Tribute to Tsegaye Gabre Medhin

A collection of poems by Poet Laureate Belatengeta Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, Ethiopian poet, playwright, essayist and philosopher who passed away on Saturday, February 25, 2006.

Prologue to African Conscience

Tamed to bend
Into the model chairs
Carpentered for it
By the friendly pharos of its time
The black conscience flutters
Yet is taken in.

it looks right
It looks left
It forgets to look into its own self:
The broken yoke threatens to return
Only, this time
In the luring shape
Of luxury and golden chains
That frees the body
And enslaves the mind.

Into its head
The old dragon sun
Now breathes hot civilization
And the wise brains
Of the strong sons of the tribes
With an even more strange suffocation.

Its new self awareness
(In spite of its tribal ills)
Wishes to patch
its torn spirits together:
Its past and present masters
(With their army of ghosts
That remained to haunt the earth)
Hook its innermost soul
And tear it apart:
And the african conscience
Still moans molested
Still remains drifting uprooted.

A lover love-rejected
With a spirit dejected,
A monk God-forsaken
hose total Faith is shaken,
Are less lost than dreamer
Into whose peace a ” question ”
Plunged like a knife
And woke him to life,
To search, to find his way
To dodge, to fight his way
NOT dream it away !

On the grave of my friend, I stood.
 For blood and flesh, I stayed . . .
 And with faith I prayed, and prayed;
 For blood and flesh, he was robed . . .
And with doubt, I hoped, and I hoped.
On the grave of my friend, as I stayed;
        … On my future, I brood .

I stood on the grave of a man.
 A tomb-stone of a man, I burdened.
 The grave of a man, I murdered:
 And with hope, my future, I sketched,
 When with prayer, my killer hand, I stretched.
On the tomb-stone, of the man, I murdered:
        . . . Urrahh!!! I won!
On my victim’s carcass, I climb.
 While on his tomb, I tread …
 My bloody fingers, I spread:
 Thus to repent, to justify, I have tried …
 While I hoped, and prayed, I have cried.
And I won, my daily wine, and bread!
        … Is it a crime?

Who Is On Whose Way
I did not know, oh sir, that I stood on your way,
 It all happened in chance; argument is unfit,
 If we fight, others will benefit,
And as this road is also where my future lay,
Destiny forces me to answer you with ” Nay ”
 Pray lose no temper: lest you commit
 A risk to result in a regrettable wit,
For, if there be crime, guilty is just the day:

I am also in yours as you are in my shoes
 So do let us shift sir, to either side
  However painful it becomes, we should, though
We realize that it isn’t much to lose
 That in spite of us the way is wide
  And that after all, someday, both of us go.

Tears Inevitable
Showers of anguish
Rain, do not exhaust
Ocean of revenge
Of the innermost
Voice of the betrayed
Comfort of the lost,

  Tears torn of self
  Blood of the heart.


The City Fifty Years Ago, By RICHARD K. P. PANKHURST

The City Fifty Years Ago,



Visitors to Addis Ababa at the turn of the century were far from imagining that Menelik’s capital founded a few years earlier was destined within the space of little more than fifty years to become the most populous city between Cairo and Johannesburg. Ethiopia’s dramatic defeat of the Italians at the battle of Adowa in 1896 had not fully dispelled the doubt as to whether an independent African state could survive in the age of the ” scramble for Africa.” Moreover, most European observers believed that the Ethiopian capital was only a temporary headquarters of the monarch and would be abandoned within a few years, as had been the case of earlier Shoan capitals, such as Ankober, Angolala and Entotto.

According to Guebre Selassie’s Chronicle of the Reign of Menelik, the houses at Entotto, though well constructed, were very cold. At the end of the rainy season in 1885 (European calendar), the Emperor and Empress accompanied by their retinue descended the mountain to enjoy the hot springs of Filwoha where a large number of tents were erected. The Empress Taitu admiring the beauty of the scenery from the door of her tent and remarking the softness of the climate, asked the Emperor to give her land to build a house there. He replied, ” Begin by building a house ; after that I will give you a country.” ” Where shall I build my house ? ” she inquired. ” In this spot,” he replied, ” which my father, King Sahle Selassie, surrounded with a fence : go there, and begin your house.” On that spot Sahle Selassie like the prophet Mikias made the following prophecy : One day as he sat under that great tree, not far from Meouat, hydromel was brought to him while he was playing chess, as was his custom. Suddenly he said, ” One day my grandson will build here a house and make of you a city.” ” It was,” the Chronicle declares, ” the will of God,” for that very week Taitu decided to construct the house ; her servant received orders to start at once ; the work began, and not long afterwards a beautiful edifice was erected. In the following year, again according to the Chronicle, Taitu left Entotto and installed herself in her new house by the hot springs. Then began the building of the town. Every chief was allocated an allotment on which to build his dwellings. ” The country was beautiful. The army loved staying there. And it was Woizero Taitu herself who ordered that the town should be given the name of Addis Ababa.”

The diary of Jules Borelli for 1887 contains a number of interesting allusions to the movement of Menelik’s court ; it suggests that the new site was only slowly gaining favor On June 22 the diarist declares his intention of visiting Menelik who is apparently at Filwoha. On October 13 he reports that the Emperor has again left for the springs. On the following day, however, he says that he went there and found that Menelik and all his retinue except the Abuna had returned to the Ghebbi or Palace at Entotto. The next day he refers to the Abuna camping at the ” prairy of Filwoha.” On October 28 and 30 he relates that he has met several members of the Court at the springs. On November 3 he records a rumor he has heard that Menelik is returning from Filwoha to his Ghebbi at Entotto. On the following day his entry contains a reference to the existence of two royal residences, one at Entotto, the other at Filwoha. ” Menelik,” he goes on, ” has decided that Filwoha shall henceforth bear the name of ‘ Addis Ababa ‘ ” (or ‘New Flower ‘). Borelli’s comment is skeptical in the extreme ; he remarks that Taitu’s ” fantasy,” as he calls it, will soon pass ; the Emperor, he adds, had first gone to Filwoha several years earlier to enjoy the hot springs ; then he had abandoned them, and only returned there on Taitu’s account.

The Ethiopian Chronicle tells that at about this time ” magnificent works ” were commenced, among them a house ” worthy of admiration for the government.” At the end of 1892 work began on the Palace, the foundation stones of the Elfin or main dwelling, being laid on 13 Hedar, and of the Aderash, or principal reception hall, nine days later. Building proceeded so fast that it has been said no fewer than fifty edifices were erected in three months. The Chronicle declares that by 1894 the Palace was virtually complete ; Menelik ordered that the waters of high Entotto be brought to the Ghebbi by pipe ; the piping system, which cost 7,000 thalers, made available two fully adequate supplies of water, one for drinking, the other for washing purposes. The latter supply, declares the Chronicle, was used to water the Palace gardens, as well as to wash the clothes of the Court and guards. Until that time it had been necessary to go down to the near-by stream on washing day.

The Chronicle subsequently relates that in 1897 Menelik brought European engineers and workers to build in the Palace compound a huge Adarash or reception hall with a three gabled roof. Though it was about 60 meters in length and 30 wide, the Emperor’s army could not all enter at the same time. One man, it appears, jokingly expressed the hope that the whole sky might be a single piece of bread which he could have all for his own, but his friend replied, ” If you had such a piece of bread, God would send you as many table companions as there are stars ! ” As the number of soldiers increased Menelik arranged for the workers to build a new Adarash six times as wide. A number of other houses were also erected for preparing and storing bread, meat and hydromel. The three-gabled Adarash, the Chronicle explains, contained a single huge room, and outside on each roof one saw fifty goullelat each with an ostrich egg. During the rains water poured into the carefully built gutters like a torrent. Inside the building sixteen clusters of electric lights illumined the hall so brightly that it was said one was dazzled as by the rays of the sun. There were also windows with red, green, yellow and blue panes, as well as a stained-glass window depicting the Cross of the Apostles surrounded by vine branches and squares of divers colors The roof was supported within by thirty-four pillars of various colors while the walls were covered with marble on which representations of vine branches had also been painted. The whole presented a most splendid aspect. When the work of construction was finished, a superb throne was placed in position which shone as gold and was surmounted by a crown, stars and other ornaments which gave the ensemble a ” marvelous appearance.” This wonderful edifice, the Chronicle declares, could hold six thousand nine hundred and eighty seven persons ; bread was brought by some hundred and twenty waiters, hydromel by between a hundred and a hundred and thirty and meat by as many again. It was customary for two doors to be used so that one assembly of diners could enter as another left, the banquet being consumed not only by the Emperor’s soldiers, but by peasants who had come to receive justice, as well as by many other visitors. Menelik was ever a town-planner. In the Ethiopian year 1893 (European calendar, September, 1900 to September, 1901) he laid the foundations of a new town at Mietta ; the construction, Guebre Sellassie declares, was superb, above all the Palace which was built in a very unusual style. The new town, according to H. Le Roux, owed its name, like that of Addis Ababa, to Empress Taitu who chose for it Addis Alem, or New World. The title was significant.

The Chronicle says it was found ” less beautiful” than Addis Ababa and was only intended as a winter capital to avoid the heavy rains of Addis Ababa and also to obtain a better supply of wood. Foreigners, however, long thought that the forests surrounding Addis Alem would eventually induce Menelik to make that town the capital of the new Ethiopian world. The Italians were so fully convinced of this that they went so far as to start building a legation at Addis Alem. It is interesting in this connection to examine the writings of contemporary foreign observers who were almost unanimous in proclaiming the impossibility of Addis Ababa remaining the capital of Ethiopia. Lieut.-Colonel Wingate, who accompanied the Rennell Rodd mission to Menelik, reported, as a result of his observations in 1897, that it was widely declared the capital would soon move to Mietta on the west of Entotto. Gradually, he related, all the wood in the vicinity of the capital had been cut down and consumed, and it had been necessary to start using the forest of Mount Menagesha some fifteen miles away : ” When the distance from the forest becomes inconveniently great the capital must be removed elsewhere.” Henry Vivian, writing four years later, declared wood was then being brought a distance of sixteen miles and it “is certain that within a very short space of time Menelik will be obliged to shift his capital once more to the neighborhood of fresh woods.” A. B. Wylde, reporting at about the same time, said that, having revisited the town twice within eighteen months, ” I found it had grown larger . . . perhaps this immense straggling settlement has seen its best days, and some new place will be chosen as headquarters, as it is now nearly impossible to procure firewood for the wants of the inhabitants. … As long as a large standing army at headquarters is kept up, this settlement is shortly doomed.” Foreign commentators who foretold the demise of Addis Ababa had in mind the fate of Entotto which had been almost completely abandoned though Menelik and his Court still paid occasional visits to the Church of St. Raguel there. Gleichen reported that at Entotto he had only seen a handful of huts, the ruin of ” an exceedingly strong fortress ” and the two churches of St. Raguel and St. Mariam, while Vivian declared ” only two churches and a few brown ruins ” remained of a town ” which must have comprised fifty thousand souls.” Menelik decided, however, to save Addis Ababa, which was probably essential if his plans for the modernization and development of Ethiopia were to be carried to fruition. The Chronicle relates an incident which occurred during the rainy season of 1902. Menelik had left Addis Ababa on account of the rains, but on arriving at Addis Alem he ordered the edifice which had been begun for the use of the Court should be converted into a church. ” The kingdom of heaven,” he declared, ” is worth more than the kingdom of earth.” By thus offering to heaven the new church, fashioned as the Chronicle says in a new style which had never before been seen in Ethiopia, Menelik retained Addis Ababa as the capital of his kingdom on earth. Immediately after the rains the Emperor gave orders to construct a road from Addis Alem to the capital which the Chronicle likens to those of the Ferengi (Europeans), observing that it made possible for Addis Ababa to obtain an adequate supply of wood and other necessities. The permanence of the capital was thus assured.

Later a more prolific source of timber was discovered in the swift growing eucalyptus imported from Australia. When felled to the ground this remarkable tree quickly pushes up new stems as strong and virile as the original. The decision to hold fast to Addis Ababa marked a new era in Ethiopian history. In the old days it had been extremely difficult to administer a large empire from a single center because the mountainous nature of the terrain made speedy and efficient communications extremely difficult and because the relatively large army, accompanied by its camp followers, proved a heavy drain on the available supplies of fuel and foodstuffs. It had therefore been customary to have a series of temporary capitals, though this necessarily militated against the development of a more scientific system of administration. To develop a modern state Menelik had to have a fixed capital.

Addis Ababa was all the while evolving, reflecting the progress and development of the country as a whole. It was thus the scene of daring innovation which went hand in hand with ceaseless expansion. The Chronicle tells us that at the turn of the century talk began of constructing a railway. The telephone between the capital and Harar, which had been begun by French engineers in 1897, was working by 1899. P. H. G. Powell-Cotton, in a book published in 1902, has left a description of the first telegraph office, which, he says, was under the supervision of a Swiss engineer, M. Muhle. Situated in a large circular building it contained ” the latest inventions in telegraphic and telephonic apparatus” lying side by side with ” a few amole or salts and a pile of cartridge cases (both empty and full), which have been received in payment for messages sent. Beside the instruments in use, materials of all sorts are scattered about—cells, insulators, receivers, call-bells, and so on ; for here are kept the supplies for the smaller stations between this and Ha The Ethiopian year 1896 (September, 1903 to September, 1904) was another milestone in the progress of the Ethiopian State. In that year, according to the Ethiopian Chronicle, the capital saw a steam-engine for the first time. It was actually a small locomotive which ran between Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa. Before the year was out Menelik had constructed a mint for the production the new Ethiopian currency which had appeared in 1893 to replace the old Maria Theresa dollar, but had hitherto been minted in Paris.

Menelik was successfully laying the foundations of the future in both an administrative and an urban sense. Vivian noted, for example, that Addis Ababa already covered ” some fifty square miles ” and contained “a very large population which has never been number.” By mule ” three-quarters of an hour at least are necessary for a pilgrimage from the British Agency to the Palace and as much again to the market,” though ” in either of these journeys you must cross three or four deep ravines with stony, precipitous banks and a torrent bed full of slippery boulders.” Vivian’s account is revealing also in that it depicts something approaching a fervor of constructional work. He declares with surprise that he had seen a newly erected rail which ” had been laid for the purpose of conveying goods and building material to and fro.” The Emperor, he relates, had also introduced wheelbarrows to speed up progress, though often the laborers ” only made use of them when they were under their master’s eye. Directly they were left to their own devices, they hastened to return to their accustomed method of carrying things on their backs Wylde describes the capital’s stone quarry where laborers were at work blasting lime-stone rock while Arab and Indian masons were dressing stone. ” These men, ” he declared, ” had come from Aden and were getting much higher wages than they could procure there. They told me they also received rations from the king, and that they were saving nearly all their pay. The blocks of stone they were dressing were intended for the construction of the king’s private dwelling, and this work and the road-making were the first examples of what the present ruler is doing to improve his surroundings.” The chief stores and artillery depot were also built of stone. A more significant influence on Addis Ababa architecture was Alfred Ilg, whom Menelik had appointed Conseiller d’Etat. Ilg popularized wooden balconies, reminiscent of the chalets of his native Switzerland, there by creating a style of wood and stone building which was to remain for a generation to come, thus giving the Ethiopian capital a very distinctive appearance.

By examining the contemporary descriptions of the new town it is possible to build up a fairly comprehensive picture of it. Wylde, for example, recognized that its site was well chosen, from the point of view of its water supply. He observed that two streams, which descended from the highlands to the north and west and met in a valley about three miles to the south east of the Ghibbi, always contained ” a plentiful supply of water” which enabled the Palace to be supplied by pipe, ” the stream utilized being tapped at a higher elevation, so it requires no pumping.” Count Gleichen was equally impressed by the climate ; he declared it was ” perfect,” and far superior to bleak and hilly Entotto which was only reached by a very hilly road and tended to be far too cold at night, as well as being from time to time the scene of thunderstorms, perhaps attracted by neighboring ridges of ironstone.

All the travelers agreed that the most conspicuous sight on approaching the capital, and the one which first caught the eye, was the Emperor’s enclosure built at the end and on the highest part of an out-jutting lower spur of the Entotto mountains. There they caught their first glimpse of Menelik’s red-tiled Palace, surrounded by a plantation of sycamore trees. Captain M. S. Wellby, who arrived just when Menelik was about to set forth on one of his campaigns, declares that ” on all sides ” he saw ” extraordinary numbers of mules, ponies and donkeys grazing on the excellent pasturage, and in the most suitable spots villages of canvas had been pitched, all indicative of the king’s impending march into the Tigre.”

Wylde’s account, which is complementary to that of Wellby, declares that ” at the foot of the Ghibbi there is lower land in which are situated the hot springs of Filwoha, generally with a thin cloud of steam hanging over them, and quite close to these a small pond and water meadow belonging to the king . . . We could see groups of soldiers’ tents dotted over the landscapes belonging to the men of the numerous military leaders of other districts that had come to pay their respects to the king, and through my glasses I could see a constant stream of people both mounted and on foot going to and from the king’s palace, which seemed densely crowded with a mass of specks like the smallest of ants, in fact the hill might be likened to an ant-heap with its busy workers going backwards and forwards.”

Lieut-Colonel Reginald Wingate has left a detailed account of the Ghibbi at this time :— “The dwelling-house is called the Elfin, a two-storeyed white-washed building about forty-five feet high ; the roof is red-tiled, and the various windows and balconies are painted in several colors—green, yellow, red and blue. Besides this building there are : the aderash, or principal hall of reception, a large oblong construction capable of accommodating six hundred or seven hundred persons ; the saganet or clock-tower, where the Emperor dispenses justice on two days during the week, and the gouda, or depot, a white building which serves as the Emperor’s storehouse.”

In addition to these buildings there are, within the royal enclosure, the workshops, arsenal, carpenters’ shop, etc., and a private chapel. ” All around the Ghibbi are grouped the enclosures of the principal men of State, officers, and others, the importance of the individual being measured by the size of the enclosure and the number of the smaller huts grouped around it.

“All the huts in the town are of the same form, circular or elliptical, with thatched conical roofs ; there are very few two-storied buildings ; but some of the houses, more notably those of the Europeans, are oblong in shape, and the roofs are of the ordinary shape, with three or four small peaks capped with circular moulds, serving the double purpose of keeping the thatch in position, and of ornament. Almost every Ras or Governor of a province, has his compound in Addis Ababa, and the hut accommodating generally an insufficient number of followers, it is supplemented by tents of all shapes and sizes.”

The capital therefore presents the appearance of a gigantic camp, and this is actually what it is. “Nevertheless Addis Ababa was never conceived in the military terms of previous Ethiopian capitals. Gleichen, for example, was careful to note that the old fortress at Entotto had possessed two parapets and had been surrounded by a ditch which ” formed a complete defence in itself” ; the Addis Ababa Ghibbi, on the other hand, presented no such marked features of defence : ” all it has consists of a palisade about fifteen feet high—not particularly strong—and two internal stone walls. Perhaps it is because Menelik wisely desires to rule by love and not by fear.” Gleichen has given us a glimpse of the old St. George’s Cathedral which was later replaced by the one which stands in Addis Ababa today. ” The Church,” he tells us, ” was of the ordinary circular shape, on a hill about a mile from the Palace and close by the market-place.” It possessed an elaborate episcopal gilt cross on the top, and inside ” pictures of all sorts of sacred subjects.” Beside the work of Ethiopians depicting the lives of notable saints there was ” a representation of the Day of Judgment, the Emperor (an excellent portrait) occupying a prominent position amid the prophets, saints and other worthies.” There were in addition four or five pictures presented by the Russian Red Cross Mission as gifts from the Tsar : ” good modern ecclesiastical oil paintings of the Greek Church.”

Another important church described by foreign travelers was the Sellassie, or Trinity, Church. This P. H. G. Powell-Cotton found, was a thatched circular building surmounted by an elaborate gilt cross. ” A raised, open verandah surrounded the sacred edifice, the wall of which was hung with colored chintz. Several large doors led into the interior, the center of which was occupied by a square structure reaching to the roof, thus leaving but a narrow space outside it for worshipers This is the holy of holies, in which the ark containing the holy books is kept, and may only be entered by one of the officiating priests. The whole exterior of this shrine was covered with highly colored religious prints, pinned on to the wall. Among these were two or three European paintings on canvas and a few specimens of Ethiopian art. The most interesting portion of the church was the vestry, situated in a sort of crypt. Here were piled in open chests, hung on nails or cords, or stacked in corners, the most extraordinary collection of gorgeous-colored vestments, mitres, crutches, umbrellas, sacred books, sistrums, drums, incense-burners, processional crosses, and all the properties used in the elaborate ritual of the Ethiopian Church, in fact a perfect museum of curiosities . . . How I should have liked to spend a week turning over and examining these treasures ! but no such luck : the priests hustled us out, after permitting us only a hurried glimpse at them.” Foreign observers were always keen on visiting the market which was held on a slope of the hill going down toward the Palace. The market conducted business every day except Sunday ; the busiest day was Saturday, when from the early morning villagers came from all quarters and might be seen driving their donkeys and mules laden with goods for sale. Powell-Cotton who knew many of the most famous markets of the East, declared that of Addis Ababa ” the most interesting. There one obtains a truer notion of the productive powers of the country in both raw materials and manufactured articles, and can learn better what foreign goods find a ready sale among the people than in any of the many markets I have seen in the four continents. To the market-place at Addis Ababa come grains and spices, peppers and condiments from every corner of the kingdom, coffee from Harar and Lake Tsana, cotton from the banks of the Blue Nile, gold from Beni Shangul, and civet from the Oromo country, while salt from the far north of Tigre is the current change for a dollar. Fine cotton shammas, heavy burnooses of black, blanket-like cloth, jewelery and arms, saddlery and ploughs, all are here.” Vivian was ” amazed by the density of the mob ” who seemed to allow ” scarcely a square foot to spare anywhere.” The vast concourse was made up of a multitude of persons sitting in the open air in rows according to the materials they had to sell, their goods either displayed on the ground, or in shallow baskets in front of them. ” Purchasers and loafers,” Powell-Cotton relates ” wander about between the rows, and a noisy hum of voices goes on all day. Up aloft in a straw sentry-box sits the Nagadi Ras, or head of the merchants, whose business it is to superintend the market, put a stop to quarrels and settle all disputes that are brought before him.” The greater part of the market was devoted to the sale of the commonest articles and provisions, grain, grass, sheepskins, fuel, cottons from America, Manchester or India, and German and Italian hardware.

Captain Wellby considered one of the most interesting corners was where hundreds of ponies were assembled. Their finer points being discussed by vendors and experts. He also had something to say of the woodsellers who often had to carry their ” turbs ” or long pieces of wood from a distance of fifteen miles,” the sellers of honey who sold their wares at a dollar for 8 lbs., and the various vendors of grain who brought in principally barley and tieff, but also peas, oats, rice and linseed. ” There are also for sale,” he added, ” silver trinkets, cloth, beads, cartridge-belts, files, skins, leather straps (machanya), saddles, inferior knives, various articles made of iron, hardware, and so forth, and lastly fowls, sheep and cattle. One is much struck by the appearance of the women who throng the market, for many of them are exceedingly pretty.”

Power-Cotton’s description of the market is perhaps the most exhaustive. The jewelery section, he declares contained ” thick silver-rings, which are threaded and worn round the neck, women’s ear-rings in the form of highly ornamented solitaire studs, generally gilt, and curious ear-rings worn only by men who have killed an elephant, which are fashioned like elaborate finger-rings, sometimes with little chains pendant to them. There are also hairpins with filigree heads, like those used for women’s hats at home, tiny ear-picks in the form of spoons with handles of variegated shapes and patterns, bracelets and rings, necklets of fine chain, and little charm-boxes as pendants, as well as crosses, plain or of filigree-work. . . . “Next to the raw-hide market, where you may usually find some leopard skins and occasionally a lion’s pelt, are established the vendors of imported dressed and dyed leather, colored to bright reds and greens for the decoration of saddles, bridles, and cartridge belts. There also are for sale the large, soft sleeping-skins which every Ethiopian loves to possess, and leather sacks for holding personal luggage while traveling by mule. In the crowded corner devoted to the sword-sellers you may see a petty chief, with one or two trusty followers, testing the blade of the big, straight sword taken from the Dervishes, which will fetch as much as ten to fifteen dollars. Close by, other purchasers are examining the curve of an Ethiopian sword in its bright red scabbard, or perhaps choosing one from a pile of French blades made for the Ethiopian market. . . .”

Nearby at another stall, are exposed for sale circular convex shields of black buffalo hide, those for the populace ornamented by geometrical figures stamped on the leather, while those borne by officers are decorated with strips and bosses of silver, or of silver-gilt for the higher ranks. . . . “Near the top of the hill one long alley is devoted to cotton goods from America, India and Manchester. Lancashire, I regret to say, supplies by far the smallest quantity, for the English manufacturer will neither make the quality nor supply the lengths required in Ethiopia. ” The money-changers’ quarter,” he continues, ” is perhaps one of the most striking, for instead of piles of copper, coin and cowries, as in India, one sees stacks of amole—the Ethiopian currency. These are bars of crystallized salt, some ten inches long by rather more than two inches wide in the center, with slightly tapering ends bound round by a band of rush. In the capital four of them are equivalent to the dollar, but their value varies in different parts of the country. . . .”

The red pepper and the butter bazaars were not places in which to linger, the former on account of the particles getting into one’s eyes and nostrils and acting like pungent snuff, and the latter on account of the strong, rancid smell. . . . “Beside all the commodities I have named there were to be found, each in its own market, coffee-beans, sugar, wax and honey, tej and tella (mead and beer), stored in great jars called gombos, large shawls called shammas, iron ploughshares, knives and spears, rhinoceros-hide whips, bamboos for tent-poles, bundles of split wood ten feet long for building huts, little bundles of long, tough grass for thatching or larger ones for fodder, overgrown faggots for fuel, tobacco for chewing and in the form of snuff (for the Ethiopian does not smoke), every kind of grain for bread, and divers condiments for flavoring”

“On a flat stretch of ground on the southern side of the market is the mule and horse fair ; here may be seen horses galloped by wild-looking men, with their shammas streaming behind them and the rhinoceros-hide whip in full play. Presently the owner espies a likely purchaser, and instantly the horse is stopped and thrown back on its haunches. Mules are being examined for traces of old sore backs, and the air is filled with the shouting, wrangling, and bargaining inseparable from the buying and selling of a horse. The Ethiopians have an excellent rule, that before a bargain is complete, the vendor and the purchaser must together lead their beast before an official, who registers their names, witnesses the paying over of the money, and exacts a fee from both parties to the contract. No horse may be sold for more than fifty dollars, but a mule may go up to three hundred.” The author of the above catalogue elsewhere discusses the foreign traders who had found their way to the new capital. There were already, he declares, four or five French merchants, the most important being M. Savore who had just opened a new house and shop, ” a good many Greeks,” who dealt largely in liquors and scents, a few Armenians, one of whom was a baker, and a Swiss watchmaker. The premises of the Greek and Indian merchants were mainly situated to the south-east of the town, just below the market. ” The latest arrivals ” were several new Indian firms. The proprietors owing to their thrifty habits were ” rapidly taking the trade from both French and Greeks, and finding a ready sale for goods in respect of which it was thought there would be no demand. Instead of sending cash to the coast they lay it out in ivory, civet and gold, and so obtain a double profit.” One of the most interesting Greeks was Balambaras Giorgis, a curio dealer, who had served in Menelik’s victorious army at Adowa, the only European to do so. Another Ethiopianised foreigner was an Irishman, McKelvie who had remained in the country since the time of Theodore, had married an Ethiopian wife and dressed in a shamma.

Vivian corroborated this account of the success of the Indians ; he declared they were ” completely cutting out the French merchants who have already begun to complain bitterly about the competition. The fact is that an Indian can travel about with one servant and a minimum of baggage, whereas a French merchant travels like a prince, with a great retinue and every conceivable luxury. Moreover, the Frenchmen give themselves ridiculous airs. One of their shopkeepers, who had been summoned to the Palace, sent in after ten minutes to say that he could not wait any longer. The Indians also derive considerable assistance from the weekly post, which any British subject is allowed to use, while the French postal service is unsafe and irregular.” ” The French,” he added, ” expect too much too quickly ” and were not unknown to adopt ” sharp practice, which may pay for the moment, but cannot answer permanently. … I had occasion to visit the store of one of the leading French traders. … He showed me several bottles, and I noticed on the lower ones some very elaborate labels : ‘ Grande Marque Extra Fine,’ and all the rest of it. Moreover, many bottles were done up in wire-netting, like the very choicest and oldest brands in Europe. My curiosity was pricked as to the market which the man could hope to find, but he said with a smile, ‘ I don’t recommend those. They are intended for the natives, and contain the filthiest muck you ever imagined.’ This struck me as a very eloquent, as well as a very frank summary of French colonial trade.”

Powell-Cotton noted that Menelik’s new Custom House was near the market, its entrance being next to the horse and mule fair. ” A strong wooden gate,” he records, ” gives access to a yard, with a large building in the center where the officials sit in an open verandah, receiving dues and granting receipts. Opposite them lies a long range of buildings, in which the merchandise is stored until it has been valued and the Customs are paid. Lying about in odd corners are elephant tusks, some whole, others sawn in half, while outside the verandah are piles of forty or fifty each, among them some splendid specimens.”

Foreign writers also naturally paid considerable attention to the residences of the diplomatic missions, which, as Vivian observed, were then divided into two camps, French and Russian against English and Italian, all concerning themselves with ” little else than political intrigue.” Menelik was always generous in granting land to foreign legations so they were invariably surrounded by extensive property. The British Residency, as it was called, was situated on a kind of terrace, at the foot of a steep hill, a narrow but steep ravine separating it from the Russian a quarter of a mile off. Wellby noted that it was ” close to Ras Makonnen’s own important-looking dwelling” and ” well-fitted for a cricket or polo ground.” He seemed slightly disappointed however that because ” almost every tree had been cut up for firewood and the supply had to be carried on men’s heads from a greater distance day by day ” it had not yet been possible to build anything more pretentious than a round wattle hut. Powell-Cotton elaborated this account. ” A turf wall some four feet high,” he noted, ” encloses about ten acres of land, which space is again divided by another turf wall into two unequal portions. In the upper part of the larger enclosure were two tukuls of the usual Ethiopian pattern, but with European doors and windows. These were the private dwellings of Captain Harrington (the British representative) and Mr. Baird, his secretary. Slightly nearer the entrance, and to the left, were the two reception-tents, side by side. The first was luxuriously furnished with arm-chairs and lounges, the tables piled with the latest papers and periodicals from home, and with files of Reuter’s telegrams, which are forwarded by camel-post from Zeila to Harar, and thence by telephone. The second and larger served as the mess-tent, where, when seated at a perfectly appointed meal, it was hard to realize you were in Ethiopia. On the further side of the large tents were other tukuls for Mr. Beru, the interpreter, Mr. Wakeman, the doctor, Bradley, the groom, and the cook-house, while behind these were yet others which contained stores and the treasure and ammunition, guarded by Sudanese police. The smaller half of the compound was divided into four sections—one a narrow strip at the back, where the Sudanese with their households lived in little huts, next to this a large grass field, in which the ponies were tethered and where the dhobie spread his washing. Adjoining this came the stable-yard, which contained a long, pent-roofed building, supported down the center by poles, and capable of holding thirty horses ; in front of this structure were other tukuls, comprising a harness-room and fodder stores. The last enclosure, lying nearest the city, was filled with yukuls for the Ethiopian servants and their wives, in the largest of which grinding corn and making the native bread was continuously going on.”

Somewhat more imposing was the Russian Residency which Wellby describes as ” a white-washed and suitable house, commanding cheery views of all the neighboring country.” Guarded by a tame ostrich which nevertheless sometimes occasioned the visitor some fright, the Russians kept up considerable state and sported a Cossack guard. Vivian declared it was no uncommon sight to see a long procession of Russian soldiers, ” fair men rigged out in the regular Russian uniform with peaked caps.” There were also five Russian doctors in gorgeous uniform who ran a Red Cross hospital where people were attended free at an annual cost of £7,000 to the Tsar, and much to the disgust of English writers who looked on the whole affair with considerable jealousy and made many cynical remarks about the ” white Tsar’s love ” for Ethiopia. Addis Ababa’s European community was at that time also discussing the marriage to a Russian officer to an Ethiopian lady, this being, as Powell-Cotton said, ” the first time one of their number had gone through the religious ceremony with an Ethiopian. . . . When the bridegroom, an officer in the Imperial Russian Guard, asked Menelik’s permission to marry her and take her to Russia, the reply was, ‘ Certainly, if you have your Emperor’s leave to do so.’ ”

Captain Ciccodicola’s Italian Residency was in the opinion of Powell-Cotton ” the most luxurious dwelling in Addis Ababa.” The Italian being anxious to regain for his country some at least of the prestige lost at Adowa was determined to make a show. ” As he was anxious to have a suitable place for the Italian Residency as soon as possible, and the collection of timber for a large house in Addis Ababa is a matter of much time and difficulty, he decided to buy an existing compound with two houses. These he converted into dining and drawing rooms, connected by passages with a circular reception hall, from which the sleeping apartments and offices opened out. The whole formed one of the most picturesque yet comfortable dwellings I have ever seen. Entering through a gatehouse into a courtyard, we left our mules and attendants, and then proceeded through a second gate ; on either side was a raised open tukul, in one of which the sentry on guard beat a gong to announce our approach. We then found ourselves in a second courtyard encircled by a covered way and with beautifully laid out flower-beds in the center At the further end was the reception hall, hung with leopard skins and trophies of arms. . . . This apartment, with its Persian carpets, couches covered with polar-bear skins, statuary, pictures, precious curios and works of art, its shaded lamps and candles, was pervaded by an atmosphere of luxury and refinement.” Ciccodicola, Vivian observes, had moreover been empowered to spend Italian secret service funds on an extremely lavish scale and was availing himself of the opportunity. Mr. Legarde, the French representative, whom Menelik had created Duke of Entotto, also had an important residence, for France at this time was the country with which Menelik had greatest contact. Wellby describes the residence as being surrounded by a cage-like stockade which ” not only shut out most effectively hyena and jackal, but also most of the sun’s life-giving rays,” while Powell-Cotton describes the Legation as ” a large, oblong tukul, with no visible windows.” Inside, he declares, ” it was so dark that at first we could hardly see the chairs we were invited to take. As our eyes became accustomed to the gloom, we found we were seated in an apartment draped throughout in red and blue, and decorated at intervals with gilt stars and shields which displayed the tricolour of France. In the center of the straight wall, facing the semi-circle in which we sat, stood a gilt throne, raised on a kind of platform and surmounted by a canopy flanked by curtains. On either side, on the lower level of the floor, a small chair was set. The whole effect—added to the dim, religious light—was distinctly weird.” Such, Vivian commented, was the state kept up by ” the representative of republican France.”

The Ethiopian Chronicle relates that in 1905 the Bank of Ethiopia was chartered, and in the same year a fire which destroyed many of the Court buildings enabled the replacement of wooden edifices by stone. Soon afterwards St. George’s Cathedral was rebuilt in a new octagonal style. The architect in charge was the Greek Orphanies, and the engineer, an Italian, Castagna ; Greek workers were also employed. A steam-engine arrived from Europe to transport the stones required for this and other new edifices. A year or so later the Itieguie hotel was built near the new Cathedral, ” a large house for strangers,” as the Chronicle calls it, where the finest foods of both Europe and Ethiopia were served. In 1907-8 the first Ethiopian cabinet was formed, for as the Chronicle says, Menelik wished to implant into the country European customs. The new Menelik II School opened its doors in October, 1907, and reached a hundred students in the following year. In December, 1907, the first motor-car was driven into the capital by two Englishmen, Bentley and Halle, who were soon followed by other drivers.

Clifford Halle, who penned an account of his arrival in what would be today considered a very primitive car, has something to say of the Ethiopian capital at this time. He refers to several Ethiopian churches built in stone ” and saw in the distance the larger houses of the European merchants.” Menelik, he goes on, ” had evidently made good use of his steam-rollers, for the macadamized roads were excellent.” The Emperor impressed him as extremely alive to modern needs. ” He was quite enlightened,” Halle notes, ” to the advantages of a railway up to his capital, and the consequent increase of trade and of the wealth that would follow ; but he was equally well aware that foreign capital meant foreign interests, and sooner or later foreign soldiers following those interests. He questioned Bentley as to the impressions he had gained of the Japanese people, and let it be seen that he had closely followed the marvelous ascent of that great nation into a world power.” As soon as the two Englishmen had presented the car Menelik was not content merely to inspect the new arrival ; he was almost at once in the front seat with the driver proceeding at top speed, ” the old Emperor laughing and puffing for breath, with his goggleless eyes streaming, as happy as a schoolboy, while the now galloping escort was left somewhere on the horizon.” Though there is no record of the Empress joining the expedition, she spoke kindly to the driver and expressed satisfaction that he differed from so many ferenge who talked big and did little. The face of the capital was changing. At the turn of the century Wylde had complained that Addis Ababa was little more than ” a conglomeration of hamlets and huts with hardly a decent house to be seen anywhere.” ” The whole settlement,” he added ” seems to have been built in a hurry.” Robert Skinner, who led the first American mission to the Court of Menelik and reported only a few years later in 1906, saw a city already transformed. The approach, he declared was ” grand ; high mountains were on both sides and ahead of us, and we marched between fields of waving grain. . . . Having entered the city we found ourselves traveling over one of the smooth and well-built roads with which Menelik is introducing modern civilization.”

Tobbya, by Afawerk Gabre Yesus

Translation by Tadesse Tamrat of Ethiopia’s first novel which first appeared in Amharic in 1900

Much is due to him who is kind to others.
Much is lost to him who does evil unto others.
A kind man never gives; he lends!

Atvthe beginning of the Christian era, when the new religion was still
in the process of being preached, the Christians were very few
compared with the pagans. The pagans, moreover, counting on their
superiority of numbers and greater power persecuted the Christians,
invaded their land, plundered and devastated their possessions.
After every battle the pagans would massacre as many as they pleased and
reduce to slavery all those who were captured alive. Very few as they
were, the Christians were also strongly militant in defending their
honor and the frontiers of their land. Victory was not the monopoly
of any one side, the Christians and the pagans won the struggle at
different times, neither wanting peace and reconciliation, each
aiming at exterminating the other. Every year, every month, each side
would fight and massacre the other.

Once upon a time the pagans came as usual to plunder the land of the
Christians, to castrate, to kill or to enslave them. When the news
of this pagan attack reached the ears of the Christian king he at once mobilized his forces,
organized them under four Dejazmaches, or generals, and sent
them to fight the enemy and defend their faith. The pagan army was,
however, ten times as large as that of the Christians. The battle was
therefore won by the pagans. Three of the Christian generals were
killed in action; the fourth was captured alive by the enemy.
Countless people lost their lives in the confusion that followed.
Very few were captured alive. None of the Christian soldiers could
escape from the hands of the enemy; no one returned home alive. After
the victory the pagan army invaded the country of the Christians and
took away as much spoils as they could.

The news of the Christian defeat reached every corner of the country.
Everyone began to mourn the loss of bis relative on the battle field.
The king himself was so overcome by the sudden news of this complete
pagan victory and the loss of his army and his generals that he soon
died of grief and shock. The Christians lost their king. They had no
ruler. Their country soon became a wilderness.

