This Ethiopian story cloth was loaned to Mythstories by storyteller Helen East and the translation of the captions above each picture were provided by storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton.

The Kebra Nagast translates to “the Glory of Kings” and tells the story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Maqeda).

The story is central to Ethiopian society and history. The cloth’s focus is the meeting between Maqeda and King Solomon: Maqeda becomes Queen of Ethiopia, goes to meet King Solomon and is seduced. Their son, Menelik (Nebuchadnezzar in the Old Testament) is born in Sheba and is unaware of his father’s identity. At the heart of the story is the belief that Menelik discovered that Solomon was his father, travelled to Jerusalem to meet him and brought back the ark of the covenant from Jerusalem, and hid it in Ethiopia.

These cloths have been decorated by painters through the generations. the Kebra Nagast always has 44 squares, each square telling a specific part of the story accompanied by a caption. The Kebra Nagast on display at Mythstories museum was arranged, as you can see above, in 11 rows of four pictures, whereas the cloth used by Sally Pomme Clayton, as pictured below, was arranged as 4 rows of 11 pictures.

Sally Pomme Clayton rehearsing before telling ‘The Tales of Solomon and Sheba’ at Derby’s Flying Donkey’s storytelling club. (2007)

The quality and detail differ, depending on the talent of the painter but the scenes depicted are always essentially the same as are the captions. Storytellers use the cloths to tell the story, elaborating and embroidering around each depicted scene. In Ethiopian markets you can occasionally see tellers dancing around images on carpets of the Kebra Nagast.

Read the images like a book left to right:

  1. They worshipped the serpent.
  2. They planned to kill the serpent.
  3. They mixed poison.
  4. Fed the poison to a goat.
  1. Went with the goat.
  2. Gave the goat to the serpent.
  3. It killed the serpent.
  4. They tell the king the serpent is dead.
  1. They speak to Maqeda.
  2. Maqeda’s father dies.
  3. Maqeda reigns.
  4. Merchants go to Jerusalem.
  1. They will send spices.
  2. They depart with the spices.
  3. The spices are presented.
  4. Maqeda will visit King Solomon.
  1. Maqeda and boat.
  2. Maqeda at Solomon’s gate.
  3. Maqeda and Solomon meet.
  4. Solomon gives a banquet.
  1. Maqeda’s dinner.
  2. Solomon confronts Maqeda.
  3. Solomon seizes Maqeda’s maid.
  4. Solomon sleeps with Maqeda’s maid.
  1. Solomon seizes Maqeda.
  2. Solomon sleeps with Maqeda.
  3. Solomon gives Maqeda a ring.
  4. Maqeda goes home.
  1. Maqeda gives birth to Menelik, the maid’s child is also born.
  2. Menelik and his friends play ganna (hockey)
  3. Menelik says: ‘tell me about my father?’
  4. Maqeda shows him a mirror.
  1. Menelik sets off to see Solomon.
  2. He arrives in Jerusalem.
  3. Menelik meets Solomon.
  4. Menelik understands.
  1. Menelik goes to school and learns Hebrew.
  2. Menelik is given the ark of the covenant.
  3. Menelik takes the ark.
  4. Menelik shows the ark.
  1. Maqeda enthrones her son.
  2. The seal prevails.
  3. Maqeda’s deathbed.
  4. The obelisks to Maqeda.

The Kebra Nagast has now been returned to Helen East.