Articles in this series:
1. The Tafari Makonnen School
State education in Ethiopia took an important step forward on April 27, 1925, when the Regent Ras Tafari Makonnen opened the Tafari Makonnen School despite opposition from traditionalists, who are said to have delayed the project for a couple of years. In his opening speech on May 2, he declared that the time was passed for mere lip-service to their country. The crying need of the people was education, without which they could not maintain their independence. The proof of real patrotism was to recognize this fault — in the case of those who possessed the means — to found schools and to forward the cause of education in every way. Progress had to be made little by little. He had built the school as a beginning and as an example he appealed to the wealthy among the people to follow him.
The speech ran as follows:
“Thanks be to Thee, O Lord our god, infinite and omnipresent, that Thou has led me to finish what by Thy will Thou didst cause to begin, and that Thou has granted me to speak of this.”
“Ethiopia’s Greatness and Antiquity”
“Of Ethiopia’s greatness and antiquity, and especially of the long years when, surrounded by pagans, she struggled for her faith and her freedom, we ourselves her own children, can indeed bear witness: Moreover we hear people of foreign lands the world over declaring, in speech and writings, the beauty of her terrain and the grandeur of her history. But it is not what she was that can profit Ethiopia, but what she may become. Conformably with all those nations of the world which have full confidence in their political stability and in their economic welfare, that knowledge must be sought and found whereby Ethiopia too, an African state which has preserved her independence, may be led towards progress and may attain political stability and well-being of her people. The task may then be undertaken; but before a task can be undertaken the tools must be prepared.
“To promote pride in Ethiopia’s freedom and independence, and in the maintenance, honoured and respected, of her frontiers, as well as to produce a confident firmness in the hearts of her people, education is the tool. Everyone knows that in former days the Emperor Menelik II, in order that his people might become civilized through knowledge, founded a school. To learn requires diligence and an honest intelligence.
“Everyone who loves Ethiopia”
“Everyone who loves Ethiopia should concern himself with founding schools, to help scholars who are not his own children and to ensure that his own children receive education. Nowadays if you ask anyone in the course of conversation he will not fail to declare, `I love my country Ethiopia.’ This will so far be a mere form of words: for wherein lies the token of love unless in succouring in their need those he calls `friends,’ and in standing by them in times of distress?
“Now, therefore, anyone who says he is a friend of his country Ethiopia has the duty to show the token of his love by helping schools — by getting schools built so far as lies in his power, and by having his own children educated. It may be said that all who do this truly display their love of country.
“The man who approves the education of his children and of his social circle, and who assists the schools, first of all gains benefit for himself; secondly, he will live happily with no occasion to rue the downfall of his children or circle; thirdly, he will demonstrate his sincere love of his country.
“To neglect the exercise of the intelligence, created by God impartially and to give oneself up to stupidity, is true slavery, wherein one will be leaving unfulfilled the commands of God and will not escape the judgement of mankind.
“You boys whom I have today gathered into this school, and all who enter it in days to come, know — or will learn in the future — that many books have been written to the effect that knowledge is a treasure that must be grasped and which no one can confiscate. It is a diamond without price which prevents the breaking of heaven’s decrees and preserves one from the path to destruction. Knowledge allows you to inherit the Kingdom of God, which the mind of man cannot conceive; and is a counsellor in time of adversity. So may God grant you to attain a wisdom and knowledge such as I have described.
“This school is an instrument which will operate on our country’s behalf through the knowledge which God gives to each of you according to your lot, once you have matured in wisdom and have become vigorous in intelligence. So I beg of you to help the school which nurtures you, give you the food of knowledge: to see that it does not shrink but expands, that it does not fall but grows in strength.
“Only my heart and my creator know how joyful a day for me is this day; and as God has vouchsafed to me the joy of seeing this school opened, my hope is that He will let me see your service to your country on the completion of your studies, as well as the expansion of education in Ethiopia and the multiplication of schools.
” I have seen in Europe”
“I have seen in Europe the ways in which very many scholars are taught and boarded in great schools. This progressive result has been achieved by the possession of wealth, for which knowledge is the instrument. But however ambitious the desire and intention may be, a great enterprise cannot be carried through all at once. Thus from small beginnings we shall arrive at great results and benefits for our country. To be able to say we have 100,000 scholars we must start with one; to say we have 20,000 schools we must start with one. It is certain that you are taking your place in the numerical series of scholars and schools in Ethiopia.
“This school, then, is an exemplar; and there is no doubt that it will fulfil the hopes that I expressed a few months ago.
“In a school there will be sweetness and bitterness alike. So I ask you who are here now, and those who will be coming, to listen to my advice and to carry out the regulations I have drawn up for the school.
“In this school it is not only foreign languages and learning that I have instituted, but there will also be study of our country’s holy books and monophysite faith. One who proposes to devote himself to foreign learning when he has not properly mastered the language and literature of his own country is like to boat without a rower. Be diligent in your study of our country’s knowledge and learning.
“Lastly I would tell you this: when the holy man David said, `The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vanity,’ he was referring to the man who, in all he learns, guides his thoughts and knowledge towards deceit. The man who seeks true wisdom is like the servant in the Gospel who, when his master gave him five talents, made them into ten, and on delivering them was praised and given authority over many cities. Be like him, I beg of you, and not like the servant who was given one talent which he put away and buried, and on delivering it, was cursed and condemned to live in torment.
“And now I pray that by His compassionate will God may let your minds be based upon twin foundations — fears of God and love of country; and that He may likewise cause all our hearts to rest therein.”
The school, Its curriculum and cost
The Tafari Makonnen school, which is said to have cost 300,000 Maria Theressa dollars and a further 130,000 for the dormitory building, was spacious and much more modern than the old Menelik Lyce. It has well-lit classrooms, a library, a laboratory, refectories, dormitories, ample gardens and recreation grounds. The curriculum included French, Arabic, English, mathematics, chemistry and physics, history, geography, gymnastics and sports, as well as Amharic. Education differed from that given in the old Menelik school in that it was much more French oriented. Not only was instruction given in French but the school had a succession of French principles: Jean Guillon, Tomassini, Garicoix, Hagar and finally, in 1935, Dennis Garringue, a former Professor at the University of Teheran. At that time three of the teachers came from French Lebanon, i.e. Salhab, the history and geography master, Selim Abi Chacra, the physics and chemistry master, and Albert Adem, who taught French and Arabic. There were also four Ethiopians who taught Amharic and elementary French. Pupils of the school attended the French Legation annually to sit for the examination which qualified them for the French government’s certificate of competence in primary studies.
The school was supervised in the early years by the afore-mentioned Dr. Worquneh Martin who was succeeded in 1930-31 by a foreign educated Ethiopian of the later generation, Dawit Ogbazzie. Some 50 students were enrolled on the opening day, but this number increased later in the year to 184, and reached 200 in 1928-29, 247 in 1929-30 and 300 by 1931-32. The number of boarders always tended to exceed those of day boys. A rough idea of the cost of the school can be seen from the fact that expenses were given as $95,240 in 1926-27, $70,311 in 1927-28 and $84,380 in 1929-30 or an average of $83,310 a year.