The Christian general who was captured alive was sold into slavery by the
soldier who captured him. The latter never knew that the man he was
selling as a slave was actually one of the leading generals of the Christian army.
The man who bought him, however, was much pleased with his stature and
strong build. He felt happy that he had bought such a strong slave.
Counting on his strong appearance he always assigned to him the most
difficult jobs in the household. He ordered him to cut the grass for
his animals, to split wood for fire, to load the asses with big
camping tents, and to carry the pole and pegs. All these occupations
were, however, quite new to the unfortunate ex-general. When he tried
to mow the grass his tender hands were cut by the blades of grass and
bled. His fingers, used only to holding glass bottles (Birille) in
his glorious days, developed hard scales as a result of daily work
with the axe and similar implements. Nevertheless he tried his best
to do everything for fear of provoking his master, and lest his
master apply his cruel whips on his tender body. Finally, however,
his swollen hands were sore with wounds, his shoulders on which he
carried many things were also wounded, he could stand it no more. His
master first thought that his new slave was beginning to be unwilling
to work and began to scold him and even wanted to flog him for his
negligence. But the ex-general could bear it no more. Whatever his
master might do to him he determined to be frank with him. He showed
his master his ailing body adding, “I have tried my best to
obey, but there is nothing I can do.”

His pagan master saw how the hard, manual work had done much injury to
his new slave and began to suspect that this slave might be of noble
origin. He asked the soldier who sold him the slave in what kind of
clothes the slave had been captured. The soldier answered that the
prisoner had worn many decorations which when sold had fetched much
gold. The master was happy at this news. He concluded that his new
slave was no ordinary man and must have been a big man in his
country. Since he was useless for hard work, the master decided to
make money out of him.

One day the master called the ex-general in private and said to him :
“You Kafir (infidel) I bought you with much money from
the man who captured you. I am now at complete liberty to do anything
I like with you. But I feel guilty towards you. Now, send to your
relatives at home. Ask them to send you 100,000 waqets, or
ounces, of gold as ransom. On the receipt of that sum I shall let you
go home safe and free!”

The ex-general however knew that the land of the Christians had been
plundered. The king had died and the cattle were all taken by the
enemy. Moreover, even if these sad events had not occurred neither
the ex-general nor his family could raise so fantastic a sum. The
general had lived a generous life. He had decorated and rewarded the
valiant, he had given alms to the poor, and had never thought of
hoarding money. All this he knew very well and said to his master: “I
have no money to pay my ransom, I am poor. You can do anything you
want with me.”

His personal servants had all been killed in action. The king had died.
He had no one on whom he could count at home. He only had his wife
and his twin children, a boy and a girl, both only sixteen years of
age. Each was a perfect image of the other. No one could distinguish
one from the other except by their dress.

His wife and children were first told that he had lost his life in the
war. Some time later, however they heard that actually he had been
sold into slavery and that his master had asked 100,000 waqets of
gold as ransom for him. This was a great relief to them. But to think
of his sufferings and hardship as a slave of the enemy was very
saddening and their inability to raise ransom to free him added much
to their sorrow. They wept at their misfortunes. The king of the
Christians had died and their country had been irrevocably
devastated. Where could they possibly raise that amount of ransom for
their dear one? Where? How could they liberate him? They could only
weep every day, but their tears could hardly help them.

The boy, Wahid, decided to go to his father’s master and offer himself as
a slave in his place. His mother, however, would not let him go. She
feared the pagans would deprive her of both her husband and her son.
Finally the children Wahid and Tobbya, and their mother pondered over
the matter and decided as follows: Wahid would hire his services to
whomever might need them and save his earnings. Tobbya would collect
wood for the fire, draw water, and prepare the family’s food. Their
mother would spin and thus earn something for her labor and help with
the sowing. Lastly, they agreed to dismiss all their servants and
other members of the household since they had nothing with which to
pay them, and, still worse nothing with which to feed them. It was of
course fantastic to think of raising 100,000 waqets of gold by
saving the money they could thus earn, but what else could they do?
That was the only thing left to them.

Their mother began spinning as much as she could. Wahid began looking for a
master whom he could serve in return for a humble wage. Tobbya went
out to collect sticks for the fire. Singing with childish innocence,
she made herself entirely responsible for their food which consisted
almost wholly of different leaves and various types of grass, and
roots. She would collect these every day and prepare food for the
small family. The three would then come together from their various
duties, discuss their problems and eat what Tobbya could prepare for
them. The next day each would return to his or her routine work.
One day Wahid, who was still looking for a job, came to a big town on the
outskirts of which, in one of the green fields, he saw the camp of a
big merchant. He approached it to inquire for work. He asked the
keeper of the animals who the merchant was and whither he was going.
The man told him: ” This camp belongs to a big merchant. He
deals in ivory, coffee, and civet. He is now going to Egypt.”

“Thank you very much. Do you know if this merchant needs any
servants?” asked Wahid. “Oh! yes,” the man replied, ”
most of his servants are now laid up because of a fever that has
broken out in the camp. The merchant has been much delayed because of
this event and is looking for capable men. He has said he would pay
double the normal wage for such servants!”
Wahid thought he was in luck at last, and happy at the news, ran to the
camp without even saying goodbye to his kind informant. He approached
the biggest tent which, he thought, must belong to
the merchant.

There he presented himself to the chief guard saying: ” I have
heard the news that his lordship wants servants. I have come to be
one of them.”The guard could not believe his ears. It was unimaginable to him that a
young boy in such noble dress and with such pleasant manners could
offer himself as a caravan servant! But he was only a guard, he knew
that his master was in desperate need of servants. He went into the
tent, therefore, and said to his master, ” Sir, a fine healthy
young man is standing outside offering to be one of your servants.”
The merchant was irritated by the words, ” a healthy young

“Eh! A healthy young man indeed?” he railed at his chief guard. As if
I needed the contrary! As for sick men I already have them in
hundreds, you fool!”

“But I said a fine young man, Sir,” replied the guard, implying
that he hardly looks suitable for caravan service.”
The merchant did not wait to listen to this rejoinder. He hurried out of
his tent to see the applicant, and the guard silently followed his
master. When he reached the gate of the tent the latter looked here
and there. There was nobody there except for the young, tender boy,
Wahid. He turned to his guard with bewilderment and asked, ”
Where is the man you told me about?”

“It is I, Sir,” began Wahid without giving the guard time to
answer his master’s question. ” If you are willing, Sir, I have
come to offer my services to you. Please accept them kindly.”
The merchant fixed the young boy with his eyes and With no little
surprise. “Eh!” he began, “That is just the type of
servant I really wanted for my caravan!” he added sarcastically,
with a grunt.

“Sir,” Wahid began his supplication, seeing that the merchant
thought him a good-for-nothing, ” It is said that a thin but
obedient ox is much better at the plough than a fat and lazy one.
Please do not judge me by my tender looks. I am capable of serving
the caravan.”

When he heard these wise words the merchant began to like the young boy.

“But why on earth,” he began addressing his young friend, ”
why on earth should a fine and well-bred boy like you wish to work
for a caravan? Your language is refined, your habits elegant, and
your manners those of a man of noble birth. How then could love of
money make you desire to be a servant of a merchant?”
Wahid did not interrupt the man. He let him speak out his heart. “Oh!
Sir,” he began at last, “it is not love of money really.
Had you known my sad story, and the misfortunes that befell me and my
family you would not have judged me so lightly.”

“Excuse me,” said the merchant regretting his hasty judgment. ”
Come and tell me your whole story. You know a man can at first sight
only judge from appearances.” Saying this he asked Wahid to
saddle his mule for him. ” We shall go out together and talk
about everything,” he added. Wahid immediately saddled the mule
for the good merchant and they went out together. A few paces from
the big tent the merchant said to Wahid, ” Now, my friend, tell
me all your problems.”

The merchant had mounted on the mule and Wahid was walking by its side
with his left arm on the saddle. The mule was trotting gracefully.

“Sir, you were right in thinking that I am of noble birth. I am the
son of a Dejazmach. I used to live a life of ease and comfort. But as
you know when the pagans invaded our country, the king mobilized his
forces under his four generals and sent them to fight the enemy. One
of these generals was my father. In the ensuing war, God was not
willing to help the Christians and so the victory went to the pagans.
Thousands of people died on the field; many others were captured
alive and sold into slavery. Three of the generals lost their lives
in action. My father was captured and sold as a slave. Recently,
however, we heard that the pagan who bought him, suspecting from his
looks that he was a rich man, has offered to free him provided he
pays a ransom of 100,000 waqets of gold.

“At this news my mother, my sister and myself were saddened. We knew
we could not raise that much ransom to free him. Moreover, my father
never hoarded money; he only delighted in giving what he had to those
in need. Where could we get that much money? Had the king been alive
he would have paid it; but he died of shock as a result of his
defeat. The land is devastated; the people have been massacred, the
cattle have been plundered, and the harvests have been burnt down by
the enemy. Where could one get money?

“After long and useless deliberation we decided that my sister be
responsible for preparing our food. My mother earns some money by
spinning and I have been assigned to seek service. My mother and I
will save our earnings to help raise the ransom for my father. That
is why I came to you. I would have liked to go and offer to be a
slave in my father’s place. My father has taken special care in
raising me with much comfort and luxury. I would have liked to pay
back what I owe him. My mother, however, would not allow me to do
that. She thought she would lose both of us at the same time. She
forced me to pledge myself before a priest that I would not try to do

“This is the reason why I want to be hired as a servant. Please Sir, do not
judge me badly!”

The merchant listened carefully, with much feeling and sympathy, to
Wahid’s story. When Wahid finished his tale the man said to him: “I
have some business in my tent. I shall go there. Return whence you
came. May God help you in your plans!” All merchants carry a
certain amount of money with them wherever they go. On this occasion
the good merchant gave Wahid all the money he had with him in a bag.
Before he parted with Wahid, however, he carefully asked him the name
of his father and the name and address of his master. Wahid was very
much excited at this generosity of a man he had never known. The boy
carried the bag full of gold to his house trembling with emotion and
unable to say a word. He was so happy that he did not even say
goodbye to his benefactor! Neither did he ask the name and address of
that good merchant. He simply ran off home with the money he had

Before he reached home, he hid himself in a bush, opened the bag the
merchant had given him, poured the contents thereof onto his shamma
and counted how much he had got.

He found that the merchant had given him 40 waqets of
gold. He was greatly pleased with that. He ran to his house, and
surprised both his mother and his sister with his acquisition of the
day. He told them the story of his meeting with the merchant, and how
the latter had given him the money.

His mother and Tobbya were astounded at the generosity of the man, and
when they thought of the possibility of their beloved one coming back
to rejoin them their hearts beat with excitement. It was evident that
the merchant had asked Wahid to saddle his mule for him and follow
him out of the camp just because he wanted to create a favorable
atmosphere for helping the boy if necessary. He thought it would be
much easier for the boy to accept a gift as a return of some service,
however small.

However generous the gift, it was for less than the amount asked as ransom.
Therefore all three resumed their efforts to raise the required
amount. Each drearily spent the day trying to earn as much as
possible and when the day was done met together in the evening for

One day they had gathered together as usual in the evening and Tobbya had
prepared their food. She had cooked the vegetables she had collected
for the day. She had laid the table and they were all having supper.
They were speaking about the generosity of the good merchant. “When
will be the day when we can save as much? When are we going to send
the ransom? When is he going to be freed? When are we going to see
his eyes again? It is going to take many, many years still”,
they were saying this, longing to see their father and regretting
that they could not ransom him as soon as they wanted.
Just at that moment the door opened very gently. Someone entered slowly
and stood in front of them. All three were taken by surprise. They
looked at the strange man. It was their beloved father himself! They
could not believe their eyes, thinking they were merely day-dreaming.
The man was also exhausted by his emotions at seeing all his dear ones
together and at the same time. He just stood there motionless and
with tears flowing down his face. He could not utter a word. Neither
could they say anything. They could not even stand up and greet the
man they had been longing to see! Some minutes passed in this way but
they soon came to their senses; they began to realize that it was
their father himself, the man they had so much desired to see, the
man they had so much missed. All stood up at once and ran to him
throwing themselves on him one after the other. None could wait until
the other had greeted him. No. They embraced him all at the same time
: one of them hung on his neck, the other clung to his waist and
third fell on his knees. It was a scene full of emotion. Anyone who
saw these poor souls at that moment would verify it.
Neither could the father control his emotions. His eyes were wet with tears
and his voice was choked as he spoke: “How are you my dear ones?
How are you? How could you raise so much ransom for me,” he
asked them tenderly crying like a small child. “Where could you
get that much to liberate me from slavery? I never tried to save
money for such an unfortunate emergency. Where could you get it?”
They did not know what to answer. They knew very well that they had as yet
sent no money to free him. They were only trying their very best to
save as much as they could and to raise the required amount. They
were nonplussed. They merely looked at each other. When he saw that
no one was answering his question the father turned his face toward
Wahid and asked: “Wahid, you, my son? But where could you get so
much money?” Wahid had no answer. He was sure he had not sent a
cent! After a lapse of some minutes, however, Wahid remembered the
good merchant who had before so generously given him some waqets
of gold. “Ah!” he cried. “Now I know who sent the
money to liberate you. Father, do not think it was me. No.” He
then told his father the story of the good merchant, how he had given
him forty waqets of gold and how he had finally asked him the
names of his father and that of his pagan master and the latter’s

When he heard the story, the father was greatly amazed at God’s mercy. He
began to thank Christ and bless the good merchant who had liberated
him from slavery. “My son,” said the Dejazmatch, “that
good merchant who never knew me and whom I never knew, who is not
related to me at all, that man sent so much money to pay for my
freedom? Not only that. He sent me a good horse and sufficient
provisions for my return journey. Thus did he enable me to be amongst
you once again, to mix with my children and my beloved wife, to come
back to my sweet home and be happy again! I must therefore go and
meet my unknown benefactor. Of course, I cannot pay back what he has
done for me. But I can at least thank him for his kindness and bless
him in the name of God. My son, please take me to his camp if he is
still around.”

But Wahid knew only the merchant’s face. He did not even know his name or
whence he came. He had forgotten to inquire of such matters in the
excitement of his sudden acquisition of the 40 waqets of gold!
He was ashamed of himself. ” Where can I now find that good
man?” he began to worry. ” Where can I find that wonderful
man who has been so generous to us, who has brought back our father
to us. What can I do to find him?” Finally he decided that he
would not rest until he found the merchant and told him of the
happiness he had restored to him and his family. He would not stay at
home until he had done that. He would travel around the world, even
until his death, to find that good merchant. With this decision Wahid
prepared his provisions for the long journey, seized his traveling
stick, took leave of his family with much difficulty and set out on
his long journey.

At first Wahid traveled fast. He went in the direction of the town at
the outskirts of which he had just met the merchant camping with his
large caravan. As soon as he approached the gates of the town Wahid
turned his eyes to the field, where the merchant’s tents had been
pitched. He spent quite a long time just looking at the area where
the man had camped, thinking about the merchant. He began to cry, and
sat down until his eyes were clear of the tears that filled them.
Some time later he stood up and resumed his journey toward the town,
always looking towards the place where the camp used to be. He looked
at nothing else. As a result his neck was strained and his feet were
repeatedly struck by obstacles on his way. Careless of all these
Wahid continued his way and finally entered the walls of the town.
But what could he do there? He did not know the merchant’s name; he
did not know where he lived. He could therefore neither ask anybody
about the man nor go to his house. He found his ideas were silly. He
was confused. He just stood at the center of one of the cross-roads
like a simple fool who did not know what to do or where to go. Wahid
was a young boy who was always used to a comfortable life; it was
only during the short absence of his father that he had had a little
taste of the hard life. Now, in that town where he knew nobody he
began to feel thirsty. Hunger was added to that. He began to yawn
repeatedly, and his eyes became heavy with fear. All this while,
however, Wahid never regretted his decision to look for the man to
the end. He was determined, once and for all, that he would search
for the man even until his death if necessary. Nothing would persuade
him to change his mind!

When hunger and thirst got hold of him he approached a nearby spring, ate
sparingly of his provisions, and drank a good deal of water. He then
thanked God for His generous gifts of nature and got up to resume his
search. He began to go round the town. He went to all the squares and
public centers, to the various streets, to the churches and to many
other places. All was in vain. He could not find his man. Wahid began
to despair. It was now fifteen days since he came to the town. All
this while, Wahid wandered around the town during the day and spent
his nights in the porches of the churches taking shelter from wild
beasts. He realized that the rich merchant he was looking for was no
longer in the town. ” Where then can I look for him?'” he
began to ask himself. After a long time he decided to go to all
caravan camps to join in the journeys of such caravans, and to look
for the merchant in this way. That became his final decision.
On the morrow Wahid left the town and set out in one direction at random
in search of caravans and caravan camps. Every time he came to a hill
he would climb it and try to look from the top to see if there were
any caravans or camps around. Whenever he met passers by he inquired
whether they had seen caravans on their way. If they told him the
direction whither they saw caravans heading, or the place where they
had seen caravan camps, Wahid would immediately run in that
direction, catch up the party and search for the good merchant among
the traders. The only way he could know this man was, of course, by
seeing his face. He could not ask for the man by his name as he did
not know it. Thus did Wahid continue his fruitless search for his
benefactor. He spent the day running now in this direction, now in
that, wherever he heard caravans were to be found, and spent the
night wherever he was caught by the sudden approach of nightfall.
One day, after the usual long and tedious search Wahid came to a
place where no sign of human habitation was to be found. Far away
beyond the wilderness he saw a big caravan camp. He thought it looked
liked the one in which he had met the good merchant and at once felt
happy. He wanted to reach that camp before dark and began to run. But
he had to cross many rivers and wide plains. The more he ran towards
it the more did the camp seem to retreat from him. The sun was
setting and night began to fall. Gradually it became difficult to
see. There was no moonlight to help him.

The sweet songs of birds heard in the daytime were now replaced by the
ugly voices of insects and wild animals. On either side of the poor
boy walking in the darkness wolves and foxes began to howl; hyenas,
leopards and lions made frightening noises all around him.
Nevertheless Wahid continued his way alone in the midst of the
wilderness, and shivered with fear and uncertainty.
Before sunset the songs of the birds had been a source of consolation to
him, but now he was surrounded by the cries of wild beasts. He was
very worried. He wanted to rest and spend the night there, but there
was no shelter. If he slept where he was the wild beasts would soon
devour him. Wahid was at a loss what to do. He decided to defend
himself from the wild beasts rather than be eaten by them in his
sleep. Furthermore he decided that he would not rest until he came to
the caravan camp he had seen from afar early in the afternoon.
In the meantime it was getting darker and darker. He could no longer see
his way, and began to be very frightened. He thought he saw wild
animals everywhere, a hyena, a leopard or a lion, laying in ambush
for him! “The hyena will soon eat me up,” he began to
think. ” The leopard will tear me to death with its cruel claws
,and the lion will break my bones into pieces! Oh! Woe unto me
tonight! If I escape the one I shall certainly be the prey of the

What else could he do? Wahid’s fear was justified. He was only a young
boy. Regardless of his fears and the darkness that had engulfed him
he continued his way in the direction of the camp he had seen. At one
juncture of this nocturnal journey he saw what he thought was a lion.
He was startled to death. His strength began to fail him. The more he
looked at the terrible object the more his fears seemed to be
confirmed; he thought the lion, thus created by his own fears, would
suddenly jump onto him and devour him mercilessly. Wahid wanted to
scare the object of his fears. He wanted to give the lion the
impression that he was surrounded by many people. He then shouted
with different voices to produce the effect of many persons running
after it: ” Courage! Courage!”” he shouted. “Surround it. Don’t let it go.”

It was, however, simply his own imagination. There was nobody there
except himself, except his own shadow which added to the darkness
that confused his thinking. The object that he thought a Hon was
simply a bush. It would not move an inch whatever his endeavors to
scare it! Wahid then thought he must change his course to avoid the
terrible beast. Nevertheless when he looked back in the direction of
the bush he still thought that the lion was following him. Wahid
gradually became almost too weak to move, his fears enormously
reduced his strength. There was no shelter in which to spend the
night and protect himself from wild beasts. He thought of climbing a tree
and thus avoid any dangers, but by a strange coincidence there was no
tree to be found there. Wahid began to worry greatly. His fears
increased with every minute that elapsed. Everything around
him seemed to him some wild beast ready to devour him on the spot. He
changed his course every time he thought he saw a wild beast in front
of him. While thus changing directions every now and then he came to
a small cave which suddenly appeared on his way. He was taken aback.
He was frightened to death. A cold sweat broke out over his face and
body. “I just escaped one lion,” he thought with complete
despair, “and here I am again in front of another! I shall not
be able to escape this time!” His whole body was shivering like
a reed in an evening breeze. He tried to use his former stratagem of
scaring the object by shouting with different voices. He shouted and
shouted until his throat cracked with thirst. But all was in vain.
The object would not move an inch! Wahid thought he had not shouted
enough and so he began to shout with more strength and intensity
until he could shout no more. But all was of no effect. At last Wahid
began to doubt the reality of his fears. He began to suspect that the
object of his fears might just be a dark inanimate thing! He knelt
down in front of the small cave and began to stare hard at it. He
wanted to see if the object moved. After some minutes of close
observation he thought that the object did move a little. He still
stared at it, and now he thought it was even making some advance
towards him! He stared so hard that his eyes were strained and filled
with tears. He was, however, too frightened to make any movement
himself or to clean his eyes. His tears confused his sight all the
more and gave him the impression that the terrible object was heading
towards him with more rapidity. Later, however, Wahid succeeded in
mustering enough courage to throw some pebbles into the cave from
where he was kneeling. A small bird which had been sheltering in the
cave, as if by providential coincidence made a sudden noise and,
slapping the leaves with its wigs, took off and flew away in the
darkness. At first this confirmed Wahid’s fears. He thought that
the terrible wild beast was finally about to jump on him and devour
him. With this desperate idea in his head Wahid held his breath and
lay flat on the ground like a dead body. He waited and waited, but
nothing happened. “Am I still alive?” he asked himself.
Then he began to make slight movements to see if he had been bitten
by the wild beast or not. He found nothing. At first he had closed
his eyes, now he reopened them with much hesitation and found out, to
his surprise, that let alone a lion, not even a rabbit was in sight.
He even began to breathe deeply and rose to his feet. He looked into
the cave once again. It was still there. It did not move. He looked
hard at it with a strange mixture of fear and wonder. “Did I not
hear the terrible beast fly away, or was there no beast at all?”
he thought. “I am sure I have seen it with my own eyes. Did it
not bite me without my knowing?” He tried to inspect his body.
There was no sign of any attack. “What could it be?” he
began to ask himself. “What could it be that frightened me so
much? Could it be just my own troubled imagination? Anyway it is good
that nobody saw me in this frantic state! How can a man be
so much deceived by his own fears?” Wahid laughed at himself and
resumed his journey.

Wahid now gained some strength. His spirits revived again. He wanted to
reach the camp beyond before daybreak. It was, however, too late. It
was past midnight. Even the constellation of the six stars whose
twinkling light had given some consolation had now disappeared. It
became darker than before. Wahid kept losing his way but always found
it again. At last he could see the fire of the camp beyond. Now his
strength revived with renewed hope and he continued his way in the
direction of the camp fire. At this point he reached a river. He went
down into the valley to cross it. In the meantime he lost sight of
the campfire.

There was no moonlight. The morning star had not yet appeared. Though the
night was half over the darkness had not yet given way to light.
Moreover the walls of the deep valley and the shadows therein added
to the darkness that prevailed. Wahid hastened his steps down the
slopes of the walls of the valley. But he lost his sense of direction
and lost his way. What could he do? He had made up his mind to reach
the merchant’s camp he had seen and wanted to do that at any cost! He
literally crawled down to the bed of the river regardless of the
darkness, the thorny bushes that covered the ground, and the
difficulty of knowing the direction he had to follow.

No one knows whether the water of an unknown river is good to drink or
not. Wahid did not care to know. He had been parched with thirst for
the last few hours. His throat was cracking for want of water, and he
had lost practically all his voice. As soon as he reached the river
he knelt down and drank the water as if it were Tej (honey
wine) or Telia (beer). He never cared to examine its
cleanliness. He only tried to free it from the jelly-like green that
covered it at the surface by blowing on the stagnant water. After he
had his fill he thanked God for that, sat down on one of the rocks
and began seriously to consider how to cross the river. At first he
thought the river was too deep for him. He could not assess how deep
it was. Neither could he know which was the best ford. He could not
swim and therefore feared to start crossing the river at any point.
The river had no falls at that point, and Wahid had heard people say
that a gently-flowing river with no falls was generally deep. He did
not know what to do.

While he was thus worrying, there came, by a strange coincidence, a mule
who had escaped from the merchant’s camp on the other side of the
river. It had been very thirsty, like Wahid himself, and had come
there to get some water. The young man’s former fears of beholding a
wild beast and of being devoured by one returned to him when he saw
the mule advancing towards him. However he realized by the sound it
made that it was a mule. When it reached him it immediately entered
into the water and began drinking to its fill. Wahid could now see
that the river was not very deep. He immediately thought of getting
hold of the mule and of riding it to the camp which he was resolved
to reach that night. Therefore he had to catch it before it had
finished drinking. He slowly but surely advanced through the water in
the direction of the mule, always feeling its depth with his long
stick. Thus he crossed the river. In the meantime the mule shook
its head and ears and looked back at the wafer as if hesitating as to
whether to drink more or not. At that time Wahid approached the
animal and caught it by the collar. He first feared that it might
kick him and began stroking its body gently to make sure. The mule
submitted to his entreaties as though it had realized how much the
young boy had suffered before, as though it sympathized with him and
wanted to give him rest by letting him ride on its back. After
confirming that the mule was quite tame, he led it to a rock, and
climbed on its back. He turned it in the direction it had come from
and addressing it directly said, ” Now you take me to your
camp.” The mule followed the road to the camp and proceeded as
though it understood every word he said. At times, however, when it
came to a place along the road it would suddenly stop, graze a
little, and resume its journey to the camp at its own convenience.
And Wahid never urged it to go faster. He only clung tightly to its
mane to avoid falling. He did not spur the animal. He just allowed it
to trot as it wished. This he did because he felt it would show
ingratitude if he tried to tire the animal when it, of its own free
will, had allowed him to catch and ride it. ” A guest never acts
as the master of his host’s house!” he thought.

The mule moved slowly and leisurely to join its fellow-animals at the
camp. As it approached the camp the mule-keepers heard its footsteps
and came running in that direction. They had just discovered it was
missing and were looking for it everywhere. When he saw this Wahid
was afraid of being caught riding a mule that belonged to others. So
he immediately dismounted and thought of hiding in the bushes around.
But the keepers of the night surrounded the mule and were trying to
catch it with the help of ropes. Wahid was thus discovered and
caught. He could not run away to escape his captors; he was too tired
because of his long journey. His feet could hardly move!
When they found the boy with the mule, the guards naturally thought that
Wahid had unfastened it from camp and had been caught while taking it
away. ” Damn you, thief,” they shouted at him and beat him
cruelly. All his supplications and entreaties passed unheard. Please
listen to me, I &m not a thief!” shouted Wahid weakly. It
was all in vain. ” You thief, you liar, we have caught you
red-handed and now you are saying that you are no thief!” they
shouted back at him and continued beating him. When they reached the
camp some of them fastened the mule in the stable while the rest tied
Wahid’s hands and legs very tightly and left him helplessly lying on
the ground face downwards.

The cruel guards had tied Wahid so tightly that he could not move; he
could hardly even breathe. He was almost like a goat about to be
slain. Compared to the poor boy the mules and the other beasts of
burden were in much better condition. They only had one of their legs
tied to a pole and plenty of fodder was spread before them. Wahid
envied these creatures! “Oh if they had tied only my legs!”
he exclaimed. ” If only I could breathe with ease like those
fortunate animals!” Breathing was now almost out of
the question for him. He almost burst his lungs. He turned his big
bright eyes to left and right. There was nobody to come to his help.
Nobody would stand by him or try to loosen his thongs. The suffering
and affliction he was subjected to was comparable to that of the
martyrs we read of in religious books. Each of the guards slapped him
in the face, struck him with his fist, and kicked him. Wahid passed
the night under such cruel conditions.

At daybreak almost all the members of the caravan who heard the story of
Wahid’s capture stood around the ailing young boy; they saw his body
sore with every kind of wound everywhere. These wounds were inflicted
on Wahid as a result of his long journey in the darkness. His captors
thought, however, that this confirmed their suspicion that Wahid was
a thief. They believed that, even before his capture he had been
caught stealing at some other place, whipped and beaten. This
explained, they thought, the wounds that could be seen on almost
every part of his body. Some of the merchants thought of giving the
young culprit over to the local chiefs for appropriate judgment.
Others said that they should keep him tied up and carry him with

Wahid’s condition in the meantime became worse and worse. He could not
breathe normally and became very weak—let alone traveling a
long journey with the caravan he did not even have the strength to
open his eyes. Some of the merchants around him kept on kicking Mm
and asking him whence he came. He could not answer. He was too weak
to do anything! He was almost at the point of death.
They pulled and pushed him around but he was almost dead. At this point
the majority of his captors thought that the boy would soon die and
that they would be held responsible for his death. It was now very
late in the morning and they had to get started on their journey.
They had no time to go to the local chief and pass Wahid over to him.
They simply untied him and left him lying on the dusty camp-ground.
Wahid had nothing to eat, nothing to drink and there were no relatives to
come to his aid. In the previous night he had been out-of-doors and
had been subjected to the bitter cold; now he was left lying there in
the burning sun. He had no strength to rise up or crawl to the shade.
In the last few days he had been exhausted by continuously traveling
day and night. Besides, his captors the previous night had subjected
him to the cruelest treatment. Moreover the pain of having been tied
up hands and feet had almost broken his tender bones. It was now two
days since he had had anything to eat. Where could he get the
strength to move an inch? Though still alive, Wahid could do nothing
to help himself. He lay flat in the sun waiting for the last moment
when he would pass away. He was sure that he would die.
A man does not die except on the day Christ has put aside for him.
Wahid was not destined to die at that moment. An elderly woman came
by the deserted camp ground to collect the rubbish for fuel. She saw
the body lying there. At first she thought that it was something
forgotten by the merchants. As she approached the body however, she
saw it was human. She walked on the tips of her toes and examined the
body from a distance. She thought it was dead. She was much frightened and would not approach nearer.
Nevertheless she aid not like to return without making sure whether
the man was actually dead or not. At this point she held her breath
and approached the body on tip-toe. She stared at the body. It showed
no sign of life. She decided that it was in fact a dead body which
had lain there for days. She covered her nose to avoid any smell that
might come from what she thought was a rotting body. She came within
a few steps of the body: “What man are you?” she began to
ask. “What happened to you?” There was no answer. She kept
on looking at the motionless body. She tried to make sure whether she
knew the person. In the meantime she saw Wahid’s eyes. They were
half opened. They moved a little and looked at her as if imploringly.
From the look in his eyes it seemed that he was saying to the lady,
“Courage! Courage, good lady. I am not yet dead. Come nearer and
see my ailing body, and if you can, please help me.” She felt
pity towards the boy. “What happened to you, my brother?”
she asked with much feeling. The poor boy could not reply. The woman
wept and struck her chest with her fists. 2In the meantime
she ran to her house and came back with a qwancha3
of milk in one hand and water in the other. She put down the quancha of
milk, raised Wahid’s head with one hand, and gave him the water to
drink. ” Your throat must be cracking with thirst” she
said to him kindly. “Drink a little water at first to moisten
it.” Wahid felt the cool water on his lips. He had no strength
to draw in any drops at all. Now that she saw that his cracking lips
were moist the good old lady applied the qwancha of
milk to his mouth. Wahid swallowed two mouthfuls with much
difficulty. This seemed to do him much good. He could now open his
eyes and he began to breathe normally. The good old lady was much
gratified at the success of her efforts and put her inquib4
under his head to serve him as a pillow. She ran to a small hill nearby and called her
husband who was ploughing beyond. “Come here, come” she
called to him. “I need your help.” Her husband left his
plough and his oxen in the field and came running. The lady gave him
no time to ask questions. “Please help me,” she said
immediately. “Let us carry this fine young man to our house and
care for him until he recovers.” These kind people carried the
boy to their house and laid him on their bed and cared for him like a
good mother and father until he had completely recovered. Wahid was
astonished by this couple and wondered at the diversity of this
world. He contrasted their kindness with the cruelty of the caravan
guards and began to philosophize. “Oh! This world is full of
both evil and good. It is full of both the kind and the cruel.”
Finally he decided to take leave of these kind people. “May God reward
you for whatever you have done for me,” he said to them. “I
have nothing to give you in return, except my thanks. I have become
strong again, thanks for your kind care. I must now continue my
journey.” His hosts prepared him provisions for the journey and
showed him the way. At last they warned him. “Do not forget what
you have suffered before. The people of this world are bad and cruel.
Be careful in the future and do not travel alone. We had only one
son. A group of Moslems found him alone on one of the highways,
caught him, and sold him into slavery. Here we are, robbed of our
only son, our only heir and hope, with nobody to care for us when we
become old. You must beware of similar possibilities. You are still
very young. Be careful not to be captured and sold by such heartless
people!” With these last words they said goodbye to Wahid and
returned home.

This time Wahid asked the names and addresses of his two benefactors and
their lost son before taking leave of them. He did not want to commit
the same mistake which had led to all these troubles. He then resumed
his journey. He went very far but he never knew where in the Dega
(highlands) or Qolla (lowlands) he was heading or what was
his destination. He only followed the tracks of every caravan he
heard of. When somebody told him that a group of merchants were going
one way he would follow that direction until he had ascertained that
his man was not there. In the course of this useless search, Wahid
crossed unawares the frontiers of the country of the pagans. However
he still did not find the good merchant for whom he was looking.
The languages of the people, their customs, and their manners became
unintelligible to him. He was now in the country of a strange new
people. Wahid was now seriously worried. He could not go back because
he had resolved to travel until he found his man. Moreover he did not
know which way he had come and had completely lost his sense of
direction. West and East became almost the same thing to him. While
thus worrying night suddenly fell on him. “1 shall ask for
shelter in one of these houses,” he said to himself. “It is
better than just being devoured alive by hungry wild beasts.”
With this in mind he went to one of the nearest houses and asked for
shelter for the night.

The villagers surrounded him. They looked very happy at seeing the
strange boy. They did not understand his language. But from his
gestures they understood that he asked to be allowed to spend the
night in one of their houses. He was more than welcome to them. They
were exceptionally happy. Some of them went to his left, some to his
right and ceremoniously took him to one of the houses. For a man who
did not know their motives the welcome these people accorded Wahid
would certainly seem one of genuine hospitality and of the type
accorded to a gallant soldier coming back victorious from a battle
field. They offered him a wonderful supper. Wahid began blessing
these kind people who, he thought, just wanted to be hospitable to
him. Their true motives was, however, to treat the young boy with all
kindness and to feed him so that he would become quite presentable at
the slave market on the morrow. In the meantime they inspected his
whole body and saw the wounds that had been inflicted upon him by the
caravan keepers but which had now been cured. They pressed hard on to
his body to see if he still felt pain. They were worried that this
might actually depreciate his value in the slave market. But Wahid
never suspected that his fate was being decided by these people. He
thought that they acted out of genuine concern for him and the
suffering he had undergone. He felt they were sympathizing with him.
“These wounds have now been cured,” he said to them. “I am well now!” But
none of them understood, nor cared to understand him. They were only
concerned about the amount of money they would get for him on the
morrow. They put him in a very safe place and watched him throughout
the night to make sure that he did not escape. The next morning they
awoke him very early and gave him some porridge to eat. Then they
began anointing his whole body with marrow! This looked very strange
to Wahid. He was only accustomed to being anointed, whenever
necessary for health reasons, with butter very carefully boiled with
sendel and other perfumes. He never knew that human beings could be smeared with
marrow like cowhide or ropes made out of animal skin. He therefore
reacted against the application of the marrow on to his body. “Please
do not touch me with that,” he cried. “I do not want it at
all.” Though they did not understand his language the men could
tell from his looks and gestures that Wahid resented the marrow. His
supplications, of course, made no difference to them for the only
thing they wanted was a handsome amount of money for Wahid. With his
belly filled with porridge and his body abundantly anointed with
marrow this hope was more than possible. Wahid resigned himself and
allowed his stubborn hosts to do what they wanted. It still had not
dawned on him that they had any motives other than helping him
recover from his wounds. “Oh God!” he exclaimed full of
wonder, “How kind and hospitable are the people of this

On the morrow, around 10 o’clock in the morning his hosts beckoned him
to follow them. he thought that those kind people wanted to take him
out for a walk and followed them immediately. They surrounded him and
he walked in their midst. Soon afterwards they reached a fair-sized
village. It was surrounded by a wide moat as if it were the fortified
castle of some lord! It was then encircled by a big stone wall at the
top of which were placed small branches of acacia and other thorny
trees so that no one could succeed in jumping over the wall. Within
that wall were many big rectangular houses and two round ones. There
were only two gates to the village, a very narrow one on one side and
on the other a much bigger one. The latter was specially made for
mounted persons to enter the village with ease.
At the main gate was stationed a man as black as Satan himself. His
chest was very wide; his stature very short, his eyes as red as
burning fire, and his nose as flat as if a roller had been
intentionally applied. He had diligently decorated his normally
massive arms which were as thick as the feet of an elephant with
large rings made of copper and tin. Around his naked belly he wore a
large belt on which hung a curious sword with four blades. This
strange man stood at the gate with a deadly stick in his right hand
ready to strike anybody who would trespass into the compound without

Wahid thought that the fortress belonged to the local governor. The men who
brought him there had sent a message announcing their arrival to the
owner of the house. They were soon given permission to enter. With
his hosts on either side Wahid passed the gate, and immediately
observed a group of wretched human beings coming in from every
direction. Some were crying; others looked deeply pensive and worried
about their fate. Wahid began to suspect that all was not well. He
realized that all the kindness shown to him the previous night was
not without some ulterior motive after all. He patiently waited to
see the end of the strange drama. What else could he do? Wahid was
now in a very unfortunate situation. He did not understand the
language of the people around him. He could only look around, and
guess what they meant! The dreadful place belonged to one of the big
slave dealers. The strong walls around, the thorns on top, and all
the fortifications were there simply to ensure that no slave escaped
his unpleasant lot.

The chief slave-dealer came out of his house and began inspecting the
human merchandise brought to him for sale. He began making inquiries
about their price. At length he came to Wahid. He inspected the arms,
the legs and the general stature of the boy. After a short amount of
bargaining Wahid witnessed his own sale into slavery. He saw his new
master handing a number of dollars to the men who had brought him
there. Those “kind and goodly” people returned home with
the money which they had so easily acquired for Wahids” youthful
head and left the boy behind them.

Fortunately his new master was not too hard on Wahid. He did not seek to make
money on this young boy. Indeed he even did not want him to work like
a slave. He liked the tender looks, the manners and personality of
Wahid and let ham grow in his house as a playmate of his own

Even under these conditions Wahid never forgot the object of the journey.
“How can God” he thought, “Jet me stay in the hands of
these pagans?” How can he deny me the opportunity to meet that
good merchant and rejoin my beloved family?” Gradually Wahid
came to know many Christians like himself who had been sold into
slavery and were serving the same master. He began to make friends
with them. He asked these men the place of their origin, their names,
and those of their relatives. He did this with much precaution for
fear of being discovered toy his master and punished.

Among these slaves was the son of those kind people who found Wahid lying
in the deserted camp of the merchants who had beaten him almost to
death. Those people had told Wahid the name of their son before he
had left them. This fortunate discovery pleased Wahid greatly. Wahid
told the boy that his parents had been very kind to him. He also told
him that they were weeping day and night over the loss of their son.
Wahid and his new friend began to lake each other. They became almost
one. They shared their secrets and had common hopes of one day
returning to their respective homes.

