As we mourn the death of Nelson Mandel, Ethiopians, Africans and the rest of the world mourned the death of another black icon 100 years ago, Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia who died in the early morning hours of December 12, 1913.
On March1, 1896, Emperor Menelik and Queen Taytu , after mobilizing the Ethiopian people, destroyed Italian army at the battle of Adwa and achieved a stunning victory over the Italians. The win at Adwa is regarded by some as an event that may have determined the color of Africa.
1895 (Sep 17th) Menelik calls for total mobilization of Ethiopian forces
Assemble the army. Beat the drum. God, in his bounty, has struck down my enemies and enlarged my empire and preserved me to this day. I have reigned by the grace of God. As we must all die (sometime), I will not be afflicted if I die…Enemies have come who would ruin our country and change our religion. They have passed beyond the sea that God gave us for our frontier. I, aware that herds were decimated and people were exhausted, didn’t wish to do anything until now. These enemies have advanced, burrowing in to the country as moles. With God’s help, I will get rid of them. Men of my country up to now, I believe I have never wronged you, and you have never caused pain to me. Now-you who are strong, help me…and you who are weak, help with your prayers, while you think of your children, your wife and your faith. If —you refuse to follow me, look out! You will hate me for I shall not fail to punish you. I swear by St Mary that I shall never accept any plea for pardon. Men of Shewa await me at Were Ilu and may you be there by the middle of Tekemt (October 25th)
Some reactions about Ethiopian victory in Adwa:
New York Times March 4, 1896
“ITALY’S TERRIBLE DEFEAT”
“Three Thousand Men Killed, Sixty Guns and All Provisions Lost.”
“ Baratieri’s Strategy Condemned. All Available Steamers for Transport of Reinforcements to Abyssinia are ordered. It was rumored today that the latest defeat of the Italians by King Menelik had compelled Ministry to resign.”
“The Pope is greatly disturbed by the news. Among the many reports current today was one to the effect that Gen. Baratieri had committed suicide, being unable to endure the humiliation of his defeat.”
Vanity Fair featured Menilek,1897 : “quite an enlightened monarch”
Menilek was vaulted in to the company of international celebrities as Charles Darwin, Czar Alexander, and Napoleon III
Reaction in France
Liebig’s, a German nutritional form with global reach, featured Taytu and Menelik on individual trading cards
Menilek as a name was given to new borns
The imperial palace in Addis was swamped by fan mails some requesting for money or favors…one fan asked 200 francs to finish her house
“One of the most important personages, not only in Africa, but in Europe…His friendship is sought by the greatest European powers”
Russian mission appeared in Addis shortly after the imperial couple returned to their capital. The Russian Red Cross brought free supplies such as tents, sheets, beds, and surgical gear and offered free medical care.
Italians were widely perceived in Ethiopia as proxies for British Interests in their own ongoing struggle with France for mastery of Africa.
The Ethiopians were resentful of British complicity in the occupation of Massawa and Eritrea.
Queen Victoria send a letter with her diplomatic mission ( Sir Rennell Rodd) in the spring of 1897 and was able to clarify Menelik’s position with respect to the Sudan
The American Mission To Menilek
Robert Peet Skinner ( from Massilon, OH) led the American Mission to Menilek
US was interested “in the preservation of the independence of Abyssinia … which will be the only independent state of any consequence in the continent.”
Teddy Roosevelt about Menelik/Ethiopia: … “we must look out for seeds of useful unknown plants” …“ Grevy Zebras could go several days without water. Perhaps, with their help, we could breed a new mule that would be enormously valuable in some of our parched western country”…
Menelik :“America Alone was without land in Africa”
Menelik expressed admiration for Abraham Lincoln and the Emanicipation Proclamation.
Skinner returned with seeds and with Grevy zebras (National Zoo in Washington) and two gift lions (one survived the trip)
African American Reaction
Christian churches serving African Americans added “Abyssinian” and “Ethiopian” to their names such as The Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, the Ethiopian Church of Pretoria.
Reaction in Haiti
Benito Sylvain made the journey to Ethiopian in Jan 1897 to establish diplomatic relations between Haiti and Ethiopia. He represented both Haiti and Ethiopia at the first-pan African meeting in 1900.
- Jonas, R. (2011). The Battle of Adwa: African Victory In The Age of Empire,Cambridge:Harvard University Press
- McLachlan, S. (2011). Armies of the Adwa Campaign 1896: The Italian Disaster in Ethiopia, Oxford: Osprey Pulishing Ltd.
- Prouty, C. (1986). Empress Taytu and Menilek II: Ethiopia 1883-1910, New Jersey:The Red Sea Press.
- Marcus, H.G. (2002). A History of Ethiopia: Los Angeles: University of California Press.