For many, the 100-year-old Tsion Michael Andom is known as the first fashion designer who introduced the Habesha traditional wear to the international markets. To the hospitality and tourism advisor Fisseha Aseres "Emama Tsion", as most people call her, remains an eloquent speaker with the power of persuasion. He recalls Tsion's self-confidence and proving worthy of her speech when she met the late Prime Minster Meles Zenawi and played a significant role in releasing political prisoners.

Fisseha and "Emama Tsion" met in 2004 in a joint action organised under the Ethiopian Elders Counseling Association to free political prisoners of the opposition party leaders.

"She was a woman of principle," he said.

Her passion and interest in sewing clothes could not go unnoticed at 12 years as her mother was her first teacher while her father presented her with the first sewing machine, a gift of encouragement. She practised on her dolls, while creativity and passion paved the way for her designing the Habesha traditional clothes.

Emama Tsion was educated in the Comboni and Unity High Schools in Khartoum, Sudan, where her Father worked as an interpreter at the office of the British Governor. She started working on traditional dresses in the 1960s. Her designs and capes became popular and were worn by women, including the Ethiopian royal family. With grace and admiration, Tsion waltzed through half a century in the design business.

Her daughter Sophia Petros, who relocated from England five years ago to be a caregiver to her mother, views her as a loving yet disciplinarian that raised her three children with strict rules. She recalls her visits to see her family in Europe every three months used to be delightful.

Emama Tsion was a people person who had a large circle of friends, loved her family and was a devout Christian. "She loved her family, church and dressing people," Sophia said.

Born in Khartoum, in November 1922, to an Eritrean father and Ethiopian mother, Tsion is the elder sister to the first post-imperial acting Head of State of Ethiopia, Aman Michael Andom.

General Aman, the darling of the Ethiopian Army, also known as the Desert Lion, once led Ethiopian forces to the Korean War. He was the recipient of the highest honour from the UN for his accomplishments and was perhaps best remembered for his heroics in Ogaden in the early sixties.

Considered an enemy of the "revolution", the Dergue put her in prison for seven years before her release in 1984. She was 52 when the revolution was announced. Her brother, a very influential member of the military junta, Dergue, was a high-ranked General run down by a tank in his own house after a brave last stand against his perpetrators on November 23, 1974.

According to her daughter, Tsion's attachment to her younger brother was out of this world. Learning about his death was unbearable, putting her on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

In her interview six years ago, Tsion said, "I was put in jail because of my brother as we were too close to each other. His death has left a big hole in my heart that no one can fill."

She also had two brothers who died in Cairo, Egypt and a sister that departed early, leaving her to be the only girl in the house.

While in prison, she made many friends and educated more than 20 kids.

Her advocacy for gender equality and charity organisations in Ethiopia cannot go unnoticed. With the help of foreign organisations, she promoted Red Cross, Cheshire Homes, and Women's Association efforts.

To Eden Sahle, a founder and CEO of Yoda Technology Plc, Tsion was a bold woman that loved her country. As a close friend of her father, Eden recalls Emama Tsion telling her to dress modestly as it was the mark of a beautiful woman. Eden believes that her diet and optimism in life kept her alive over the years of tragedies.

"She loved to cook her meals, eat salad," she said.

Her contribution to the fashion community and beyond is unquestionable, although she has not been given the recognition she deserves. She took it upon herself to open a store that publishes magazines to advertise traditional Ethiopian clothes called "Tsion Tibeb" around what is known as Meskel Square.

Emama Tsion died on Tuesday, December 6 2022, a week after celebrating her 100th birthday with family and friends. She was laid to rest on December 11, 2022, at Saints Peter Paul Catholic Church with a burial ceremony that saw the attendance of President Sahlework Zewde.

The woman of excellence, Tsion Michael Andom, left her woven marks in this world to be remembered.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 07,2023 [ VOL 23 , NO 1184]

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