It was one year now since Wahid set out on his unfortunate journey. His
family still did not know his whereabouts and were convinced that he
had lost his way. They waited and waited, always weeping and mourning
for the return of Wahid. It was all in vain. At last Wahid’s father
resolved to look for his son, he saddled the horse that the good
merchant had sent him for his return home and set out on his search
for Wahid. There was nobody who could accompany him. He had lost his
servants and followers as a result of “the war: some had fallen
in the battlefield, some had like himself been captured and sold into
slavery by the enemy, and when he returned home he had himself fallen into poverty with the whole
country desolate and the king dead. When she saw her father set out
on a long journey without any companion, Tobbya feared that her
father would also lose his way. She began to cry and would not let
him leave alone. “Father” she implored him, “how can
you go alone on such a long journey? You have never been used to
traveling alone, nor to the hardships that accompany such journeys.
Who will bring fodder for your horse? Who will draw water for you
when you feel thirsty? Please, father, let me follow you on this
journey. Do not leave me behind, father. I can at least break the
monotony of the long journey by conversing with you. I can also graze
the horse for you. Please do not leave me behind!” Tears were
flowing down her beautiful cheeks as she spoke. Her father understood
her worries, he felt her love for him, and began himself to cry.
“No, my child, no. You cannot do that, my dear. You are still a young
girl. You have never been exposed to extreme cold and heat. How can
you stand such a long journey with the thirst and hunger that
accompany it? How? Oh, no, my beloved, you cannot come with me.”
“I shall not let you leave alone. No. I am coming with you, Father, I
can.” Tobbya implored her father to let her go with him. But her
father was still adamant. He saw the difficulties they would have to
face if he took a young girl, still in tender years, on such a
dangerous journey.

“You cannot help me in anything. On the contrary you will be a hindrance
to me. You will delay my success in finding Wahid. No, Tobbya, you
are not going with me.” He told her very clearly the problems
they would face if they went together. “Look here, Tobbya,”
he tried to convince her, “You are still very young. You have
been brought up with much comfort and luxury, with tej for your daily
beverage. How can you stand the thirst and hunger and the fierce heat
of the sun? How can your feet which are used to the softness of
Persian carpets, stand the thorns and gravels of the road? No,
Tobbya. You must stay at home with your mother.” With this final
resolution he embraced her and kissed her cheeks. Tobbya was still
not convinced. She did not give up her insistence on traveling with
her beloved father. “Father, do not worry about me,” she
told him. “I am still young and can get used to new conditions
of life. Indeed it is only the licentious and the corrupted type of
rich fortune: a disciplined, intelligent person can easily get used
to poverty and hard life, if need be. This will not be difficult for
me. On the other hand, if you leave me behind my worries about you
and Wahid will almost kill me. It is much better for me to go along
with you and participate in your search for my brother.”
“Why do you not understand, Tobbya?'” reproved her father. “What
about your mother? What will people say if I take you with me? How
can we leave your mother alone with nobody to console her if the
worst comes?”

“Oh! forget what people will say,” remarked his wife. “Do not
worry about me. I can easily get an elderly woman who can live with
me. The only thing that worries me is that Tobbya might be tired on
the way, and then she would be another problem for you. However, if
she feels she can do it, you do not have to worry about me.”
With this the lady turned to Tobbya and asked her. “My dear
child, do you really think you can make it?”
“Yes, Mother, Yes. If you do not mind being left alone and if you permit me
to go with Father, Mother, I am sure I’ll make it. Only help me to
get his consent.”

Before her father gave bis consent, an idea occurred to Tobbya. But she was
afraid to tell it to her parents. “The only problem, Father, is
. . .” she began. Courage prevented her completing her sentence.
Her father understood that something was running in her mind,
something she was afraid to express. “Come, my child. Tell me,
what are you thinking about?”

She plucked up her courage and decided to break the news. She had her own
plan about the journey but she was too shy to explain it directly.
“You know, Father, two persons look much stronger than just
one.” Tobbya began digressing, still afraid to come to the
actual point. “Even a lion, our deadliest enemy, will think
twice before he attacks two people. But,” continued the young
girl coming to the point, “but, it is only when the two persons
are men that they look stronger. Nobody is afraid of the fair sex. I
must therefore leave my woman’s garb when I travel with you, and be
dressed like a b . . . b . . . ” She was too shy to say the last
word of the sentence. Her father, however, understood her plan and
said, “you mean, dressed like a boy. Don’t you?” Tobbya did
not dare to look at her father’s face. She covered her eyes with both
hands and said in a voice choked with fear and emotion, “Yes,
Father. That is what I mean. Well, I could not think of anything
better, Father.” It was now clear to her father that his
daughter was really resolved to go with him. He did not want to
detain her any longer. “Fine,” he said at last. “Come
now. Get ready, and let us go. Quick.” Tobbya was very happy.
She immediately had her beautiful long curly hair cut in the fashion
of a boy. She put on a boy’s garb and took leave of her mother.
Father and daughter then set out on their long journey.
After many days of traveling Tobbya and her father reached the town which
Wahid had told them would be his first destination. But they did not
know anybody there. They could ask no one about Wahid. They only
wandered around the squares and the market places looking for him;
but it was all in vain. At last they thought that Wahid might have
met the merchant. That merchant, Wahid had told them, carried many
items of trade to and from Egypt. They decided therefore to wait for
the merchant at the main halt at which caravans to Egypt left the
country. If Wahid had met the good man, they believed, they would
find him with the caravan on its trip to or from Egypt. They asked
people to show them the direction of the place. But the road they
followed took them elsewhere; it led them to a place they had never
dreamed of. The path would now take them to the area of Weyna Dega
or land of middle elevation, now to a Qolla or lowland
etc. Finally they came to a very rich Dega or highland. Their
hearts palpitated with happiness as they saw the rich, beautiful
scenery from beyond. It was harvest time. They could see hundreds of
bundles of grain all stacked in piles. Many laborers could also be
seen in the fields reaping and collecting the crops. Moreover, there were fields tilled with young
crops, and others just being sown with various kinds of seed. It was
a splendid sight that would make one’s hunger fade away even without
tasting food.

Tobbya’s strength revived at the sight of this wonderful scene. Her father was
very happy to see his daughter so strong. She had of course put on an
A’jet’e Bbab (a narrow-sleeved, knee-long, shirt) and a
shannna (a cotton sheet worn by both men and women over their
tight-tailored habits) on which she had slung a piece of sheep skin,
elaborately worked and embroidered at its edges. In this way she
looked like a fine young boy. Her father who was always surprised at
her unfailing strength said: “Oh! my child, not only your dress
but also your strength would convince one that you are a boy!”
Tobbya was indeed very strong: she never complained of the long

Tobbya and her father had already climbed the heights of the Dega and
had just left the low regions of the Qolla. At the edge of the
Dega highlands the felt the cooling effect of a breeze blowing
from the high table-land beyond. They sat down on the ground and
began to admire the fertility and beauty of the place. While thus
contemplating night began to fall upon them. They got up and went to
look for shelter in one of the villages nearby. They intended to
inquire about the road that would take them to the trade station
through which merchants to and from Egypt passed. They planned to
follow that road on the morrow and look for Wahid. With this in mind,
they went to one of the houses in the village nearby and asked to be
allowed to spend the night there.

A woman immediately came out of the house to meet them. She had
evidently been crying before they came and was drying her eyes as she
came out of the house. “Where are you coming from?” she
asked them. “What news have you brought for us?” There was
obviously something troubling the lady very much. She was the owner
of the house. “We have not heard any news arid we came that
way,” replied Tobbya’s father pointing in the direction they had
been journeying.

“Please come in and have a rest,” answered the good lady. “Your
horse will be kept with ours, and you will spend the night here with
us. As long as we have control of our house God’s guests can freely
accommodate themselves in it. In two or three days’ time, however, we
may not have shelter ourselves. Who knows? The pagans who are forcing
their way into our land might either burn it down or take it for
themselves as if they had built it themselves! Oh! My house, my
property! Oh, my beloved house, I have seen much happiness and
comfort in you. Oh! Oh . . .” Her voice was choked with emotion,
and she again began to cry very bitterly. After some minutes,
however, she realized that she was crying in front of guests who knew
nothing about the cause of her distress. “Do not be afraid, my
friends,” she said in a voice full of regret, and drying her
eyes. “You shall know all about it after you have had something
to eat. Besides, it is not good to hasten to hear bad news.”
With this she returned to her work.

Tobbya was much frightened at this. She tried to persuade her father to
leave the house and seek shelter somewhere else. In the meantime, at
some distance from them, they saw a man who looked very pensive. He
looked so much immersed in his thoughts that he seemed to have almost
forgotten everything around him. Sitting on a stool, his head buried
between his knees, he was pensively beating the ground with a small
stick. He did not at first notice the arrival of Tobbya and her
father. Later, however, he raised his head, breathed very deeply and
seeing that there were guests at his house, got up and went to meet
them. “I was very much lost in my thoughts! By the way, where
are you coming from, and where are you going?” They explained
the object of their journey. “Oh! my friends. How can you do
that?” he began. “The pagans are coming to invade our land.
How can you travel towards them instead of escaping to your country?
Would that not mean plunging into the burning fire?”
“We do not know anything about what you are saying. What is the matter?
Please tell us the story, sir.”

“Oh! You have not heard about it yet! Well, I shall tell you. You know it
is already a year and a half since our country was defeated by the
pagans. Our land has since been destroyed, and our king died of much
grief. We thus lost our king, our leader. We have no leaders now.
With no leaders the soldiers disappear from the scene like a swarm of
bees that has lost its Queen. This news of complete disorganization
has reached the ears of the pagan king. He has therefore mobilized
his forces once again and is coming to invade our country with
thousands of camels carrying his banners. His plan is to convert all
the Christians to his religion and to massacre those who refuse to
accept it. It is said that his men will reach here in two or three
days time. He knows that there is no organized army to defend the
country. He is confident that he can seize the country without
difficulty. His people will simply take possession of our houses and
property as if they were theirs! This is the story, my friends. That
is why my wife has been crying; that is why I was pensive as you saw

Tobbya and her father were shocked at the terrible story. Her father
especially began to cry when he thought that Tobbya, his beloved
daughter who left her mother to accompany him, would fall in the
hands of the pagans. He could not speak a word. He wanted to tell
their host of the part he played in the last war, and of the
suffering he had undergone as a result. But his voice was choked with
emotion and he could not prevent his tears from flowing down his

Their hostess called her husband and asked him to bring the guests in for
supper. She had laid the table beautifully for them with an abundance
of Enjera, or bread, and different dishes of Wet. With
skilled waiters on either side of the table, and lanterns hanging at
every corner, the inside of the house looked like a bride’s house.
It was a large family. There were many servants each doing his
respective task. Some were responsible for the Telia, some for
meat, some for the Wet, and there were others who brought
water for washing the hands and those who carried the lanterns.
Tobbya and her father were very much surprised at this display of
wealth. They could not believe that the lady who was crying only a
moment ago and the man who had told them the terrible story were the
owners of that magnificent household. They were especially surprised
at the number and the orderly activities of the servants serving
supper. It is of course usual for well-to-do peasants in the country side to look very poor
when you see them out of their houses, at home, however, they become
unexpectedly impressive. For Tobbya and her father however, the case
of their hosts seemed quite extraordinary. Moreover their hosts were
of the type of people who could make guests feel at ease. Tobbya and
her father, who were very much frightened at the sad news only a
moment ago, forgot their worries for the moment at least and ate and
drank happily.

Tobbya and her father were, nonetheless, greatly worried. They were all the
time thinking about the pagan invasion which was expected on the
morrow. Very tired by the long journey as they were, they could not
sleep at all. They spent almost the whole night planning how to
escape from the hands of the enemy.

They woke up very early the next morning and saddled their horse to set
out for the day’s journey. Their hosts gave them enough provisions
for the day, a basket full of Enjera and biscuits, and a horn
full of Tej were prepared for them. They took these with much
gratitude, blessed their hosts, and took leave. But they still did
not know which road to take to escape the enemy. When they came to
the main road they hesitated whither to go on now. They thought of
going back to the Qolla region to avoid being captured by the
enemy; now they thought of another thing. They were thus undecided
when ail of a sudden the horizon became dark with heavy smoke in all
the four corners. The enemy was entering the country, massacring all
those who resisted his advance, capturing women and children, burning
houses and churches, destroying the crops on his way, and cutting
down the trees for fuel and for the construction of temporary huts.
Tobbya’s father was shocked at the intensity of destruction that the enemy was
causing. More than anything else however, it was the sad prospect of
his beloved daughter falling into the hands of these cruel
unbelievers that troubled his heart. He was at once all tears. He
embraced his daughter and said to her, crying: “My dear child,
my beloved daughter. You came out of your mother’s bosom just to
accompany me in this useless journey, and now you are going to fall
into the hands of these merciless pagans. Where can I take you? Where
can I hide you? I could stand and suffer my capture and subsequent
slavery in the last war because I am a man, and eventually my master
could change me for money! But . . . Oh! My dear who will change you
for thousands of dollars even for the most precious treasures of the
world? You are still young and extremely beautiful. The delicacy of
your looks and the sweetness of your manners are such as have never
before been seen in the world. No one who once gets hold of you, my
beloved, will not change you even for all the gold, the diamonds and
the riches of the world. Oh! No …” He cried very bitterly as
he spoke. He had two principal reasons to worry. The first was that
he had heard people say that the enemy was resolved to kill every man
or young boy among the Christians Now since Tobbya was in a boy’s
fashion her father feared that they would immediately take her for a
boy and kill her. Secondly, if the enemy discovered that she was in
fact a girl then she would be lost to him forever and would pass over
to the hands of the enemy! There was nothing he could now do to avoid
one or other of these eventualities. He could only cry like a small
child over these sad prospects.

Tobbya could also see the gravity of the problem. Nevertheless, she was
trying to console her father with nice words though she was herself
weeping at the prospect of losing her father. “Father,” she
said to him crying, “God has done wonders, almost a miracle in
rendering it possible for you to be delivered from slavery. He does
not start what he does not intend to accomplish. He will certainly
protect us from all evil or dangers through His usual mercy. Do not
worry, Father. Do you think that Christ does not do miracles more
than once? No, God is never tired. God does not forget. He is always
the same. He does not change. God loves once for all, and never
hates. No, do not worry, Father. Let us leave everything in the hands
of God!” These words which were full of faith consoled her

The smoke of the burning houses and crops came nearer and nearer as the
enemy advanced on his destructive march into the Christian land. But
Tobbya and her father had still not decided where to escape. The
people of the village where they spent the night had already begun
running away at the sight of the approaching destruction. It was a
disturbing sight to observe the exodus of people from that fertile
countryside. The young and strong carried away the old and the weak.
Children who could run on their own were led in front, and babies
were carried by the adults. Everyone ran to some place for
protection. Everyone indiscriminately disappeared into caves, bushes,
or some other place of shelter.

Tobbya and her father finally decided to try to escape somewhere before the
enemy reached them. They readjusted the saddle and galloped off at
full speed. When they came to a large, green field they dismounted
for a moment and let the horse graze. They seized the opportunity to
take some rest for themselves. Soon after, they resumed their flight.
Even the horse seemed to understand the danger that would befall them
and he galloped with much zeal and good will. Even when Tobbya’s
father wanted to give the horse some respite by holding the reins
tightly and thus reducing its speed the horse hastened on.
There was no place, however, where Tobbya and her father could hide from
the destructive forces of the approaching enemy. They were now in the
midst of a large, interminable plain. There were no trees there and
no place to hide. Some distance further on a hill rose sharply from
the midst of the plain. It was small but very high and looked almost
like a pillar standing on a wide, leveled floor. At the top of this
hill there was nothing but piles of rough and sharp pieces of stone.
There were no plants there except one tree whose branches had been
whitened by the droppings of the ravens that inhabited it. The trunk
of this tree formed part of the wall of a ramshackle little hut. This
hill was undoubtedly in sole possession of the black birds that lived
on its top.

When she saw this hill, Tobbya said to her father: “Father, look,
that hill! You know that the invading army is interested only in
places which offer prospects of much spoil. They would therefore
hasten to areas which are fertile and highly populated. Only such
areas offer “prospects of much food, money and gold. That hill, however, it seems to me, is
inhabited only by birds and no one would in any way try to climb or
overrun it. Let us, therefore, go there and escape from the enemy and
wait until the army passes by.” “Oh! yes, my daughter,”
her father agreed. “God bless you, that is a very good idea. Let
us hurry.”

They galloped towards the solitary hill. When they reached its foot they
did not know what to do with the horse. It was not the loss of the
animal as a piece of property that troubled them, but parting with
such an understanding animal. But what could they do. It would be
foolish to lose one’s life for the sake of a horse. They regretted
their misfortune, unsaddled the horse, and let it go. “Go
wherever you want,” they said, “and may God give you a good
master!” Tobbya and her father then started to climb the hill.
The slopes looked as though no human being had ever got to the top.
There was no trace of any path leading there. Anyway, they forced
their way up and were tired almost to death when they reached the
top. They dried their sweating faces with the ends of their shamma,
took some rest and began looking at the vast plain around their
place of refuge.

The top of the hill commanded a very wide view. From there, one could see
clearly whatever took place in all the four corners of the plain.
Tobbya and her father could now see the approaching army advancing
from the horizon. They began praying: “Oh! God, deliver us from
this destruction.” With their hands on their foreheads to
protect their eyes from the sun Tobbya and her father looked and
looked. The army was approaching toward the hill. Tobbya could see
their horse at the foot of the hill. It was waiting for them. It
seemed as if it expected Tobbya and her father to come and ride off,
she thought. She feared that if the enemy saw the horse they would
discover that somebody was hiding at the top of the hill. But she
could do nothing at all, and the advanced guard of the invading army
had already reached the foot of the hill. Their horse disappeared in
the midst of the cavalry of the enemy.

Tobbya and her father were extremely frightened. Their hearts beat in fear,
afraid of being seen from below they lay flat on the ground and only
occasionally did they raise their heads to look at what was going on
below them. Of course, nobody could possibly see them from the plain
even if they were standing up. Even a big elephant with its enormous
body could not be discerned on the top of that hill. Tobbya and her
father, however, were so afraid that they dared not even cough in
fear of being overheard by the people in the plain. The former
Dejazmach, Tobbya”s father, was only afraid for his daughter. He
did not care what happened to him. Indeed, were he alone he would
have wished to take some courageous action worthy of his title and
upbringing. However, as the proverb goes, “A man who spends most
of his time with a woman is almost a woman himself.” The
ex-Dejazmach could do nothing but cry like a child over his hard lot.
There was now no one to defend the country against the enemy with its
innumerable hordes. The enemy, on their side took away whatever
pleased their eyes: food, money and gold . . . as much
as their animals could carry; and Tobbya. “They take away the
food of the sons’ of Adam and burn it down, thus reducing their own
king to eventual starvation. They drive the people out of their homes
and burn everything down. Oh! what a cruel world!”
From the top of the hill Tobbya and her father could see whatever
destruction the invading hordes effected on the countryside. The
enemy marched in a big line consisting of innumerable rows of
hundreds of people. When the line reached the foot of the hill it
divided into two columns and marched on either side of the hill. When
it passed the hill the lines joined up again and marched as before.
In the meantime they destroyed all the country through which they
passed. They deprived the people of their property, they took them
prisoner, and killed mercilessly those who resisted their cruelty.
That hill, however, was like an island in the midst of a troubled
sea, and no one cared to look at it. Thousands and thousands of
soldiers passed by. Later in the evening their number gradually
decreased .”I think the army has almost finished passing by,”
said Tobbya to her father. “You see God has saved us from their
cruel hands. We will spend the night here and very early in the
morning we’ll make good our escape in the opposite direction. It is
certain that the army will not march back to the country it has just
plundered. Eh? What do you think father?”

As soon as she finished her sentence something appeared suddenly on the horizon,
something which looked as dark as the clouds of Hamle.5
Tobbya and her father could not at first discern what it was.
Soon after, however, they realized that it was a cloud of dust rising
from the plain as a new group of the invading army advancing towards
them. It was obviously the retinue of the enemy king. This divided
into two and marched on. Tobbya and her father despaired, and all
their hopes went to the winds. They resumed their prayers to God.
The king and his retinue in the meantime approached the
hill. The drums and the trumpets of the royal band could now be
heard. Gradually, even the decorations of silver, gold, and other
precious stones and the colorful uniforms of the king’s followers
could be seen shining under the light of the setting sun. Behind all
this splendor came a small group of people consisting evidently of
the king and a few dignitaries of his court. The king was riding a
mule which was almost crushed under the weight of the gold and the
precious stones that formed part of the royal uniform. An
enormous canopy elaborately worked of silk and gold was held over the
head of the king to protect him from the sun. He was talking to a
select group of people around him as he rode by.
It was now late in the afternoon and the sun had already began to set.
The king’s followers stopped marching. Evidently the king had decided
to camp there. The beat of the drum changed its rhythm to announce
the king’s order. Soon after, a big round white tent was pitched at
the center of the king’s retinue. Many others were at once also
pitched. One of the tents was almost as big as a small hill. It was
made of red cloth and had a huge summit made of gold at its top. On
the side of this golden summit were attached drapings of gold and
silver and small bells alternately placed one after the other. On
this tent was hung a flag bearing the arms of the
king and his army. Tobbya and her father were now sure that this tent
belonged to the king and that the banner on the flag symbolized the
idol which the king and his army worshiped
As soon as the king’s red tent was pitched his soldiers followed suit
and literally filled the vast plain with innumerable tents. The plain
was now covered with the king’s army. This army was so vast that one
could hardly believe that it belonged to only one king. It seemed
that no other army could be strong enough to conquer it. Tobbya and
her father could do nothing but pray; and indeed, let alone to climb
the hill, there was not even one soul who cared to look at the hill.
This gave them much hope as the proverb goes: “When death is
overdue it seems to have never existed at all.” They believed
that they would spend the night in peace and resume their flight on
the morrow when the army broke its camp and marched on.
It had always been the custom of the kings to survey the area around
immediately after they have camped at a place. To do this they
usually climb to a high place which gives a wide view of the
surrounding area. Soon after the tents were pitched, therefore, the
enemy king, together with a select group of high dignitaries rode to
the hill where Tobbya and her father were hiding. When he reached the
foot of the hill he dismounted and together with his followers began
to climb the slopes. He had his field glasses with him, and there is
no doubt that his only purpose was to see the surrounding area.
Tobbya and her father were now confused. Where could they escape? What could
they do? Evidently there was nothing they could do to save their
lives. Both believed they would soon die at the hands of the enemy.

“Tobbya,”said her father, “we are now nearing our end. We will soon part
company. May God protect you, my child. You have suffered all this
for my sake. May God bless you,” he cried. But he did not want
to be seen by the enemy crying like a child. So he dried his eyes and
waited for the worse to come.

The king and his small retinue finished climbing the hill, and appeared
at the top on the opposite side. The king was himself the first
person to see Tobbya and her father. “Who are those people?”
he asked. “What are they doing on this deserted hill top?”
With this he went directly towards them.

His followers were extremely angry at the sight of Tobbya and her father.
Indeed they all at once drew their swords and ran towards the poor
creatures to put an end to their lives on the spot. “Leave them
alone, leave them alone,” ordered the king. “I saw them
before all of you did and I did not try to kill them. Why then do you
threaten them? These poor creatures are unarmed and defenseless You
do not kill such people. You just capture them. On the other hand, if
you see somebody who is armed and who is out to fight and kill, then
you fight with him. If you kill defenseless people, like these two,
it is no display of valor at all. Even I, young as I am, would not be
interested in killing them. It is only when I am faced with a
courageous and skillful swordsman that I would fight to the last and
kill him. Eh? Perhaps it is only by killing such defenseless people
that our soldiers have established their names! Well, we shall make
a new proclamation to avoid such cowardly acts. Now, leave these
Kafirs alone; they are our personal captives.

The king spoke in a low voice and Tobbya and her father did not hear a
word. They did not understand whether the discussion was favorable
Her father, however, stood courageously in front of the king and his
followers and looked them straight into their eyes like a man worthy
of his previous title and background. His whole body, however, shook
at the movements of Tobbya who held him tightly with both hands. Now
and then he put his hands behind him to encourage and console his

When the king observed the fears of Tobbya he began, pagan as he was, to
feel sympathy towards the poor child. He approached her father and
said, “You infidels, why did you come to this solitary hill?”
“We came here to escape the devastations of the war,” answered her

At this juncture the king’s jester came forward and began to make fun of
Tobbya and her father. He was an extremely ugly creature. Very small
in stature, he was extremely thin and looked more like a living
skeleton than a complete human being. Specially when he tried to
laugh he looked much uglier than the monkeys of Chiloda. “You
know, these Kaffirs believe,” the jester told the king, “that
their God lives in the sky. So they have climbed this hill to be
nearer to him that he may quickly send his help and save them from
our hands!” Then he turned to the captives and said, “Now,
where is your God? Why doesn’t he come now and save you from our

Tobbya’s father could not stand the jester’s impertinence. He was greatly
enraged when he heard that ugly little fellow make fun of the name of
God! “The God of the Christians,” he said courageously
“this God at whom you are laughing has no limits to His power.
He transcends the heights of the mountains, the vastness of the
plains, the infinity of space, the depths of the oceans, heat or
cold, light or darkness. All these elements cannot destroy His mercy
or His wrath. He is free of the factors of space and time. Everything
that is shall exist or cease to exist according to His will. All are
almost nothing in front of God. All are equal in front of Him; the
strong the weak, the courageous, the cowardly, the rich, the poor,
the ruler and his subjects, all are equal for him. In this world
those who believe in Him and those who do not shall both live
equally; they are born, they grow, they become old and die. In the
world to come, however, all shall be judged by Him according to their
deeds on earth. And now myself and my little son shall believe in Him
until we die. Even if we die now, even if you kill us on the spot, we
know it is because of our human weaknesses and not because Christ is
incapable of saving us from death!”

It was the custom of the kings in the past to keep a dwarf at their
court, and in the midst of the king’s followers, therefore, there was
an extremely small creature accompanying the jester. He was so small
in stature that one could hardly see him except when he spoke. As
soon as Tobbya’s father finished what he had to say, this little
creature took up one of the sentences out of context and began to
play on words, “Eh? So you say all are equal? all are almost
nothing, then how would you classify me? Logically it means that I do
not exist, or that I am equal with this ugly jester. According to this
Kafir 1 am either equal to that tree or I do not exist at all!”
At this the king and his followers laughed. Even Tobbya, though she
was still shivering with fear behind her father, could not help
smiling at this funny creature.

The king interrupted his followers and said, “Well, God created the
world by his own will and he rules the people of the world according
to their respective religions. He listens to the prayers of all
peoples in their various languages. He judges them according to their
faiths and deeds. Man, however, has always believed that his religion
was the only possible truth! No, my friends, no, don’t make fun of
the religion of others. It is only God who knows the truth.
Moreover,” he added with some hesitation and much thought, “Who
among us really knows if Christianity is not a better religion?”
Everyone among his followers was greatly surprised at this rather
unexpected pronouncement of the king.

Tobbya and her father did not know that it was the king himself who spoke
these favorable words. They never suspected that the apparently
easy-going and unassuming young man was the king of that big army.
He was the youngest of all his followers. While all the others were in
their bright-colored uniforms with glistening decorations he was very
modestly dressed like an ordinary person. But all his words were good
and calculated: “Oh! If only the king himself were as kind as
this young man!” they thought. “It is better for us to be
captured by these rather kindly people than by others!”
They thought that the king was then in his royal tent. They never
suspected it was the king himself who, followed by some of his
followers, had climbed the hill on which they had been hiding.
It was beginning to be dark. “Bring my field-glasses,” ordered
the king. “Night is falling before we survey the country.”
He began looking around in all directions, and it was clear from his
looks he was very much satisfied with the orderly way in which his
army had camped in the vast plain below. The plain was extremely wide
and one could hardly see its ends even from the hill-top. Except for
this hill on which Tobbya and her father had been hiding, the plain
was almost level from one end to another. The king’s army had
occupied almost the whole surface of this endless plain. One could
not, for example, see the limits of the camp from the center even
with field glasses. It was a large army in a vast field. Moreover
when night began to fall, the small white tents of the camp looked
like the stars in the blue sky above.

“Oh! It is late my friends, let us go back to our camp,” said the
king to his followers. Before he set out, however, he approached
Tobbya and her father, “You Kafirs, follow us to the camp. Don’t
be afraid. If you want to live with us we shall make you comfortable.
If, on the other hand, you want to remain here in your country we
shall let you go when the war is over. If we let you go now our
soldiers will find you on the way and destroy you.” Tobbya’s
father was extremely happy to hear that. He now hoped once again that
nothing would happen to his daughter. In the meantime, though he
could not suspect that the young man who addressed them was the king
himself, he began to believe that he was the most important man among
the group who had climbed the hill with him. He believed that the
young man was at most the son of the king or of another dignitary of
the court. With this in mind Tobbya’s father said to the young man,
“My Lord, you have seen how my son and myself were shivering
with fear when we first saw you here. I don’t care what happens to
me. My only fear and great concern has been for the life of this
little child of mine. But now you have yourself been so kind as to
encourage us. We are very grateful for this, my lord. Our life will
finally depend, however, on the word of the king himself, and we beg
you to intercede for us in front of him when we go to the camp.”
At this the king signaled to his followers not to reveal his identity
and replied to Tobbya’s father, “Well, that is fine. I shall beg
His Majesty to spare your lives and pardon you.”

As soon as they reached the camp the king ordered his chief Aide-de-camp
to give a tent to Tobbya and her father near the royal tent and to
look after them very carefully. This order was executed to the
letter; and they were given very good accommodation and all their
needs were carefully provided. Tobbya and her father were greatly
surprised at this strange happening, “Could the young man be the
king himself?” they thought. But he seemed too young for that,
he had barely passed his twentieth year. Moreover he was very
modestly dressed when they saw him. Otherwise he had all the
characteristics of a prince, he had an agreeable character, his words
were very pleasant and precise, his manners were . highly refined,
and his looks extremely handsome. Though he was a pagan and a very
young man, he had all the majestic airs of royalty. Only his uniform
belied his high position. It had always been the custom of kings and
princes to refrain from the personal use of colorful uniforms and
precious decorations. All these things are too much below their
dignity. For them their illustrious birth and cultural refinement
suffice to indicate their pre-eminence. They only delight in
decorating their soldiers for their valor, in building magnificent
palaces and furnishing them beautifully, in providing their horses
and mules with elaborately worked harnesses, in developing their
countries, in rendering justice to their subjects, and in granting
pardon to their subjects. They know very well that decorating
themselves with silver, gold, diamonds and other precious stones
would not bring any difference to their already high positions.
Indeed, it is only people of very mean extraction and humble
professions like the Azmari or minstrel and the king’s jester
that need such external embellishments. Besides, even asses or stupid
fools can look at least presentable if loaded with shining
decorations however unmerited. But, as the saying goes, a lion with
his modest and majestic airs looks much smarter than an elephant with
his awkward tusks. Therefore, regardless of the modesty of his
clothes the other day, regardless of his youth, Tobbya and her father
were in due course strongly convinced that the young man who was so
kind to them was the king himself. It was a strange coincidence that
they had fallen into no other hands but those of the king. This must
have been the work of God and they thanked God for his mercy.
On the morrow, before the camp was broken, the king saw Tobbya and her
father nearby as he came out of his royal tent. He approached them smiling and said. “Do not fear. Nothing
will happen to you. I have told the king about you!” Tobbya and
her father were very happy and bowed very low. They pretended that
they still did not know that he was the king himself. But the young
prince turned around and ordered his Aide-de-camp to provide them
with two fine horses and to let them ride together with his personal
retinue so that the crowd would not molest them. This order was soon
followed and the two captives rode on two very fine horses only some
yards behind the king. They were now quite certain that their lives
were no more endangered; on the other hand, now that they felt quite
secure themselves, they began to think of Wahid.

At about noon the army began to camp. The king’s royal tent was pitched
as usual in a central position and the area around was immediately
covered by numerous tents. The king’s warriors were coming from every
direction with all their spoils of the day. Chanting their war songs
as they took their respective places in the camp. Just in front of
the royal tent the king sat majestically on his golden throne. Round
him were also seated the most dignified members of his court. To the
left and right of the throne stood very tall slaves with drawn swords
in their muscular hands. Some yards behind these stood a squad of the
royal guards consisting of five thousand soldiers. The soldiers had
now stopped chanting their songs. Nothing of the usual hustle and
bustle was heard. Silence reigned everywhere. Even the king was
silently waiting for his soldiers to display their spoils of the day
before him. It was a magnificent sight. Thousands of warriors in
orderly ranks silently standing around the throne with all their arms
and colorful uniforms and decorations, and in the midst of all this
glory the young, dark-complexioned, but very handsome king sitting on
his golden throne with all his oriental splendor, the whole setting
inspiring a maximum of fear and respect. For Tobbya and her father
the scene compared with the Last Judgment of the New Testament.
After everything was in order, thousands of warriors passed by the throne
displaying their trophies, dancing and reciting tukkera or war
poems. The young king was smiling with much satisfaction. For poor
little Tobbya, however, it was an unbearable scene. All this joy and
happiness at the court of the enemy meant the destruction of
thousands of her fellow Christians. It also meant without doubt that
paganism would prosper in the country. This saddened her heart and
she wept behind her father’s shamma. The King saw Tobbya from
his throne and knew that she did not enjoy the scene. He understood
her feelings very well. He suddenly left his throne, and entered into
the royal tent interrupting the procession without any explanations.
The young king had lost his parents while still a child. Besides, he had
no brothers or sisters. It was his uncle who had brought him up with
his own daughter who was of exactly the same age as the king. The
king loved her like his own sister. His cousin loved him too. Indeed
they called each other “Sister” and “Brother”.

Their love for each other was so great that he would not leave her
behind even in time of war, and her tent was always next to his.
The main royal tents were five in number; two of them belonged to the
king, the third to his cousin, the fourth to his uncle and guardian,
the fifth tent was reserved for royal guests. Between each of these
tents there was a fence made of shammas so that the entrance
of one tent could not be seen from that of another. Around all this
at some distance was a circular fence of qimja or red cloth.
Within this fence, and immediately next to the royal tents was a
pleasant, small tent assigned to Tobbya and her father. They placed
them there so that the ordinary soldiers outside might not molest
them. Immediately outside the red shamma fence were located
the most important parts of the royal household: the treasury, the
storehouse, the kitchen, and the quarters where tej was
prepared and stored. All around these important places was stationed
a squad of the royal guards consisting of the most able-bodied and
strongest soldiers about 5,000 in number, armed to the teeth with
brilliant weapons embellished with gold and silver. Next to these was
a mounted company of the royal guard consisting of about 100,000
cavalry. Beyond these began the camp of the ordinary soldiers and
their commanders arranged in various divisions.
No one was allowed to approach the qimja fence. The guards
prevented anyone from speaking or making a noise near it. After
sunset, therefore, not a soul would be seen there nor any sound heard
except the drapings of the royal tent moving to and fro at every
stroke of the wind.

The king, it had been announced, was giving a banquet that evening. The
royal household was therefore in the usual hustle and bustle.
Numerous servants were running here and there with various
assignments for the preparation of the banquet. Some time before the
banquet started, the king went out of his tent for a walk. In the
meantime, however, he saw Tobbya sitting with her father at the
entrance of their tent. She had buried her head on her father’s knees
with her eyes fixed on the ground. The moment he saw her, the king
thought that she was crying again and. he approached their tent to
try to console the small child. When they saw him coming toward them,
Tobbya and her father stood up from their seats. “Would you like
me to present you to the king? Would you like to see his face?”
he asked them.

“No. sire. We do not want to see the face of any other king except yours,”
answered Tobbya’s father very quickly. The king understood that they
now recognized him, and added directly, “Well, you don’t want
any other king except me, trust me. I shall not forsake you.”
With this he went back to his tent.
It was some time since Tobbya and her father had understood that he was
himself the king. The young king, however, had not yet realized that
Tobbya was a girl and not a handsome little boy as her dress would
make everyone believe.
On the morrow, the king ordered that the army should take a rest for a
day. He himself spent the whole day contemplating how to make an end
to the campaign and how to administer the people as a whole.
He was very much affected by Tobbya’s sorrow at the moment when his
warriors were displaying their spoils. He decided to bring the whole
campaign to an end so that the lives of thousands of innocent people
might be saved, and the whole country spared from destruction.

To this effect he decided to make a proclamation. At first the king’s
Chief Herald went up to higher ground stood on a stone, and made the
announcement. The announcement was, as usual, proceeded by the
following words: “Hear! Hear! May God deprive the king’s enemy, the enemy of our Lord, and
the enemy of our country, of the sense of hearing!” Then
followed the actual proclamation:—
“O you Christians! There has always been war between us and you either
because of the difference of our religion, or because of border
problems. Thousands of our people on both sides have lost their lives
in these wars. The reason behind all this destruction has always
been, however, the misunderstanding and; the sharp sense of
competition that existed between our respective kings. The ordinary
people had very little part in initiating these conflicts, but they
have always been those who suffered most. Had there been goodwill and
mutual understanding between the kings the lives of so many innocent
people could have been saved. Our respective peoples could have
respected the borders and lived in their own countries according to
their religions. I myself have been a victim of this legacy of
conflict and warfare. In the last few months I destroyed the lives of
thousands and devastated your country. I now regret this senseless
manslaughter and general destruction I have caused so far. It has now
become clear to me that you have no king or army to defend you. I
feel very sorry to have destroyed a defenseless people. From today
on, therefore, all hostilities shall be discontinued. Those who have
left their homes because of the war, those who have killed or robbed
others during the war, may return to their respective places and live
in peace. I have hereby granted a general amnesty to all those who
have fought against me in the period of hostilities. Let everyone
live according to his own religion. We have had enough of the old
religious conflicts and all must respect each other’s religion. No
one will be allowed to laugh at or make fun of, another man’s
religion. Though I am not a Christian myself, it is my sacred duty to
rule everyone equally irrespective of his religion. Therefore all of
you must live in peace and resume your old professions: the merchant
may now resume his commercial activities, the farmer, his
agricultural duties, and the clergy, their religious services.
“May all of you understand that I have come not to destroy but to build a
nation. From today on you are all my subjects, and will always be
ruled with justice and respect. Everyone must in turn recognize me as
their King. Those who have fled away may now return to their previous
houses and properties. As compensation for the damage that the war
has brought on you no taxes shall be levied on you for two years.
“If there are any members of the Royal Family living, they may return to
their old possessions and governorates together with all the Princes,
high-ranking, officials, and other followers. Similarly all the Rases, the Dejazmatches and other
dignitaries may return to their respective offices and resume their
duties in peace according to the customs and the law of their nation.
Should there be anyone after this proclamation, however, who refuses
to return home and continues to disturb the peace by molesting my
people and my kingdom he shall be outlawed for ever and shall be
hunted down as the enemy of the kingdom and the people.
“The peasants and the soldiers must always live in mutual respect. The
soldier should not mishandle the peasants. Both of you serve me
equally in your respective fields of activity: While the soldier
follows me with his arms in times of war, it is the peasant who tills
the earth and provides all of us with food. Everyone renders his
services equally to the king and to the people at large.” As the
royal announcer finished reading the proclamation everyone shouted
“Well done, well done!” and expressed their satisfaction
with prolonged applause.

