Battle of Adwa
The Italian foreign minister announced, ‘I’ll bring that monkey Menelik back to Italy in a cage.’
Ethiopians thrashed Italian invaders during the Battle of Adwa on 29 February 1896. On March 2nd, 2023 they celebrated the 127th anniversary of the Adwa Victory.
In 1896, Emperor Menelik II led the departure of troops from the current site of Hagere Fikir theatre in Addis Ababa, musicians playing, holy ones from Giyorgis Monastery and healers in tow. Oromo, Amhara and members of all cultural groups fought, women alongside men.
Mesfin’s grandfather Shwasegid Cherinet was in the vanguard. Forefathers of Mama Teliqwa from Agew Meder (Ancient Earth) joined the march near Gojjam. All except Muslims and Animists were fasting prior to Jewish Easter, but you can’t keep a fine Ethiopian down. They won the battle of Adwa in 6 hours.
Empress Consort (Queen) Taytu, ace military strategist, helped win the battle while leading 10,000 women in logistics. She had troops surround drinking water to prevent access by Italians and to stop them poisoning it. Her engineers diverted waterways underground to protect them.
Defence Minister Fetaware Habte Giyorgis led military strategy on the battlefield. Chief Ras Mekonnen was the inspired leader of troops, many bearing arms as simple as arrows. They marched 980 kilometres to reach the hills around Adwa in northern Tigray. 35,000 crossed the river there to fight; the bridge was built later.
Italian invaders presumed that because they were Caucasian—to some, this was and is the master race—they could take Ethiopia. After all, the Brits, Germans and French had carved up most of Africa. They’d held the Berlin Conference only the previous year: in 1894–95. It set rules for colonisers dividing African nations: nothing about the rights of traditional owners.
The Italian foreign minister had announced, ‘I’ll bring that monkey Menelik back to Italy in a cage.’ An engaging South African delegate named Obang Meto related this in Amharic at last month’s 36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union. This brings me to what happened after the battle, for no war is ever over and how a nation treats its captives reveals how civilised are its leaders.
Humane Treatment of Captives by Menelik II & Taytu
Adwa Battle Aftermath
18,000 Italian soldiers died and 35,000 were wounded; 85,000 Ethiopians were killed and 120,000 wounded – mostly so badly that they would require assistance for the rest of their lives. Given their high losses, Ethiopians could have been tempted to ignore the wounded Italians; instead, they helped them.
Defeated Italians emerged from bunkers at Mekele, Tigray in a miserable state: wounds untreated, without food and water, and feet swollen in boots that they could not remove. Monks came and cut open the boots, bathing the feet with holy water. Taytu applied Ethiopian Vaseline to cracked lips. The men ate and drank. One killer said, ‘No more am I Italian.’
Back in Rome and Turina, relatives of repatriated Italian soldiers chanted, ‘Viva Menelik. Viva Taytu’.
Later, Ferrari called one model TAYTU VIVA. Italy minted a Taytu and Menelik coin. Farmers, rich Italians, the US, Portugal, France and England opposed this. ‘We are not giving a best car a negro woman’s name, regardless of her genius and generosity.’
Humanitarian Role Models
I cannot speak for all Ethiopian chiefs; some would have meted out rough justice for treachery and rapacity: for most of a decade, Italians had run rampant in the area that would later become the separate nation of Eritrea.
In their 1896 treatment of Italian captives, Emperor Menelik II (Atse or Negus Menelik) and Queen Taytu (Itege) were, however, humanitarian role models for all time. As for that racist Italian minister, Atse captured him and sent him back to Italy without a scratch upon him.
More on this topic later in this post. I interrupt now with an account of my experience of 125th Adwa Victory Day celebrations in 2021 at a traditional cultural Amhara restaurant. Then I look at recent injustices against Addis Ababa citizens.
Soramba Cultural Restaurant Celebration
In 2021, I attended Soramba Cultural Restaurant in Addis Ababa, to join in the 125th celebration of Adwa Victory Day. The music cut to the very soul, as do these songs: Minilik by Teddy Afro and Adwa by Gigi.
Dancing of all Ethiopian genres—from impassioned Amhara shoulder dance to cool air borne Guraginya—was inspiring. How to sit still? A couple in embroidered velvet Amhara capes held their wedding reception. The featured image is of the stage prepared for them. One group of strangers hoisted them upon the Ethiopian flag. Boys and girls wore t-shirts with images of Taytu and Menelik II. The mood was jubilant and participants’ conduct courteous.
