Back in 1924, Granny Yetemegnu (or Nannyé) warranted a five-bullock wedding in her home town of Gondar, in northwest Ethiopia. No matter that she was only eight and her husband, Tsega, an aspiring priest, around thirty. Wearing a heavy black cape trimmed with gold filigree, she stood barefoot as a ring was threaded onto her third finger. There were vows, prayers and loud ululations, an oily thumb traced the sign of a cross on her brow and a golden crown was placed on her head.
As we learn in this extraordinarily vivid ‘personal history’ by her Canadian-Ethiopian granddaughter Aida Edemariam, now a journalist at The Guardian in London, it would be years before the little girl understood what she had embarked on that day. All she wanted to do was go out and play with her friends.
Afterwards the guests meandered back to her parents’ nearby house. The local women had been cooking for weeks and the dried blood from those five bullocks still stained the courtyard, where a dog gnawed on a horned skull. Nannyé was not allowed to dance: in Ethiopia’s priest-ridden society,