After the proclamation the campaign was discontinued and the king began
building a new capital city at the camp. The king saw Tobbya and her
father every day, and gradually came to like her very much. Now that
she was living with much comfort at the king’s palace and was no more
exposed to the difficulties of a long journey, Tobbya was regaining
her real self and grew more and more beautiful everyday. Though she
politely kept herself at a distance from the king in fear of being
discovered, the king liked her more and more everyday and called her
to his presence now and then. Her father was himself worried at this
growing familiarity. “Courage, my child,” he encouraged
her, “try to speak, and walk, and act like a boy. Try your best
to keep your identity disguised. You can do it.” Tobbya was
always dressed like a boy and no one suspected her true sex. But
everyone who saw her was at once bewitched by her beauty. Everyone at
the court liked Tobbya.

Tobbya was indeed very beautiful. Her big eyes could compare with the
morning star for brightness. Her eyelashes grew abundantly on her
eyelids. Her nose was aquiline, and her lips looked like roses in the
morning. She had her hair cut in a boy’s fashion, but the luxuriant
growth thereof looked like that of the wheat fields in Sene.6
Since she was no more exposed to heat and cold, nor to hunger and
thirst as during her long journey with her father, her sun-burnt face
recovered its original color, and her beauty seemed to betray her
true sex. Tobbya was of medium stature such as would become a perfect
lady. Her fingers were as smooth and tender as Amelmalo.7
Her elegance that of a queen. Her legs were of perfect formation.
Her snow white teeth and her sweet smile would satisfy any man. In
short, her beauty was such as would make one believe that God must
have taken special pains in creating her. Indeed, even apart from her
physical characteristics Tobbya looked like an angel as regards both
her heavenly beauty and her sweet personality.

“Even angels fall in love with the beautiful!” says an old proverb.
When the young king saw the perfect beauty that God had bestowed upon
Tobbya he liked her very much and decided to make her one of his
personal followers in his court. He wanted her to grow in the milieu
of high life at the palace. He never suspected, however, that she was
actually a girl. His love was only an innocent admiration for the extraordinary qualities of the young boy
that Tobbya pretended to be. Moreover the king was about the same age
as Tobbya: She was 18 years old, he was hardly 20. This similarity of
youth intensified the king’s special concern for Tobbya.
The king hesitated at first. Finally he decided to tell Tobbya and her
father of his plans for the young boy. One day they were suddenly
called to the king’s presence. They were specially worried about
Tobbya’s identity. “Could the king have discovered the true sex
of Tobbya?” they thought. For Tobbya the prospect of such a
discovery was unbearable. She couldn’t even walk normally. Her
studied manners of a young boy were all forgotten. But the king did
not suspect anything at all. Indeed as soon as they came to his
presence he quietly ordered all his servants to leave him alone with
Tobbya and her father and spoke to them in strict privacy. He looked
at Tobbya at first and said. “Listen young boy. Wouldn’t you
like to live with me? Wouldn’t you like me to make you one of my
intimate courtiers, to bring you up in my court, and confer upon you
honorable officers and and illustrious decorations?” Tobbya was
either afraid or very shy. She said nothing. She left the decision
for her father. The king was, however, staring at Tobbya all the time
as if expecting the answer from her. The tense situation was however
broken by her father who began to reply to the king’s question. The
king turned his face to Tobbya’s father and began to listen
attentively .At the opportune moment Tobbya turned her face towards
her father and began winking at him and shaking her head to suggest
to him that he should refuse the king’s offer.

“Your Majesty,” began her father, “it is a special honor to be
one of your intimate courtiers and to live in your palace. My son and
myself are very grateful to you for this kind offer and for having
given us this unmerited attention. May your kingdom spread throughout
the world. May your kindness to your people remain unchanged. My son,
however, is not used to the manners and decorum of royal life. He is
from a humble private family. Excuse me your Majesty. I cannot accept
this offer.

“Your Majesty has given us your word of honor that you would send us back
to our home once the war is finished. Please send us back to our
country according to your promise. That is our wish.”
The king seemed to regret the fact that he had not fulfilled his promise.
“My word of honor shall not be changed,” he assured them.
“I shall certainly send you back to your home if you want. I
would, however, like to ask you something. Why do you hate living
with me? Is it because we are not of the same religion? If that is
the case you know very well that I have made a proclamation to the
effect that every one should live according to his religion. Do you
have any other reason? Why are you afraid to stay with me? Tell me
everything openly.” When Tobbya’s father heard these kind words
from this young king he decided to tell him everything, every secret
he had so far kept between him and his child. “Your
Majesty,” he started, “it is only my wife who is staying at
home and it is very long since this young boy and myself left home.
We first left our place in search of my elder son who set out on a
journey last year to look for a man who had been very kind to us. We
could find no trace of him at all. In the meantime your Majesty’s
army came pillaging and destroying the country. We just wanted to
turn back and escape to our country, but it was too late. Then we
decided to hide on that solitary hill in the hope that none of your
soldiers would be climbing it. It was there where by divine
coincidence, we were met by Your Majesty and made your captives.”
Tobbya’s father had now decided to tell the young king everything in
his heart and even the identity of his child. “This … This”
he started.8 At this juncture Tobbya was very angry with
him. She looked at him with much anxiety and struck her lips with the
tip of her hand indicating that he should not make such a blunder at
that moment. Her father understood her worries and immediately
changed the subject of his discourse. “This world, Your Majesty,
is not becoming to the poor and the helpless. We have been lamenting
the loss of my elder son, for a whole year. This small child cannot
therefore forget his beloved brother and remain here at Your
Majesty’s palace for the sake of comfort and the pleasures of court
life. No, Your Majesty he cannot remain here,” he concluded.
Tobbya was relieved when she saw that her father changed the subject
and did not reveal her identity to the king. She was very much
concerned because she had heard that all pagans had a mania for
possessing every woman they happened to come across. She was
therefore worried that once the king knew her real sex he would
simply take her as his wife. Moreover, she did not see the wisdom of
telling one’s secrets to a stranger however kind and trustworthy.
When the king heard the story of Wahid he looked very much concerned. He
asked Tobbya’s father many questions. “When did he leave for his
journey? Which direction did he say he would take?
“It is exactly one year ago that he left us. He wanted to go to the
commercial center at the border of the country where caravans to
Sennar and Egypt passed on their journey to and from our country. He
is of the same age of Tobbya. Both are now between 17 and 18 years
old.” “Then they are twins, aren’t they?” asked the king.

“Oh! yes. Indeed one is a perfect copy of the other. They look like each
other so much that it was difficult even for myself and my wife to
distinguish the one from the other.”

“If he left a year ago,” said the king, “it is quite impossible
that my soldiers have met him. In that case it would have been easy
for me to get him. I am afraid that he might have been met by some
slave traders and sold into slavery.” Then he thought for some
time and said. “Anyhow, if the boy is still alive I will get him
for you. Do not worry I shall get him for you. But it will take some
time. Both of you must stay with me in the meantime. Tobbya shall be
one of my intimate courtiers. He shall be one of those very few who
have freedom of movement even within my private quarters. And you
shall be counted among the members of the nobility. You must
always attend all our state and special occasions. You are henceforth to participate at all the banquets
given by me every day.”

Tobbya and her father could say nothing at that moment. If they refused the
king’s offer it would almost certainly mean that Wahid would be lost
for ever. Even for themselves it was not advisable to quarrel with a
king. He could do anything with them if he liked. While they were
thus debating within themselves the king got up. “Think it
over,” he said to them, “and tell me your wish sometime
later.” With this he left his palace and went for a horse race.
Tobbya and her father were left alone. They could now discuss freely between
themselves. “My child,” he started, “you know it is
much better for us to stay with the king in order to find Wahid. I am
only afraid that the king and his followers might discover your
identity. Otherwise it is not good to refuse the offers of such a
king. After all he is a king of the pagans who are famous for their
cruelty and ungodliness. If we do not accept his suggestion we shall
never get Wahid, nor do I know what kind of misfortune will happen to
us.” “Father,” said Tobbya, “how long can I live
with my false identity? How long can I stay with men and act like a
boy? If we stay here for long my identity will be discovered and the
danger is still worse. I am worried about that, Father. But what can
I do? If it means my brother’s return I must try my best. I shall
accept the king’s offer and live with his intimate courtiers. May Our
Lady help me in disguising my identity.
Well, if you are determined to try your best you must always be careful to
act exactly like a boy.”

As soon as the king returned from the horse race he asked them their
decision. They told him that they would humbly accept his offer.
When he saw that Tobbya and her father had confidence in him the king gave
them enough property to live on. He gave them a big tent to stay in,
a mare and a horse to ride on, many slaves and servants, and much
gold and silver. Tobbya and her father had therefore a complete
household all at once. Their tent was pitched within the royal living
quarters, i.e. within the red-cloth fence. Tobbya was made one of the
most intimate followers of the king. Her father was endowed with high
honors and illustrious decorations and made one of the most
respected courtiers.

On the morrow the king made the following proclamation: “Any one
who bought any slaves within the last year shall bring them to me as
soon as this proclamation comes to his knowledge. I am looking for a
person lost since last year. The man among whose slaves this person
may be found shall be compensated with ten times the amount he spent
on the purchase thereof and with other special rewards.” This
proclamation was announced at every corner of the country and in all
the squares and other important centers of the cities and towns.
Since the kingdom was very large, however, no one came with his
slaves for about five or six months. In the meantime Tobbya and her
father lived at the king’s palace according to his order.
The king’s admiration for Tobbya grew every day. Not only her beauty but
also her excellent personality and refined manners made her very dear
to everybody. The king’s uncle and guardian, and his daughter also
liked Tobbya very much.

The king’s cousin was especially attached to Tobbya the young handsome
boy at the king’s palace. She always stared at Tobbya wherever she
saw him. She spoke of nothing else but Tobbya. The king soon
discovered that his cousin was in love with Tobbya. He once tried to
find out how much she loved Tobbya, and asked her “Sister, would
you like your future husband to be as handsome as Tobbya?” His
cousin liked the king very much and there were no secrets they did
not share. She was therefore quite free with him and told him frankly
that she was in love with Tobbya; she only did not want her old
father to know that she loved a Christian. Indeed she used to tell
the king that neither in his place nor anywhere else had she seen or
heard of such an extraordinarily handsome and cultured young man as
Tobbya “Tobbya is a very sweet young man. If only he were not a
Kafir]” The king understood his cousin’s feelings. He also had the same respect and admiration for Tobbya. His cousin’s
love to Tobbya, however, intensified every day. Day in and day out
she did nothing else but think and dream of Tobbya. In their private
conversations she spoke to the king of nothing else but Tobbya. This
she did in the hope that he would one day make it possible for her to
marry Tobbya! What ignorance! The poor little girl did not know that
Tobbya was also a girl disguised in a boy’s dress!

The king did not mind his cousin loving Tobbya. Indeed he would have
liked her to marry the young boy. He only feared that his uncle and
guardian would not give his daughter to a Christian. Neither would
Tobbya like to marry anybody but a Christian.

Tobbya did not know all this. She spent the whole day in the presence of the
king and returned to her father in the evening.

“My child is everything well?” her father would ask her when she
returned to him. “Yes, father. Thank God there is nothing wrong
as yet! The king, his uncle and cousin all seem to like me,”
Tobbya would answer. When she left for the king’s tent in the
mornings her father would always say “May the God of the
Christians protect you, my child,” Thus Tobbya and her father
lived very well for a long time.

Tobbya and the king’s cousin became more and more familiar as time went by.
The king’s cousin began speaking to Tobbya directly. Tobbya herself
was also very willing to talk to the king’s cousin. In her disguised
state Tobbya considered it a relief to speak with a girl, therefore
spoke more freely and willingly with the princess than with the king
himself or his courtiers. This surprised the king and gave the
impression to the princess that the young boy, Tobbya was beginning
to reciprocate her love. Gradually Tobbya’s familiarity with both the
king and his cousin grew to such an extent that it began to inspire
jealousy in the hearts of the other members of the king’s court. How
can such an upstart, and a Kafir be more influential than us;
everybody in the court began to say. They began to complain and
grumble everyday and decided finally to ruin Tobbya’s name and career
in the king’s court by creating a false story.

Tobbya’s growing familiarity with the king’s cousin provided them with a
wonderful theme to play upon. The king’s jester, whom I had an
occasion to describe before, that tiny piece of a human being, played
the most notorious part in the nasty game. Immediately after lunch the king
had the habit of sleeping for sometime. At that time everything
within and around the palace was silent and quiet. Tobbya’s enemies
decided to use this period for their scandalous purpose. They plotted
to send Tobbya to the tent of the king’s cousin and in the meantime
to inform her father that the young boy was having privacy with the

One day, soon after the king went to bed for his usual siesta, the king’s
jester came to Tobbya and told her that the king’s cousin was
urgently looking for her. Tobbya never suspected that the jester was
trying to ruin her name and went immediately to the tent of the
king’s cousin. No sooner had she entered the tent than the king’s
uncle himself came in followed by his men. He was almost mad with
anger when he saw the young boy, Tobbya, in his daughter’s tent at
that hour of the day. He had been told by Tobbya’s enemies that the
young Kafir was having dishonorable relations with the
Princess and now he had caught him almost red-handed. He was furious.
The news of Tobbya’s “dishonorable conduct” was soon spread in
the palace among all the courtiers and the servants of the king. The
rumor ran that Tobbya, the king’s new favorite, the young Kafir
boy, was caught in the Princess’ tent having infamous relations
with the king’s cousin. The news also reached the king himself, but
he did not believe it. Soon after, however, his uncle came to his
presence, and gave him an ultimatum. “Your Majesty, either you
punish this disrespectful young Kafir, or I shall die.” The king
began to reason with his uncle and said “My Lord, how can
Tobbya. that gentle and well-mannered boy, do such a thing? How? His
uncle persisted “But your Majesty I have myself caught him in my
daughter’s tent. He must be severely punished,” he insisted. “I
shall call Tobbya himself” the king promised, “and examine
him to find out if he has really done it. If the story is true I
shall send him away with his father to their own place. 1 cannot,
however, have them punished because I have first given them my word
of honor that nothing bad would befall them if they stayed with me.”
He asked Tobbya to be brought to his presence and asked her: “Tell
me, why did you go to my sister’s tent today? Why?” Tobbya knew
very well that she was innocent of the guilt she was charged with.
But she was afraid that her identity might be revealed during the
cross examination. She could not answer the king’s question. She was
quaking with fear suppressed.

But anybody could tell her innocence and reliability from the look of her
face. However, she did not know what to say to the king. To reveal
the truth that she was called by the Princess would not be good for
the name and honor of the king’s cousin. She therefore preferred to
keep silent. The king was much troubled at this. “Why don’t you
answer my question?” he asked her with much concern. “How
could you do such a thing to my cousin. I have always counted on your
gentle manners and refinement, and I had prepared great plans for
your future. How could you do such a dishonorable act?”
At this Tobbya’s father came suddenly and said. “Your Majesty my
son can never do such a childish thing. Never. Believe me, Your
Majesty!” When he heard this the king’s uncle was very angry.
“Your Majesty, I have told you that I myself caught the boy
almost red-handed, and here is his father telling me to my face that
I was lying to you!” Tobbya was looking at the ground all the
time and quaking with fear. When she saw a dangerous scene developing
between her father and the king’s uncle she raised her head and
addressed the king: “Your Majesty, I have never deserved to be
one of your courtiers. I have always lived a very humble life and
have never been used to the intricacies and pageantry of court life.
I had mentioned this to you from the very beginning. But your Majesty
has showered upon me all these unmerited honors of attending upon
you. My conduct and manners have not changed since. If, however, you
are convinced of the guilt I am charged with, punish me, if not,
pardon me. But Your Majesty, please do not let my father suffer
anything because of my mistakes. Please do not abandon your idea of
finding my brother for us. Your Majesty, do not let my brother
disappear for ever because of these unfounded suspicions of
misconduct on my part.”

“Well,” answered the king, “that is a different thing now. But tell me,
why did you enter my sister’s tent?” Tobbya did not wish”
to disgrace anybody. She said nothing. The king was much troubled. He
could not believe the story because every word that Tobbya pronounced
was full of truth. On the other hand, he could not totally disprove
the story because Tobbya refused to answer his question. The matter
was getting very serious because of Tobbya’s unwillingness to
cooperate. Her father saw that things were getting out of hand and
began to despair. He thought that Tobbya would be punished severely
for no fault of hers ; that his son would be lost to him for ever,
and that he himself would be disgraced and driven out of the king’s
palace. The only way out of all this trouble was to show to the king
that the allegations against Tobbya were false and totally
impossible. This could only be done by revealing to the king the
secret of Tobbya’s identity. He therefore asked the king for a
private audience. Everyone else was ordered out of the king’s
reception hall. The king, Tobbya, and her father were left alone.

“Your Majesty,” Tobbya’s father began, ” it has always been
possible that many innocent souls have been punished for no fault of
theirs because of insufficiency of proof. Even you, Your Majesty,
merciful, kind, and wise as you are, you are nevertheless a human
being. You cannot penetrate into a person’s heart and soul to find
out whether it is really innocent or not. You are always bound to
believe the reports of your courtiers. This scandal cannot be cleared
unless I openly tell you the ins and outs of the story. But, Your
Majesty, you must first give me your word of honor that the secret
will be kept between the three of us.” When the king promised
that he would keep the secret, Tobbya’s father told him their story
from the very beginning, including the true identity of his child.
The king was sorry for Tobbya. He was also amazed at the story. He
admired her courage at being disguised as a boy to accompany her
father in his long search for the lost brother. Her unwillingness to
disgrace her enemies even at the risk of her name and honor was also
equally marvelous Though he pitied her for the difficulties she had
undergone in the past, the king was much pleased to know that she was a girl. So far he liked Tobbya only as a
young handsome and well mannered boy. Later however, when he knew her
identity his admiration was changed into real love and he began to
have high expectations. His heart began to beat fast whenever he
thought of Tobbya. His whole body began to tremble at every sight of
the beautiful young girl. But he was very careful not to show it to
anybody, above all to his uncle and his cousin. He would have liked
to punish and disgrace his courtiers who were responsible for the
false story, but no formal disproof of the allegations could be made
without betraying the the secret he had promised to keep.
Finally the king decided to give a false impression to his uncle and his
courtiers that he was convinced by the allegations. He therefore
ordered Tobbya to be deprived of all the honors and decorations
bestowed upon her, to be dismissed from service, and to live
henceforth with her father in the same conditions in which they were
living before she entered the king’s service. He called Tobbya and
her father, however, and told them of his real motives. He gave them
much gold and property in private, advised Tobbya to stay in the tent
all the time, ordered her father to show up at the palace only once
every day, and sent them to live on their own. Their tent was
pitched, however, just opposite to that of the king at his own
instructions. So that he could at least be able to look at Tobbya
through his field glasses every now and then.

The king’s uncle and Tobbya’s enemies were very happy to see the young
boy dismissed from the king’s service just as they wanted. His
cousin, however, was shocked when she heard that Tobbya was no longer
in the king’s service. She was extremely sorry at “his”
dismissal. She wept and wept all day long and could neither eat nor
drink. The king was very sorry for her not only because she could no
more see her love every day, but also because he knew that her love
was useless. He could not tell her the secret because of the word of
honor he had given to Tobbya’s father.

Many days passed since Tobbya left the king’s service and her enemies were
exulted at the success of their plot. But the king knew everything.
He only waited silently for the right time to punish his dishonest
servants. Tobbya, on the other hand, did not have any grudges against
any one. She never cared for honors or for the king’s service. She
was only looking for the day when her brother Wahid would be found.
Her only hope was that her father, Wahid, and herself would one day
meet and go back to her mother in happiness.

The king was doing his best to please Tobbya in private. He urged his
representatives and the governors in every corner of his kingdom to
send all slaves acquired within the previous year to his palace. The
king’s proclamation was now heard everywhere and people began to come
to the king’s palace with their newly acquired slaves. The king had
proclaimed that he would give to the owner of the man he was looking
for ten times the amount of money he had spent on his purchase and
some other special gifts besides. This caused everyone to bring their
slaves to the presence of the king.

The king was very happy when he saw thousands of his subjects coming to
him with their slaves. He called Tobbya’s father in private and told
him to look for Wahid among the troop of slaves that would pass by their tent. He then
ordered that the people should march with their slaves by the tent of
Tobbya and her father. On the morrow, thousands and thousands of
slaves marched by the tent. Tobbya and her father watched with
patience from dawn to sun-set. Wahid was not among those slaves that
passed by all day long. They started to despair when night began to
fall. When it was too dark to see the king ordered that the remaining
part of the crowd would march on the next day. The king watched
Tobbya and her father through his field glasses all day long to see
if they had found Wahid. He was greatly disappointed to know that the
boy was not found on that day. Tobbya and her father could not sleep.
They spent the whole night weeping at their misfortune. It was the
same thing on the next day. Wahid was not found at all. They
completely despaired now. “Wahid must have lost his life
somewhere, or else we would have found him by now,” they said to
each other.

On the third day, Tobbya and her father were watching the slaves pass by
as usual. They waited and waited. It was already noon and Wahid had
not been found. They had now almost no hope at all. Indeed they were
even tired of looking at the mass of human beings flooding by. Only
now and then would they look up and see if it was Wahid there. It had
now become almost instinctive for them to do that. Wahid was not

At about noon, however, Tobbya saw a young man walking side by side with
a clean-shaven Mohammedan merchant. The young man was carrying a
stick on his shoulders and was walking slowly and pensively. As soon
as she saw him Tobbya thought that his general stature and his
movements looked like those of her brother. But the young man whom
she was looking at looked much darker than Wahid. The young slave and
his Mohammedan master approached the tent. Tobbya knew now beyond any
doubt that the young man, who looked a bit darker because of
extremities of cold and heat was her own brother, Wahid. She was
overwhelmed by her sudden discovery and could not say a word. She did
not even tell her father what she saw. She only stretched her hands
towards Wahid and fell down flat on her face.

Her father did not see what happened. He only saw his daughter suddenly
fall on her face. He did not know what happened to Tobbya. When he
saw her fall down he ran forward to pick her up. In the meantime
Wahid saw his father suddenly and recognized him at once. “Father!
Oh! Father!” he cried running towards him and hurling down his
stick from his shoulders. The boy threw himself on his father and
kissed him wildly. “How on earth did you come here?” he
asked the old man. Wahid, Tobbya and their father were now clasping,
hugging, and kissing one another. They were overwhelmed by the
suddenness of their reunion and the happiness thereof. All the time,
however, none of them could say a word to the other. It was as if
they had lost their faculty of speaking, for a moment. Wahid
recognized only his father. He could not recognize Tobbya at first.
He could not recognize the young boy who was eagerly kissing him with
his father. It was only much later that the secret was explained to

In the meantime the king saw through his field glasses that Tobbya and
her father had at last found the lost boy.

He immediately ordered Wahid and his master to be brought to his
presence. The king was extremely happy when he saw Wahid for the
first time. Wahid was indeed a perfect copy of Tobbya. Everybody who
knew Tobbya at the king’s court could not tell that it was another
boy. Indeed, many thought that it was Tobbya herself who was being
recalled to the palace. Tobbya and Wahid were perfectly identical.
The only difference between them was to be found in their
temperaments. However much she tried to hide it, Tobbya had always
the delicacy and sweetness of the woman in her. Wahid on the other
hand, had the dashing characteristics of his sex. The king was highly
gratified at this. “I have now found a husband for my cousin,”
he said to himself. “She can never tell that it is anybody else
but Tobbya and will continue to love him.”

The king ordered the promised gold, money, and special presents to be
given to Wahid’s former master and sent him back to his country.
“Stay with me in the palace,” he said to Wahid. “I shall bring you up in my court and I’ll make you live in comfort and
happiness.” Wahid did not know what to say to the king who had
been so kind to himself, to Tobbya and their father. At last he made
up his mind. “Your Majesty,” he told the king. “I first went out of my country to look for a certain merchant who was
kind to me and to thank him for his good deeds. While in search of
the man I underwent innumerable difficulties, and I was finally sold
into slavery. You have just freed me from this bondage. But I have
taken it upon myself never to stay at home until I find that kind
man. I shall never go back on my word, Your Majesty, I shall look for
him until either I succeed in finding him or die. I cannot chose
comfort and happiness at Your Majesty’s palace and forget my friend.
Please excuse me Your Majesty. It is I who will be the loser, you can
always find hundreds to serve you happily and willingly.”
The king admired Wahid’s determination and strong will. “If that is
the only reason,” answered the king, “I shall find your
friend just as I found you. Don’t worry about that. Only accept my
offer and stay with me here in my palace.” “Your Majesty,”
answered Wahid with much feeling, “if you promise to do that for
me, I am more than willing to serve you. Let alone to live in comfort
and happiness, as you have said, I am even willing to stay with you
as one of the humble slaves in the palace.”

The king immediately gave an order for an announcement to be made
throughout his kingdom inviting all merchants within his realm to
come to his palace. The proclamation read as follows:
“All ye merchants within my kingdom, be sure to come to my palace as soon
as you have heard this proclamation for those of you who have been
plundered during the war. I shall restore your merchandise to you;
and for those who have not lost anything during the war I shall issue
passports which will ensure you safe and free movements everywhere.”
On the morrow Wahid was made one of the king’s courtiers with all the
honors and decorations that Tobbya formerly possessed. The king made
him a very intimate attendant, and almost all the courtiers of the
king began to be jealous of the young boy’s status. The king warned
Wahid, however, of the possibility that his courtiers
might try to create stories against him, as they had done in the case
of Tobbya, to bring about his disgrace. He warned him not to accept
any orders except from himself, and not to leave his presence at all:
Wahid would therefore spend the whole day in the king’s presence and
then go to his tent at night to join Tobbya and his father.
The king’s cousin did not know of Wahid’s coming to the palace. After the
scandalous story against Tobbya and herself her father had ordered
her not to leave the tent at all and never to go to any of the
quarters where the king received his courtiers. But the king knew her
feelings towards Tobbya. He knew how much she loved Tobbya, and how
much she lamented her dismissal from the court. One day he wanted to
console her. “Don’t worry, my sister. If you love him I shall
take him back to my service.” When she heard these words she was
extremely happy.”My Lord and brother,” she said to him, her
eyes wet with tears, “if you do that for me, My Lord, I am ready
to renounce my royal status and serve you as one of your cooks or as
one of your humblest slaves. I know that as your cousin I have all
the world at my disposal. But what purpose would all this glory serve
if one could not get what one wished? There can be no happiness in
this world in such circumstances. It is much better to be happy in
poverty than to suffer in richness. If you want to make me happy, my
Lord, help me to be married to Tobbya the only boy I have loved so
much in my life; and I shall be ready to return your kindness by
renouncing all my royal honors and serving you as one of your humble
servants.” She wept as she spoke. But before the king could
reply to her demands her father came suddenly, and the king left them
alone. The Princess was left in suspense without knowing what the
king’s answer would be. The king himself was in love with Tobbya! He
could think of nothing but her. Everything else began to slip from
his memory. At times he would stop in the middle of sentence and
grapple for words trying to remember what he wanted to say. In the
evening, after the usual banquets he would send out all his
courtiers, go out of his royal tent, and stare at Tobbya’s tent
beyond for hours in the perfect silence of the night and would only
go to bed when he felt too sleepy to remain awake.
This was his first love. Tobbya was the first and only one he loved and
wanted to possess. Indeed, before he knew the true identity of Tobbya
and wanted to make her his queen no woman ever came to his mind. He
was such a disciplined and serious prince. Once he loved Tobbya
however, he dreamt of nobody else but her! He would have liked to go
and pay her a secret visit every night. But he knew Tobbya very well.
He knew her strong will power, her shyness, and the strength of her
faith. The only thing he could do was to ask Wahid how Tobbya was
when he came early in the morning. “How is Tobbya?” was the
first thing the king said to Wahid every morning. Such was his love
for Tobbya, a secret he could not share with anybody, not even his
beloved cousin. In the meantime, thousands and thousands of merchants
began to come to the palace in accordance with the king’s
proclamation. Those who had been robbed of their merchandise during
the war came to ask for restitution. Others came to receive the royal
permits which would give them free and safe passages every where.
Every merchant without exception came to the king’s palace. The king
was very happy to see them coming. He told Wahid to look for his man
attentively and ordered the merchants to march in front of him.
Wahid stood at the gate and began looking for his benefactor. He looked and
looked but could not find him the first day. On the morrow he resumed
his search he looked for hours and hours without success. Very late
in the morning, however, a merchant walked slowly in front of him
looking very sad. He was literally in rags and it was evident from
his looks that he had been suffering from hunger. He had been robbed
of all his property and had undergone innumerable difficulties. When
he saw him, Wahid was extremely happy. He jumped and fell on the
knees of the good man. “How are you my lord?” he asked the
merchant clinging onto his knees. “How are you my kind
benefactor?” The countenance of the merchant had much changed
because of the extremities he suffered. But it was not difficult for
Wahid to recognize him.

The merchant was astonished. At first he could not remember where he had
known the young man who was prostrating himself before him in spite
of his honors and illustrious decorations. Later, however, when Wahid
told him his story he remembered clearly what had happened. But he
was not happy because he did not want his good deeds to be publicized
in this world. He wanted to do good for its own sake, not for vain

As soon as he saw that Wahid had found the man he was looking for the
king ordered him to be brought to his presence. He asked him how much
property he had lost during the war, and gave him twice as much.
Moreover, he made him a Negadras (a kind of agent for financial
affairs) in the district where he lived, and sent him home. It is
sometimes true that the deeds of men are visited upon them not only
in the world to come but in this world of men. Once he had fulfilled
his promise to find the merchant for Wahid, the king called him and
his father to his presence in private. “You were weeping day in
and day out at the loss of your beloved son,” he said to Wahid’s
father .”But I found him for you and thus made you happy.”
He then turned to Wahid and said: “And you Wahid, you were
looking for that good merchant for months on end: you were even sold
into slavery in the process. 1 freed you from bondage and found the
man for you. Now,” he added looking at both of them, “now
it is your turn to do something for me in return!” Wahid and his
father were confounded. They could not imagine what they could
possibly do for the king.

“Your Majesty,” they told the young king, it is indeed true that we
should do something for you in return. But what on earth could we do
for you except to express our gratitude for all the kindness you have
done to us, and to pray that God may give you a long and prosperous
life? You could fulfill all our wishes because everything is within
your power. But you know we can do nothing for you in return.
Moreover is there anything in this world you could not get if you
wanted; anything that we, your humble servants, could do for you? No,
Your Majesty, no.”It is true,” he replied, “I can do everything I want. I am
king, and my kingdom is wide. Though I am still young and have lost
my mother and father, my god has given me all that I need in this world. There is only one thing I
lack to make my happiness complete, something I can only get with
your help. It is not only kings and rich men that can help others. I
do not ask you what you cannot do for me.”

“‘Well Your Majesty tell us what you want us to do for you. There is nothing
within our power that we will refuse to do for Your Majesty.” A
cock who lives with his hens by picking microscopic grains from the
ground is much happier than a lonely fox who is let loose among sheep
and goats and has plenty to devour! So is my position, though I have
everything at my disposal I am not completely happy as yet. If you
want me to be perfectly happy,” he said finally addressing
Wahid’s father ” give me the hand of Tobbya and let her be my
wife. And you Wahid ” he added looking toward the young boy, ”
accept the hand of my beloved cousin and marry her. Once you marry
her you shall be the first man in my kingdom next to myself. This I
promise to you!”

Tobbya’s father was stunned at the unexpected demand of the king. Moreover, he
was worried about Tobbya’s reactions. He knew she cared much for her
religion and feared that she would at once reject the proposal.
Finally he decided to postpone his reply ” Give me some time to
think about it,” he said to the king and went home. Wahid too,
did not reply. He wanted first to see what would happen to Tobbya.
Tobbya was shocked when she heard of the king’s plans. Indeed she was
surprised. She never wanted a life of comfort and grandeur and could
not at once assent to his proposal. She only thought of the various
possibilities. If she refused, she thought, it would be ungrateful to
the king who had done so much for her and her family. If she accepted
his hand it would be tantamount to denying her religion and would
mean that she preferred the comforts and pleasures of his transient
world to the happiness and eternal glory of the world to come. She
finally decided to refuse the hand of the pagan king whatever the
risks. Before she took any step, however, she prayed her Lord to
protect her father and brother from all dangers that might befall
them because of her decision. She then wrote the following letter to
the king.

“Your Majesty! I have just heard that you asked my father for my hand.
I was surprised at this sudden and unexpected news. You are a great
king, a rich man under whose power everybody and everything trembles.
All the peoples of the world respect your name and honor You have had
a glorious past and greater things await you in the future. How can
such a man condescend so much as to ask the hand of a poor girl like
me? Indeed it would certainly show great respect for me if I accepted
this unmerited honor But I know that I do not deserve it I cannot be
a suitable match for you. Please leave me alone, Your Majesty.
Moreover, I cannot give my hand to a king who has not been baptized
in the name of Christ. I cannot deny my religion and forfeit the
eternal life and glory that await me in the world to come for the
passing, transient comforts and pleasures of this world. I stretch my
hands towards God, and shall never give my hand willingly to a pagan.
I have pledged myself, Your Majesty, not to marry anyone but a
Christian. I pray Your Majesty to take this in good spirit. You have indeed done a lot for us : you have
found my brother for us and made us happy. No man can do anything in
return for such kindness. It is only God himself who can reward you
for it. You do not know Christ, but he knows you, and will certainly
reward you for your goodness!” At the end of the letter Tobbya
added “You remember, Your Majesty, you have given us your word
of honor more than once that you would send us to our country in
peace. I pray you, My Lord, to fulfill your promise and to make it
possible for us to return home as soon as possible.” She gave
the letter to Wahid and begged him to deliver it to the king in

The king was very sorry at the failure of his proposal. He could make
Tobbya his wife by force, but he knew very well that forced marriage
cannot be a success and that a king should not misuse his powers to
obtain by force whatever he wanted. He also thought of sending his
friends home according to his word of honor But that was
inconceivable! His whole body trembled at the thought of sending
Tobbya away and losing her for ever. He could not stand it. He
preferred Tobbya to everything else. He felt that his kingdom, his
crown, his riches and all his royal grandeur were nothing compared to
Tobbya. His heart beat and he had a terrible fever when he thought
of the possibility of losing Tobbya. He was extremely troubled
by his feeling and began to avoid people. He refused to
give any audiences. It was announced that the king had a fever
and that he would not see anyone. No one except Wahid was allowed
to see him. The king felt almost desperate as regards the possibility
of marrying Tobbya. She had once and for all vowed not to marry him
because he was not a Christian. He spent hours and hours in
meditation. He knew clearly that Tobbya would not change her mind
at all unless he became a Christian. Finally after long
contemplation he decided to embrace the Christian religion. ”
Go and tell your sister”, he said to Wahid at last, “that I
have decided to become a Christian and marry her. Go and convey to
her my congratulations. Tell her to get a priest for me who would
teach and baptize me in private.” Tobbya was very happy at the
news, not because she was going to be a queen, but because God had
used her as a means of converting the great pagan king to
Christianity. She praised the name of God for his kindness.
The king began in earnest preparing for the great day. He announced that
he was going to give a grand feast after some months and ordered
everything to be ready soon: tella and tej were
prepared and many heads of cattle were collected.

At night one of the high priests of the church came from one of the
monasteries and began teaching him in secret the fundamentals of the
Christian faith. He was not the only one who attended this nocturnal
course. Also his cousin participated in the secret lessons. The king
had planned to give her in marriage to Wahid who looked like Tobbya
whom she loved as a disguised boy. He called her in private and said
to her ” You must become a Christian if you want to marry your
beloved Tobbya. I myself have decided to be baptized and to marry a
Christian girl.” She readily accepted the idea and attended the
secret lessons with him. Both began to understand the teachings of
Christ. In the meantime the king made secret arrangements for all his
weapons of war to have the sign of the cross carved on them. A new
flag and seal was made bearing the signs of the cross instead of the
pagan ones. Now all the royal drums, the trumpets, the shields, and
all the medals and other state decorations bore the cross and other
signs of the Christian faith. The names of the pagan gods were
erased and the name of Christ inscribed in their place. After all the
preparations for the feast were finished the king and his cousin were
baptized by the high priest at midnight one day before the king’s
wedding day. On the morrow, before sunrise, the king ordered his new
flag to be fixed on his tents and the old one to be put on the fire.
Then at day break the big drum began to be heard resounding at the
square in front of the palace with two banners bearing the cross
carried on either side of it. This meant in accordance with usual
practice that a very important proclamation was going to be made and
that everyone should assemble in the main square to listen to the
announcement. Everyone was still in bed, but when the regular and
familiar beats of the drum were heard all hastened to get up and
ran to the square as soon as possible. Some could not
get the time to wash their faces nor even to get dressed properly.
Everyone ran to the square to hear the proclamation. Within a short
time the square was full of thousands of people.

The king watched this from his palace. When he saw the people gathered he
sent his chief herald accompanied by his large group of announcers
down to the square. The king’s chief herald was dressed in special
costumes of honor: a llemd, or short cape elaborately worked with
gold, golden shoes, golden hat, a golden zennar or cartridge belt, a
beautiful gown and green trousers of silk, and carried the document
of the proclamation in one hand and a golden stick in the other. With
such pomp and grandeur the king’s herald reached the square. The
rhythm of the drum became faster and faster signifying that the time
for the big announcement was arriving. The people waited silently for
the proclamation. Everyone was pushing everyone else in frenzy to get
near enough to listen to every word of the announcement. Finally one
herald ascended the platform as usual to pronounce the king’s wishes.
“Listen, listen ye people,” he began, “May God render
deaf the ears of the king’s enemies!” After the pronouncement of
this formula with which every proclamation started, the chief Herald
of the king read slowly and in a low voice the words of the
proclamation which were then repeated loudly by the announcer on the
central platform. It ran as follows:
“Oh my people, and my country! There is only one God who created the
world. He created the earth, the heavens, mankind, animals, and all
the other things in the world. There has never been another creator
nor shall any other even come in the future. The only True God was
before the World and will continue to be even after this transient
world passes away. We believe in God the father, God the son, and God
the Holy Ghost who is only one God.
“This Almighty God first created Adam and Eve and made them multiply and
reproduce the human race.

Not only Adam and Eve but also all the birds and the other animals
glorified His name for this. For years and years our ancestors
multiplied themselves and filled the face of the earth. They began
living in the different parts of the world and their languages and
ways of life became different .Their beliefs and religions also
became different. Men forgot the True God and began worshiping idols.
But God still loved the world and sent his only Son to the world. The
Son of God came down from the Heavens, was incarnated and born by the
Holy Virgin Mary. He became man like any one of us and taught the
Word of God. He was crucified, and died on the cross. His disciples
went round the world and taught his words. Wherever they taught the
name of God the people understood the words of God and believed in
Christ. They were baptized in the name of Christ. Those who did not
listen to the teachings of the Apostles remained in darkness and
continued to worship idols, evil spirits, trees, and mountains.
“I have also been carrying on this heritage of darkness and ignorance.
But now Jesus Christ has opened my heart. He has pulled me out of the
darkness of ignorance and made me know the only and true creator of
the World. I am convinced in the Truths of the teachings of Christ.
Let it be known to my beloved people that I have become a Christian.
Those who have me and would like to follow me may be baptized; those
who do not love me may do otherwise. Let those of you who accept to
be Christians, move to the right hand side and camp there; those who
prefer their old ways of life may proceed to the left and camp there.

These were the words of the king’s proclamation. There was no one who
wanted to camp at the left hand side. All wanted to be baptized All
decided for Christianity! Every one silently proceeded to the right
hand side and camped in order as if no change was introduced at all.
The king had been worrying that he might be left alone, he was very
happy when he saw that his people honored his new religion and
followed him. He immediately passed a royal decree to the effect that
Christians might possess slaves but no one might keep Christians as

All were saved because of a merchant. All believed in Christ because of a
woman. The whole of Christian Ethiopia was established because of the
words of a king.

