I’m a believer in going out on a high note and since I think this will be the last tiara post for a while, I thought we’d go out with a bang. When I was researching tiaras and women of color (because it’s not just the white European women who were bestowed with jewelry for their heads), I came across Ariana Austin Makonnen, the Princess of Ethiopia. Her wedding photos, which I’ll highlight in this little missive, are gorgeous. But while researching her and the Ethiopian crown, I ran across her husband’s great-grandmother and there’s quite a story to be told in tandem. So without further ado, let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about the Ethiopian Tiaras.
The story of Ariana and Joel would be fantastic enough on its own merits: Ariana was born in Washington DC to the first African American full-time academic faculty member at Georgetown University (her father) and also to the executive director of Humanities DC, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (her mother). She’s of Guyanese descent and her grandfather was Lord Mayor of Georgetown, Guyana. Joel’s great grandfather was Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled from 1930 – 1974 (with a period of exile mixed in there).
The couple met at a DC nightclub. You read that right. Our princess met her prince at a nightclub. It’s a modern day cinderella story, except I don’t think anyone lost their shoe. And this princess wasn’t scrubbing floors before meeting her prince. She’s a Harvard grad (her Masters from Harvard is in arts education and creative writing) and a philanthropist, having founded and directed Art All Night, an evening arts festival in DC.
Their wedding was the stuff royal wedding dreams are made of. The couple met in 2005, were engaged in 2014 and married in 2017 in an Ethiopian Orthodox ceremony in Maryland, with their reception following at Foxchase Manor in Manassas, VA. Over 300 guests attended the wedding (many of them also of royal lineage), where the couple was officially crowned and it was presided over by 13 different priests.
But we need to also step back in time to visit the story of the Prince’s great-grandmother. Born Walatta Giyorgis, Empress Menen was married off the first time (yes, she was married more than once – stay with me here) at a very young age, as was the custom. It’s unclear whether she became unhappy in the marriage and that caused its end (unlikely that she would have had that kind of pull) or if her family felt there was a better alliance to be made, but in any case, she divorced her first husband after bearing their two children. She married a second nobleman and also bore him two children, but he suddenly died. Now widowed, her family again arranged, in 1909 or 1910, another union to a man many years older than Menen, but by many accounts, that marriage didn’t take place. Instead, she was married to the man who would become Emperor Haile Selassie I.
The two never had children and in his biography, her previous marriages and children weren’t mentioned. But it sounds like she was a woman made for her role. She was a patroness of the Ethiopian Red Cross, she founded the Empress Menen School for Girls, she gave generously to many charitable organizations and she was a religious woman. So much so, that while she and her husband were in exile from 1936 – 1941, she made a pledge to the Virgin Mary at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, promising to give her crown to the church if Ethiopia were liberated from occupation. Following the return of Emperor Haile Selassie I and his family to Ethiopia in 1941, a replica of the crown was made for future Empresses, but the original crown that Empress Menen was crowned with at her husband’s side in 1930 was sent to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Empress Menen, although often seen wearing a tiara (one of the royal Ethiopian tiaras) at public events that called for it, would never again wear a full crown (no word on where those tiaras are now).
Two very amazing royal women. With Ethiopian Tiaras and amazing personal gifts. And with that, I’ll close out our tiara tirade and move on to other things (can you say engagement rings?). Stay tuned.