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Emperor Haile Sellassie's Autobiography, and an Unpublished Draft Richard Pankhurst Addis Ababa University Historical Introduction The story of the composition of Emperor Haile Sellassie's The Autobiography ofEmperor Haile Sellaste I. "My Life and Ethiopia's Progress", and the related question of an English edition, is a long one, which has thus far never been told. The object of the present article is to indicate the principal stages through which the autobiography and its translations passed, and to provide the reader with an unpublished text almost certainly produced by the Ethiopian ruler himself, or under his closest control. The first part of TheAutobiography, which runs from the birth of Haile Sellassie in 1892 to his famous speech at Geneva in the summer of 1936, was apparently written or dictated by the Emperor, or at least drafted under his close supervision, during his exile in Bath in the west of England.1 The existence of this text2 was generally unknown until the early 1960s, when Haile Sellassie appears to have decided on its immediate publication and translation.3 At around this time he arranged for an English translation, by Stephen Wright, a veteran British librarian and scholar of Amharic. Wright, who lived in Addis Ababa, was well versed in Ethiopian affairs. He had been employed as a librarian at the Ethiopian National Library until about 1962, when he joined the newly established Institute of Ethiopian Studies, also as a librarian. His translation was never published. In the early 1960s, the Emperor was reluctant to publish The Autobiography as it stood, since a quarter of a century had elapsed since the completion of the original manuscript, which obviously made no reference to many later events, such as the Liberation campaign of 1941, relations® Northeast African Studies (ISSN 0740-9133) Vol. 3, No. 3 (New Series) 1996, pp. 69-10969 70 RichardPankhurst with the British who occupied Ethiopia in that year, or the foundation of the Organization of African Unity. As the busy head of the Ethiopian state, Haile Sellassie was in no position to immerse himself fully in the updating of his original script, which would have entailed considerable research. He therefore instructed the Ethiopian author and poet Ato Kabbada Mika'él, who was a Minister in charge of both the National Library of Ethiopia and the Institute of Archaeology, to study The Autobiography problem, and come up with a solution. The Emperor also decided to employ a research-historian, in effect a "ghost-writer," whose duty would be to edit the original text, and carry the original narrative forward from the Emperor's Geneva speech. Several historians or other persons in Addis Ababa were approached,4 but either failed to satisfy the monarch or were reluctant to undertake the work. It was therefore decided to recruit a writer from outside the country. The choice fell on an English author and journalist, Percy Arnold, the founder of the London-based Foreign and Commonwealth Writers' Association and author of The Cyprus Challenge (London: Hogarth Press, 1956), a modern history. Arnold, who arrived in Addis Ababa on 20 December 1963, and lived initially in the present writer's house, was given, or assumed, the title of "Editorial Adviser." He was attached, under Ato Kabbada Mika'él, to the Institute of Archaeology. On 3 January 1964, two weeks after his arrival, Arnold had a short, "five or ten minute" audience with the Emperor, to whom he spoke in French, albeit, as he later recalled, "with a croaky voice," because of a bad cold from which he was then suffering. This meeting was to be the only one he was ever to have with the monarch. Five days later, Arnold received from Ato Kabbada's office 43 chapters of the Stephen Wright translation. Several "final chapters" were then being typed—how many is unfortunately not recorded. These latter chapters, we are told, reached him "after some delay." Shortly thereafter, the Emperor appointed a four-man committee of Ministers to supervise the autobiography project: 1) his former Private Secretary and Minister of the Pen, Tsehafe Te'ezaz Walda Giyorgis Walda Yohannes; 2) the latter's successor, Tsehafe Te'ezaz Tafara Warq Kidana WaId; 3) a scholarly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-6574
Print ISSN
0740-9133
Pages
pp. 69-109
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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