A very big das, or temporary pavilion was built for the wedding
ceremony. The tables were set at once. Wat was prepared in a
very large quantity, and tej was kept in hundreds of
containers ready to be served to the royal guests. Areqe was
made available. Many head of cattle were slain. Glasses and birille
were washed and set in order on the tables. Everything was now
ready for the feast.

The king had already prepared “the royal costumes and ornaments for
his queen. A new tent of red silk richly embellished with gold was
pitched for her. A large fence of red clothes, like that for the
king’s tents, was built round the tent. Hundreds of body guards lined
up around it. Tobbya was dressed in her magnificent costume of a
queen and was led into her new tent with a retinue of beautiful
lady-attendants almost as gorgeously dressed as their royal mistress.
A thousand shank-ilia or Negro soldiers armed with shining
swords and wearing their tall red tarbooshes came to join the queen’s
body guard and formed part of Her Majesty’s followers. Tobbya’s camp
looked more active and more beautiful than that of the king himself.
Wahid was made the king’s Ras Bitweded9 and was crowned
with the traditional coronet of his new title. The king ordered all
the high ranking officials of the old Christian Kingdom to camp with
Wahid and become his followers. Wahid’s army and following soon
became the largest after that of the king himself.

It was decided that both the king and Wahid should marry on the same
day. The king’s cousin still thought that she was going to marry
Tobbya, the young handsome boy she loved. The king still did not tell
her the secret of Tobbya’s identity. So on the eve of their wedding
day he took Wahid to her to see her reactions. When she saw Wahid in
his new costumes of honor wearing the coronet of the Ras Bitweded
she never doubted that it was not Tobbya. She longed to see her
beloved so much that as soon as she saw him she burst into tears. She
could not stand the happiness of seeing “Tobbya” once again
after such a long time! she only said to the king that “Tobbya”
must have increased much in height since she saw him last. “His
name is no more Tobbya,” the king told her. “I have given
him another name. He is henceforth to be known as Wahid.10 Wahid
means one, or united as one.11 I gave him this name
because on this day the pagans and the Amharas11 (Christians)
are united into one. His original name has been given to my wife. She
is to be known as Tobbya.”

“It is fine, Your Majesty,” answered his cousin. “It is a good
name. It has a good meaning. I agree.”
The wedding was celebrated. The marriage made thousands and thousands of
people happy. The kingdom and the new religion were greatly

As soon as he was thus honored Wahid remembered the son of these kind
people who helped him recover from the wounds inflicted upon him by a
group of merchants. He searched for him, found him, and made him his
chief courtier.

And the king composed the following lines in praise of Tobbya:
“Where has such a beauty blossomed,
She must be an angel sent down from heaven;
Created by God with no defects, and no blemishes.
She enchants the whole world, both men and women;
Despite all these blessings of Nature, she knows no pride:
She cut down her beautiful hair in a boy’s fashion;
She renounced her softest dresses of silk to put on a rough

She abandoned her tender Persian carpets, and walked on
foot on the roughest of roads; She left her comfortable throne for a dirty
solitary hill; While free from faults she was accused of dishonorable
acts; She was dismissed from service by the folly of a dwarf
and his infamous accomplices. She was disguised as a boy for the sake of
her brother;

When her identity was revealed, however, she united two
conflicting kingdoms. Tobbya is a courageous girl—she displayed her
valor in the battle field, And she was the only one who captured the enemy

She is an object of pride to all who love her,
She won a crown for herself for all her troubles.
Like a plant in the dry season.
Every one withered under the effect of your beauty.
Let every one be enchanted and allured,
If that leads him to the worship of God!
I have discovered something unique in your personality.
So artistically made by God, you trouble the hearts of men
However much I learn and understand the Gospels,
I cannot believe that there is anyone on earth as beautiful
as Tobbya.”

In response to His Majesty’s poem Tobbya sang the following lines:

”Why all this criticism”?
What has Tobbya done, except to marry a king?
Millions of Amhara hosts dispersed before him;
Rases and Dejazmatches were reduced by him;
He disposed many powerful kings;
No weapons of war overpowered him;
People trembled at the news of his approach,
He crushed oxen into pieces,
No chain was strong enough to harness him.
He was literally a lion, an uncontrollable lion,

But now he is tame, and tied down by a Mateb.13
No power of the Christian kings of Abyssinia,
Not even the Turks who manufactured arms.
No one could break the power of your Fathers.

You are now sitting on the great throne.
You are very young, inexperienced in the arts of war,
You do not know what to do,
You dispersed your large army at the words of a priest.”

The Amharic has the double meaning, ” a fine young man ” or ” a healthy young man.”
It is this latter meaning that the merchant understands when the
merchant tells bin. about Wahid.

The Ethiopians beat their chests with their fists as an expression of
sorrow or pity. This is particularly the practice of women,
especially in funeral processions.

Qwancha, a basket container used for keeping milk or other liquids
Ingib, a bowl-shaped basket used to hold and measure grain.
Hamle, the Ethiopian month of greatest rain.
Sent, the tenth month of the Ethiopian year.
Amelmalo is the final and softest stage in the preparation of cotton
before being spun. The cotton, after being cleaned and softened is
rolled into small pieces of long cylindrical form… These pieces are
called amelmalo and are taken one by one to be spun into fine
threads. Amelmalo is therefore taken as a symbol of refinement and
fineness, often in connection with delicate fingers, because, if
nothing else there is a similarity between a finger and an amelmado.
The Amharic word for “this” is of the feminine gender.
Tobbya therefore understood in mediately that it referred to her and
that it would thus reveal her identity. She immediately warned her
father, however, who cleverly played on the word and used it to refer
not to Tobbya but to the world which in Amharic can be considered
either masculine or feminine.
Ras Bitwoded, a title of the greatest honor Has, literally means head
and Bitwoded, beloved. Literally, one united, etc.

Amhara is strictly speaking the name of one of the main tribes of
Ethiopia, a tribe which was converted to Christianity in the early
centuries after Christ. Being very militant and having struggled for
centuries with the Muslims on religious and political issues, this
tribe has given its name to the Christian population of central
Ethiopia. The name of the tribe was often used as a synonym for a
Christian. Even today, especially in the highly islamized regions of
Eastern Ethiopia the common people use the term Amhara for all

This refers, of course, to the King’s love for Tobbya.
The mateb is the piece of cloth worn by Christians as a sign of their
faith, term is often used us a symbol of Christianity.

Wax and Gold, by Gedamu Abraha

By Gedamu Abraha

Skovoroda, a radical thinker of eighteenth-century Russia, viewed the wretched state of affairs in his beloved land and penned his cri de coeur: ” Our Father which art in Heaven, wilt Thou send down a Socrates to us soon, one who will teach us to know ourselves, so that knowing ourselves, we may then develop out of ourselves a philosophy which will be our own, native and natural to our land.”
And now in the second half of the twentieth century, Western foundations and universities viewing the wretched state of affairs amongst those described by Frantz Fanon as les damnés de la terre have convinced themselves that the undeveloped countries are in dire need of the kind of teacher Skovoroda had in mind. One can hardly find a single undeveloped country that has not been penetrated by intrepid anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, manpower specialists, or low-income housing experts. This explosion in social science research has brought about another phenomenon in the book-publishing business: a torrential outpouring of books on the modernizing ” problems ” of the peoples of le tiers monde.
Generally, the books published on this or that problem of this country or of this region of that country are mere ventures in book-making; fledgeling specialists are transformed into scholars by the grace of a foundation grant, a one-year residence in one country or another, and the publication of a ” scientific ” record of their field work. (The scientific method of recording such observations is called, in the impressive language of the trade, ” observational technique of participant behaviour.”)
By and large, most of the books which follow the field work of the social scientists are incredibly dull, uninspired or simply silly. Commonplace or banal observations are invariably trotted out as scientific discoveries and facts are tampered with to fit theories. One social scientist who did his field research among the peasants of Thailand asked the peasants to complete the sentence: ‘ The thing which we want the most is . . .’ Seventy-seven per cent completed the sentence with ” money.” The desire of the Thai peasant for money was. thus scientifically proven. (Times Literary Supplement, November 11, 1965.) Be that as it may, the horrendous mutation of the social scientists to queer cross-breeds between Socrates and post-Freud Don Quixote need not detract one from appreciating their good intentions.
There are, of course, some exceptions to the dreary production; Dr. Levine’s Wax & Gold is one of these. It has received a mixed reception ranging from unrestrained acclaim to mild praises and outright denunciations. These varied and heated reactions pinpoint the duality of the book: it is a serious and illuminating piece of work; it has at the same time, the maddening sting of a gadfly.
An American reviewer raved that Wax & Gold is both scholarly and artistic. (Africa Report, April 1966.) The reviewer enumerated the various topics covered in the book and having found out, mercifully, that he had nothing original or important to say concluded his astonishing panegyric: “I find little to criticize and heartily recommend it as one of the best books on Ethiopia.”
A reviewer in the London Times Literary Supplement (March 24, 1966) was of the opinion that Wax & Gold enriches the literature on Ethiopia ” by what may well be the first sustained effort in social analysis.” The reviewer was a good deal Jess enthusiastic than American reviewers. He noted that the book has: “… many errors of transcription and a few of interpretation; the author’s want of Ge’ez often traps him at sensitive points; and many of his extra-linguistic conclusions rest very shakily on tenuous linguistic premises.” The reviewer was particularly distressed by Dr. Levine’s penchant for dogmatic Freudian theories, by his distortion of historical facts and by his unscrupulous juggling of sociological facts to fit his theories. These grave shortcomings notwithstanding, the reviewer concluded: “… Nobody has yet described (Ethiopia’s) dilemma, its origin, its magnitude and possible ways of resolving it with greater ability and understanding than Dr. Donald Levine.”
Indeed, Dr. Levine’s Wax & Gold is a model of intellectual acumen and of great and relevant learning in the best tradition of empirical (bourgeois) social science. That a scholar who is endowed with such keen intelligence should have found a theme so matched to his subtle turn of mind is a piece of good fortune for the field of Ethiopic studies Professor Levine is fond of Ethiopia or, should I say, of what he thinks is the ” real ” Ethiopia; he is also generous to a fault in his admiration—even if just a trifle patronizing—of what he thinks is the ” real ” or ” true ” Ethiopian, the traditional (feudal?) Abyssinian. He is shrewd and almost indefatigable observant. His chapters on child rearing, adolescence and individualism are gems of keen observation. He has successfully conveyed, even if unwittingly, the smothering atmosphere and the banality of our contemporary society. 1 should fancy that Dr. Levine’s Wax & Gold will also have an esteemed place in the esoteric literature on the backwoods of human civilization.
Truth, observed Margery Perham, is an elusive quarry -‘in Ethiopian studies, historical or contemporary. Recalling that one who knew the country very well had said to her, ” Ethiopia is a country of which no one can speak the truth,” Margery Perham agreed that “everything can be contradicted either because the opposite is also true of some region or of some aspect of the subject or because the truth is not known.” Presumably it was this inherently contradictory nature of the social realities of Ethiopia that forced Dr. Levine to use regional and exclusivist terms. Moreover, his methodological approach —that of the empirical social scientist—shackles him to his presumed specific data although he has an unfortunate propensity to forget his self-imposed tether.
The appearance of Dr. Levine’s book should be received with pleasure—though one must qualify this by hastily adding: but not with unmixed pleasure. That a young scholar should have constructed and propounded, with much study and mental toil, an original theory— regardless of the soundness or unsoundness of the theory—is unquestionably an astounding achievement that needs be applauded and admired. But to say so is not to intimate a wish that Dr. Levine’s methodology and theory may become fashionable among scholars of Ethiopics; in point of fact, quite the contrary.
Professor Levine’s mind is of large grasp. He has poise and depth although sound judgement tends to elude him. His book, though not profound, probably shows more talent than quite a few of the recent books on Ethiopia. (It is not insignificant that he dismisses all the literature on Ethiopia, with the sole exception of Perham’s Government of Ethiopia, as ” esoteric ” and ” insipid blandishments of partisans” (p. ix), although his olympian judgement does not restrain him from resorting to the same ” esoteric ” and ” insipid ” books to prove his arguments.) But the doctrines which are put forward in Dr. Levine’s book are based on superficial analysis—-and hence pernicious if followed out in practice—that one is compelled to comment on the book with that freedom which the importance of the subject requires.
The obvious weakness of the book is that it has no meaningful and relevant theme, hence no sustaining insight. It is a collection of seven essays on seven diverse problems. Dr. Levine himself seems to be aware of this weakness as when he says in his preface: “… if the book is … somewhat disjointed at moments, I hope the reader will be compensated by sharing some of my satisfaction in refusing to repress one or another of these interests.” (p. vii.) One wishes one could share the author’s satisfaction. The ” oral ambivalence” and ” physical aggressiveness ” formulation fails to correct the disjointed nature of the book as these are essentially esoteric concepts (despite the author’s gallant effort to quantify and classify them) which may help one to have a feeling, an empathy for a culture. They can hardly be the ” keys ” to a culture, as Dr. Levine asserts. Moreover, the theme of ” oral ambivalence” and ” physical aggressiveness ” does not improve the quality of the book for Dr. Levine has taken these mental classifications as objective things and tries to reduce the social realities of past and present Ethiopia to these twin concepts. The result is that, for example, his chapter on ” wax and gold ” is a tortuous and labyrinthine essay in which he perpetually coaxes his data to transform ” wax and gold ” from a form of verse into a way of life.
Thus, Dr. Levine’s refusal ” to repress one or another of (his) interests ” (i.e. empirical social scientist, social analyst and sociological theorist) awards us with a number of versatile, resourceful and intelligent Messrs. Levine at the expense of a consistently profound Dr. Levine. It is, for example, difficult to reconcile Levine the historian, who is not an impeccably reliable historian, with Levine the empirical social scientist, who is a master of his craft. In short one can say Wax & Gold is a bowl of tutti-frutti.
The scientific quality of the book is also marred by its inconsistent terms and equivocal language: Dr. Levine keeps changing his terms or labels (Amhara, Abyssinian, Ethiopian) so that one is obliged to ask whether he really follows any consistent logic in using one as against the other term. Some uncertainty of aim, besides the limitations imposed by his data, would seem to be responsible. It is strangely ironic that Dr. Levine who criticizes—and rightly so—the equivocation, the deliberate ambiguity of Ethiopians (Abyssinians as he insists in calling them) should only manage to seem to say so. Even when his criticism of Abyssinian ambiguity is relatively terse and direct, Dr. Levine somehow manages to sound and seem as assiduously equivocal as what he is criticizing. The courageous admission of Dr. Levine—” 1 freely admit to having been seduced by the charm of traditional Amhara culture “—is not simply another variant of the stock-in-trade humility of American social scientists. It would seem Abyssinian ambiguity has not only charmed but also seduced—and one hopes not irredeemably—Professor Levine.
The equivocation which animates Professor Levine’s thought and language is best seen in the introductory section where he writes about the ” philosophy ” which ” guides ” his approach to the task in hand. He sets up ” at a high level of abstraction ” five positions which could be taken in considering ” the encounter between traditional and modern cultural patterns.” These being: the Traditionalist, the Modernist, the Skeptic, the Conciliatory and the Pragmatist. The first four are lame ducks and Dr. Levine picks them off in four neat paragraphs. Then he proceeds to boost his position—that of the Pragmatist—in a most curious language:
“The Pragmatist is committed to the optimum realization of all values possible in a given historic situation. He affirms the human values of modernization, yet conceives of modernity not as a single, fixed nature but as relative to the cultural context in which modernization takes place. Given the commitment to modernization, he would sustain traditional values wherever possible; would modify where feasible; and would reject them where necessary.” (pp. 12-13.) The ” Pragmatist ” submitted by Dr. Levine is indeed a mighty Caesar. But one is inclined to feel that the five positions are mere ” abstractions ” serving as a smokescreen to blur and mystify the two basic, conflicting positions: the reactionary vs. the modernist. Indeed, one can say with fairness and reason that, whatever value Dr. Levine’s five positions might have at a high level of abstraction, as far as the undeveloped countries are concerned, the Skeptic, the Conciliatory and even the Pragmatist are simply traditionalists in grey flannel suits, the image boys of traditionalism.
Dr. Levine, the Pragmatist, says he is ” committed to the optimum realization of all values possible in a given historic position.” But what are ” all the values possible in a given historic situation ” if not the values of the ruling class in that given historic situation? According to Dr. Levine, his brand of philosophy ” affirms the human values of modernization, yet conceives of modernity not as of a single, fixed nature but as relative to the cultural context in which modernization takes place.” A clever piece of liberal double-talk: He “affirms,” somewhat defiantly, ” the human values of modernization” in such a manner that it is transformed into a stunted or aborted modernization ” relative to the cultural context in which it takes place.” Grotius insisted several hundred years ago that ” even God cannot cause that two times two should not make four.” It is a reflection on the philosophical integrity of pragmatism and the scientific quality of bourgeois social science that we now have Dr. Levine’s dictum: traditionalism in a mini-skirt (Dior, perhaps) equals modernization.
One may rightly question whether Dr. Levine’s ideological bias is relevant to the question of the intrinsic value of his book. Had he been less equivocal about his ideological prejudice, this bias would have been irrelevant. But, Professor Levine tells us that he has studied, examined and analyzed the problems besetting Ethiopia in its quest for modernity and has felt morally obliged to offer his suggestions concerning which traditional values should be sustained, which ones should be modified and which should be rejected. In view of this, anyone writing an appreciation of the merits and demerits of the book would also feel morally obliged to point out the essentially conservative bias of its author. Indeed, Dr. Levine loses the studied detachment of the pragmatist and empirical social scientist when he asserts flatly: ” The experience of history has demonstrated the futility of attempting revolutionary implementation of a clear and distinct ideal in human society.” (p. 16.) He reveals the same dogmatism with his categorical statement: “The most productive and liberating sort of social change is that built on continuity with the past.” (p. 50.) Surprising as it may seem, Dr. Levine is not ashamed of being clever. Neither does he find it intellectually embarrassing to indulge in legerdemain and present a dogmatic assertion as a valid argument.
Whether Professor Levine’ is a liberal or a Fascist, a Trotskyite or a Bourgeois-Nationalist, is not in itself of any great importance. But one has to raise the issue of his conservative bias—or, as he prefers to call it, pragmatism—because it stands between the book and his readers in a most annoying way. Dr. Levine is so determined to see change take place in Ethiopia in piece-meal fashion and in what he believes is a sensible manner that he loses no chance of demolishing his bête-noire, the radical progressive. He refers to those who would like to see radical change take place in Ethiopia as immature and hysterical modernists; the contemptuous sneer is scarcely hidden. While Dr. Levine is, of course, entitled to shadow-box with the “hysterical modernists,” it opens his flank to serious criticism as to whether he was indeed well advised to pepper his book with unnecessary political rhetoric. It is an unfortunate and ill-advised political excursion on his part which will only serve to detract readers from his otherwise intelligent, even if misguided, book.
Ethiopia is an enigma; the Ethiopian a riddle. Few nations are so ignorant of their own history as Ethiopians; fewer still, if any, spread more myths about it. Few would surpass their capacity for self-delusion; fewer still would surpass their wry cynicism. Contradiction is inherent in the Ethiopian, who, besides being an Ethiopian, is also an Abyssinian. [The Ethiopian resents being called Abyssinian by foreigners; yet when he refers to himself, he defines himself as Abasha (Abyssinian).]
Pride and humility, cruelty and kindness, generosity and parsimoniousness, sluggishness and quick intelligence, gluttony and asceticism—one could go on listing their paradoxical characteristics. All these and more are wrapped in a thick hide of obdurate smugness. Alvarez, the intrepid Portuguese priest, observed with a touch of sadness and resignation: ” They have a great contempt for other nations and scarcely know, or do not care, if any exist or not.” Hotten was less tolerant and could not think of any redeeming quality: ” 1 have never yet been able to discover what an Abyssinian could be ashamed of, except a solecism in what he considers good manners.” Plowden listed their defects: “Indolence, over-weening vanity, entire ignorance of the world beyond Abyssinia, . . . aversion to the smallest change.” But, he added hastily, “I would not have my readers think the Abyssinian are wholly bad,” and credits them with being quick and intelligent, generous, usually humane and indulgent, always polite, seldom coarse. Plowden believed that if the Abyssinians ” once vanquish the idea that they are perfect, that they are the favoured people of the Earth, that nothing can be taught them, (then) they will be quick and intelligent to learn and to imitate.” The idea is still unvanquished.
Tellez was more impressed by their tenacious conservatism, noting that their invariable response to any suggestion for innovation was: ” This same is and ever was the form of Government in their country and it will cause great troubles to alter it.” He commented in a sad tone so tenacious are men of ancient customs, that they will rather be wrong in their own way than stand corrected by others.”
Margery Perham mulling over this mosaic of contradictory characteristics observed: ” One of the most striking features of the opinions of those who visited Ethiopia is the contradictions in their accounts of the disposition of the people, and those may even be found in the same account.” She then took one deep breath and summarized the character of the paradoxical Ethiopians as: “a people of pride and high spirit, the distrust bred by centuries of defending their mountains against all newcomers, tempered by friendliness and courtesy; conservative while not incurious, their lives pervaded by religion without being really spiritual. They appear to be an easy-going people, lax in their sexual life yet with a high sense of decorum and public manners. They alternate excesses of cruelty which led in Bruce’s day to such horrors as flaying men alive and the emasculation of the wounded and the captives, with kindliness and notable acts of mercy. Ethiopians are courageous in war, but neither very inventive nor industrious in the arts of peace outside their practice of agriculture. Perhaps the most marked characteristic in the eyes of foreigners is their overwhelming self-satisfaction, the product of long mastery upon their plateau, their almost unbroken success in throwing invaders back from it and their complete ignorance of the world beyond.”
Perham concluded her reflection on the Ethiopian character with a sentence which symbolizes the success of reflective and analytic power over first-hand observation: ” It seems as though the influence of Christianity and of ancient civilization struggled against those of isolation and material poverty.” It needed the subtle intuition of a woman to pinpoint the source of the dilemma which permanently marks the Ethiopian character, Gibbon, concerned with the rise and fall of civilizations, could not quite make up his mind whether the Ethiopian civilization was rising or falling or whether it had actually died a stifled death at birth. He deduced with his unrelenting logic: “Encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion, the Aethiopians slept near a thousand years, forgetful of the world, by whom they were forgotten.” Dr. Czeslaw Jesman, a shrewd but tolerant observer of Ethiopia, dismissed Gibbon’s mild judgment as ” monumental nonsense ” and yet agreed that Ethiopia is indeed a paradox. Dr. Richard Pankhurst described Gibbon’s verdict as ” a half truth.” Ethiopia is a paradox, an historical enigma: rich yet abysmally poor; an ancient country yet a member (and not a reluctant one at that) of the ” emerging ” bloc; autocratic yet really anarchic by default. Ethiopia is a Christian nation yet one-half of its people, at least, are Moslems or Pagans. Ethiopia is a country with an ancient culture and literature yet with an almost illiterate population.
Gaps between illusion and reality are endemic to old nations. The dichotomy between illusion and reality, between past and present, is one of the few common denominators of old nations. And it is due to this psychological disposition that one cannot help but feel a shock of recognition when one reads about Latin American caudillos or ancient Portugal, as when Miguel de Unamuno took a look at melancholic Portugal and said: “This country outwardly gentle and smiling, but tormented and tragic within.” Giberto Freyre, the noted Brazilian scholar, characterized the agony of Portugal more sharply: ” Holland makes cheese, Switzerland condensed milk, while Portugal goes on standing on tiptoe trying to make herself seen in the gathering of Great Powers.” One is moved by an inexplicable paroxysm to murmur with a painful sigh: ” du mime pour l’Ethiopie” Ethiopia is a mystery of time, a country with a past too prolonged; a country feasting on what it believes has been a glorious past. And when one speaks of the paradox of Ethiopia, one must of necessity speak of the paradoxical Ethiopians. Dr. Levine achieves the penetrating quality of his book by focusing on two paradoxical characteristics of Ethiopians: oral ambivalence and physical aggressiveness. [Dr. Levine is not quite sure whether to ascribe these characteristics to Shoan Amharas, all Amharas or all Abyssinians but we need not take him up on that issue. Let us assume that, generally, most Ethiopians exhibit the two characteristics. In Spain, they speak of the garrulous Andalusian, stern Castilian, lively Catalan, or industrious Basque. However, observers of Spain have come to note that these little labels may draw attention to certain peculiarities which are obvious at first glance, but they disappear as soon as one looks a bit further than skin deep. Czeslaw Jesman, in discussing the problem of the Ethiopian character, says: ” The Amharas of Shoa, for example, polite, secretive and tenacious, are a far cry from the exuberant and happy-go-lucky ‘border’ Amharas from Wollega or from the confines of Tigre. The Gurage, yet another stock apart, are often endowed with a particularly resistant brand of parochialism. Yet in all of them there is a common Ethiopic denominator. It is elusive and does not always manifest itself in politics, but it can all the same be detected.” (The Ethiopian Paradox, p. 3).]
Oral ambivalence and physical aggressiveness are the two dominant qualities which, according to Dr. Levine, mark the Abyssinian character. On the relationship between sam-enna warq (wax and gold) and equivocation as such, Dr. Levine says “… wax and gold represents more than a principle of poetic composition and a method of spiritual gymnastics for a small class of literati. The ambiguity symbolized by the formula sam-enna warq colours the entire fabric of traditional Amhara life. It patterns the speech and outlook of every Amhara.” (p. 8.) He then quotes approvingly an “Ethiopian colleague” who says: “Wax and gold is anything but a formula—it is a way of life.” In essence, declares Dr. Levine, ” wax and gold is simply a more refined and stylized manifestation of the Amhara’s basic manner of communicating.” (p. 9.)
As regards the functional value of wax and gold within the society, Dr. Levine explains:
” It (wax and gold) provides the medium for an inexhaustible supply of humor, among a wry people who prefer the clever, double-edged remark to comic actions or incongruous situations … it provides a means for insulting one’s fellow in a socially approved manner, in a culture which requires fastidious etiquette in social relations and punishes direct insults by heavy fines. … It provides a technique for defending the sphere of privacy against excessive intrusion in a social order that thrives on rumour and gossip and puts most of its people at the mercy of superiors. While vague and evasive responses often suffice to dampen the enthusiasm of the tax collector or the curious neighbour, sam-enna warq constitutes another potent weapon of self defence. Finally, it provides the one outlet for criticism of authority figures in a society which strictly controls every kind of overt aggression toward authority be it parental, religious, or political. …” (p. 9.) One can pin down certain aspects of Ethiopian realities by savouring a few Amharic words which are typically Ethiopian in their inaccessible subtlety. Dr. Levine, the psychologically sensitive observer, picks out two such peculiarly Ethiopian words: Min yeshallal and Tadyas. Min yeshallal (literally ‘ what is better ? ‘) is an immemorial phrase used by the Ethiopian when he wields language not to express his thoughts but to hide his thoughts. He looks at you intently with a shade of quizzical scrutiny, moves his head gently to one side and says, partly to himself and partly to you, in a tone of genuine perplexion ” Min yeshallal.” You reply in the same gentle but grave tone: “Tadyas, min yeshallal.” Ritual wins over the immediacy of the problem; he bows with a half-apologetic smile on his face, you reciprocate. When an Ethiopian says Min yeshallal he is not really pondering whether X is better than Z. He feigns incomprehension, or he pretends to make an agonizing appraisal of various issues, or he acts as if he is really trying his best to make a choice or a decision. He cannot say yes or no in a flatly assertive and determined tone. It is also patently unfair, as he sees it, to corner him into saying yes or no; he will think you are decidedly boorish. The Ethiopian seems to see a deep chasm between yes and no, for these two dangerous words involve decision and he would rather die than decide. One can always decide tomorrow, for tomorrow too will have its own morrow, and, if not, well and good—for then one does not have to decide at all.
Lawrence Fellows, a correspondent for the New York Times, had this to say about the dilatory evasiveness of Ethiopians: “They are graceful and gentle-mannered people on the whole not given to saying no. In the past they have not been particularly prone to give an outright yes either. About as close as any Ethiopian could be expected to come to it would be to say ‘Isshi negge.’ Roughly translated, that means ‘ all right tomorrow.’ It is not heard so often now. It is as if people feared there would not be time tomorrow.” (New York Times, Sept. 11, 1966.)

It is difficult to imagine how one can find this stereotyped equivocation charming. Dr. Levine is, of course, entitled to be charmed by this cliche behaviour; it is a matter of taste, not to say an outlook on life. Unfortunately, he is temperamentally given to assume that his purely personal taste is a universally valid truism. This propels him to indulge in linguistic gymnastics: he refuses to recognize that the Ethiopian cultural trait which has ” seduced ” him is mendacity; he prefers to call it ” wax and gold.” He uses the word ” sam-enna warq ” for ambiguity and simply assumes that he has proved ” wax and gold” is a way of life. Consequently, Dr. Levine fails to discern that the stylized ambiguity and ritualized mendacity that claims to express ponderosity, reflection and deliberation is actually an indefinite postponement of decision and hence of thought.
Centuries of isolation, centuries of grinding poverty, centuries of internecine warfare, centuries of predatory exploitation, centuries of insecure tenancy of land have left their mark on the Abyssinian peasant and, willy-nilly, all Ethiopians are peasants. We cannot come to the heart of the problem by parroting the words of Dr. Levine’s colleague that ” wax and gold is anything but a formula—it is a way of life.” To say so is to mis-state the issue; a mis-statement which inevitably leads one to the wrong approach to the problem. Equivocation is, of course, true of all peasant societies where the system favours the feudal and land-owning class over the impoverished and landless peasant. Whether it is in Turkey or Southern Italy, in Spain or Guatemala, in Peru or Thailand, in Greece or Iran, we will find basically the same equivocal behaviour of the peasant. Ambivalence, equivocation and mendacity are tools for survival. To try to attribute this essentially peasant behaviour to a particular” genius ” of a particular culture, as Dr. Levine suggests, is neither revealing nor convincing. And if one needs a ” key ” to the ” genius ” of Abyssinian culture, that ” key ” will not be found in the esoteric land of wax and gold; it lies in the laws of property which divide the peasant from his land. The peasant is tied to ” his ” land and he manages to survive on ” his ” land but the arbitrary laws of property stand between him and ” his ” land; he cannot own it. The genius lies therein—it is pure and simple.
Consider, for example, the world of the peasant in Iran. Almost all serious observers of Iran have come to one conclusion: the Iranian peasant is most insecure and chronically unstable; his personality has been warped and deformed by a brutal system of feudalism. One who has made a special study of the Iranian peasant observed : “The background is insecurity: the insecurity of the landlord against the caprice of the government, insecure in the face of attack by hostile elements, whether internal factions or invasion and the insecurity of the cultivator vis-a-vis the landowner and others.” (A. Lambton, Landlord and Peasant in Persia.) The Iranians have developed an accepted behaviour called taquiyeh or dissimulation. This permits a Moslem to pretend he is a Jew or Christian depending on his immediate need. Iranian diplomats are noted—whenever the need arises— for confounding their opposite numbers by feigning naivete, by circumlocution and numerous other techniques. (H. L. Hoskins, The Middle East.) A scholar of Persian affairs has come to the conclusion that Iranians are a ” people of extremes ” and that a basic condition of modernization is to ” remedy the Persian’s lack of confidence in his fellow man.” (R. N. Frye, The United States and Turkey and Iran.)
How can we relate Ethiopian equivocation to Ethiopian realities? What is the relation between an equivocal manner of speaking and wax and gold? Indeed, what exactly is wax and gold,” this ” way of life” ? Dr. Levine says: “… sam-enna warq is the formula used by the Amhara to symbolize their favourite form of verse.” Moreover, he adds, “… in its generic sense, the sam-enna warq refers to a number of poetic figures which embody this two-fold meaning.” Not satisfied with this, he tries to give it a definition closer to his main contention: “… but sam-enna warq constructions also appear in some types of secular verse in the vernacular Amharic, and, indeed, at times inform Amharic conversation.” Finally, Dr. Levine invokes the authorities of Qene: “… masters of the art of Qene composition have analysed these poetic figures into about a dozen different types. Sam-enna warq in its more specific sense refers to one of these—the prototype of them all.” (p. 5.) Evidently, it is a most difficult ” way of life.”
There are times when one must seriously wonder whether the so-called wax and gold form of verse is not a mere illusion of half-literate scribes who think they are subtle, while they are not, and learned when they are not:
” Till their own dreams at length deceive ’em, and oft repeating, they believe ’em.”
Dr. Levine’s book does not help to assuage such lingering doubts. The three or four available Amharic grammar books are not explicitly clear on the matter except on one point: wax and gold is a form of verse with a patent and latent meaning. Ato Alemayehou Mogus, on the other hand, believes that any kind of symbolism, double entendre, obscure allusion or a particularly dirty joke is wax and gold. Professor Levine, who has convinced himself that wax and gold is not only a form of verse but also a way of life, agrees most emphatically with Ato Alemayehou and, indeed, quotes a few choice lines and examples from the latter’s cascade of books.
Thus, to Ato Alemayehou, the sentence: “The lion Menelik crushed the wolf Italy ” is a wax and gold line. The sentence is duty submitted as an example in Dr. Levine’s book: “… if the poet’s aim is to praise a hero like Emperor Menelik, he creates a wax model, like ‘ the lion ‘ in terms of whose action the gold, Menelik, is depicted: ‘The lion Menelik crushed the wolf Italy.’ ” (P- 5.)
Consider the famous lines from Richard II:
” O that I were a mockery King of Snow Standing before the Sun Bolingbroke to melt myself away in water drops!”
If one were to read these lines to Ato Alemayehou and Professor Levine, the two learned gentlemen would agree that it is a delightful piece of wax and gold verse and then proceed to explain that the sun is the wax model in terms of whose action the gold, Bolingbroke, is depicted.
Dr. Levine cites three other examples of wax and gold couplets and one example of westa-wayra verse. All of them are the ones which are invariably presented as examples in Amharic grammar books; they are the brothel-variety puns of tej-houses. The simple fact that wax and gold has been given an extended meaning and that it has now become a catch-all label for a particular form of verse, for symbolism, for obscurantist allusions, for outright prevarication, for veiled insults and especially for obscene puns is not in itself very important. But it seems to me that using wax and gold as a catch-all label entails the danger of romanticising mendacity by calling it wax and gold.
One of the grave shortcomings of Dr. Levine is that he does not follow his analysis to its logical conclusion. Although he intimates that wax and gold is basically a formula used to express one’s thoughts with impunity, he refrains from analysing the social system which produces this kind of insecurity. His analysis stops at half way and does not grapple with the really meaningful problem of the origin and function of wax and gold within its social context.
Dr. Levine does point out, somewhat reluctantly, one negative aspect of wax and gold: ” In so far as Ethiopia is committed to the pursuit of modernity, she cannot fail to be embarrassed to some extent by the wax-and-gold complex. For nothing could be more at odds with the ethos of modernization, if not with its actuality, than a cult of ambiguity.” (p. 10.) But his heart is not really in this tepid observation for he makes a dazzling somersault and proceeds to extol the virtues and positive values of wax and gold. He comes to the amazing conclusion that ” the wax-and-gold mentality ” should be regarded not only as an obstacle to Ethiopia’s modernization but also, by virtue of its contribution to the continuing effectiveness of her social organization and the continuing richness of her expressive culture, as a beneficial agent.” (p. 17.)
Dr. Levine’s argument in praise of the ” wax-and-gold mentality ” and the ” cult of ambiguity ” is based on a number of glittering generalities. The questionable premise implicit in his assertion—(he does not argue, he asserts and assumes he has argued)-—is seen clearly when he writes about how political leaders of the undeveloped countries can exploit ” the ambiguity of traditional symbols.” (p. 16.) In other words, what Dr. Levine is saying is that political leaders of transitional societies should emulate, for example, American politicians who oppose integration or socialized medicine or subsidy to education on the ground that these policies are alien to ” the American way of life.” Therefore, if politicians can exploit ” the ambiguity of traditional symbols ” and get away with it, then the cult of ambiguity is ” a beneficial agent.” Or, to put it bluntly, hypocrisy is beneficial. Equivocation as a stylized form of expression is not a phenomenon which descends from heaven; a social system which forbids free expression of thought forces it upon its repressed subjects. They use ambiguity, prevarication, mendacity and dissimulation not only when they have to express their thoughts but also to survive and to exist. Dr. Levine simply or, should I say, conveniently forgets that what it pleases him to call ” wax and gold ” is a most unfortunate misnomer for ambiguity and equivocation.
The realities in our contemporary society—be it in inter-personal relations, administration or literature-bear eloquent proof that the culture of equivocation is not fertile ground for the flowering of human values based on honesty, confidence and equality. Professor Levine as a post-Freud social scientist will probably find such ideals as a rational social system or social justice most boring and irrelevant. At any rate it is to be regretted that Dr. Levine has allowed his personal fondness for ambiguity to transform an ostensibly scholarly study of wax and gold into what can only be called a gospel for equivocation; a manifesto, as it were, for stylized mendacity institutionalized by an unjust social system.


Professor Levine’s Wax & Gold also claims to look ” upon Amhara culture as a history.” (p, xiii.) More specifically, Dr. Levine writes: ” The history, ethos and cultural significance of Manz and Gondar are discussed, partly to provide an introduction to Amhara culture that has some historical depth, and partly as background to the general question of the place of primordial sentiments like regionalism in a modernizing society.” (p. 14.) It could be taken as a measure of Dr. Levine’s sociological sophistication that he has deigned to look ” upon Amhara culture as a way of life ” although one may question whether he has in fact shown the proper qualities of a historian. The historian, after all, is a practitioner of the controversial profession.
It is said that Trevelyan observed with leisurely contemplation the ‘ history-is-science ‘ fad which raged in England at the turn of the century. But J. B. Bury’s The Science of History aroused his impatience and prodded him to write his polemical essay Clio’s Muse. Trevelyan asked himself the rhetorical question: “… what are the ‘ laws’ which historical ‘ science ‘ has discovered in the last forty years since it cleared the laboratory of those wretched ‘ literary historians’ ? Finding (albeit not to his surprise), that scientific history has discovered no laws, he commented caustically: ” Medea has successfully put the old man into the pot, but 1 fail to see the youth whom she promised us.” Lest the ” scientific historians” should miss his thrust, Trevelyan added ” writing history is no child’s play.”

