By Cody Hooks The Taos News |

For nearly 40 years, Norman Tveit has carried around a scrap of leather embossed in ornate, gold letters, clearly some humble artifact of regalia. But he never knew what to do with it. Donate it to a museum? Sell it on the Internet?

Now he’s sharing the image, believed to be the only known example of the royal seal of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, as part of a campaign to help the late emperor’s country now suffering from drought.

The royal seal bears the initials of Selassie, who died in 1975 after a coup d’etat. Selassie helped usher in the creation of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the modern United Nations.

Selassie also gained a following of many Rastafarian believers who think him to be the returned messiah and an incarnation of God. He was also known as the last blood descendant of King Solomon and the queen of Sheba.

“He was a great leader in Ethiopia and Africa – and globally,” Norman Tveit said.

With a legacy like Selassie’s, it’s only fitting this image of his royal seal be shared with the world as part of an effort to alleviate conditions brought on by drought in an otherwise robust country. He’s selling posters with the image with proceeds going to Save the Children, an international aid organization.

“It’s a legacy thing,” he said. “I’ve had it for a long time and never knew what to do with it.”

When he saw the footage of Ethiopia’s drought — brought on by El Niño winds since June 2015, making once-lush regions barren and causing food shortages — everything came together. “I thought the seal was a perfect fit. In a way, the hope is to resurrect Haile Selassie to help the people of Ethiopia,” Norman Tveit said.

Ethiopia is considered one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, but the drought has affected life to the point that Save the Children calls that situation and the war in Syria the worst humanitarian crises.

“There’s so much misery and strife in the world,” Norman Tveit said. “You can only do what you can do. This gave us the opportunity, in our little way, to begin to turn the tide.”

For the moment, Norman Tveit is getting the word out about the seal, poster and Ethiopian drought. His home, tucked into the Arroyo Hondo valley, is the base of operations of what he hopes will become a global initiative. “We’re moving this all over the world,” he said.

But while getting the word out, Norman Tveit reminds himself that “everything begins with baby steps.”

As Norman Tveit describes the Haile Selassie seal, it’s “a pretty rare image that has been relatively unavailable.” From talks with the Smithsonian Museum as well as private collectors, it appears this image is the only known example of Selassie’s personal seal. In gold lettering, it shows some of the letters of Selassie’s initials, wrapped in a royal crown.

The image came from a scrap of leather Norman Tveit received after his father’s death in 1978.

Tveit’s father, Thor Tveit, was a furniture maker and industrial designer, who worked for Selassie while visiting Ethiopia in the early 1950s and again later in Norway. During one of those two trips, Norman Tveit told The Taos News, his father acquired the seal image.

The elder Tveit died in 1978 and left his 20-year-old son the artifact. “I didn’t understand what he was talking about then. I’ve been carrying this with me for a long time. To be able to share this now …” he said, getting a little choked up, “… it makes me feel good.”

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