Early Years

Haile Selassie was born Tafari Makonnen in Ejersa Goro, which is near Harar, on 23 July 1892 to Ras Makonnen Wolde Mikael of Shoa, governor of Harar, and Yeshimabet Ali of Wollo. He was the youngest of 10 children Yeshimabet gave birth to (Henze 2000, 189). The other nine children were either still born or died at a young age. However, his father had a child from a prior marriage and thus Tafari's only sibling was his half-brother Yilma. Yeshimabet died while Tafari was very young (Asserate 1-2).

After his mother died, his uncle and aunt played a major role in raising him, as his father was often occupied with the business of running a city (Asserate 6). His father made sure that his son was well educated. Tafari attended "a traditional Orthodox school, learning Ge'ez and religious traditions". He was taught French by a Catholic missionary (Henze 2000, 189).

Ras Makonnen was highly influential in young Tafari. Under his guidance, Harar became the second most important city in the Ethiopian empire following Addis Ababa. He had a telephone line and a printing press brought to Harar, which were a rare thing in early 20th century Ethiopia. He advocated for the rail line that was built to connect Addis Ababa with Djibouti. Unlike the majority of the members of the ruling class who wanted nothing to do with Europeans, Makonnen embraced them. Several European nations opened up delegations in Harar. Makonnen also traveled to Europe in late 19th century (Asserate 2-5). When Tafari would go on to become emperor of Ethiopia, he continued the ideals of his father and would continue the Western style modernization he experienced growing up in Harar.

Haile Selassie had Tigre, Oromo, and Amhara ancestry. His grandfather, Wolde Mikael, was from Tigray. He also had Muslim roots through his mother. Haile Selassie claimed royalty lineage through his father, who was Emperor Menelik's cousin and also the grandson of Negus Sahle Selassie of Shoa (Henze 2000, 189).


Asserate, Asfa-Wossen, Peter Lewis, and Thomas Pakenham. King of Kings : The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. London: Haus Publishing Ltd, 2015.

Henze, Paul B. , Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.