That history is still no child’s play is seen in the savage polemics which periodically enliven the secluded and cloistered Life of historians. Lytton Strachey, the amateur historian of Eminent Victorians remarked with his unfailing penchant for intellectual mischief that ” ignorance is the first requisite of the historian, ignorance which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits.” H. Trevor-Roper who, ordinarily, has no patience with amateurs, could not possibly ignore such a dim view of historians. To Lytton Strachey, declared Trevor-Roper, ” historical problems were always, and only, problems of individual behaviour and individual eccentricity. Historical problems, the problem of politics and society, he never thought to answer, or even to ask.” Indeed, added Trevor-Roper, the criterion set by Strachey ** was one by which he (Strachey) would willingly be judged: for he would certainly emerge successful.”
James Froude took a more cynical view of his profession and said ” history is a child’s box of letters with which we can spell any word we please.” Oxford’s philosopher and historian, Robin Collingwood, protested against what he called ” scissors-and-paste history ” and attempted to reconcile philosophy with history.
Edward H. Carr who delivered the Trevelyan Lectures for 1961 at Cambridge University chose for his topic the simple-sounding problem: ‘What is history?’ In answering his own question, Carr said history ” is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.” But, he warned, ” before you study the history, study the historian. Before you study the historian, study his historical and social environment.” He advised the reader of history to listen out always for the buzzing of bees in the historian’s bonnet: ” If you can detect none, either you are stone deaf or your historian is a dull dog.”
The buzzing in Professor Levine’s bonnet is, by his own admission and in his own language’, that of the pragmatist and empirical social scientist. In plain language, it is that of a bourgeois social scientist. More to the point, Dr. Levine’s philosophy of history, such as it is, tries to arrest history by resorting to the ” history-as-a-bogey-man ” technique. Indeed, Dr. Levine minces no words in declaring his philosophical, hence, ideological, commitment not only to the reactionary view of history but also to the reactionary use of history: ” The experience of history has demonstrated the futility of attempting the revolutionary implementation of a clear and distinct ideal in human society.”
Such a curious reading of history and the Eleveneth Commandment on the futility—not to say sinfulness—of progressive change inscribed by Dr. Levine is wont to make one see social change as the work of demons. And, as in the famous saying attributed to Louis-Philippe: pour chasser les demons, il faudrait un prophète. In view of what Professor Levine himself has said, it cannot be taken as a lapse of taste to refer to him not only as a historian but also a prophet of reactionary dogmatism: a prophet who has taken it upon himself to vanquish the demons of progressive social change.
One of the more important problems historians are expected to answer is the question: ‘ how did these things come about?’ But Professor Levine, who has fallen into the most unfortunate habit of using history to ward off the demons of social change, uses Ethiopian history to prove his hypothesis; namely, wax and gold (oral ambivalence) and physical aggressiveness are the keys to Ethiopian culture and society. In other words, Dr. Levine resorts to the ” scissors-and-paste ” technique of historical research to prove that wax and gold and aggressiveness are the determinant factors of Ethiopian history. He also ransacks history to prove that any attempt at radical change is bound to fail in view of the historical ” tenacious traditionalism ” of the Amhara peasants.
Consider how he treats Ethiopian history: “The six centuries of Ethiopian history that end with the conquests of Menelik—a historical unity which circumscribes the matured Amhara culture—may be divided into three main episodes: synthesis (1270-1527), in which the might and Christian culture of Ethiopia was consolidated and expanded; shock (1527-1633), in which the Ethiopian body politic was dealt a series of severe blows; and recovery (1633-1900), in which Ethiopia laboured to resurrect itself—first through Gondar, then Tigre and Shoa—until its ancient order began to be threatened by the demands of a modern world.” (p. 18)
The Hegelian sweep and Freudian insight (shock, severe blows, recovery) is most dazzling—but only momentarily. Does Dr. Levine mean to say Ethiopia has no history prior to 1270? And why does he decide to make Ethiopian history begin in 1270? Presumably, Dr. Levine means to answer these questions when he elaborates on the ” episode of synthesis ” by saying: ” Following the ascendance of the Shoan Amhara in 3270, Amhara-Tigre society attained a kind of medieval prosperity.”
When Dr. Levine feels like it, he uses the word ” Amhara,” sometimes he uses ” Shoan Amhara,” sometimes speaks of the ” House of Manz,” sometimes “Amhara-Tigre society,” at times, “Abyssinia”; he even resurrects the non-existent ” Ethiopia “—it is as if he is simply having a marvellous time proving his Grand Theory and he has need of various labels and objects.
Dr. Levine concludes his espresso history of his curious two “Houses” with a melodramatic flourish: ” Aleqa Gabra Hanna, cultivated literatus, was in a sense the epitome of the Gondare ethos, just as Menelik II, determined fighter as well as shrewd politician and tactful diplomat, was morally as well as genealogically akin to the men of Manz. The Imperial Court at the end of the nineteenth century, flushed with the reports of Menelik’s conquests and embellished by the wax and gold of Aleqa Gabra Hanna was a kind of traditional climax. . . ,”
The ‘ key ‘ to Dr. Levine’s curious revision of Ethiopian history lies in this mish-mash of ” embellished wax and gold ” and ” flushed conquests.” He has a theory that Ethiopian history can be interpreted in terms of the ” apparent contradiction ” between the oral equivocation and physical aggressiveness of Ethiopians. So he divides Ethiopia into Two Houses to accommodate the two ” cultural elements.” The House of Gondar stands for equivocation (wax and gold); the House of Manz stands for aggressiveness. The ethos of Gondar is equivocation; the ” ideal type ” of its ethos is Aleqa Gabra Hanna. The ethos of Manz is physical aggressiveness (Mot Ged yallam—never mind about death4), the ” ideal type ” of its ethos is Menelik II. The hypothesis is tested against a made-to-measure version of Ethiopian history [Synthesis or the House of Gondar (1270-1527)—Shock or the Grand Invasion (1527-1633)—Recovery or the House of Manz (1633-1900).] Voila! The theory is vindicated by History and the key to Ethiopian history, the key to the spirit and culture of Ethiopians has been discovered by Dr. Levine. C’est magnifique mais ce n’est pas l’histoire.


Dr. Levine observed and studied ” Amhara peasant culture ” in Manz. But he has taken it for granted that the world will share his presumption: namely, that his fairly brief study of ” Amhara peasants” in Manz entitles him to write authoritatively on Beghemeder, Semien, Gojjam, Wollo, etc. under the generic name of ” Amhara culture.” Moreover, Dr. Levine does not find it necessary to explain why he assumes that the empirical data he gathered in Manz can be taken to be as also applicable to and representative of the social realities, the institutions, the customs and traditions of Shoa itself, or Gojjam, or Beghemeder. Leaving aside such simple, but by no means unimportant, questions about the scientific or empirical quality of the book, what exactly do we learn from Dr. Levine’s analyses of ” Amhara culture as an outlook on life, a way of growing up, as a social structure and as a combination of opposites”? Consider “the world of the Amhara peasant” as seen by Dr. Levine. He tries to disarm his critics by saying his ” rhetorical aim is chiefly to bring the little known peasant into sharper focus, to reaffirm the peasant world as one worthy of attention and respect” (p. 14), and assures us that his ” account is based on seven months of residence among the Amhara peasantry, using the observational techniques of participant behaviour, discreet questioning, analysis of folk expressions and Thematic Apperception Tests (TAT).” (p. 56.)
We are told that ” the average homestead consists of from one to six small structures.” More specifically, ” a well equipped homestead will have one building for eating and sleeping, one for animals, one for grain storage, one for a kitchen and one for entertaining guests”; and that “… one or more servants-slaves, until a generation ago-complete the household.” (p. 56.) It also appears that: ” work begins in the peasant’s home well before daybreak. His (the peasant’s) wife or maid-servant rises with the first cockcrow to grind grain. . . . Then he or one of the boys take the oxen and cow for breakfast, to a pile of hay in the yard or a spot of pasture rich with grass . . . (the peasant) has injara and sauce for breakfast. He eats by himself slowly, pondering the work of the day . . . The peasant leaves with his older sons or manservants for the fields . , . If the peasant is working in a distant field, his wife carries lunch out to him—or else risks being beaten with a stick … If he is not far away he comes home for lunch, which he eats together with his wife. They talk about what each has done during the morning and what remains to be done. The peasant may retire for a nap, and perhaps to lie with his wife, before taking up the afternoon’s work. . . . (In the evening) they start munching roasted grains, injara or clabo. They may drink some talla and relax . . . The family is together, and everyone enjoys talking and hearing about the homely events of the day. A few hours after dark, supper is served. Parents and older children eat together out of a common basket. Younger children and servants stand respectfully, awaiting their turn …” (pp. 58-60.)
Dr. Levine does not tell us if this happy and contented ” peasant family,” teeming with man-servants and maidservants, watch Dr. Kildare or Soccer World Championship on TV before they retire to bed. A peasant who has several ” structures,” one for eating, one for kitchen, one for guests, etc., a peasant who has man-servants and maid-servants, a peasant who goes to his field followed by his man-servants, a peasant who takes a siesta after lunch-but then why go on when such a ” peasant ” simply exists in the esoteric pages of Wax & Gold? It is obvious that Dr. Levine has met and observed some members of the relatively well-off Amhara landed gentry in Manz and he has mistaken them for peasants.
But Dr. Levine will not allow us to dismiss him so easily. Much like the Knights-errant of Yoredays, he has flung down his gauntlet and dismissed ” modernist Ethiopians,” historians, ethnographers, foreign aid technicians and even the long-dead travellers of the nineteenth century as ignorant fools who neither know nor care about the peasant, (pp. 55-56.) One can easily imagine his response to the statement that his observations are about the landed gentry and not the peasantry. He has ” penetrated ” Manz, he has lived for seven months amongst the peasants, he has asked them ” discreet questions” and studied them using his ” observational techniques of participant behavior.” A valid point.
Let us assume the ” peasants ” Dr. Levine is writing about are indeed peasants and not the landed gentry. What does he tell us about the peasant with several buildings? We are told about his homestead, we are told about his man-servants, we are told that his boys take the oxen and cows out for breakfast (yes, breakfast), we are told that the peasant takes a siesta after lunch, and finally Dr. Levine cannot resist the temptation to tell us that the peasant may ” perhaps lie with his wife ” before taking up the afternoon’s work. Is it not significant that we are not told whether the ” peasant ” owns the land he is tilling? The most crucial question of land ownership is dismissed by Dr. Levine in one curious sentence: ” While most peasants plow land whose use is theirs by hereditary right (rist), some are tenants on estates owned by the king, lords, monasteries, or older relatives.” (p. 56.)
It is clear that Dr. Levine does not want to raise the question of land ownership; he does not even want to admit—although he does not deny it—that the overwhelming majority of peasants do not own land. What does he mean by the woolly phrase: “while most peasants plow land whose use is theirs by hereditary right . . .”? On what documentary and statistical evidence is the statement based? Moreover, is it the land or the use of the land which belong to ” most peasants ” ? Is Dr. Levine writing about all Amhara peasants in Ethiopia or peasants in Manz?
It must be emphasised that this point is important for two reasons. First, as has already been intimated, the ” key ” to Ethiopia lies in the land system. Secondly, it illustrated how Dr. Levine glosses over this most important question with ingenious circumlocution and contrived sentences that tend to conceal more than they reveal. It is, unfortunately, through such subtle and ambiguous sentences that Dr. Levine tends—and, indeed sometimes deliberately designs—to obscure the crucial issues and to refrain from historical objectivity. While it may be unfair to infer that to Professor Levine the peasant’s post-prandial sexual bout appears to be more important than the question of land-ownership, one must nonetheless remark that one is awe-struck by ” the observational techniques of participant behavior ” employed by the scholar to observe and record for history the exact time at which ” the Amhara peasant” fulfils his marital obligations.
Nevertheless the questions must be posed: Does the peasant own the land? If not, then exactly who? How many kinds of taxes does the peasant pay ? Who pays the tax in lieu of tithe—the peasant or the landlord? What percentage of his produce does the tenant hand over to the land-owner? Is there any kind of uniform ceiling regarding the land-rent which a landlord can exact from his tenant? What kind of legal and institutional relations exist between the tenant and the landlord ? Which party does the prevailing system favour? To Dr. Levine, such questions are apparently irrelevant. It cannot be said that questions such as these are outside the scope of Wax & Gold for the author claims that his book is a study of Amhara peasant society and culture. Any book which purports to be a study of Ethiopian peasant society and culture without delving into the problem of land ownership is not merely irrelevant; it is also obscurantist.
Since Dr. Levine fancies himself as the Protector of the Ethiopian peasantry, he concludes his rhetorical chapter on ” the Amhara peasant” with an emotion-charged denunciation of ” modernist Ethiopians ” and another ringing manifesto on the ” humanitarian ” philosophy of the peasant. (We need not be concerned with his denunciation of the ” modernist Ethiopians” for the simple reason that, by and large, their ” modernist views” cannot be taken seriously.) Professor Levine makes the commonplace observation that ” the peasant clings to traditional ways with unruffled tenacity ” and illustrates this ” tenacious traditionalism ” with a most touching incident. It turns out that a peasant—” an unusually open-minded ” one at that—was complaining about the dangers presented by a troublesome stream. Dr. Levine suggested to the peasant: “… if you can’t put up some kind of bridge, why do you not stretch a heavy rope across it so people can hold on to something and not be swept away?” The unusually open-minded peasant replied: ” That is a good idea, but we just do not do that sort of thing here.” (p. 86.)
The author assures us that the ” tenacious traditionalism ” of the peasant is not due ” to simple laziness ” but to ” a number of fundamental features in Amhara. peasant culture ” such as the following:
“… the concept of fate (eddil) which the Amhara invoke to account for the ups and downs of their lives . . . The peasant is discouraged from determined efforts to make changes in his environment because of the feeling that no matter what he does, God’s disposition is what really counts … In addition to feeling that innovation is ineffectual, the Amhara peasant tends to feel that it is immoral . . . Experimentation with matter was inhibited by the disdain for puttering about with one’s hands—doing anything, that is, similar to the activities of the socially dejected artisans and slaves . . . Experimentation with ideas was inhibited by the anti-intellectual cast of Amhara culture, which discredits the pursuit of ideas for their own sake . . . Another feature of Amhara culture that helps to account for the mental inertia of the peasantry is its emphasis on the value of deference and obedience to authority … ” (pp. 86-88.)
The passage has been quoted at length to indicate that what Dr. Levine has to say about the traditionalism of the peasant is anatomy, not analysis. He breaks up traditionalism into what he believes are its various forms: eddil (concept of fate); belief in the immorality of innovation and ineffectuality of innovation; disdain for manual experimentation; anti-intellectual cast of culture (inhibition against experimentation with ideas); and, deference and obedience to authority. But while this refined anatomy is admirable, it obscures the forceful role the prevailing system plays in maintaining traditionalism by assigning equal dynamic force and weight to all the so-called ” multiple-causes,” Indeed as C. Wright Mills observed in his Sociological Imagination, the multiplicity-of-causes technique used by bourgeois social scientists falls into the perspective of liberal practicality: “… for if everything is caused by innumerable ‘ factors,’ then we had best be very careful in any practical actions we undertake. We must deal with many details, and so it is advisable to proceed to reform this little piece and see what happens, before we reform that little piece too.” In effect, and as C. Wright Mills put it in his inimitable lucidity, the ‘ multiple-factor,’ the ‘ multiplicity-of-causes ‘ techniques, the impressive ‘ scientific ‘ methods of bourgeois social science ” do make it difficult to understand the structure of the status quo.” They are meant to do precisely that.
The various features in ” Amhara peasant culture which orient the peasantry against the introduction of novelty ” are natural by-products of the social system, the relation of domination and subordination. What is ‘ eddil,’ the concept of fate, the concept of the futility of man’s endeavour? Why is the peasant ” discouraged from making determined efforts to make change in his environment” ? Why does he feel that no matter what he does, God’s disposition is what really counts? Is this concept then, as Dr. Levine would have us believe, an objective thing called ” eddil” with its own dynamic force? If the reasoning behind ” eddil” is that God’s disposition is what really counts, where does the earthly representative of God, the Church, come vis-a-vis the peasant’s resignation? What is behind ” the feeling that innovation is ineffectual, that innovation is immoral “? Who sets the norms, the values, the laws of the society? Who decides, promulgates and preaches what is ineffectual and what is immoral? What about the taboo against “experimentation with matter”? Why are peasants discouraged from ” puttering with their hands”? Why are ” socially dejected artisans” not allowed to own land? Who decides on this specialization of labour, that clan A shall be a peasant clan and shall not ” putter with its hands ” and that clan B shall be an artisan clan and shall not own land? Tradition, yes. But who sets the tradition ?
To Dr. Levine, these are merely multiple ” features . . . which orient the peasantry against the introduction of novelty ” and that’s all there is to it. To be sure he notes en passant and, one may add, with his unfailing nonchalance for crucial issues, that ” the peasant has thus refrained from initiating changes because the prerogative of taking initiative is generally reserved to ecclesiastical and political authorities.” But Dr. Levine is simply building obscurantist walls of ” multiple causes ” for ” tenacious traditionalism.1′ What is most perplexing and curious about Dr. Levine’s argument is his intolerant insistence that the peasant is tradition-bound, his ” anatomy ” of traditionalism which seems to indicate that the system is more or less responsible for the peasant’s traditionalism, and his bizarre conclusion that in view of the peasant’s traditionalism, the modernist viewpoint is not only hysterical but sheer foolery.
Is the peasant then a hopeless traditionalist? Not exactly, says Dr. Levine: although the Amhara peasant is against the introduction of novelty, the view that the peasant is ” incorrigibly recalcitrant and reactionary is a rather shallow one.” (p. 92.) We are told that ” while the Amhara peasant is likely to resist the efforts of some unknown official from Addis Ababa to introduce change in his local environment, he does tend to follow the directives and imitate the example of the local authorities whom he knows …” Proof: ” Thus it is … that the eucalyptus tree—imported by Emperor Menelik, taken to the provinces by the nobles, and eventually planted by individual peasants—has come to dot the Amhara countryside.” (p. 88.)
Dr. Levine’s ” historical proof” is a brilliant guess-but a guess all the same. The introduction of the eucalyptus tree was more than a mere ” change in (the) local environment.” It solved one of the immemorial economic problems of the society. The destruction of forests and the subsequent acute shortage of wood was what necessitated the introduction of the eucalyptus tree. The picture of the nobles of Menelik galloping on horse-back to their provinces to ” introduce” the eucalyptus tree is admittedly romantic but it is a romantic figment. The eucalyptus tree was more than a change in the environment: it was, as it still is, a valuable form of property; it was, as it still is, used to build tukuls; it was, and it still is, used as firewood; it was, as it still is, a valuable commodity which can fetch a good price. What Dr. Levine’s example does show—if anything—is that the ruling class is no different from other ruling classes throughout the world; it is selectively receptive to those innovations which augment its wealth.
Dr. Levine warns us that “… the Amhara peasant will not imitate everything that is accepted by his traditional authorities. When a new custom strikes him as too outlandish his resistance can become adamant, as was abundantly demonstrated when the Court of Susneyos carried out its ill-fated conversion to Catholicism.” (p. 88.) But one suspects that what is being ” abundantly demonstrated” is not the peasant’s ” adamant resistance ” to change but, in point of fact. Dr. Levine’s own ” adamant resistance ” to see meaningful social change and modernism take place among the peasantry.
Having cited from his historical grab-bag all sorts of examples (a make-shift rope ‘ bridge,’ photography, Catholicism, eucalyptus trees, etc.) to prove that piecemeal reform—implemented, no doubt, in accordance with the directives issued by a Politburo of pragmatist social scientists—is the only kind of change acceptable to the peasant, Dr. Levine makes the observation that the peasant’s receptivity to change are based on two ” independent variables “:
The degree of acceptability of the agents of change; and,
The extent to which the proposed change is congruent with traditional beliefs and values.
” Independent variable No. 1 ” disqualifies the modern Ethiopian because the peasant ” regards Ethiopians who have been educated by Westerners as contaminated by alien norms and beliefs.” Apparently, the ” educated Ethiopians ” appear to the peasant ” as Ethiopians, but also as strangers—as black faranj— with their European clothes and their unorthodox eating and smoking habits. He (the peasant) tends to distrust their motives, to suspect them of being out to take advantage of him in some way.” (p. 90.) If the ” modern educated Ethiopian ” is decidedly out of the question as an agent of change, then who, indeed who? The answer is all too obvious: those who worship under the Idol of Pragmatism and Empirical Social Science. But there’s the rub: if the pragmatist social scientist is essentially a reactionary with a veneer of pragmatic varnish, how can we also have him as an agent of meaningful and thorough-going social change? Is it really, as Dr. Levine would have us believe, a question of ” the apparent contradiction “?
Giuseppe de Lampadusa saw through the screen of the ” apparent contradiction ” technique when he had one of the characters in his novel The Leopard say: ” If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” If Dr. Levine is not, in effect, saying that, then he has merely reversed the order: ” If you want things to change, things will have to stay as they are.”
But that is not all: Professor Levine is not to be satisfied with having ” things stay as they are.” He would like—indeed he exhorts—the ” modem educated Ethiopians ” to be reborn in the spit and image of the peasant. Dr. Levine admonishes the modern-educated Ethiopians for having heretical views and for being ” clearly out of touch with traditional Amhara mentality.” He urges them to seek ” alternatives to a purist, sentimental, and somewhat hysterical approach to politics,” and promises them that once they do so, ” they may find themselves nourished by contact, through personal communication, or through the medium of literature, with the ” cooler ‘ approach of the Amhara peasant.” (p. 93.) Redemption is theirs if the modern educated Ethiopians would only believe, behave and act like the peasant. And how does the peasant, who has gained Salvation, behave and act? What are his beliefs? Dr. Levine’s opus Sermon is precisely that:
“… (The Amhara peasant is cautious) about the intentions of others. He (the peasant) does not assume that others may be benevolently disposed toward him; he suspects that behind every protestation of admiration and fealty lurks some quest for personal advantage. He does not assume that superior social status entails superior moral worth. Wryly commenting on his ambivalence toward superiors toward whom he shows such deference, he describes his posture as one of ‘ bowing in front, and passing gas in the rear.’ In short, he is on guard at all times, coping with presumed selfishness and hypocrisy of others and pursuing his own interests in a very sober and manipulative way. (But) the Amhara peasant’s low estimate of man’s potential does not bring him to a position of rejecting man.

On the contrary man is accepted, with all his frailties, for what he is. The Amhara’s patterns of life are shaped, neither to overwhelm man with guilt for his shortcomings, nor to pressure him into personal or social reform, nor to deprive his worldly existence of all enjoyment and significance, but rather to accommodate human realities and transcendent values to one another in such, a way that neither is seriously compromised . . . The Amhara peasant’s outlook is both realistic and humanitarian. He does not expect political leaders to be morally pure, for he understands that all men are imperfect: saw yallam. He is not upset by the ‘ selfishness ‘ and ‘ insincerity ‘ of Realpolitik . . . because realpolitik is the stuff of his life … He seeks practical arrangements whereby human interests can be furthered and human conflicts can be contained.” (pp. 93-94.)
Professor Levine concludes his Sermon:
” In so far as this characteristic orientation of Amhara peasant culture comes to permeate the outlook of Ethiopia’s modernizers—and it has never been wholly absent—it may help to reduce the intensity of those unrealistic demands and inhumanitarian impulses which are endemic in a society in transition to modernity.” (p. 94.)
Dr. Levine’s idealization of the ” humanitarian ” and at the same time, ” realistic orientation ” of the peasan, cannot conceal the unpleasant fact that his ostensibly empirical study of the peasant has degenerated into a heady tract of a mountebank moralist. Stripped of all its double-talk and its seedy romanticism, he is simply asserting that cynicism, obsequiousness, inherent suspicious-ness and lack of confidence in fellow human beings are humanitarian values and that these ” virtues ” ought to permeate the outlook of ” Ethiopia’s modernizers.” All serious students of the peasant societies in the undeveloped countries—including the ones already quoted above—have come to the sobering conclusion that the main problem is the insecurity of the peasant and that the basic condition of modernization is to remedy the peasant’s lack of confidence in his fellow man (i.e. change the social system). We now have in Professor Levine a giddy moralist who exhorts ” Ethiopia’s modernizers ” and the modern-educated Ethiopians to imitate the peasant’s insecurity and lose confidence in their fellow human beings. The Ethiopian peasant seeks to survive by obsequiousness, cynicism, suspicious-ness and by ” bowing in front while passing gas in the rear.” To Dr. Levine this is humanitarian orientation at its best.
To put it simply, Dr. Levine’s sermon is based on a total moral bankruptcy which equates cynicism and opportunism with humanitarianism. There is underneath his cheap moralizing not merely a palpable hollowness, not merely an appalling, omnivorous amorality, but an abysmal cynicism as wilful as the ” purist ” dogmatism he tries to deride. Since Professor Levine has baptised cynicism, opportunism and all the unpleasant human weaknesses which thrive in a defective social system as humanitarian orientations, it is quite understandable that he should denounce those who would like to do away with these social ills as ” inhumanitarian.” One does not really need a dictionary of Newspeak to get one’s bearing in Professor Levine’s Utopia: all one has to do is simply use what students of logic call the Idiosyncratic Language.
As Professor Levine has subtitled his book ” Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture,” it is to be expected that he should address himself to the problem of the modern-educated Ethiopians. He has found that ” the foreign educated Ethiopians tend to become intellectually demoralized on returning home,” (p. 191) and that “… for most of them, coming home means a cessation of the most elementary intellectual functions other than those to perform their jobs.” (p. 192.) Frustration, according to Dr. Levine, ” is the central quality ” of the intellectuals. The new elites ” are intellectually aware of the traditional nature of their society but emotionally unprepared to cope with the tenacity of tradition or with the paucity of modern institutions and culture.” (ibid)
The few anonymous Ethiopian ” intellectuals ” who are quoted by Dr. Levine are indeed caricatures of tragicomedy: one intellectual expressed the frustration of his group, ” there is a wound, a boiling within each and every one of the returnees.” (p. 198.) Most of the ” intellectuals ” quoted in the book tend to show a consistent inclination for self-pity. They all inform Dr. Levine they are hopelessly frustrated, they wail about their lives, and wallow in maudlin self-pity. One or two utter words of unmitigated disgust. At any rate, it is distressing to note that the ” intellectuals ” quoted in the book—and one hopes Dr. Levine’s sample is not truly representative of the ” intellectuals ” of Ethiopia—have failed to discern, perhaps because of their intellectual dishonesty, that their so-called frustration is but a convenient cover for their own apathy.
There is no question that Dr. Levine has found the atmosphere of contemporary Ethiopian society as one which tends to smother the flickering intellectual awareness and consciousness of the new elites. But he has also been perceptive enough to see through a great deal of the sham of the ” intellectuals ” and intimates that they are no less morally guilty than the system itself for their banal existence. One of the most disturbing statements quoted by Dr. Levine is one which is attributed to a foreign-educated Ethiopian who says: “The ‘locals’ have as much right to live in the land as the returnees and as much duty to help the country. … I have no contempt for the ‘ locals,’ and some of them are my best friends.” (p. 211.) Dr. Levine cites this statement to indicate “the sympathy ” felt by some foreign-educated Ethiopians toward the locals, but one suspects he says so with tongue in cheek. All told, the ” intellectuals” quoted in Wax & Gold corns out as a seedy, silly lot living in the cloud-cuckoo land of self-imposed and desolate exile: ” young elites ” who, justifiably, if not fortunately, have become ” old elites ” without the benefit and joy of exhilarating youth.
According to Dr. Levine, the ” intelligentsia ” reacts to the ” situation of strain ” by four types of responses: opportunism, withdrawal, reformism and rebellion.
” Opportunism is the mode of adaptation in which the returnee’s commitment to modern goals and norms is eclipsed by his passion for status, power and income. Withdrawal is the solution of those who have retained their principles at the expense of being effectual in action. Reformism involves the attempt both to maintain principles and to be effective in action under the existing political order. Rebellion (is) the attempt … to be active in the pursuit of modern goals but in a spirit of basic alienation from the existing authorities.” (pp. 204-205.)
Professor Levine then proceeds to pass judgement (in terms of passing and failing marks) upon these four responses. (Table 14, p. 204.) He awards to ” Opportunism ” a minus mark (failure) in ” Commitment to modern values,” a plus mark (pass) in ” Acceptance of existing authorities,” and another plus (pass) in ” Activity.” The ” Withdrawal ” response receives a plus in ” Commitment to modern values,” but two minus marks in ” Acceptance of existing authorities ” and ” Activity.” Rebellion fails in ” Acceptance of existing authorities ” but passes in the other two categories. Reformism receives plus marks (pass) in all three categories. Thus, Reformism having received from Dr. Levine plus marks (i.e. 100%) in all categories comes out as the best possible type of response.
Professor Levine also presents a ” case study ” of a Western-educated Ethiopian (” Haile “) ” who went from a phase of Withdrawal to one of Reformism tinged with Opportunism.” The ” case study” covers the period from October 1958 to June 1960: “Haile” is depressed and frustrated at first and manifests all symptoms of the ” Withdrawal” response. Gradually, he takes more interest in his job, is less intolerant of inefficiency, etc., begins, so to speak, to ” see things ” and initiates little reforms in his office. He is promoted, he gets married to ” a simple, traditional sort of Ethiopian girl.” He lives in an ” old, poorly built structure that is falling apart,” but he even has a radio set at home, and ” he looks forward to the prospects of building a house on their own land sometime in the future. Meanwhile a baby is on the way. . . . The circle has come full swing. Haile talks proudly about his work, his family, and his country.” (pp. 206-207.)
Thus, in a matter of twenty months, the returnee changed his position or ” response ” from that of ” Withdrawal” to “Reformism.” It is all too obvious from the ” case study ” that the returnee has moved up from the level of a fresh, university graduate and joined the ranks of the lumpen-bourgeoisie; the class of government clerks and petty merchants and a class which stands to benefit from snail-pace reformism. As a pragmatist, Dr. Levine also believes in ever-so-cautious, tepid meliorism. But he assumes that what is most agreeable to his own turn of mind and which, co-incidentally, is also in the best interest of the petit-bourgeois, ought to be and, indeed, is in the best interest of Ethiopia. One doubts very much whether Professor Levine himself will consider his little paradigm of plus and minus marks as a scientific proof that atomized meliorism is the best means of attaining socio-economic progress.
Dr. Levine is of the opinion that ” the development of a self-respecting intelligentsia has been effectively restrained and its decisive ascendance as a new elite has been prevented.” (p. 216.) The ” paramount sociological problem in Ethiopia,” he adds ” in the coming decades concerns whether or not this pattern will break.” He feels two conditions are essential if the problem is to be solved:
” One is that the systematic, if unwitting, demoralization of the intellectuals will have to be ended. Some sphere would have to be created in which universalistic standards have full sway, in which a modernizing intelligentsia can maintain and develop standards and transmit them to younger elements.” (p. 216.)
” The other condition is that the intellectuals themselves will have to break out of their posture of defeatism and negativism.” (p. 217.) But Professor Levine doubts whether the intellectuals of Ethiopia are capable of breaking out ” of their posture of defeatism and negativism.” He observes that ” their behavior has been marked by a conspicuous absence of creative leadership and solidary action ” and suggests this is due to ” factors which are inhibitive of creative leadership.” (pp. 218-219.) According to Dr. Levine, the main factor inhibiting ” creative leadership ” is ” the posture of dependence ” peculiar to Ethiopians: a tendency which is ” endemic in traditional Amhara-Tigre culture.” He notes that the ” modern Abyssinians who exhibit it (posture of dependence) are following an inclination deeply rooted in the needs they have acquired and the culture they have internalized in their childhood ” (p. 219) and proceeds to suggest a psychoanalytic interpretation of this ” inhibitive factor.”


The late British historian Sir Lewis Namier is generally credited with having influenced historians to pay more than passing attention to the psychological aspects of the character and temper of historical personalities and epochs. Indeed such was his meticulous preoccupation with psycho-analytic concepts that an anonymous writer for The Times Literary Supplement accused him of taking mind out of history. The historian was stung by the remark to defend his position in a now-celebrated essay: Human nature and politics.
Sir Lewis conceded that ” history is primarily, and to a growing extent, made by man’s mind and nature, but his mind does not work with the rationality that was once deemed its noblest attribute—which does not, however, mean that it necessarily works any better.” He reiterated his conviction that one of the most important lines of advance for history will be through a knowledge of psychology. But, he warned, ” care is required in applying psychology. The unqualified practitioner must not be let loose, not even on the dead, and a mere smattering of psychology is likely to result in superficial, hasty judgments framed in a nauseating jargon.”
Unfortunately, the contemporary temper of scholarship is such that a swarm of pseudo-qualified or simply unqualified practitioners of Freudian hocus-pocus have been let loose not on the dead but on the living peoples of the non-Western world. It is hardly possible to find a social scientist who has not practiced a game or two of ” Freudian interpretation ” on the culture and society of a backward country. It is therefore understandable that Professor Levine too should allow himself the licence to indulge in this unfortunate pastime of bourgeois scholars. What is indeed pleasantly surprising—undoubtedly a measure of his basic integrity—is that he avoids the most wildly speculative Freudian mumbo-jumbo and limits his remarks to a thoughtful consideration of ” certain kinds of motivational orientation ” widely shared among Ethiopians by stressing some psycho-analytic concepts and insights, (p. 219.)
Coulbeaux, the late nineteenth-century Lazarist missionary, who was perplexed and. distressed by the peculiar Christianity of Ethiopians, consoled himself by reflecting that the Ethiopians, even though Christians were, after all, Abyssinians. It is as if to Coulbeaux, and to so many other observers like him, the word Abyssinian not merely implied but actually meant inherent contradiction. Or, as Perham was to put it about half a century later, ” the most violent contradictions are characteristically Ethiopian.”
One of the more penetrating, even if purposely tentative, chapters in Dr. Levine’s book is his section on the orality-fixation of Ethiopians. The paradoxical Ethiopian pendulum swinging from unspeakable cruelty to open-hearted generosity, from obsequiousness to haughty pride, from gluttony to asceticism can perhaps be better understood if seen from a perspective which resorts to Freudian insight. To Dr. Levine, the lack of confidence, the posture of dependence or the ” tendency to over-dependence ” exhibited by Ethiopians is ” a tendency endemic in traditional Amhara-Tigre culture.” Put briefly, Dr. Levine expounds his incisive thesis of Abyssinian over-dependence by observing that ” in Amhara action or fantasy the social modality of getting’ figures very prominently,” a prominence which reflects a fixation of libido on the oral zone. He suggests the Abyssinian preoccupation with orality is manifest in three kinds of phenomena: oral erotism, oral sadism and oral ambivalence.
The permissive and over-extended custom of breastfeeding from two to three years and the abrupt weaning marks permanently the Abyssinian child who ” is nostalgic forever after for the warmth and security of his earliest years, a condition vividly associated with the experience of sucking at the breast.” (p. 221.) Dr. Levine relates this association of emotional security with breast feeding to the widely-practiced institution of ” breast father ” in which an adult renounces—at least symbolically—his parentage and tries to achieve material and emotional security by becoming the ” breast child ” of an important and superior personality. The Ethiopian compulsion to kiss friends, relatives, strangers, books, food, buildings or simply the ground, can, of course, be taken as a form of oral-erotism, (p. 222.) The notorious gluttony of Ethiopians or, as Dr. Levine puts it in one of his rare understatements, ” eating and drinking for their own sake, beyond what is required for nutrition,” is the most obvious form of oral erotism, (p. 224.)
I believe it was Cervantes who said it was hunger that drives a man to reproduce himself, the hunger for bread changing into a hunger for love, life, survival. To the Ethiopian, hunger or tchigar or rahab (one says it with a quick, biting movement of the mouth as if one wants to bite hunger itself) is a real terror; food, unlimited food, is a means of warding off the terror of physical hunger which is also a hunger for life, for love, for security. Sarto mablat (having worked, to eat) does not merely imply, as Dr. Levine points out rightly, a sense of independence; it also implies ” a constant preoccupation with the need to eat.” All social occasions are reduced to eating; social activities are referred to in terms of eating or drinking, (p. 224.) One does not receive a bribe, one ” eats bribe “; if one is in a loving mood, one refers to the loved one in terms of one’s stomach. The stomach is not merely the seat of security, it is also the seat of love, the seat of wisdom. Patriotism too, it seems, is explained in terms of eating. Addis Zaman interviewed recently an elderly gentleman to solicit his opinion on the issue of Djibouti. His reply was classic: ” She (Ethiopia) has fed me; she has reared me, she has fed me raw meat; for such a country, for such a land where I have poured (drunk?) tej as if it is water—I am ready to die!” (Addis Zaman, 23 September 1966). State banquets, taskars, religious obligations (feeding the poor), fasting (denial of food being the highest sacrifice), and gluttony are not unrelated phenomena. They indicate as Dr. Levine argues convincingly, ” Abyssinian preoccupation with orality.”
Although Professor Levine uses the orthodox Freudian term ” oral character,” it seems he does not adhere to the mechanistic Freudian dogma which holds that character is formed for good during the first five years of infancy. Indeed the few references he makes to the ‘ welfare ‘ atmosphere of government schools, etc., would suggest that he uses a psycho-analytic approach while accepting the neo-Freudian concept that cultural and environmental factors play a large part in determining a basic personality structure. Leaving aside the purely academic argument between Freudians and neo-Freudians (although it is hardly possible to label Erich Fromm, Helen Horney, et al., as neo-Freudians) and given the paucity of material at hand, can we say, even if tentatively, that the Abyssinian method of child-rearing plus the Abyssinian cultural environment produce an Abyssinian with marked tendencies for orality-fixation or, to use Fromm’s term, receptive orientation? Dr. Levine’s masterly presentation of the Abyssinian child-rearing system and of the preoccupation with feasting and fasting, with its attendant psychological ramifications, does indicate their over-dependent and receptive orientation. Such a tentative conclusion or, rather, an assumption, brings us to the question of nature versus nurture or, as the British psychologist J. A. C. Brown put it: “does the hen (culture) come from the egg (childhood) or the egg from the hen?” The orthodox psycho-analysts believe the egg (childhood) has the answer; social scientists prefer the hen. Some social scientists opt for both the egg and the hen, but such a position, according to J. A. C. Brown, ” is tantamount to saying half a hen lays an egg, from that egg we get the other half of the hen.” (Freud and the Post-Freudians.)
To Erich Fromm, this question ” is not as difficult to answer as it may seem at first glance.” (Beyond the Chains of Illusion.) He argues that we must differentiate between ” the factors which are responsible for the particular contents of the social character and the method by which the social character is produced.” That is to say, the structure of society and the function of the individual in the social structure may be considered to determine the contents of the social character while ” the family may be considered to be the psychic agency of society, the institution which has the function of transmitting the requirements of society to the growing child.” From this perspective, Fromm has developed the concept of social character as opposed to the Freudian concept of character as a manifestation of various features of libidinal strivings. Fromm’s concept of social character refers ” to the matrix of the character structure common to a group … (a) particular structure of psychic energy which is moulded by any given society so as to be useful for the functioning of that particular society.” (Socialist Humanism, ed. by Erich Fromm.)
Hence, a given social structure in a given specific historical period will produce its social character: “A member of a primitive people living from assaulting and robbing other tribes, must have the character of a warrior, with a passion for war, killing, and robbing. The members of a peaceful, agricultural tribe must have an inclination for co-operation as against violence. Feudal society functions well only if its members have a striving for submission to authority, and respect and admiration for those who are their superiors.” And this social character, according to Fromm, ” is reinforced by all the instruments of influence available to a society: its educational system, its religion, its literature, its songs, its jokes, its customs, and most of all, its parents’ method of bringing up their children.”
One is compelled to stress the important role of social structure in character formation because Dr. Levine tends to minimize its importance by focusing on libidinal fixation: a feudal system happens to be the habitat of over-dependent and receptive-orientated people. Dr. Levine’s observation that modern-educated Ethiopians, ” by tending to relate to their environment in a passive-receptive mode of getting, in an active sadistic mode akin to infantile petulance, or in a state of guilt and anxiety concerning elementary gratification . . . follow a type of adjustment which is inadequate to the challenge of the present situation ” is all too obvious, (p. 237.) But the weakness of psycho-analytic theory lies precisely therein: awareness of libidinal strivings and anxieties may have its value in psycho-therapy for the individual; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for society. Indeed, the application of psycho-analytic concepts to political theory merely serves to obscure the defects of any given social structure by focusing on the psychological anxieties of individuals. Freud’s influence on political theory, as a writer for The Times Literary Supplement observed rightly in a recent article, ” unacknowledged though it is, has been to reinforce conservatism and discourage reform.” (October 28, 1965.)
In a sense, the revolt against orthodox Freudian theory was motivated by an awareness of its potentially dire social consequences. The left-wing neo-Freudians hold that Freud’s interpretation of the individual in terms of primary instincts is mechanistic, that it is based on questionable biological assumptions and that it ignores the individual’s social and cultural background. They have tried to ” shift the emphasis from the past to the present, from the biological to the cultural level, from the constitution of the individual to his environment.” (Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization?) But the neo-Freudian psycho-analytic theory of society is also based on dubious premises. Whereas Freud was primarily interested in helping a sick individual adjust to a sick civilization, the neo-Freudians insist they can cure sick societies by a dash of psycho-analysis, ethics and pseudo-ideology. However, their criticism of society is usually nothing more than spurious moralizing.
As Herbert Marcuse put it bluntly in his Eros and Civilization: the philosophy of even the left-wing neo-Freudians ” is achieved by directing the criticism against surface phenomena while accepting the basic premises of the criticized society.” To the revisionist, adds Marcuse, ” the brute fact of societal repression has transformed itself into a ‘ moral problem ‘—as it has done in the conformist philosophy of all ages. And as the clinical fact of neurosis becomes ‘ in the last analysis, a symptom of moral failure,’ the ‘ psycho-analytic cure of the soul ‘ becomes education in the attainment of a ‘ religious’ attitude.”
It is this proclivity to confuse internalized ethics with ideology and reality which moves Dr. Levine to transform each and every problem, be it political or social, into a moral or ethical problem. Thus, he finds that the type of adjustment followed by modern-educated Ethiopians ” is inadequate to the challenge of their present situation.” From this he concludes: ” the search for leadership in Ethiopia today is partly a search for new ego ideals. It is a search for persons and images embodying a more productive and procreative type of orientation, capable of inspiring a creative minority of Ethiopians to build on, not abandon orality, and to move beyond.” (p. 237.) Dr. Levine is also convinced the intellectuals of Ethiopia ” will get nowhere unless their ranks produce fewer ‘ escapees ‘ and more ‘ moral heroes.’ ” (p. 217.)
Thus we are given the prescription which will solve the immemorial problems of Ethiopia: “… fewer’ escapees,’ more ‘ moral heroes,’ ” and ” new ego ideals.” The political, social and economic ills of the country are thereby transformed into moral and psychological problems. If Dr. Levine has found the mode of adjustment of the modern-educated Ethiopians unsatisfactory and if this archaic mode of adjustment is due, as he argues, to their orality-fixation, where will Ethiopia find a creative leadership with new ego-ideals? Where indeed will Ethiopia find ” persons and images embodying a more productive and procreative type of orientation, capable of inspiring a creative minority of Ethiopians to build on, not abandon orality, and to move beyond “? Apparently, it is in anticipation of such questions that Dr. Levine feels constrained to assure his readers that ” it is not necessary for a very large number of Amhara to change their orientations in this regard for creative leadership to be effective.” (p. 236.) And how will the ” creative minority ” change its archaic orientation and embody ” new ego ideals “? Will it have to undergo a group psycho-therapy? Professor Levine does not answer; he evades the question and perhaps it was his wisest course to do so.
What Dr. Levine is, in effect, recommending is that ” the minority of Amhara and other Ethiopians who are in a position to introduce constructive change ” should have ” new ego ideals . . . embodying a more productive and procreative type of orientation …” Once this is attained Ethiopia will have solved all its problems. There is nothing structurally wrong with Ethiopia, the social system need not be corrected, land reform need not be instituted, the education system need not be revamped, administrative reforms need not be introduced: produce a creative minority with new ego ideals and the minority will introduce constructive change by building on, but not abandoning orality. And who will inject this creative minority with new ego ideals and who will train or help the creative minority ” to build on, not abandon orality and to move beyond ” ? The answer is again left implicit. It was in response to this kind of shoddy moralizing and quack psycho-analytic prescription that a critic was moved to label such ” scientists ” as ” physicians of the soul, midwifes to the soul of man.” (Harry K. Wells, The Failure of Psycho-analysis.) Isn’t Professor Levine assuming for himself the role of midwife to a new Abyssinian soul?


