In this section, we shall attempt to reveal the mysterious origin and interpretation of the Ethiopian flag which has been passed down as folk lore through oral history. The Ethiopians call their flag Sendek Alama, which literally means "Sceptre Motto " or "Sceptre Symbol" or "National Flag". The Ethiopians also use the bastardized name Bandira (Italian=Bandiera), unaware that it is of Italian derivative for banner or flag. We believe that the Ethiopian flag of Green Yellow and Red is the oldest flag in the world and are presenting the wonderful and majestic story here.The earliest flag used by humankind is probably the colors of the rainbow (Keste Damena or Bow of the Cloud), basically the Green Yellow and Red. Two nations that have kept these cultures are Ethiopia and Bolivia. Today Bolivian Indians still use the colors to celebrate some of their festivals but in Ethiopia it is still the emblem of the country. Throughout the year, it is seen in the rains of the monsoon seasons or in one of the many waterfalls (Fwafwate) during the dry season, as a reminder that God made to man never to destroy the earth with water. The right photo above show the rainbow after a shower in Yayi, Ethiopia. The left photo is the perpetual rainbow at the Blue Nile falls (Tis Isat or Smoke of Fire). The flag has an ancient roots and therefore has many interpretations. The flag colors signifies such doctrines as Faith Hope and Charity, Father Son and Holy Spirit and Wealth Blood and Fertile Land. Ethiopians however believe it was given to them by God and its sanctity is beheld. (Photo from Pankhurst, Ethiopia).
The image of the flag with the Lion of Judah (Moa Anbessa) is from a flag used in the Jubilee Palace and depicts the official and correct Lion of Judah symbol. Certain individuals use the British or Persian lion but the Lion of Ethiopia is unique and as depicted on the currency of the country. Tourists and pseudo-scholars sometimes provide wrong information that are picked up by the lay person just because it was written by a European. One such example is Herbert Vivian, a British traveler who was in Ethiopia in 1900 and who describes the flag of Ethiopia in his book Abyssinia as White Red White horizontal strips when he first saw it near Somadu and Gildessa close to Harar.
The White Red White Flag at the Guardhouse near Gildessa in 1900
The Ethiopian Flag in Wylde's 1900 book "Modern Abyssinia" as top yellow, middle red and lower green Pendants. This type of flag was used by Emperor Menelik in Addis Abeba. The three pendants were later united into the traditional Green Yellow Red horizontal strips of the Ethiopian flag as we know it today. Sometimes in the early part of 1900's the three colors were united to signify the unity of Ethiopia and as part of Menilik's desire to modernize Ethiopia. Herbert Vivian describes in his 1902 book "Abyssinia" the National flag of Abyssinia as a stripe of white middle as red and white. The flag however was hoisted at the Gildessa guardhouse and is probably a religious flag described by priests as the purity of Christ and the red blood that flowed for the sake of mankind. Harrington, a British, tells Herbert Vivian that he removed the Ethiopian flag from the British territories (which made Menelik mad) but does not describe it. It must have been the Yellow Red Green (photo on left) that Menelik hoisted over his palace unless the white red and white was used by the Church.
Emperor Menilik watching TNT (dinamit) explode near Bishoftu lake. Notice the 3 pendant flags
Different regions of Ethiopia used different flags whose origin is uncertain. Sometimes the origin can be traced to the times of the Portuguese and beyond. This 1844 image (from Highlands of Ethiopia by Harris) displays a pendant flag with a cross. The place was called The Mother of Grace and was located in Shoa during the rule of Negus Sahle Sellassie of Shoa. Harris does not clearly describe the place but it is an Amba in Shoa that Gragn is believed to have camped nearby. This flag probably has nothing in common with the National Ethiopian flag.
Queen Victoria lived in what British historians term The Victorian Age. One of their strangest African war was the war to release their diplomatic and missionary subjects that Atse (Emperor) Tewodros chained on the Meqdela Amba palace grounds. The bragging Irish soldiers were happy to be awarded the Meqdela Medalion which shows an Ethiopian cross embedded with the image of the queen and hanging from an Ethiopian flag. The White Red White horizontal strip is an image from a book by William Simpson's "Diary of a Journey to Abyssinia, 1868". This is the same flag described by Herbert Vivian in 1900.