Food was classic. I relished Gurage coffee with clarified butter and bula made from the false banana: excellent for bones and stomach. True Ethiopians enjoyed kitfo: fresh, raw, spiced steak with honey wine.
The spacious venue consisted of traditional architecture and decor, with exquisite attention to detail. When I was served the coffee with clarified butter, the waiter brought it heated in a small earthenware long-necked pot. She served it in a fine stream high above the tiny sine (china cup). Soramba Cultural Restaurant is a premier Amhara Jewish cultural establishment.
Inhumane Treatment of Addis Ababa Citizens
Addis Ababa Citizens Beaten, Gassed and 2 Killed
While attempting to gather at Menelik Square to celebrate the 127th anniversary of the victory of the Battle of Adwa, ordinary locals encountered government security forces and police with batons and tear gas. News accounts tell of the government shooting of a worshipper at Giyorgis Monastery. It also cause 1 death at a square. Had either victim been celebrating at Soramba Cultural Restaurant in 2021 with me?
Why such rough treatment? The prime minister is accountable. The Giyorgis Monastery tabo (Ark of the Covenant) is the same that went to Adwa in 1896. Thus the attack on the monastery, its compound full of worshippers. In this news report, hear a girl child cry, ‘Why? What have we done?’
While leading the hellish communist Derg 1974–91, Mengistu Haile Mariam never disrupted Adwa Victory Day celebrations; he killed millions of Ethiopians, but not at those gatherings. Mengistu did target B’hara Mariyam Monastery in Addis Ababa, but not Giyorgis Monastery. Although he hated Amhara and Ethiopian Jews, he was pro Ethiopia unlike the current prime minister.
Augmented Tear Gas
During 1936–41 the Italian Blackshirts (fascists) dropped incendiary bombs and nerve and mustard gas (ypresite) all over Ethiopia, wave after wave. Their mustard gas was augmented, with mercury and other toxins, so as not to disperse on the ground. Now, in 2023, Dr Abiy Ahmed’s forces used augmented tear gas on innocent civilians. It was mixed with a powder that blinded. In the same attack, the priest holding the tabo received a full blast to both eyes. He collected holy water, splashed it on and could see again, before handing it out to other victims among the crowd.
FREE THE T-SHIRTS
What is offensive about a shirt, unless you are a neo-Blackshirt?
Shiro Meda Businesses Closed
In the lead up to Adwa Victory Day 2023, the Ethiopian government closed businesses at Shiro Meder. This was the best place to buy traditional wares including yagerlibs (traditional clothing). Artisans there were geniuses, so the loss to Ethiopians was significant. Police also arrested printers of t-shirts that feature Taytu and Menelik II – popular with Ethiopian youth.
This is a lot of trouble to go to. Could Dr Abiy be attempting to please foreign powers that have never recovered from a European defeat at Adwa? The Battle of Adwa victory inspired colonised peoples, particularly Africans, to begin the fight for freedom. Pan-Africanism dawned in 1896, reached a peak in the 1950s, and is alive today. Oh, the fragile ego of the West.
FREE THE T-SHIRTS! Release imprisoned t-shirt printers. Re-open businesses at Shiro Meda.
Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed must also release a marvellous historian regardless of whether he dislikes the truth that he speaks. In 2021, Dr Abiy freed the evil TPLF leader behind the mass burials (described in “The November War” post) in Tigray of Amhara and Afar – the monster would be welcome in the US. The prime minister’s justification was that he was elderly. So is the imprisoned historian; moreover, he is peaceful and is a grandfather.
Free Ethiopia’s truth speakers now. Let students study their own history in Amharic rather than enforcing Orominya. After all, Amharic is the lingua franca of Ethiopia. Moreover, according to Nigerian Rahmatou Keita, it should be on the list of African Union official languages. This academic’s presentation validates this. Unfortunately, Dr Abiy’s government recently arrested Jewish students and staff in Addis Ababa for refusing to put away Amharic books and the Ethiopian flag. They imprisoned a 9-year-old for 3 days.
As for the Shiro Meda t-shirts… What is offensive about a shirt, unless you are a neo-Blackshirt?
Sham Military Award
The current government is suppressing free expression by Ethiopians around Adwa Victory Day. It controls celebrations, writing history to suit itself, and cutting the internet. Primarily, it devalues Itege Taytu and Negus Menelik’s military and humanitarian record.