Professor Levine is a former student and devoted admirer of the late Robert Redfield. He has duly tried to reflect the methodological approach perfected by his mentor: ”. … as the reader of Robert Redfield’s methodological handbook, The Little Community, will readily appreciate. I have sought to organize these materials in terms of half a dozen of the more common viewpoints used in the study of human communities.” (p. viii.) if one can take the viewpoints and interests expressed in his books as somewhat indicative of his own personal philosophy or approach to life, it can probably be safely assumed that Robert Redfield was a gentle and kind human being not only because life had treated him well but also because he was too much of a gentleman-idealist: he idyllized folk society and peasant culture and was incapable of seeing other than the ‘ self-contained ‘ and ‘ happy ‘ side of the life of peasants.
Seventeen years after Redfield had published his pioneering study, Tepoztlan—A Mexican Village, another American anthropologist, Oscar Lewis, visited the same village to examine and analyse the changes which had occurred in the intervening years. Oscar Lewis was flabbergasted by what he actually found in the village as opposed to what Redfield’s book had led him to expect. As he put in in his own study of Tepoztlan, Life in a Mexican Village: “The impression given by Redfield’s study of Tepoztlan is that of a relatively homogeneous, isolated, smoothly functioning, and well-integrated society made up of a contented and well-adjusted people. His picture of the village has a Rousseauan quality which glosses lightly over evidence of violence, disruption, cruelty, disease, suffering, and maladjustment. We are told little of poverty, economic problems, or political schisms. Throughout his study we find an emphasis upon the co-operative and unifying factors in Tepoztecan society.” On the other hand, added Lewis, his own findings ” would emphasize the underlying individualism of Tepoztecan institutions and character, the lack of cooperation, the tensions between villages in the municipio, the schisms within the village, and the pervading quality of fear, envy, and distrust in inter-persona! relations.”
Redfield accepted the criticisms with grace and took note of them in his famous methodological handbook, The Little Community: “(The) summary characterizations of the effects of the two books seem to me, on the whole, just. The two accounts of the same community do give these contrasting impressions: the one of harmony and a good life; the other of a life burdened with suffering and torn with dissension and corroding passion.” Redfield admitted with a surprising candour that the difference between his study and that of Lewis was to be found in the difference between their respective interests:
” There are hidden questions behind the two books that have been written about Tepoztlan. The hidden question behind my book is, ‘ what do these people enjoy? ‘ The hidden question behind Dr. Lewis’s book is ‘ what do these people suffer from? ‘ ” He felt that such differences arising from the personal factor could be corrected and suggested ” the possibility of combining two contrasting viewpoints into a combined viewpoint of the protean and unattainable absolute reality. I think we may well conceive of the process by which understanding of the human wholes in advanced as a kind of dialectic of viewpoint, a dialogue of characterizations. ‘ This,’ but on the other hand ‘ that,’ is the orderly swing of the mind toward truth.”
Dr. Levine utilizes Redfield’s ” ‘this ‘-but-on-the-other-hand-‘ that'” technique; an approach which gives some balance and perspicacity to his book although it tends to make him sound assiduously perplexing. Thus, he finds that the ” wax-and-gold mentality ” is incompatible with the demands of the contemporary world and yet, at the same time, he argues that the ” wax-and-gold mentality ” should also be regarded as a ” beneficial agent.” He states that the modern-educated Ethiopians have not been able to provide creative leadership and argues this is partly due to their orality-syndrome. Yet, he suggests that what they should do is ” not abandon orality, but move beyond.” One could go on citing his ” ‘ this,’ but on the other hand, ‘ that’ ” observations and arguments. Leaving aside the question of this sophisticated methodology which appears at times, at least to a layman like the present writer, as a convenient technique for formalistic judiciousness in the abstract, what insights do we gain from Professor Levine’s study of ” Amhara life as a combination of opposite ” ?
The chapter on ” Individualism and Social Progress ” is the most thoughtful, pertinent and incisive section in Dr. Levine’s book. He achieves trenchancy by clarifying individualism ” in terms of three different usages of the concept: individualism as a psychological disposition, as a mode of social organization, and as a cultural value.” (p. 241.) He examines first the degree of individualistic disposition in terms of two measures: “the extent to which individuals are attached to collective symbols and interests, and the extent to which interpersonal relations take non-solidaristic forms.”
Professor Levine observes there is solidarism in the realm of religious affiliation and territorial-linguistic groups. But, he notes, ” these attachments are of relatively little import in shaping a self-transcending orientation in the day to day activities …” (p. 242.) He finds community sentiment non-existent except in times of crisis such as in connection with the pursuit of outlaws, (pp. 242-243.) On the question of egoism, Dr. Levine clarifies the complex problem by distinguishing between stylized social behaviour and fundamental communication. He discerns correctly that Abyssinian social behaviour is not egoistic on superficial levels of interaction (e.g. hospitality) whereas egoism prevails ” in the more fundamental areas of work and serious communication.” (p. 247.) Argumentation, litigation, insulting, and revenge ” comprise the hard core of social interaction,” while deception and suspicion are character traits of the individualistic disposition, (p. 250.)
The blight of Ethiopia’s social order has always been horizontal individualism and vertical solidarity. Be it in the political, military or ecclesiastic order, we find the phenomenon of lateral individualistic-egoism and vertical solidarity. Dr. Levine gets to the heart of the matter by his acute observation that given the weakness of horizontal forms of cohesion, ” the dispositions which sustain a minimum of social order . . . are expressed through vertical hierarchical forms of interaction.” (p. 253.) And it is in this ” vertical-hierarchical” cohesion that we find both individualistic (authoritarian relationships) and solidaristic (deference, begging) forms of interaction, (ibid.)
Having analysed various forms of interaction, Dr. Levine comes to the conclusion that the primary psychological disposition of Abyssinians, with regard to individualism, ” (is) to structure interaction in terms of self-assertion, dissension, and distrust, and to be indifferent to the concept of civil community. At the same time this egoistic orientation is blended with a warm and kindly sense of sociability, an occasional mood of generosity, and a refined sensibility regarding differences in status and the readiness to pay deference accordingly.” (p. 256.) With respect to individualism as a mode of social organization and as a cultural value, Professor Levine is of the opinion that the society ” gives relatively wide rein to individual impulse in action.” (p. 266.) But, he adds, this should not be taken to mean that individuality is recognized and respected: “(the) culture places little value on the moral worth of the individual as such, in that—with the limited exception of poetry—it does not encourage the development and expression of a distinctive and authentic self.” (p. 271.)
Thus, since the tendency in human relations ” is a disposition to seek, not unity based on affection, understanding, and/or responsibility, but disunity based on the assertion of personal claims,” the organization of Abyssinian society relies on a ” highly personal relationship between superior and subordinate, with the subordinate existing essentially as an extension of the ego of the superior.” (pp. 273-274.) This results in a ” domination (which is) virtually unlimited,” a system wherein. ” the main social restraints are in the form of repressive obligations.” Hence, the social order is individualistic in so far as horizontal social obligations are concerned but solidaristic in the form of vertical, repressive obligations. Professor Levine’s thesis on Abyssinian individualism and solidarity is not merely perceptive; it is a brilliant analysis, sui generis. A cursory glance at the history of Ethiopia will confirm that the leaven of Abyssinian social order has always been vertical, repressive obligation. In times of stress and crisis when vertical repression has been weakened or is almost non-existent, the horizontal individualism of the people has always results in anomiek not to say anarchy. Emperor Tewodros who, despite his impetuous self and despite his actions, knew how to read the soul of his people, was keenly aware of the peculiar psychological orientation of his subjects. According to Rassam, Tewodros told one visitor that ” he found out before he had been many years on the throne that the Abyssinians were not capable of appreciating good government; they preferred the opposite and, therefore, he had resolved to rule them henceforward according to their liking. He had tried to introduce modern reforms and to root out barbarous practices, but his people preferred misrule and rebelled against him. ‘ I am now determined to follow them into every corner and shall send their bodies to the grave and their souls to hell,’ ” We can also see how the horizontal-individualism of the social order succumbed to anomie and anarchy when Tewodros was in a very much weakened political and military position prior to the Battle of Magdala. Tewodros again showed his incredible insight into the psychology of his people in the cri de coeur he uttered just before he shot himself: ” O, people of Abyssinia, will it always be thus that you flee before the enemy when I myself, by the power of God, go not forth with you to encourage you.”
These words of Tewodros cannot be dismissed as the bitter words of a betrayed and broken-down man. Wittingly or not, he pinpointed the weakness of the social order: the people are loyal and disciplined only in so far as their leader is physically present amongst them and in so far as he continues to possess the strongest military force and political power. The solidarity and cohesive-ness of the vertical-repressive obligation is not attained by the submergence of the ego of the individualistic Abyssinian. Rather, the soldier or the peasant identifies himself or his ego with that of the admired leader. But once the leader is vanquished, either militarily or politically, the allegiance of the ego is automatically transferred to the victor or the new leader. As Professor Levine puts it succinctly: in participating in the cult of the individual, the Abyssinian is ” not submerging his ego for the sake of broader realities but reasserting his ego through identification with the celebrated personality.” (p. 274.) It is said that Bismarck hailed the Roumanians not as a nationality but as a profession; one can easily imagine what he would have said of Ethiopians. Although Professor Levine suggests that Abyssinian individualism (with its concomitant traits of suspicion and deception) is one of the obstacles hampering solidary action among modern-educated Ethiopians, he is far too sophisticated to blame individualism as the culprit-trait fettering Ethiopia in its ponderous attempts to modernize its archaic system. Excessive individualism and deficient communal solidarity is, of course, by no means peculiar to Ethiopia. The Spanish people, for example, are noted for their uncompromising individualism. One Spanish intellectual has described individualism as malignidad hispana (Spanish malignancy or maliciousness).
But what needs be stressed here is that psychological orientations and their potential impact on the historical evolution of social structures should be viewed with a sense of proportion. This is all the more imperative as the fad of psychologism, so prevalent in most of the universities of the Western world, is wielded to ” explain ” (though one should really say ” explain away “) in terms of psychological concepts the ” failure ” of a ” democratic government ” in such and such a country or the economic backwardness of a certain region. A classic example of such, kind of psychologism is a recently published hook—Dictatorship in Spanish America, ed. H. M. Hamill, Jr.—which tries to explain that the prevalence of dictatorships in South America is due to Spanish individualism. Don Kurzman, a veteran journalist familiar with the problems of undeveloped countries, reviewing the book in The Washington Post (Sept. 1, 1966) was moved to observe: “the explanation lies perhaps less in ethnic character than in social and economic stagnancy, a factor barely mentioned by the learned contributors to this book.” In a way, psychologism is a sad commentary on the intellectual integrity of Western bourgeois scholars; they scoff at Marxism as simple-minded and mechanistic and yet they do not find it simple-minded at all when they themselves apply simplistic psychologism to explain historical phenomena.
It is clear from the foregoing that Professor Levine has written a profound and challenging book on the problem of tradition and innovation in Ethiopia. It is profound in the sense that he has raised a number of interesting questions and tried to assess their potential impact on the presumed modernization pangs of Ethiopia. Its challenge also lies therein: are the issues broached by Dr. Levine substantive problems that demand the immediate attention of those who are supposed to guide the destiny of the nation? Or, are they superficial questions based on surface observations and, therefore, suggesting merely symptomatic treatment?
Given the paucity, to say the least, of facts and data on Ethiopia, it is understandable that so little is known with, certainty and, consequently, conjecture is at once attractive and even unavoidable. It is thus not very disappointing that Dr. Levine fails to emerge as a dependable guide in tracing out the somewhat amorphous social structure. Nonetheless, one wonders how one can even begin to study the problem of tradition and innovation in Ethiopia without a trenchant analysis of the social structure and a meaningful inquiry into the historically significant social institutions. Dr. Levine is, of course, quite right in raising questions concerning the psychological motivations and orientations of the people for these too are important questions. But, will the consciousness of the people and their psychological orientations be understandable if one does not examine them within the framework of ” the principle of historical specificity “? One can accept the psychological interpretations and psycho-analytic concepts submitted by the author as pertinent and meaningful provided one accepts his implicit assumption: namely, it is not life that determines consciousness but consciousness that determines life— a negation of the well-known Marxist notion.
The belief that awareness of psychological orientations can correct the congenital social ills of a basically defective society also leads Dr. Levine to a number of unconvincing conclusions. While it cannot be denied that he has done some valuable research, he has fallen victim to unexamined, or inadequately examined, assumptions and ‘ ideal-type ‘ classifications. The illusions which this cavalier approach engenders naturally lead him to propensities to write off large issues with absurdly brief but only half-true assertions. Thus we are told that ” the search for leadership in Ethiopia today is partly a search for new ego ideals.” (p. 237.) But do such facile observations leave us any wiser? Professor Levine’s obviously great learning in the dark, shallow recesses of the psyche is possibly relevant to the psychoses of modern man in Western society. But is it really relevant, at this time and period, to the socio-economic problems of Ethiopia?
The instinctive antipathy and bitterness of spirit which Dr. Levine manifests towards ” hysterical ” and ” immature ” radicals—although it is doubtful whether serious ” radicals” worth mentioning exist at all in Ethiopia—is perhaps attributable to the manner m which he reaches conclusions. The opinions and. suggestions which he feels constrained to express are based not on the social realities of Ethiopia but on his own ethnocentric bias and class prejudice. Within the American political spectrum, Dr. Levine sees himself, apparently, as a member of the ” pragmatist” and ” liberal ” camp, and he has simply assumed that his brand of political philosophy should also be good enough for Ethiopia.
Liberalism, in essense, is bourgeois common sense based on the smug opinion that contemporary society is basically sound and that whatever minor shortcomings may there exist can be corrected through good-natured co-operation between sensible voters and responsive leadership. Unfortunately, the intolerant insistence that this bourgeois common sense is the only sensible solution to the myriad problems of the undeveloped countries is not merely an absurd tautology; it is a gratuitous insult to the intelligence of the peoples of the non-Western world. It is indeed most extraordinary that Dr. Levine, who has a keen mind endowed by nature and cultivated by study, should be in many ways so incapable of discerning the intrinsic relationship between the nature of the social structure and the pace and quality of modernization. Injecting new ego ideals, so to speak, into the moribund systems of the undeveloped countries cannot bring about modernization; it will, at best, prolong their agonies of death. Like it or not, we have to face the bitter truth of out era, and that being: in the undeveloped countries of the world, the scrape of Nero’s fiddle is by no means inaudible.
Chaadaev, one of the leading intellectuals of nineteenth-century Russia, wrote of what he thought was the destiny of his country: ” We belong to the number of nations who do not enter into the framework of mankind and exist only in order to give the world some serious lesson,” The irony of these bitter words is that Chaadaev would not have turned out to be such a false prophet had he but let his eyes wander to some of the older nations in the Southern Hemisphere.
In so far as the problem of modernization is concerned, Dr. Levine’s Wax & Gold is a little bit more than disappointing; it is an obscurantist piece of work. Indeed those who are acquainted with Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, or Dumont’s False Start in Africa, or Baran’s The Political Economy of Growth, will find Dr. Levine’s claim that he has studied the modernization problems of Ethiopia as downright blasphemous. His rhetoric on the imperative need for moderation, on the blessings of traditionalism and his dour warnings about the disruptiveness of uncompromising social change clearly show that Dr. Levine is not really a neutral scholar of tradition and innovation; he is a medium; he reflects not only the prejudices and smugness of bourgeois social science but also those of bourgeois society. He is blessed, however, with a talent to express the most priggish, sentiments—and, at times, even sheer humbug— in genteel, good-humoured and self-effacing double talk and thus manages to have the most stilted reactionary dogmatism sound as a perfectly sensible, progressive idea. Professor Levine informs us that he has permitted himself ” to linger awhile with certain questions ” (such as the nature of ambiguity or the concept of individualism) that are ” beyond aesthetic interest and practical concern “—questions representing the ” intrusion of a purely intellectual impulse.” (p. ix.) Indeed, he adds, ” the chief message ” he ” would wish to convey to those now shaping the fate of developing nations ” is the need for ” this type of (intellectual) digression ” and ” the cultivation of those faculties of ‘ sociological imagination ‘ and ‘ sociological sensibility.’ ” {ibid.) Since the ” message ” is directed to ” those now shaping the fate of the developing nations,” it would have been, ordinarily, more than presumptuous for one who happens to be a bemused spectator of his own fate being shaped by others to comment on either the aesthetic, practical, or intellectual implications of the message. But given that what is at stake is one’s own fate, one might be excused if one were to say that Dr. Levine’s Wax & Gold is ” beyond practical concern ” and truly conceived out of a ” purely aesthetic and intellectual impulse.”
Dr. Levine also believes that he has raised ” questions and . . . issues in public which heretofore have been politely overlooked or furtively concealed:” And, he adds, ” to readers who may be offended by parts of this book which may seem critical, 1 can only say that to be modern means—for all of us—to be joined to a worldwide dialogue about the limitations and potentialities of human experience.” (pp. ix-x.) Although, it is not possible to agree with. Dr. Levine that he has raised problems which have been ” politely overlooked or furtively concealed,” one still hopes that the present review of his book has been written with that spirit of dialogue in mind. And if, at times, a tone of bitterness tends to creep into some of the remarks, one can only say that to be modern also implies the capacity to feel passionately, the capacity to be committed to the cause of human progress even, if need be, and most times it is, at the expense of obscurantist traditionalism. As has been observed by progressive social thinkers, traditionalism sanctions the present by deriving it from the past while empiricism, the ” scientific ” hand-maiden of traditionalism, shackles the future by riveting it to the present.
Be that as it may, there can be no question that Professor Levine is a scholar with genuine affection for Ethiopians and their country. As he himself put it in an evocative passage, “… in a setting of great natural beauty and a climate often called ‘idyllic,’ it (Ethiopia offers a gate through time to a state of being that is really medieval. Such sights and sounds: A minstrel singing his subtle lyrics as he bows a one-stringed fiddle; in the dark interiors of church, barefoot deacons holding beeswax candles and swinging vessels of smoking incense; the pomp of a nobleman moving cross-country with his crowded entourage; a young girl washing the feet of her father’s guest …” (pp. vii-viii.) Clearly, he is a gentleman of refined aesthetic sensibilities with unquestionable nostalgic love and goodwill for traditional Ethiopia. As such, even those Ethiopians who do not share his philosophy will be disposed to reciprocate his good will. But while they do so, and as Dr. Levine indulges his poetic muse on the enchanting medieval scenes of Ethiopia, they will continue to strive for a new dawn:
” Brothers, this dawn is yours, this dawn at earth’s level is your last dawn, And you are bedded on it, Brothers, this dawn is ours over this gulf of sorrow! ” (from Paul Eluard’s Bury and be Silent.)
* Donald N. Levine: Wax & Gold. The University of Chicago Press. U.S.
1 Matsumura Yutaka—Japan’s economic growth, Tokyo News Service, 1961, p. 78.

The Franco-Ethiopian Railway and Its History



The idea of constructing a railway to link the Ethiopian capital with the coast appears to have been first conceived by Menelik’s Swiss adviser, Alfred Ilg, who had first arrived in Ethiopia in 1877. Having on that occasion taken no less than seven months to make the 700 kilometre journey from the coast to the then capital of Ankober he was fully aware of the inconvenience of mule transport, the high costs of which greatly hindered trade in low priced commodities, such as coffee, skins and wax, which constituted the bulk of Ethiopia’s exports. Traders at this time often took about six weeks on the journey which was almost inevitably accompanied by considerable stealing as it was very difficult adequately to supervise the muleteers.1

" The conception of the railway," writes llg’s biographer, Conrad Keller, " preoccupied him all the time. He tried to interest the King of Shoa in the project, prepared an attractive model with rails, locomotives and carriages, but met with but moderate approval. The King was not well disposed towards the idea. He remembered from his youth that in the fight against Theodore the English had made the task of pushing forward troops, munitions and provisions easier by building a small strategic railway from the coast. The King had once recognised that the project was some-what dangerous, that much had to be considered before it could be allowed to go forward and that it was therefore best to reject it. Furthermore the railway could never have been built without the approval of the Emperor Yohannes which in Menelik’s opinion could never be obtained."2

The French traveller, Paul Soleillet, also appears to have canvassed the idea of building a railway between Qbok and Ankober, while his compatriot, the trader Savoure, is said to have had similar ideas, Menelik however, seemed willing to grant the necessary permission the project was soon abandoned.3

Discussion of the proposed railway was therefore broken off, and was not resumed until after Menelik’s coronation in the autumn of 1889. On December 6 the Emperor sent a message through the French trader Savoure to President Carnot of France expressing his desire to have a railway constructed through Harar to the coast. The idea, however, made but slow progress. On February 11, 1893, however, Ilg obtained a written decree from Menelik officially empowering him to study the project and set up a company.4 On receipt of this all important document Ilg at once turned for assistance to his friend the Frenchman, Leon Chefneux, who had been active in the country since 1882 and had won the Emperor’s favour, being appointed, Ernest Work says, Ethiopian " Consul-General for all Europe."5 Chefneux, who was destined to become more and more the controlling force in the project, was persuaded to go to Europe in quest of the necessary capital.

The plan was to start the railway from the coast and to push inland bringing in supplies as the line advanced. Jibuti was considered more suitable than any other port on the Horn of Africa. Zeila was rejected as it was under the control of the British who were regarded as not being well disposed ; the port had moreover no decent harbour. Berbera, which was also under the British, possessed a spacious harbour, but was too far from Addis Ababa. Jibuti had a small trading population, but possessed plenty of good water and an excellent harbour, and had the additional advantage that the French were believed not to have any ambitions of expanding inland.6

Moreover it should not be forgotten that Chefneux was himself a Frenchman and Ilg a confirmed friend of France.

Chefneux soon aroused sufficient interest among French capitalists to make it necessary to apply for a definite concession from Menelik. Ilg describing this stage of the proceedings in a private letter records :

Despite the Emperor’s desire for a railway it was no easy task to persuade him not only of the usefulness, but also of the necessity of his financial participation in our project, to move him to shoulder a part of the financial responsibility and to overcome the suspicions which were expressed by a few of the nobles. Narrow-minded, short-sighted Europeans, envy and political jealousy played their part in the negotiations. I often felt like throwing up the sponge, the more so as I had no illusions that the greatest difficulties would begin with the construction work. I persevered, however, in an unequal struggle because of my firm belief in the feasibility of the scheme and my equally strong conviction that only through a better and quicker connection with the coast would it become possible for Abyssinia to appropriate the blessings of European civilisation and thereby preserve her independence. After countless negotiations in which each point of the concession was debated in the greatest detail, I finally obtained the concession on March 9, 1894, from the Emperor Menelik’s own hands."7

De Coppet, describing this event, claims that the Emperor was at this time especially favourably disposed to Ilg on account of the latter’s success in installing the piped water system in the Addis Ababa palace, an operation which evoked great admiration.8

The Italian merchant Felter, who was something of a gossip, gives yet another explanation for the granting of the concession. He told Ferdinando Martini, the governor of Eritrea, that in his opinion the Emperor had been motivated more by scientific interest in the railway and love of novelty than by any belief in the economic advantage of the new means of transport.9

(The Emperor’s love of inventions was of course renowned, and forms the subject of a separate article by the present author: see Presence Africaine No. 41).

The Menelik-Ilg Concession of 1894

The Emperor’s Concession of March 9, 1894, which was granted to Ilg personally, authorised him to establish a Company to build and operate a railway from Jibuti through Harar and Entoto to the White Nile. This Company was to be allowed 99-year monopolies over the three stretches of line involved and arrangements were to be made by the Government to channel trade to the railway ; in return the Emperor was to receive a parcel of shares in the concern as well as half the profits whenever these exceeded 3,000,000 francs a year. The Government was to be exclusively responsible for the security of the railway and the Company could only transport troops or raw material with the Emperor’s written approval, violation of this proviso rendering the company liable to the forfeiture of the line. At the end of the Concession all immovable property was to become automatically the property of the Government. The details were as follows :—

Article I authorised Ilg to establish a " Compagnie Imperiale des Chemins de Fers Ethiopiens " to build and operate a line from the port of Jibuti right across Ethiopia to the White Nile, then claimed by Menelik as his western frontier.10

Article II specified that the Company should construct the line in three sections, the first extending from Jibuti to the old commercial centre of Harar, the second from Harar to Entoto, until then recently the capital of the empire, and the third from Entoto to the province of Kaffa and the White Nile.

Article III laid down that the Concession for each part of the railway would be for 99 years from the time of its completion and—an important clause, as it turned out— that no other company would be allowed to construct competing lines, either from the Indian Ocean or Red

Sea coast into Ethiopia or from Ethiopia to the White Nile.

Article IV, which was also destined to be discussed at a later date, stated that the Concession would be automatically annulled if construction work on the first stretch from Jibuti to Harar had not begun within two years of its signing.

Article V established that the Company was responsible for the good condition of all equipment during the period of the contract and could not interrupt its service except in case of force majeure.

Article VI, which was later modified by agreement, declared that the Company was obliged to establish and operate at its own expense a telegraph line along the entire length of the railway. This line had to be at the disposal of the Ethiopian Government for all State messages free of charge. Other messages were to be paid for at rates to be later determined. It was further declared that if a single wire proved insufficient the Company had to establish a second, also at its own expense.

Article VII prohibited the Company from transporting troops or war material into or out of Ethiopia without a written order from the Emperor, and specified that if the Company took such action without authorisation it had to relinquish the railway to the Ethiopian Government. Troops and war material of the Ethiopian Government were to be transported in peace time at charges to be mutually agreed with the Company and in war time free of charge. The price for services rendered to the Emperor should moreover be less than for any other person.

Article VIII ruled that the Company should fix its own rates for merchandise, but that these must not be higher, and should rather be lower, than the then existing cost of transport by other means.

Article IX applied to customs charges. It stated that such charges then levied by the Emperor’s authorities at Harar were no more than 5 per cent, ad valorem and did not exceed 1,000,000 francs. To facilitate the construction of the railway and to assure the interest on the capital invested, the Company was authorised to levy a duty of 10 per cent, ad valorem, on all merchandise carried by the railway in addition to the transport charge. This levy had, however, to be reduced to 5 per cent, when the net profits of the Company reached 2,500,000 francs, and be totally withdrawn as soon as profits reached 3,000,000 francs. When profits exceeded that figure the excess had to be divided equally between the Government and the Company.

The 10 per cent, duty was justified by the Company in its talks with the Emperor on the grounds that the railway could not be expected to become profitable until it had been extended into the rich lands of the interior.11

Article X stated that the Emperor agreed to direct that all merchandise leaving Harar or coming from Jibuti on which a charge for transport was made should be transported by the railway ; the customs officers were to be instructed to ensure compliance with this article.

This clause, like the preceding, was designed to assist the Company during the lean years before the opening of the line to the interior. Insistance that goods leaving Harar should be transported by rail would inevitably influence the whole trade of the Horn of Africa for though it was impossible for Menelik to legislate in respect of caravans coming to Harar from Zeila or Berbera they would scarcely be profitable if they were obliged to travel back empty.12

In Article XI the Emperor further agreed to provide the Company with all the land required for the establishment of the railway, as well as a zone 1,000 metres wide along the entire stretch of the line, and any forests mines and waters to be found in this zone which had to be measured and defined. (According to Felter Menelik had been reluctant to agree to these provisions.13

Article XII stated that the Emperor would protect the railway and its property against all attack, and that soldiers engaged in such protection should be transported by the Company free of charge.

Article XIII stated that the Emperor would levy no tax on materials required for the construction or operation of the railway, whether imported or of local origin.

Article XIV specified that at the end of the Concession the railway and all its fixed assets were to become the possession of the Ethiopian Government without any compensation, and that the rolling stock and movable property could be purchased by the Ethiopian Government at an agreed price.

It was finally stated, in Article XV, that the Company, in return for this Concession, would give the Emperor 100,000 dollars to be paid in the Company’s own shares.

This concession, it should be emphasised, was given on March 9, 1894, a couple of years prior to the battle of Adowa, and hence before the great increase in Ethiopian prestige resulting from that victory. As the American envoy, Robert Skinner, subsequently remarked, the agreement was made " prior to the disaster to Italian arms, prior to the victory of Kitchener at Omdurman, and before there was any realisation of the strategic and economic importance of the empire."14

Under such circumstances it was relatively difficult to interest foreign investors in the railway project. Ilg and Chefneux were nonetheless very enthusiastic. They set to work with great rapidity, established a railway company with headquarters in Paris at 28 rue de Chateaudun, and began negotiations with the French Government and capitalists.15 Keller says the promoters were bombarded by inquiries about the actual and potential state of trade in the area of the proposed railway, the capitalists being unwilling to subscribe until they could be assured of a favourable future. In response to such questions the promoters explained that statistics showed that exports from Shoa already ran at about 12,000 tons, or 50,000 camel loads, of which 33,000 loads were made up of coffee, 1,200 of hides, and 500 of ivory. Imports comprised about 6,800 loads of cotton goods, 7,500 of salt, 300 of Maria Theresa dollars and 1,000 of various other goods, including arms, petrol, sugar, silks, etc. The total amount of trade was thus estimated at about 9 million dollars (or 23 million francs), while the cost of transport was put at about 890,000 dollars, or 73 to 77 dollars per ton on a journey of 25 days. This trade, it was supposed, would be automatically absorbed in its entirety by the railway. Though the promoters admitted that trade of this magnitude was by no means sufficient to justify the construction of a railway they claimed that the establishment of the line would result in an immediate and extensive increase in traffic. This, Keller comments, was " a very likely supposition " since Ethiopia had a "vast reserve of natural products " which were " only waiting a cheap means of transport to be exported," While " a rise in the country’s national wealth would produce an increase in the demand for European pro-Estimation of construction costs was even more difficult, but on the basis of evidence from other parts of Africa it was believed that 100,000 francs per kilometre would be required and that the total cost of the railway would come to 33 1/2 million francs. These estimates, however, were only very tentative, and the promoters destined to many surprises.16

Negotiations on all sides

Before work on the line could begin it was necessary for the Company to obtain permission to cross the 90 or go kilometres of the French Somali Protectorate between Jibuti and the Ethiopian frontier. The French Government were at first reluctant to agree. Keller states that it doubted whether it would be possible for the Company to construct the first 350 kilometres up to Harar without coining into serious conflict with the " native " population. Shortly before this the Governor of Obok had endeavoured to improve the road from Jibuti to the interior, but had been obliged to abandon work 5 kilometres from the coast because the Somalis maintained that the existing track had been adequate for hundreds of years and that the new road was intended only for the import of cannon. Their threatened resistance had obliged him to abandon the scheme.17

The railway Company declared that it alone would be responsible for the construction and operation of the line and that no obligations or difficulties would result for the Protectorate authorities, but the question dragged on and was only solved when the Ethiopian victory at Adowa on March 1, 1896, opened the eyes of the French to the value of an alliance with Menelik. On April 27— less than two months after the battle—provisional authorisation de passer was given in a letter to Chefneux from the French Ministry for the Colonies. It read as follows :— " Sir,

" After a fresh examination of the project for the establishment of a railway from Jibuti towards the interior which you submitted to my department, and with the agreement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have the honour to inform you that I grant you in principle the authorisation to follow up this project.

" It is, however, understood that if the necessary works for the establishment of this railway are not executed according to the conditions specified in your previous communications and within a period of three years I reserve the right to consider this authorisation as null and void.

" The Minister of the Colonies : Guyesse."18

*   *   *   *

The Company meanwhile had also been negotiating with the Emperor because it wished to obtain his approval for a modification in the Concession so as to be able to avoid constructing the line into the Harar mountains. It was desired to divert the line through the valley of Dire Dawa, then also known as Addis, or new, Harar. Menelik, who Keller believes may not have been averse to this suggestion as Harar had been but recently incorporated in his Empire, gave his agreement to this request in a letter of March 5, 1896, in which he repeated his permission that the Company could levy a 10 per cent, toll on merchandise carried by the railway. By way of compensation for the change in the route, however, he made it conditional on the Company’s immediate construction of the telegraph from Jibuti to Harar. This line, it will be remembered, was one of the obligations undertaken by the Company in accepting the original concession. Keller states that it was still hoped that Harar would in due course be reached by the railway by means of a branch line.

Chefneux’s interest in the concern, it may be noted, was now for the first time officially recognised by the Emperor who addressed his letter to him as well as to Ilg.19 The Frenchman, as we shall see, was destined soon to replace his partner in influence.20

*   *   *   *

The next step in the negotiations was to clarify the railway’s position with the French Protectorate authorities. This was done on March 12, 1897, when the French Minister for the Colonies, Andre Lebon, signed an agreement with Chefneux which allowed the Company to make the necessary charges to cover its costs and to collect in addition a levy of 10 per cent., which money was to be paid by the Company into a fund under the control of a Commission appointed by the Ministry for the Colonies.21

*   *   *   *

The railway scheme was now apparently meeting with strong Ethiopian opposition. According to Felter, Menelik was having second thoughts about the scheme, and the Empress Taitu and Ras Makonnen were both critical. The latter was supposed to have said to the Emperor : " When the railway reaches Harar Harar will be no longer yours, and when it reaches Addis Ababa, Shoa will be no longer yours."22

Ethiopian opposition to the railway was taken for granted in British official reports for 1897 and 1898. Colonel Sadler, resident in Aden, believed Ras Makonnen was the principal opponent, but stated : "It is reported that Menelik said all his Rases are against the railway." Harrington, whose own opinion was that a French line would place Harar "at the mercy of a French coup de main any day," says Ras Makonnen had told him " he had always been against the railway, and even now did not intend to allow it to come to Harrar " ; discussing the details of the scheme with Harrington’s interpreter, the Ras is supposed to have added : " This is idiotic, Menelik has given away the key to his treasury."23

Gleichen drew a similar picture, observing : "a large number of the chiefs, at all events in the more western portion, would strongly object to such a newfangled idea, on the grounds that it would introduce into the country the all-pervading whiteman."

British official reports declare that there were even popular demonstrations against the railway, probably officially inspired. Sadler, writing in August, 1897, says

"Ras Makonnen called to Harar all the tribal chiefs responsible for the country to be traversed by the line and asked them their opinion of the project. They were said " to have one and all declared that their livelihood depended on the continuance of the traffic by road, that the railway would ruin them, that if the work be persisted on they would be prepared to resist." The report adds : " Ras Makunan is said to have told them he would not force them to agree to what they did not want, nor to allow others to do so." Notwithstanding early misgivings the Ras soon withdrew his opposition and, according to Piazza, his name was later " associated " with that of the railway."

