An American woman became an African princess last month when she married into the royal family of Ethiopia – after meeting her future husband at a modern day ‘ball’.
Ariana Austin, 33, married 35-year-old lawyer Joel Makonnen, a great-grandson of Haile Selassie the first, the last emperor of Ethiopia, on September 9 in Maryland.
The couple married 12 years after they first met on the dance floor of Washington, DC nightclub Pearl.
Makonnen told the New York Times that he hit on his future bride and her friend using a cheesy pick-up line.
‘I said, ‘You guys look like an ad for Bombay Sapphire,’ or whatever the gin was,’ Mr. Makonnen recalled.
Makonnen says he immediately knew he wanted to date Austin.
‘Not even five minutes later I said, ‘You’re going to be my girlfriend,” he said.
While Makonnen didn’t immediately tell Austin about his family, the truth about his heritage came out as they started to seriously date and it’s something that fascinates Austin.
She appears excited to be a part of a family that traces their roots back to the Biblical King Solomon and Queen of Sheba.
‘It’s unbeatable heritage and history,’ Austin said. ‘It combines sheer black power and ancient Christian tradition.’
The two married last month in an elaborate Ethiopian Orthodox Christian wedding involving 13 priests in Temple Hills, Maryland.
The bride and groom both wore crowns and capes in the ceremony, making them look like the true royals they are.
While Austin may not have royal blood in her background, she does come from an African American/Guyanese family with rich histories abroad. Her maternal grandfather was lord mayor of Georgetown, the capital of Guyana.
Hours before the ceremony, they hosted a formal reception at Foxchase Manor in Manassas, Virginia where their 307 guests dined on platters of Ethiopian food and pre-boxed slices of Guyanese black cake.
Makonnen, or Prince Yoel as he is officially known, is related to the last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, through his second son, Prince Makonnen.
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Haile Salassie ruled Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, when he was overthrown by a Marxist Derg military coup.
Makonnen’s father, Prince David, was studying abroad at the time, and was thus able to escape imprisonment.
Makonnen was born in Rome, where his parents were living in exile, and was raised in Switzerland.
When he met Austin, he was perusing an undergraduate degree at American University.
The couple quickly stood the test of a long distance relationship when, after graduating from American in 2006, Makonnen took a six-month internship in France.
Austin went to Paris the next year, where Makonnen returned in 2008 before going back to Ethiopia to start a organization with his uncle to help Ethiopian youth.
In 2012, Austin returned to the U.S. to get a master’s degree in arts education at Harvard and the two decided to take a break that year.
But they were back together again by Valentine’s Day 2014, when Makonnen popped the question with an aptly shaped princess-cut diamond ring.
Their engagement is a funny story. Makonnen went over to his girlfriend’s house to propose, but he knocked on the door so forcefully that Austin thought someone was trying to break in and called her parents for help.
‘He was aggressively knocking so I didn’t answer. He came back, and then I opened the door,’ she said.
The two moved in together after the wedding, and are living in the Washington, DC area.
Makonnen works in the legal department at Otsuka America Pharmaceutical.
His new wife works in philanthropy at the Executives Alliance for Boys and Men of Color.