A recent sham military award coincided with both Adwa Victoria Day and Yekatit 12 (1937 massacre by Italian fascists occupying Addis Ababa) with their forgotten heroes. The general that led Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) was awarded the rank of marshal by Dr Abiy Ahmed. In 1896, Defence Minister Fetaware Habte Giyorgis, Chief Ras Mekonnen and Itege Taytu deserved high military awards; yet none received the rank of marshal.
The lauded general led the bungled May/June 2021 ceasefire with TPLF. ENDF withdrew troops, leaders surely aware that TPLF would flout the ceasefire and pour rapacious, murderous and tortorous so-called soldiers into nearby districts: Amhara Welo and Afar. Systematic destruction replicated that in Syria and Libya. I describe some of this in my post “Dear World“. The TPLF war 2020–22 has killed 1 million Ethiopian civilians as well as precious livestock.
That declared civil war was combined with Shene’s genocidal attacks upon Amhara in Welega district in the west. As a consequence of the TPLF war and Shene attacks, 4 million from Welega, Welo and Afar districts are displaced, with 1 million missing.
The marshal military rank awarded to the undeserving general should be stripped.
3.8 million cattle belonging to Borena people in Ethiopia’s south have died due to drought. 3 million people there face starvation.
Teddy Afro, singing here about the displaced, donated 1 million ETB to the Borena. However, the Ethiopian government now insists upon donations being passed through an Oromo-controlled office. The Borena need urgent help unimpeded by bureacracy.
And their cattle needs saving: it is a unique Ethiopian species. Here is singer Mergitu Workineh, who represents 3 southern peoples: Konso, Gujit and Borena. She likens lack of care for one’s land to the emptiness of a miscarriage.
What has the current government done to help them? Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed merely opens another park near Addis Ababa. He sells organic wheat to rich Arabic nations. However, his first duty is to protect his people from the effects of calamity. He has also overseen no rebuilding of the devastated districts of Welo and Afar, destroyed in 2021–22 by TPLF marauders.
Humane Treatment of Captives Reprise
Let’s return to the aftermath of the Battle of Adwa 1896. Atse Menelik and Itege Taytu had captives to shelter and feed. Some were wounded. Others were out of control. This story is by Mama Teliqwa, Mesfin’s patriot grandmother.
“Empress Taytu’s Justice”
Negus Menelik refused to let patriots strip generals of their uniforms.Mesfin Tadesse
Following their defeat of Italian invaders, Ethiopians had prisoners to care for. Itege Taytu took on 3,000 soldiers, hundreds of colonels and 27 generals. Being a genius of herbal medicine, she treated them for wounds. She catered for them. Women wove hygienic pampas grass plates for them to eat off and made them clothes. Negus Menelik refused to let patriots strip generals of their uniforms.
‘There are no victors in war.’Emperor Menelik II
Gourmet Prison Fare
The Italians’ favourite food was eggs and roasted chicken. Villagers gave them to Itege to feed the prisoners. However, many Ethiopians fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, eating no dairy and meat; some tried to force this practice on the Italians. They reasoned that on other days the prisoners ate better than at home in Italy. In revenge, a general and 6 others gang raped a very young serving woman. Those like them had committed atrocities during the invasion: soldiers chopped up civilians with shovels and axes; they burned alive patriots and messenger boys. Chief Ras Mekonnen was shocked at the viciousness of the crime by prisoners of war, whom Ethiopians had treated with dignity. How many would the well-fed captives rape tomorrow?
Defence Minister Fetaware Habte Giyorgis asked Itege Taytu to handle it. She said, ‘This is a woman’s case.’
A soldier’s job is not raping.’Itege Taytu
She collected the prisoners and asked the girl to show who had attacked her. She said, ‘I do not know. They all look like twins.’
To the Italians she said, ‘Do not hide who did it. Bring the criminals to me. Otherwise, we will humiliate you.’ The prisoners remained silent.
Itege warned them, ‘My generals are angry. They do not rape. Some want your heads. You have one day in which to confess. Now, eat what you like. I apologize for the change in menu. See you here in 24 hours.’
A Soldier’s Job is Not Raping
The next morning, Taytu said, ‘You are surrounded by soldiers. If I let them, the patriots will do to you what you did to shepherd boys and captives.’
One soldier, a teenager, stood and confessed. On the general’s orders, he had held down the girl. He too had raped her. The youth told Itege that the general had a tattoo on his chest. Straightaway, Itege separated him and took him to a monastery for counselling: ‘A soldier’s job is not raping.’
Itege gave the prisoners another 24 hours.
In the morning, she ordered all to remove their clothes or be shot. Five beautiful women sat in front of them, hands hennaed, and hair coiffured and scented with addis. The prisoners walked past Itege’s group 3 times. She directed them to an exit – left or right according to whether or not they could control themselves.
