Category Archives: Women

Commemorating Adwa victory – 1 March 1896

Battle of Adwa - St George assists the Ethiopian forces (credit: Wikipedia)
Battle of Adwa – St George assists the Ethiopian forces (credit: Wikipedia)

Commemorating the 119th anniversary of the decisive victory of Ethiopian forces against the invading Italians on 1 March 1896. Many students of Amharic are inspired by Ethiopia’s decisive victory against colonialism.

“In March 1896 a well-disciplined and massive Ethiopian army did the unthinkable—it routed an invading Italian force and brought Italy’s war of conquest in Africa to an end. In an age of relentless European expansion, Ethiopia had successfully defended its independence and cast doubt upon an unshakable certainty of the age—that sooner or later all Africans would fall under the rule of Europeans. This event opened a breach that would lead, in the aftermath of world war fifty years later, to the continent’s painful struggle for freedom from colonial rule.” Professor Raymond Jonas.

At the Battle of Adwa, Emperor Menelik II led the Ethiopian army. It led to Italy’s formal recognition of Ethiopia’s independence.

This article in New African highlights the role of Empress Taytu Betul and warns today’s African leaders to be careful in the contracts they negotiate with foreigners (the Italian version of a contract signed was different from the Amharic version, giving the Italians pretext to attack Ethiopia). It also urges Africans to stand together and put their continent first.

Empress Taytu and Emperor Menelik
Empress Taytu and Emperor Menelik

Lessons of Adwa?
“The first is Menelik’s ability to win the loyalty of all the bickering factions in Ethiopia, who in the face of a common enemy, put aside their differences and contributed 100,000 troops. Unity was crucial in the face of a superior force on paper. The Chiefs (Ras) put aside personal animosities and fiefdoms to march in unison to Adwa. Amongst them were Ras Makonnen, Ras Tekle Haymonot, Ras Mengesha Yohannes, Ras Sibhat of Tigray, Ras Mikael of Wollo, Ras Wole of Yejju Oromo, and Ras Gebeyehu, who died fighting at Adwa.

“Secondly, Menelik enjoyed the unqualified support of his wife, the Empress Taytu Betul, who personally went to the battlefield in full combat gear as a cavalry commander. She turned out to be a formidable leader, and outperformed some of the male commanders. In a declaration to the Italian envoy Antonelli, prior to marching to war, she drew a line in the sand: “We have also made it known to the powers that the said article, as it is written in our language, has another meaning. Like you, we also ought to respect our dignity. You wish Ethiopia to be represented before the other powers as your protectorate, but this shall never be.”

Perhaps the most useful lesson of all is the wisdom of executing such an important treaty or contract in their native language.”

Taytu was very perceptive and strong willed. She founded Ethiopia’s capital in the late 1800s, selecting the site after coming down from the colder military site on Entoto above the city that was the previous capital, and named it Addis Ababa (‘new flower’). She spotted the Italian treaty deception and helped with battle strategy. Later she ran Ethiopia for three years after Menelik was incapacitated with a stroke.