Prince Yoel, is the 35-year-old great-grandson of Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia. Ms. Austin, 33, is of African-American and Guyanese descent; her maternal grandfather was a lord mayor of Georgetown, the capital of Guyana.Mr. Makonnen, known as
Their marriage had been more than a decade in the making. In the nearly 12 years since they first met on a dance floor at the Washington nightclub Pearl, in December 2005, Mr. Makonnen and Ms. Austin have pursued degrees, jobs and, at times, each other. Eventually, planning a wedding just became the next item on this ambitious couple’s to-do list.
“I think we both had this feeling that this was our destiny,” Ms. Austin said. “But I felt like I had things that I had to do.”
When the two met, Mr. Makonnen didn’t tell Ms. Austin about his royal background, and Ms. Austin, who was 21 at the time, wasn’t necessarily looking to meet her future husband. She was in the middle of a time in her life she fondly referred to as “the summer that never ended.” Mr. Makonnen, himself in bachelor mode, approached Ms. Austin and her friend Jami Ramberan and told the two women that they looked like models for a brand of alcohol. Ms. Austin remembered being impressed with Mr. Makonnen’s worldliness. He was born in Rome while his parents, Prince David Makonnen and Princess Adey Imru Makonnen, were living in exile from Ethiopia. He grew up in Switzerland; his father died in 1989. “He talked about weighty things as a young man,” Ms. Austin said. “He mentioned the revolution. Things that sound heavy for someone who was 23.”
The festivities began with a ceremony at the Debre Genet Medhane Alem Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Temple Hills, Md. In an incense-filled sanctuary, guests in stockinged feet watched as at least 13 priests and clergymen helped officiate the Ethiopian Orthodox ceremony between Mr. Makonnen and Ms. Austin, who just days before had converted to the religion. Hours after the ceremony, the pair celebrated with a formal reception at Foxchase Manor in Manassas, Va., with 307 guests, amid gold sequins, platters of Ethiopian food and preboxed slices of Guyanese black cake for people to take home.
The couple says that the merging of their families came with only minor growing pains. Ms. Austin and her family had negotiated to bring her wishes into the tradition of an Ethiopian Orthodox ceremony. She had pushed for her father to walk her down the aisle, an unusual custom in this church. She was successful. Mr. Austin took his daughter’s arm as they entered the sanctuary, the train of her ivory Lazaro dress flowing behind her.
“It was a happy melding, I think,” said Ms. Austin’s mother, Joy Austin, the executive director of Humanities, DC, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. “We, as the New World, felt that the Old World was very receptive of us, and we were of them.”
Mr. Makonnen’s family is part of the Solomonic dynasty, whose reign ended in 1974. That year, a civil war in Ethiopia broke out after Haile Selassie, the 225th emperor of Ethiopia, was deposed by a Marxist Derg military coup. By the time of his death under mysterious circumstances in 1975, it was clear that Mr. Selassie had presided over a country divided by his legacy. He was deposed after months of political unrest directed at his administration, which was accused of being spendthrift and out of touch. The civil war lasted until a coalition of rebel groups overthrew the government in 1991.
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“I think we both had this feeling that this was our destiny,” Ms. Austin said. “But I felt like I had things that I had to do.” When the two met, Mr. Makonnen didn’t tell Ms. Austin about his royal background, and Ms. Austin, who was 21 at the time, wasn’t necessarily looking to meet her future husband.