Wedding of Haile Selassie’s great-grandson sees union of Ethiopian, Guyanese heritages

Ariana Austin and Joel Makonnen were married on Sept. 9 in a lavish ceremony in Temple Hills, Md. Mr. Makonnen is the great-grandson of Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia. (New York Times photo)

Nearly 12 years after they would meet on the dance floor of a Washington, D.C. nightclub, Prince Joel Makonnen, the great-grandson of Haile Selassie, last Emperor of Ethiopia, would wed Ariana Austin, of Guyanese lineage, in a cultural ceremony mash-up.

In a New York Times report published yesterday, writer Katie Rogers chronicled the couple’s love story, which began at the Pearl nightclub in December, 2005. The two were wed on September 9, at the Debre Genet Medhane Alem Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Maryland. The wedding’s reception was kept at the Foxchase Manor in Virginia.

Thirteen priests and clergymen officiated the Ethiopian Orthodox ceremony, the report said, and hours later, guests would reconvene at the Manor to a formal reception, where 307 gathered to celebrate their union.

Honoured at the ceremony was not only the union of two people, but the union of two heritages. This was seen in the spread of Ethiopian foods served at the ceremony, which made way for the traditional Guyanese black cake the guests later took home. Another anomaly was the fact that Austin’s father would walk her down the aisle, a custom not usually observed in that church, the report noted.

“I think we both had this feeling that this was our destiny,” Ms. Austin said of her early courtship with Mr. Makonnen. (New York Times photo)

“It was a happy melding, I think,” Austin’s mother, Joy Austin, was quoted as saying of the event. “We, as the New World, felt that the Old World was very receptive of us, and we were of them.”

“Old world aristocracy met New world charm,” is how the couple describe their chance meeting on their wedding site. “We’ve always believed that when it came to our love — it was written — and we’re thrilled to experience the next chapter unfold.”

Even with the many years that their paths would meander and cross before finally joining, according to Austin, the two always presumed that such would be their destiny.

“I think we both had this feeling that this was our destiny,” Austin said in the New York Times report. “But I felt like I had things that I had to do,” she was quoted as saying.

Austin had not known initially about Makonnen’s lineage, but the report related that she was impressed by his “worldliness.”

The couple and their wedding party pose for photos after the ceremony. When the two met, Mr. Makonnen didn’t tell Ms. Austin about his royal background. (New York Times photo)

“He talked about weighty things as a young man,” Austin said. “He mentioned the revolution. Things that sound heavy for someone who was 23,” she stated.

Makonnen, 35, now works in the legal department of Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, while Austin, 33, works in philanthropy at the Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, a division of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

“For ambitious couples, meeting and falling in love at a young age can quickly present the kind of timing problems that can doom a relationship. And Mr. Makonnen and Ms. Austin found themselves circling the globe without each other, though they remain-ed in touch,” the report stated. Over the years, the two would travel and study, mostly apart.

“By the time Ms. Austin left to attend Harvard University in 2012 for a master’s degree in arts education, both had grown tired of the rotation. They took some time off from each other that year. But they were back together by Valentine’s Day in 2014. Mr. Makonnen, who was finishing up his law degree at Howard University, bought a princess-cut diamond ring and showed up at the home of Ms. Austin’s parents with the bauble in one hand and balloons in another,” the article related.

The story goes that Makonnen’s proposal nearly went horribly wrong as Austin mistook it for a robbery attempt. As Austin described it, he had been “aggressively knocking” at the door of the house at the time, while her parents were away. It is not until after he left and returned that she opened.

“I think I said, ‘Let’s take this journey together’…When I proposed she was like, ‘It’s about time,’ ” Makonnen said.

The full story is available at

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