Itege found the general by his tattoo. ‘Confess and collect your gang.’ That consisted of 3 colonels and 2 soldiers.
112 other soldiers had erections. Itege said, ‘You are rapists. Hundreds of soldiers are around you. Yet you cannot control your penises, like animals that jump their mothers or sisters.’
Breakfast with a Medicine
To prevent further crimes, she arranged to transfer them to Messawa Port – from there they would go to Italy. Before they left, she asked herbal healers, ‘What can we do? At home in Italy, they will rape. What about their women and children?’
They gave them breakfast with a medicine. This would permanently destroy the sex drive without damaging their health. Not even the Defence Minister knew about it.
To the gang rapists Taytu said, ‘You raped the one who fed you. We will kill your penises.’ In front of the patriots, she fed the 7 the medicine. She had RAPIST tattooed on their arms and necks. For having confessed, the teenager was allowed to remain in Ethiopia. The other 6 went back to Italy.
50 years later, during World War II, rape was prevalent on the European continent – even on trains and buses. A Swedish doctor said, ‘Let us use Taytu’s method to find the guilty ones.’
Negus Menelik Preferred Generosity
At the start of my post on NGOs, there is an example of how Negus Menelik genuinely helped other nations. When Australia’s east had a drought in 1895, he sent them 2 shipments of wheat; also, livestock, gold and silver coins, herbs and trees.
The following year, after winning the Battle of Adwa, Atse said, ‘There are no victors in war.’ However, the victory is an African pride according to Professor Beyene Petros in this news report. Indeed, its celebration ought to be promoted internationally.
- Medlot Media. “ታዳሚዉን ያስደመመ የኦባንግ ሜቶ አስደናቂ ንግግር | ይህ ህዝብ የሰዉ መሪ የሀገር መሪ የህዝብ መሪ አይደለም የብሔር መሪ ነዉ ያገኘዉ = Obang Meto’s Speech”.February 28, 2023. YouTube video, 15:11. https://youtu.be/srVQovEUZiQ [Amharic]
- “News: Ethiopian Rights Commission says one killed during 127th Adwa victory celebrations. EOTC accuses police of forcefully disrupting spiritual services”. Addis Standard, March 03, 2023.
- Mereja Today. የድሉ ቀን የሀዘን ሆኗል ተጨማሪ መረጃዎች|በርካቶች ተጎድተዋል የተገደ’ሉም አሉ|በርካቶች ቁጣቸውን እየገለፁ ነው አሳፋሪ = The Day of Victory has Become the Day of Mourning…”. March 02, 2023. YouTube video, 15:11. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXJEIrgtsFOxNF11lDAQZ7w [Amharic]
- Anchor Ethiopia. “Breaking News. Abiy Ahmed was Given 15 Days to Give a Final Warning to the Church”. March 04, 2023. DonkeyTube video, 16:02. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzgZOJAW4h0 [Amharic]
- “Nigerian film writer, director intensify campaigns to make Amharic official language of AU”. Borkena, February 20, 2023. https://borkena.com/2023/02/20/nigerian-film-writer-director-campaigns-to-make-amharic-official-language-of-au/
- Yegna TV. “አማርኛን የአፍሪካ ህብረትየስራ ቋንቋ የማድረግ እንቅስቃሴ!! = The movement to make Amharic the working language of the African Union. Taye Bogale: African Union Meeting. Amharic Language”. February 22, 2023, YouTube video, 17.43. youtube.com/watch?v=TlEQqGOjFEc [Amharic]
- “Nation Should Promote Adwa Victory Internationally: Professor Beyen Petros”. ENA, February 02, 2023. https://www.ena.et/en/?p=43471
- Featured image: Soramba Cultural Restaurant Stage in Addis Ababa © Mesfin Tadesse 2021
- Portraits: <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emperor_Menelik_II.jpg> <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Taytu_Betul_of_Ethiopia#/media/File:Taytu_Betul.jpg>
- Photos: Soramba Cultural Restaurant Eskista Performance & Guraginya Dance-Off At Soramba Cultural Restaurant © Mesfin Tadesse 2021
- Bula False-Banana Porridge at Soramba Cultural Restaurant, Traditional Ethiopian Meal at Soramba Cultural Restaurant & Kibbe Storage Container for Ethiopian Clarified Herbal Butter at Soramba Cultural Restaurant © Ianet Bastyan 2021
- Emperor Menelik II Statue © Mesfin Tadesse 200-
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