Scenes from a marriage

Aida Edemariam on one woman’s life against the backdrop of Haile Selassie’s rise and fall

Not long ago my ­daughter was a bridesmaid in an Ethiopian wedding. The ceremony, which was held in Toronto, was Orthodox, and the festivities lasted several days. A stirring part of the reception featured the young couple surrounded by members of the congregation dressed in white muslin chanting and dancing to the throbbing beat of magnificent African drums. How moving to observe the rites of an Afro-Christian tradition reaching back seventeen hundred years.

The Bible contains many allusions to Ethiopia. Moses’s marriage to an Ethiopian woman named Zipporah (Numbers 12) was opposed by his sister Miriam, who was forthwith struck with leprosy. The Queen of Sheba travelled from her native Ethiopia to meet famous King Solomon (1 Kings 10). Their passionate affair produced Menelik, who went on to become emperor of Ethiopia, establishing a dynasty that reigned virtually uninterrupted until Haile Selassie was...