talked with Solomon on matters of religion, and before long she abandoned the worship of the sun and the moon and the stars and worshipped the God of Israel. Love of poetry, which was a true indication of their love of God, brought them together. The first of the Song of Songs, which is Solomon's, was her song.


O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!
    or your love is better than wine, your anointing oils
     are fragrant, your name is oil poured out; therefore
     the maidens love you.

Well, after Sheba had spent six months in Jerusalem, she informed King Solomon that while she would like very much to remain in his capital, and continue under his tutelage in order to grow in wisdom and in the knowledge of the religion of Israel, the time had come when duty required that she return to her own land....

               Draw me after you, let us make haste.
               The king has brought me into his chambers.
               We will exult and rejoice in you;
               We will extol your love more than wine;
               rightly do they love you.

When Solomon heard that time has come for her to leave, he understood, he was a king himself, but the man in his heart said, "A woman of such splendid beauty has come to me from the ends of the earth. Will God give me seed in her?"


               I am very dark, but comely,
               O daughters of Jerusalem,
               like the tents of cedar,
               Do not gaze at me because I am swarthy,
               because the sun has scorched me...

The king was most reluctant to part with his gracious and lovely visitor, and pondered the matter of marrying her. With this in mind, Solomon pleaded with the queen not to leave him in haste but to prolong her sojourn for yet another season in order that he might complete her instructions of wisdom:


          Tell me, you whom my soul loves, 
               where you pasture your flock,
               where you make it lie down at noon;
               for why should I be like one who wanders
               beside the flocks of your companions?

Following one of those dinners at which highly seasoned meats were featured, Solomon invited the queen to spend the night in his quarters. She agreed to do so on condition that he not violate her person; Solomon accepted that on condition that she not take anything of his. Having thus reached an agreement, the two retired for the night. During the night the queen awoke and took a drink of water, only to find that Solomon had expected this. He thus justified taking her to his bed because she had broken the agreement.

"Thou hast broken the oath that thou hast sworn not to take anything by force that is in my palace." Solomon seized her arm.
"The oath did not apply to water," Sheba protested.
"There is nothing upon earth more precious than water," the king replied.
"I was wrong, but let me drink," the queen admitted and begged....


               Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
               behold, you are beautiful!..
               Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
               and your mouth is lovely...
               Your two breasts are like two fawns,
               twins of a gazelle,
               that feed among the lilies...
               You are all fair, my love;
               there is no flaw in you...

As they slept together the king dreamed a dream, and he saw that the sun came down to the land of Judah and illuminated it very brightly, and presently it removed to Ethiopia and shone there. And a second time it came to the land of Judah, but the Jews hated it and strove to destroy it, and it departed to the lands of Rome and Ethiopia.


               I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
               if you find my beloved,
               that you tell him 
               I am sick with love...
               O that his left hand were under my head,
               and that his right hand embraced me!
               I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem.
               that you stir not up nor awaken love
               until it please...

Next day Solomon gave the queen a ring, saying, "If thou hast a son, give it to him and send him to me." Sheba knew that she was pregnant. The wise king didn't know his future. Solomon didn't know that he will end his life in the kingdom of madness. Oh, friends, love is more powerful than wisdom.... No, no, this not the end of the story, only the beginning.


African Sunset
THE STORY OF MENELIK AND THE ARCH

On her journey back the queen gave birth to Ebna-Hakim, or Menelik. The royal youth, after being brought up in Ethiopia, was sent to Jerusalem to receive his father's consecration; he was anointed as the sovereign of an Empire which stretched from the of Egypt to the West, and from the south of Shoa to Eastern India. He had the Solomon ring with him when he stopped with his caravan at the walls of Jerusalem. The city was in a panic seeing how many camels, horses and people were at the gates. Menelik stepped out to greet them and they went away in fear. In the King Palace they saw their king -- again! "Our Lord," they cried, "We see the miracle! We know that you are Master of Spirits, but we never saw two of you before!" Solomon knew that his son was here. He exchanged his dress with one of his servants and gave him his royal costume." Only then he sent his people to call Menelik.
At Menelik's departure from Axum his mother Sheba gave him a silver mirror so the prince could look at his face and recognize his father instantly. Menelik walked into the Throne Hall, passing a humble servant, and without even look at the man on the throne young prince took out his silver mirror and gave it to the servant. Solomon took the mirror and looked at it, and then Menelik took off the ring with the seal of Solomon and gave it to his father. King Solomon cried and embraced his son.

After months in Jerusalem, the days with his father passing to young man his wisdom, one morning the pigeon flew into the Palace and the bird had the tears of Sheba on its wings. The son knew that it was time to return to Axum and rule his kingdom. Solomon loved Menelik so much that he wanted to keep him in Jerusalem and to make him his heir. Menelik's heart was torn apart between his love for his mother and his father. His new friend, the son of the High Priest, said to Menelik -- "If we take the Holy Ark with us to your kingdom, God would bless it as bringing the faith to the New Zion." So they took the Ark of the Covenant from the Temple and together with twenty sons of nobles and Levities fled the city.
Solomon called his generals and with the army went after the youth. At the shore of the Red Sea the king's army caught Menelik and his companions. The prince fell on his knees in front of the Ark and prayed. And the waters of the Red Sea boiled and opened the bottom of the sea as in time of Moses. King Solomon stopped his men and Menelik with his followers crossed the sea. When the waters closed the sea became pure crystal as tears of Queen Sheba. They both knew that it was the hour when the fair Belkis died.

That is why from that time a new Emperor, on horseback, has to appear before the daughters of Axum, who bar his way with a length of cord. He has to challenge them three times before cutting the cord with his sword. Then the people all say: "Verily, verily, Thou art the King of Zion, son of David and of Solomon!" Only on such a day the Ark could be brought under the light of the sun, so the new Emperor could be blessed.
The last time it was done for Negus Tafari who became a new Emperor of the New Zion, the 225th descendent of Solomon and Sheba.
Good stories never end and never die.


THE REVENGE OF THE HEBREW BLOOD

The end of Great Solomon came before his death. The man of wisdom ended up in madness. The king of joy wrote the book of Ecclesiast. This blessed man was cursed and his blood line was broken...

Then Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and the king's house, the palace, and all that Solomon desired to build. He excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. He made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he loved many foreign women. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives made him not forget the Queen of Sheba. He could find love and her ring with black stone. He could not find love in his soul and never wrote another song again. Saba was dead, and their son came to him and left for his own kingdom. There was no love in the world. He couldn't pray, and God never spoke again to Solomon. The nights were long and empty. The Lord was angry with the king and took away his mind. Solomon went mad, and out of mercy God send him death to save the old man from his misery.
...On his right hand next to his big finger was a tiny tattoo the size of a dime -- the blue lion of Judah on his skin which was getting lighter and lighter. On his chest, through skin transparent as rice paper, came a face within an eight-pointed star. They called it "Solomon's Seal" -- the motif which was engraved on Solomon's ring, the ring which the king gave to Sheba. Gasta Sab'e -- face of a person -- was his, Solomon's face with big, wide-open eyes. The eight points indicated the four directions of the Seal's protective power. The angel's eyes were full of surprise, without pain or sorrow. The family of angels was ....

I have to stop here; the end of Solomon is too painfull for me to write about. I myself fear madness more then death...

Ethiopia, you are old and your stories are long. I'll finish the tale of the first king Menelik some time later...

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