In April, 1898, Harrington, then at Haramaya, quoted a report of " a popular meeting at the capital to protest against the Railway." Noting that " popular meetings are supposed to be instigated by the King," he relates that rumour had it that the French representative, Lagarde, " was called up and told by Menelek that he, the Emperor, reigned by the goodwill of his people and since they were against the railway he could not allow it. Lagarde is said to have replied that the contract was with King Menelek and not with the Abyssinian nation, and that the French nation would hold the King to his contract."24

There was other evidence of opposition. An Ethiopian nobleman somewhat naively observed to Rodd : " We don’t want rapid communication with the coast ; the railway will be very useful to us in the interior ; we shall wait till it is finished and then destroy its connection with the sea." The people of the coast were even more strongly opposed to the scheme. The Dankalis, Rodd notes, " are all camel owners, and see their interests, nay, their sole means of livelihood menaced." " At Zeyla," Sadler adds, "it is common talk that the Eesa, the Gallas and the Abyssinians have made common cause to oppose the railway."25

Far more important, however, was the opposition of the British who feared that the railway would destroy the trade of their Somali port of Zeila. This view, which was destined to play a vital role in the history of the railway, was put very bluntly by Col. Ferris of the British administration of Aden on November 13, 1896. " If and when this line is completed," he wrote, " the commercial decadence of Zeyla may be looked on as an accomplished fact. Camel-borne trade cannot compete with rail-borne, and the supremacy of this port will cease." This argument was generally accepted in British quarters. On July 30, 1897, Major-General Ardagh, Director of Military Intelligence noted : " If the line is made to Jibuti the effect on Zeyla would be disastrous." He therefore recommended that the British Government should endeavour to " encourage the purchasers of the Abyssinian concession to select Zeyla instead of Djibouti as the port of departure."26

The British, however, were by no means unanimous in its desire to control the railway. Rodd, whose opinion unfortunately always carried some weight, wrote a rather critical report on June 14, 1897, which argued that the line would suffer greatly from competition. Recalling that one surveyor estimated that no more than 75,000 camel loads each of 200 kilos were being taken to the coast each year, he claimed that so small a volume of trade would oblige the railway to impose high freight charges. The exactions of camel or mule caravans, it was true, were then also very high » but " in a country where every man owns a camel or mule which subsists by grazing and costs him nothing to keep, he could afford, if pressed by railway competition to greatly reduce the charges." Traders moreover would have little reason to prefer the train to the camel as the chief exports, coffee and ivory, did not spoil by keeping and therefore did not require rapid transport Rodd’s final argument was that the railway’s potential trade would be reduced in the future as the trade of Kaffa, Jimma and other parts of Western Ethiopia would be directed westwards rather than eastwards as soon as the British succeeded in pacifying the Sudan. 27

Harrington, on the other hand, was by no means inclined to underestimate the railway’s importance. On August 31, 1899, he submitted to the Foreign Office a " Memorandum on the Somali Coast Railway Question." in which he warned that the establishment of a French railway at Jibuti would have serious economic effects on Aden, Zeila and the Sudan, and would make it easy for the French to seize Harar whenever they might choose to do so. He therefore urged his Government to take definite action, either by buying up the existing Company (as Disraeli had bought up the Suez Canal company a quarter of a century earlier) and transferring the railway terminus from Jibuti to Zeila, or else by building a competing line from the latter port to Harar.28

Harrington reverted to this theme in a subsequent report for April 14, 1900, in which he again urged the need for Britain to participate in one way or another in the railway question. Emphasising that if much more French finance was obtained transfer of control to British hands would " become a difficult and costly matter," he prophesied dire results if speedy action was not taken : " If it is impossible at present," he concluded, " for Her Majesty’s Government to take steps to secure the control of the Railway Company and the transfer of the railway to British Somaliland, then the Railway Concession is likely to have such a tremendous political value in the future that it would seem advisable that British capital should be induced to obtain a considerable interest in the existing Railway Company, so that should difficulties arise between France and Abyssinia on account of the Railway Concession, we may be able to have an equal voice with France in any settlement that ensues.

" If it is impossible to take action in the matter, then once the frontier questions are settled British interests in Abyssinia will be nil, and all that remains is to see France gradually extending her power over Abyssinia until it is virtually, if not actually, a French Protectorate, unless we are prepared to take the risk of war in attempts to avoid such an eventuality."29

The stage was thus set for a period of Anglo-French rivalry.

The Company meanwhile had only been partially successful in raising funds and it was becoming increasingly obvious that grave financial difficulties lay ahead ; the proceeds from the sale of shares and bonds were substantially less than expected while construction costs were proving much higher than estimated. The company had issued 28,000 shares of 500 francs each with the intention of raising 14,000,000 francs ; in fact they only produced 8,738,000 francs ; 8,000 negotiable shares were also issued which were to produce a million francs when the line to Harar was completed and the line to to Entoto begun, and a further million when work on the line from Entoto to Kaffa. Even had these raised the desired amount they would have been of no immediate avail, as construction on these parts of the railway lay in the distant future ; 56,700 bonds, each of 500 francs were offered and 51,000 were purchased, but instead of 25,500,000 francs, they brought in only 11 665,000 francs. The proceeds of shares and bonds thus amounted to 20,403,000 francs, a sum only sufficient for the construction of a fraction of the planned railway.

The railway projectors were destined, as Skinner observed, to meet with " every conceivable embarrassment . . indifference in France . . . active opposition from the savage Issas of the desert, and chronic need of funds."30

Construction Work Begins

Notwithstanding the failure to raise the necessary funds construction work began at Jibuti in October, 1897. There was great activity at the port. The first task was the erection of the railway station which the Italian traveller Wolynsky later said could be compared with those of any secondary Italian city. Work was also carried out on the offices, a storage shed measuring 15 by 30 metres, two workshops for repairs, two large houses for the personnel, lodgings for temporary staff, and various amenities such as baths and douches. Drinking water was obtained from wells 5 miles inland and was pumped to the port where a " practically unlimited " quantity was stored in rock-hewn reservoirs ; availability of water was of vital importance as consumption in the next few years was destined to run at over 67,000 gallons a day.31

Jibuti, which the French had purchased from the Sultan of Tajourah half a century earlier for a mere 1,000 dollars, now underwent a great transformation. The Governor of the French Somali Protectorate transferred his residence there from Obok, arriving in some state with a tame lioness as a watchdog. Meanwhile public buildings, business premises, shops, offices and private houses, as well as several brick works, lime kilns, coal sheds and an ice factory sprang up almost overnight ; the harbour was soon graced with a number of port buildings and a breakwater, while shipping was safeguarded at night by no less than five lighthouses. The main road, according to Jennings and Addison, was short but "a perfect bicycle track" made of crushed coral.32 The population rose more than six-fold in four years, as may be seen from the following figures.33




Greeks, Armenians, Italians and Indians, as well as Frenchmen, arrived by every ship as Government and railway employees or as private entrepreneurs. As in North Africa, so at Jibuti, persons of every nationality followed the tricolour flag of France. The immigrants often found it difficult to find living quarters. Even greater numbers of Somalis and other peoples of the Horn of Africa arrived overland in the hope of finding work. According to one of the early engine-drivers these immigrants included Gallas, Dankalis, Nubians, Abyssinians and " Negroes" all of whom lived in separate areas. Racial segregation was the order of the day, the town being divided into a European and " native " quarter.34

Though people of every nationality seemed determined to share in the profits which seemed to be about to fall from heaven, the Somalis of the area were divided in their attitude to the railway. Some came offering themselves as camel leaders and bearers and later as earth workers, while others refused to work, and lounged about the town with sticks over their shoulders ridiculing their more slavish or mercenary compatriots. The wages for transporting water, materials and food, however, were so attractive to the nomads of the desert that the offices of the company were always besieged by persons anxious to obtain work of one kind or another.35 The Somalis, as argued elsewhere by the present writer, were often willing to undertake any income-producing work outside their own area, but objected to doing manual work in their area where it would have occasioned a loss of prestige.36

The development of Jibuti, it should be noted, depended entirely on the railway. Prince Henri of Orleans who visited the port in 1898 noted that the port’s trade was negligible, for the entire commerce of Harar passed through Zeila—he nevertheless added the hope that this would be entirely changed as soon as the line was constructed.37 By August it was reported that the chief mercantile houses at Zeila were taking steps to open branches at Jibuti.38

As soon as operations were well under way at the railhead work began on laying the line itself. This was entrusted to the firm of Duparchy and Vigouroux. Hugues Le Roux states that the engineers had gained experience from earlier railway building in the Congo and therefore avoided straight lines so as not to exceed an inclination of 0.025 per metre ; the minimum curve was of 150 metres. To minimize costs it was decided to employ a narrow gauge ; iron sleepers were, however, adopted to ensure durability, particularly in view of the existence of termites. The gauge selected was only one metre—-one of the narrowest in the world. The sleepers had therefore to be specially cast and were described as of "Menelek type " ; they weighed 30 kilos apiece, while the rails, which were 10 metres long, weighed 200 kilos. Sleepers were normally laid at a rate of 13 per rail, or on average 13,333 per kilometre, though in areas of greater than normal inclination, they were somewhat closer together, averaging about 14,000 per kilometre. The track was based on a bed of ballast 2.80 metres wide and 35 centimetres deep.39

Because of the termites the telegraph poles were also made of iron. They were made of three interfitting tubes, weighing 75 kilos together, and were placed 70 metres apart on the left side of the track. They carried four separate wires : one for direct official communication with Dire Dawa, one for official business with intermediary stations and the other two for general use. The temperature was so high that the metal was often difficult to handle.40

Before the trains were set in motion all equipment and supplies, including water for drinking and the mixing of cement and mortar had to be carried inland by other means. For every kilometre of line over 70,000 kilos of rails, sleepers and telegraph poles had to be transported besides other supplies. A huge force of camels was therefore soon journeying backwards and forwards along a line of 12 to 15 kilometres, water having often to be carried a distance of 20 to 30 kilometres. Hundreds of camels, and people, perished during this stage of the operations and there were numerous disputes with contractors on one score or another.41

The working force, Leymarie states, was almost entirely made up of Arabs and Somalis, the overseers being Europeans, mainly Italian.*2 According to an official British report, the workers displayed " considerable dissatisfaction . . . because one month’s pay was always held in arrears." This practice was adopted to give the Company a hold over the men who were often tempted to abandon their work, particularly in view of friction with the Somali population of the area.43

The workers in fact met with significant opposition from sections of the Somali population, especially of the Issa tribe, though, according to British reports, they were given a bribe of 2,000 rupees in March, 1898, and a promise of a further 5,000 rupees on completion of the line if they would agree t6 make no trouble.44 Besides the usual dislike to change encountered by railway promoters almost the world over there were other motives at work. Many tribesmen, as we have seen, feared that the competition of the railway would be detrimental to camel caravans, while others were incensed by the manner in which their women folk were taken advantage of by foreign construction workers : Keller states that on this latter account many people reddened the sand with their blood.45 According to Le Roux 30 workers were killed between 1899 and June, 1900, in armed attacks. On one occasion the Issas advanced so close to Jibuti that Europeans in the port area barricaded themselves in their houses, put out to sea or hid in Arab houses. The British authorities in Aden even offered to send a warship to reassure the French population.46 Another major attack occurred in June, 1900, when a number of workers at Bih Humma, beyond the station at Douanle at 106 kilometres, were killed. Throughout this period the labourers engaged in making terraces lived in almost constant fear of assassination from assailants hidden among mimosa trees, and, as Rosen lugubriously notes, many people who left their camp never returned.47

Constant attention had to be paid to questions of security. The Company established security patrols which were largely composed of young Ethiopians led by Europeans whose duty it was to keep a close watch on the entire course of operations. Le Roux, writing when the line had still only reached kilometre 90, confirms that several defence posts had been established and reports that they were manned by Ethiopians as well as by Somalis.48 Jennings, who travelled along the line a little later, records that he saw 14 parties of gangers, each composed of six or seven " natives," one of whom would be on horseback and armed with a rifle parties were invariably in the charge of a Frenchman Italian or Greek.49                                         

Steps were also taken in other directions to curtail resistance or interference on the part of the Somalis A whole staff of negotiators and scouts were employed hostages were taken from various tribes and monthly subsidies paid to the more important chiefs. The Ethiopian government was also advised of particularly unruly elements and requested to use its influence in achieving co-operation on the part of the tribesmen Menelik’s prestige was an important factor in maintaining order.

Lack of security seems to have been a good excuse for corruption. The Company’s statistics were in fact always being questioned. In 1902, for example, Harrington reported that the Greek contractor Macras estimated that actual costs were no more than 30,000 to 40,000 francs per kilometre and not 65,000 as stated.51

The railway, wrote a later British minister, Thomas Hohler, was " one glorious scandal " for " the corruption not unusual in French colonies was rampant in its administration. From time to time the officials would tear up a few sleepers, or put some stones on the line, and report to Paris there had been a raid and some chiefs must be subsidised. I heard of one case where £1,000 was sent, but the chief in question was merely presented with a robe of honour, and two bags of dates."52

One source of friction was overcome by the company’s decision to make detours in the projected route in order to avoid Somali graveyards, particularly after kilometre 70. Orders were also given to prevent the line from interfering with water holes or inhabited places.53

The railway builders soon found themselves in fairly difficult country and were obliged to erect two viaducts. The first, at Shebele, 19 kilometres from Jibuti, was constructed by a French engineer called Pleignet, who arrived in 1897 after having previously worked in Rumania, Serbia and Constantinople. This bridge was 156 metres long and 12 metres wide ; it stood on 34 piles and crossed a ravine some 10 metres deep.64 The second bridge was at Hoi Hoi, 52 kilometres from the coast, where, as Jennings and Addison say, a " fine metal viaduct" 142 metres long was placed over the confluence of the Hoi Hoi and Loure rivers 30 metres below. 55

Notwithstanding all difficulties the construction work made steady progress as can be seen from the fact that by October, 1899, the line had reached the 25 kilometre mark, while the terrace builders were at kilometre 75 ; by the end of 1900 the line was beyond the Ethiopian frontier and had reached kilometre 120, while the terrace builders were at kilometre 150.56

Financial Difficulties Begin

Before the Line entered Ethiopian territory, however, it had become clear that the Company had run into acute financial difficulties. Appeals for help from the French Government met with refusal as the project was regarded in official circles in Paris with strong misgivings. Nor was sufficient help forthcoming from private French investors or banking concerns. After reaching kilometre 163—only 54 kilometres inside Ethiopia—Chefneux and his colleagues found themselves obliged to turn to British capitalists for help.

"The scheme had in fact aroused considerable interest in British investment circles. Towards the end of 1898 a financier called Ochs appeared on the scene, urging that the British Government should help him to gain control of the railway in the interests of Britain. Harrington, the British representative in Addis Ababa, called Ochs " a slippery customer " and argued that it would be better for his Government to construct a rival line from Berbera than get mixed up with Ochs’ scheme.57 The latter, however, continued with his plans, and was instrumental in establishing the New Africa Company, the object of which was to buy up the French company. A memorandum drawn up on April 11, 1899, disclosed that the railway company was willing to issue 24,000 new shares, each of £20, as against 16,000 held by French shareholders. " This," it said, " would practically give the control of the undertaking to the British investors."58

The policy of the New Africa Company was summed up in a speech by its Chairman in 1900, which received a good deal of publicity. It declared :

"In other quarters of Africa we have also been investigating the possibilities of profitably extending our operations, and as a consequence we hope shortly to be able to participate, through our Paris connections, in the construction of the Jibuti railway to Abyssinia, an interesting line, the concession for which was granted by the Emperor Menelik to the Compagnie Imperiale des Chemins de fer Ethiopiens. We hope to be able to co-operate on fair terms with the French capitalists in an enterprise, the object of which, as you may be aware, is to connect the African hinterland of Abyssinia with the Somali coast of the Red Sea. This line, like other railroads of penetration in Africa, must open up the resources of the country through which it passes, and, subject to the vicissitudes in new railway undertakings of this nature, we believe we shall be able to participate in business which will be profitable to the company."59 The New Africa Company, as T. Lennox Gilmour, the railway’s first historian, points out, was thus interested in the concern on purely commercial grounds. 60 It bought a number of shares in the French company and later, as we shall see, substantially increased its holding. Two other British concerns, the Oceania Consolidated Company and the New Egyptian Company, soon followed suit, as reported in the Daily Mail on January 18 and 19, 1900. 61 The three companies agreed, at Chefneux’s request to supply all the finance required for the construction of the line-up to kilometre 215 by making a loan amounting to 3,000,000 francs. 62 The position in October of that year is revealed in a Memorandum by Sir T. H. Sanderson of the Foreign Office, detailing talks he had with Ochs of the New Africa Company. In it the Foreign Office official records that Ochs claimed Chefneux and Ilg were both favourable to the idea of a Berbera-Harar line as a branch of the existing Jibuti line. Turning to the financial situation, Sanderson continues :

" He gave some figures to show that in the present Company British capital would shortly have a majority of votes, and would consequently control the management . . .

" Our of 36,000 present shares, 8,000 plus 4,000, say 12,000, were British owned. It was proposed to add 17,000 shares, which would be held by the New Africa Company, so that out of 53,000 shares 29,000 would be British owned.

" He said that on examination of the chart of Berbera, he entertained no doubt that with some improvement the harbour would compete on favourable terms with that of Jibuti.

" He estimated roughly the cost of the railway from Berbera to Harrar at £4,000 a mile, which, with improvements of the harbour, would mean a cost of about £1,000,000.

" In order to make the scheme more promising, he thought that MM. Ilg and Chefneux would be ready to concede that the 10 per cent., which the Company have the right to levy on all merchandize passing to Harrar should be levied at Berbera on goods despatched from thence, and retained towards the income of that portion of the line."63

The position in October was also discussed in a very revealing letter from Sanderson to Lord Cromer in Egypt. Emphasising the size of the financial problem involved, Sanderson said : " I am a good deal impressed with the financial difficulties of the present French company.

" They have a share capital of £720,000, of which £500,000 is paid up. They have created 85,000 debentures of 500 francs each, but which are taken at 250 francs, say £850,000—of these some 50,000 had been issued at the end of last year and the total capital then paid up was about £970,000.

"They have recently borrowed £80,000 from Mr. Och’s Co. (the New Africa Co.) for which the latter have the right of taking the last 8,000 of the 85,000 debentures . . .

" With this capital the Company apparently expect to complete the railway as far as the 215 kilometre. The New Africa Co. are then to take up the remaining and for a sum of £300,000 to be procured by a fresh issue of 30,000 debentures they are to construct an additional 70 kilos, bringing the railway to the foot of the hills some 30 miles as the crow flies and 50 miles by road from Harar itself. Estimated cost, £4,300 per kilo or nearly £7,000 per mile. What then ?

" To take the line up to Harar will be enormously expensive. To take it on to Addis Ababa is a serious business ; the distance must be double at least that of the line up to this point, and the country only partially surveyed ; where is the capital to be found for this ? "S1 In the nature of things the Company had little alternative but to depend more and more on British capital. The question was whether this would be acceptable to the French Government.

Almost a year later, in July, 1901, the three British firms announced that they had " considerably strengthened " their interests in the railway and had united with the French shareholders to form the International Ethiopian Railway Trust and Construction Company which had entered into a contract with the Chefneux company to advance a further large sum to construct the railway as far as Dire Dawa at a charge of 107,000 francs per kilometre.65

The English group was now in a dominant position.

It possessed 14,000 out of a total of 36,000 shares, was the owner of the largest block of shares under one control, and had an agreement with the Company that no further shares would be created without its approval. It had four representatives on a Board of eight members, a further two of whom habitually voted with it, thus giving it a clear majority. It had a contract to build the line from kilometre 215 to kilometre 295 in return for 30,000 bonds, or, if it preferred, 15,000 shares, which latter would give it still greater voting power, and had a promise to be allowed to construct a further stretch of line on the same terms. Finally it had 24 out of the 100 founders’ shares.66

The railway was thus continuing to obtain capital but on a rather uncertain basis. The promoters of the International Ethiopian Railway Trust and the managers of the Chefneux company both believed that capital from Britain and France could participate harmoniously because the political relations between the two powers were then relatively cordial. Events of the next few years were to show that this belief was unfounded.

Menelek’s First Doubts

Menelek meanwhile was beginning to feel doubts about French influence in the railway, his misgivings being greatly increased by his talks with Harrington in the middle of 1900. On May 30 the British envoy reported that he had warned the Emperor of the dangers to Ethiopia inherent in the monopolistic position of the French with regard to the railway. Menelek had replied that the concession was not in point of fact a monopoly, whereupon, Harrington reports : " I read His Majesty the terms of the Concession as published by the prospectus issued by the Railway Company . . . His Majesty denied the correctness of Article 3, stating that he had only written in the Concession that no other railway would be permitted ‘ near ‘ the French railway, and that he had never intended a monopoly."

Commenting on this statement, Harrington says in his report : " The whole question turns on the translation of a word ; the Amharic version reads ‘ near,’ whereas the French version reads ‘ competing’ and in this way resembles the Ucialli treaty."

In his conversation with the Emperor Harrington proceeded to warn him of the dangers resulting from the French Government’s interest in the railway. This part of the interview assumes special interest in view of subsequent developments. The report continues :

" I pointed out to His Majesty that it was no longer M. Ilg he had to deal with, but the French Company to whom the Concession had been sold, and that the possibility was that in any dealings with the Company he would find the French Government behind them.

"He at once remarked that if the Government entered into the question, the Concession would, by this very fact, be annulled. I drew attention to the fact that no mention of this was made in the Concession, and explained to him the attitude of governments as regard the investments of their subjects in foreign countries such as his, and that everything tended to prove that the French Government were considerably interested in this Concession. I may here remark that it was apparent that this view of the interest likely to be taken by governments, where their subjects were concerned, has never been explained to His Majesty .

" There seems no doubt, from the preoccupation of the King on the subject of the railway Concession, that he never realized what he was signing. Subsequent to my remarks on the subject, he sent one of his Chamberlains to my Italian colleague to discuss the Concession, and has also spoken to him on the same subject. He also asked my interpreter … to compare the French translation with the Amharic text."

Turning to the implications of all this from the point of view of British policy, Harrington concluded by recommending his Government to make a thorough review of the question. He wrote :

" The King may ask the assistance of English capitalists, and as there is a possibility that the question as to whether the Concession is a monopoly may give rise to strained relations with France, which I have cautioned the King about, and which I shall use every endeavour to prevent, it seems to me that the time has come when both the English and Italian Governments, who are interested in the preservation of an independent Abyssinia, must decide as to their attitude concerning the French Railway Concession."67

Further talks between the Emperor and the envoy followed some weeks later, as a result of which Harrington formally requested his Government to ascertain whether the Company’s claim to have obtained a monopoly could be invalidated on the basis of a re-interpretation of Article III of the original Concession. In a letter of June 25, he writes :

" In the course of conversation, His Majesty remarked that a railway could be made elsewhere without infringing the Concession already given … I replied that the only possible lines that could be made would be to the British Somaliland frontier, which would necessitate a line from Berbera, and to the Soudan frontier. So far as the former line was concerned, I doubted whether he could offer any inducements to people to take the matter up with a competing line so near, and as far as the latter, the distance was so great that I doubted the possibility of obtaining the requisite capital."

The Emperor thereupon asked for a legal opinion on the Concession he had already granted, presumably wishing to establish whether a monopoly had or had not been established by Article III. Harrington in his report gave this request his full support, adding : " I venture to suggest that a legal opinion on the French Railway Concession should be prepared for His Majesty, as there is a possibility in finding a flaw in the Concession which would enable us to construct a line from Berbera to Harrar, should he desire to do so at any future time."68

The Foreign Office thereupon requested the Law Officers of the Crown to examine the Concession in the hope of finding a suitable interpretation, but the Officers’ report was entirely negative. On August 31 they replied that : " We are of opinion that the effect of the Concession granted to M. Ilg is to debar the Emperor from granting any Concession for the construction of a railway in Abyssinia which would be a competing line with that authorized by M. Ilg’s Concession. The question whether any proposed railway would compete would be a question of fact, but it would appear clear that any line running from the coast of British Somaliland to Harrar would be both ‘ competing ‘ and ‘ near.’ "89 Legally then there was no doubt about it: Menelek had saddled himself with a railway monopoly. The question remained could the British Government come to terms with it or could British capital purchase it. Harrington tended to favour Governmental action. a January 12, 1901, he reported to the Foreign Office at Menelik was still " very unsettled about the railway concession." Though he thought the Emperor’s suspicions about British policy seemed " almost insurmountable," the envoy added : " There is a remote possibility that I might succeed in getting sanction in some way or another to our making a railway between Berbera and Harrar. The question now arises as to whether I should work for this end or not—as it is no use making more enemies than necessary here if Government does not intend to move in this question." This letter might have marked the beginning of a British diplomatic drive had not the British Government been unwilling to put up the necessary funds. On arriving in London the letter was read by Sanderson of the Foreign Office, who sagely wrote this comment on it: " There seems no use in asking for a concession for a railway to Harrar unless we see our way to making it," A colleague, to whom the letter was subsequently sent, added : " I see no prospect of obtaining Government assistance for this project, and Col. Harrington had better let it alone so far as we are concerned."70

British policy was therefore essentially hesitant as may further be seen from Sir Rennell Rodd’s opinion as reported to the Foreign Secretary on July 29, 1901. Rodd was asked whether it would be desirable for the British Government to purchase the railway from the Company which seemed willing to part with it ; he replied by advocating an attitude of wait and see. Discussing Menelik’s original Concession, he tended to share the Emperor’s view that Article III did not necessarily give the French Company a monopoly. Arguing in fact against the verdict of the Law Officers, he declared that " if it were necessary " the Concession " could be evaded in several directions. Careful consideration of its conditions certainly leads to this conclusion." Turning to Article III he added :

" It purports to secure the Company from the competition of any other company in railway construction from the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea or the other side (i.e. the Sudan) ‘ jusqu ‘ en Ethiopie.’

" In the first place this is not necessarily a monopoly ; in the second place it could only operate against other companies and not against H.M.G. (Her Majesty’s Government) if they were minded to make a railway themselves through British Somaliland in order to connect with one in Abyssinia ; in the third place it applies only to the connections on the Abyssinian frontier and not to the railway construction in the country itself, and lastly Sir Rennell thought that the Arabic (or Amharic ?) version might easily be found not so definite as the French version."

The Foreign Office official, who was evidently somewhat confused about the language employed in Ethiopia expressed doubt whether such verbal niceties though apparently suitable for Menelek would serve with a great power such as France. The report continues :

" I suggested to him that distinctions such as these might be useful if we were dealing with Menelek alone, but that if we refused to buy the Jibuti Company and they sold to the French Government instead, the latter would not admit the value of these limitations and that it would be very difficult to maintain these rather technical objections against what would be the broadly dominant position of a great power."

Rodd, however, had little fear of France. The report concludes :

" Sir Rennell. . . thought that France was out of love with East African enterprise, that the development of this concession would cost a great deal of money before it would pay, that she was spending a good deal elsewhere ; in short, that France would not be likely to buy, but that if she did, with Menelek—who denies the monopoly—on our side, we were strong enough to defeat any effort after Railway exclusiveness that she might make.

" He did not of course deny the menace to the prosperity of British Somaliland which the development of the Jibuti railway under the control of the French Government would involve, nor would we view with equanimity the ascendency of France in Abyssinia if such a situation must be contemplated as possible ; but he was evidently not much afraid of this latter contingency, and on the whole his advice was to wait until Harrington came home on leave and to consult him before taking further action."

Lord Lansdowne, who was shown this report, concurred with its general purport, noting on the margin : " I am inclined to agree."

Menelek, it should be noted, had not yet broken with the Company : on July 6, 1901, he wrote to its president, declaring that he awaited with impatience the arrival of the line not only at Addis Ababa but also at Addis Alem a little to the west. This was of course the period when Menelek contemplated making the latter his capital.71

The First Train Services Begin

The first train service began on July 22, 1901, and operated between Jibuti and Douanle, the first station on the Ethiopian side of the frontier at kilometre 106, a journey of 5 1/2 hours with four halts for water. A year and a half later the service was extended as far as Dire Dawa, 14 hours from the coast at kilometre 311. The first train reached that town, which was long destined to be the terminus of the line, on December 24, 1902. Thereafter trains left Jibuti at 6 a.m. to arrive at Dire Dawa the same day at 8 p.m., having passed 13 stations en route.72

Engines were imported from the Swiss factory of Winterthur and were of two types : a compound engine with four axles weighing 35 tons and a three-axle type weighing 29 tons ; both used Cardiff patent fuel. There were a number of bogie waggons with four axles weighing 10 tons and carrying a load of 22 tons and some with two axles, weighing 5 tons and carrying 10 tons. Passenger coaches were also of two kinds : first and second class combined, and third class. Jennings states that the train on which he travelled, which may well have been typical, was composed of one heavy type engine, a guard’s van, four open trucks, one third-class passenger coach and two combined first- and second-class coaches. In the course of his journey he saw nine engines, three of which were under repair, 21 covered trucks, 63 open trucks, four first- and second-class coaches, one third-class coach and half a dozen trollies.73

The service was in many ways a remarkable one. There were times when conditions of travel seem to have been only just possible. Hohler, for example, tells that near Dire Dawa a river had to be crossed without a bridge : " the train merely made a rush at it, hoping to have enough impetus to climb the other side. About the fourth attempt it succeeded."74 Boyes also draws a rather critical picture, observing that the track was " to say the least badly constructed. We were told that some part of it was scoured away after every shower of rain, and we were fortunate enough just to escape one of these washouts. The day after we reached Dire Dawa railhead, the line was washed away and all traffic stopped for over a fortnight." Wash-outs were indeed common at this time.75

The trains had compartments of three different classes. The first-class was mainly used by foreign diplomats, the more important travellers and explorers and a few Ethiopian notables or officials, such as the Emperor’s representative, Ato Yosef, who acted as a kind of liaison officer to the company. The second-class principally served the French and Greek traders, while the third was filled by a wide variety of people, including Ethiopian soldiers and numerous Arabs, Somalis and Dankalis. The absence of any colour bar was another phenomenon which struck’ contemporary observers. Boyes, who had come from British East Africa, says that " the familiarity of the natives with the whites " on the railway was " very marked to anyone who had been in South or East Africa." To illustrate this point he adds : " I was travelling second-class, and in the same compartment there were two French ladies and a gentleman going up to Dire Dawa. A Somali got in and began to make a cigarette . . . Shortly afterwards the white guard came in and I thought to myself, ‘ Now there’s going to be a row, and I shall see Mr. Somali kicked out,’ but nothing of the kind happened. The guard simply sat down by the Somali and asked him for a cigarette ; they both lighted up and had a smoke together ! "76 (Boyes’ amazement was the greater in that he himself favoured treating the non-Europeans roughly. An official report reveals that he earned the displeasure of the British authorities by stringing up one of his Ethiopian servants as a punishment, declaring : " What does it matter if I hang my own servant ? ")77

The railway, it may be added, made a great impact on the mind of the local Somali population. Keller tells us that the Somalis were amazed by their first sight of the dreadful iron elephant but came in hordes to watch it.78 Later they developed the rather vicious habit of hacking up the installations, using the rails, sleepers and fishplates in the manufacture of spearheads and the telegraph wires in that of bangles and other ornaments. Rey describing this activity later reported that during the 1920’s " a party of raiding Danakils descended on the line, cut down 8 to 10 kilometres of copper wire, loaded it on to a regular caravan of animals they had brought up for the purpose, and disappeared into space." The railway authorities were obliged to forbid people from wearing decorations of this kind, and in due course replaced the copper by steel wire.79 The purloining of railway installations nevertheless remained a problem throughout our period, and resulted in the preference for daylight runnings.80

Anglo-French Tension

The Company’s hopes of harnessing British as well as French capital in the railway venture were soon dashed to the ground. The French Government and French colonial interests, both of which were determined on achieving an exclusive position in Ethiopia, were strongly opposed to the participation of British capital in a railway which they conceived of as an essentially French project. Even before the creation of the Railway Trust, as Gilmour states, " an uneasy feeling had been growing in French colonial circles that the increase of British capital invested in the enterprise was jeopardising the hopes founded on the exclusively French character of the railway. When it was found that the International Ethiopian Railway Trust and Construction Company, with its registered offices in London, had not only acquired a large holding in shares and debentures of the railway company, but had also acquired the right to construct the remaining portion of the first section of the line to the foot of the Harar plateau, as well as certain construction rights over the remaining section of the railway, a violent outcry was raised that French interests had been betrayed, and that once more rapacious England was seeking to supplant France in an African enterprise initiated by French foresight and founded by French capital."81

The fear of many Frenchmen that the story of the Suez canal (where British Prime Minister Disraeli had succeeded in buying up an enterprise established by French initiative) would be repeated with the railway was reinforced by a report in the Depeche Coloniale. It stated that Lord Chesterfield, the President of the new British trust, had revealed his intention of replacing French by British management, a development which, the paper declared, would " result in the ruin of our port of Jibuti to the advantage of the neighbouring port of Berbera."82

The French interests involved therefore launched a great agitation which reached its climax in the autumn of 1901. Numerous articles emphasising the dangers of British capital appeared in the French press, together with appeals that the French Government should come to the assistance of the railway. Support was also canvassed from various Chambers of Commerce in France. The central theme of such propaganda was that the railway represented a vital interest for France and the basis of French influence in Ethiopia. The Temps, one of a number of newspapers engaged in whipping up nationalistic sentiment on the question of the railway, went so far as to declare on July 26, 1901, that the line must remain French for through it Ethiopia could become a kind of colony (" une sorte de colonie ") with all the advantages of a colony and none of its responsibilities.83

Such statements were to say the least unwise, for they were read in Addis Ababa as well as in Paris. The Emperor, as Keller says, was an unusually intelligent man with a keen sense of politics, and was always notified of developments affecting his country which occurred in other lands. " Even a less suspicious monarch than Menelik," Keller adds, " would have thanked politely if someone wanted to consider his kingdom as a kind of colony."84

The French, however, were on the eve of a general election and many normally responsible men threw all caution to the wind in their efforts to oust the British capitalists from the railway. Under such pressure the government of the day, headed by Waldeck-Rousseau, decided to yield to the pressure of the vested interests which demanded a strong line. Speaking historically, we may say it was an over-hasty and mistaken decision.

The " dog in the manger " attitude thus far displayed by the French was well summed up by Skinner, who, writing at this period, observed : "so indifferent were Governments, and particularly the French Government which had most at stake, that when the original capital controlled by Messrs. Ilg and Chefneux had been absorbed and when French capital hesitated, a British group . . . took shares and debentures to such an extent that it was feared for a time that control would pass by a simple commercial process from French to British hands. Probably there would have been no great objection in France to such a transfer of interest, but for the underlying fear that, with French stockholders in the minority, the Anglicised Company would build a short connecting-line from Zeila or Berbera in British Somaliland, thereby developing either of these ports at the expense of Jibuti . . ."8S

The Bonhoure-Chefneux Convention

As a result of this fear the Governor of the French Somali Protectorate, M. Bonhoure, was authorised by his Government to sign a new agreement with Chefneux which was dated February 6, 1902. Significantly enough this agreement was framed and signed entirely without reference to the Ethiopian Government, despite the fact that the railway was to operate mainly on Ethiopian territory and had come into existence as a result of a Concession from the Ethiopian Emperor.

As Gilmour exclaims, " the first point to be noted is that the sovereign of the state in whose territory the railway was to be built was not only not a party to the agreement, but was neither consulted nor informed as to the negotiations.

" The second point is that it does not seem to have occurred to the parties to the negotiations—or if it did occur to them it does not seem to have carried any weight with them—that the intervention of a foreign Government altered the whole character of the enterprise."86

The agreement in fact completely disregarded Menelek. Skinner says that it " failed to take into consideration the point of view of the Emperor,"87 while Sylvia Pankhurst later commented that a study of its terms would "justify stronger comment."88

The new Convention, while flouting the agreement the Company had made with the Emperor, meticulously endeavoured to regulate the doings of Chefneux and his colleagues to whose financial assistance it came.89 In this way it sought to preserve the French character of the enterprise. The basis of the agreement was that the French Somali Protectorate authorities would come to the Company’s aid by granting it a 50-year annual subsidy of 500,000 francs in return for which the Company was bound hand and foot to the French Government. The Company was henceforth to be a purely French concern with headquarters permanently in Paris, and its council composed only of Frenchmen unless otherwise agreed to by the French Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs. These Ministers moreover had to approve and could dismiss the council’s director, while the approval of the Minister for the Colonies was required before the Company could increase its capital, accept new loans or undertake new projects. The transfer of the line between Jibuti and the Hawash, the building of any other line in that area or the dissolution of the Company was prohibited except with the permission of the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs. The French Government furthermore acquired the right to supervise the security of the line, to fix charges, to share in any profits obtained above a certain level, to confiscate or purchase the railway under certain circumstances, and to inherit the line as far as Dire Dawa, i.e. well into Ethiopian territory, at the end of the 99-year concession period.

The details of this rather complex but very important Convention are as follows :

Article I transferred the Minister of the Colonies’ permission to establish the railway through French territory from the original permit holders, Ilg and Chefneux, to the Company itself.

Article II announced that the French Somali Protectorate would give the Imperial Ethiopian Railway Company an annual subsidy of 500,000 francs, to be paid for 50 years as from July 1, 1902. It specified that this subsidy should be devoted exclusively to guarantee loans to be obtained by the Company in accordance with Article X of the Convention ; ‘the Company was thus assured an annual credit with which to pay future creditors or lenders as well as to make interest and sinking fund payments.

By the same Article the Company was obliged to take all necessary steps, with the approval of the Minister for the Colonies acting on the advice of the Minister of Finance, to assure future creditors and lenders of the benefit of the Protectorate’s subsidy.

Article II specified that the date and conditions of payment of the subsidy should be fixed by the Minister for the Colonies on the advice of the Minister of Finance. Article III specified that the date and conditions of payment of the subsidy should be fixed by the Minister for the Colonies on the advice of the Minister of Finance. Article IV stated that throughout the period of the concession the Company should occupy free of charge the lands granted to it for the permanent way, stations, workshops and other buildings.

Article V stipulated that within two months of the promulgation of the Convention the Company had to modify its statutes to conform to certain conditions there laid down. These specified that the Company should be constituted according to French law, that all members of its administrative council should be French unless otherwise agreed by the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs, that the nomination of the council’s director and the selection of its representatives had to be approved by both Ministers who could insist on their replacement in the public interest, and that the Company’s headquarters should be at Paris whence they could not be moved to any other town. This article also laid down that the Company could not increase its capital, accept loans, enter into obligations or employ its capital on other projects except with the approval of the Minister for the Colonies acting on the advice of the Minister of Finance, and that no change in the Company’s statutes could be submitted to its shareholders without prior agreement from these two Ministers.

The temporary or permanent transfer of part or the whole line between Jibuti and the Hawash as well as the dissolution of the Company was expressly forbidden except with the approval of the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs acting on the advice of Minister of Finance.

Menelek’s attitude to this and other Articles establishing French claims to the Hawash area will be shortly seen.

Article VI stated that the plans for the line between Jibuti and Addis Harar, i.e. Dire Dawa, could only be modified with the authorisation of the Minister for the Colonies and then only where necessary for technical reasons. The Company was expressly prohibited from building any branch line in the area between Jibuti and the Hawash without the consent of the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs.

This last provision, as Skinner points out, was " intended to prevent any possible connection with Zeila or Berbera," and served as a guarantee that all Ethiopian trade should be " drained" through the French port of Jibuti.90

Article VII stated that the line from Jibuti to Addis Harar should be built and be in operation before December 31, 1902, i.e. within less than a year of the signing of this agreement.

Article VIII enabled the Company to fix fares and freight charges as it thought fit, with the proviso that goods passing through Jibuti should be treated at least as well as those passing by land to neighbouring ports. Should the Company’s charges be too high in this respect the Government’s representative was empowered to reduce them between Jibuti and Addis Harar. Such reduced charges, however, would not be operative until three months after their decree ; in case of dispute the French Government had the right to decide the issue subject to appeal to the Council of State.

The article further stated that a 50 per cent, reduction would be granted all along the line to employees of the French State or Protectorate, as well as to their property. This reduction was also to apply to their families and the latter’s luggage.

The Company also agreed to transport free of charge postal bags and officials responsible for them, as well as diplomatic bags of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and French diplomatic and consular representatives in Ethiopia.

This article, it will be appreciated, beside embodying valuable fare concessions for the French State and its personnel, ensured that Jibuti would compete on favourable terms with neighbouring ports.

Article IX stated that the Company must operate the railway in the interests of trade and run the requisite number of trains. If it failed in this respect the Government’s representative was empowered to take the necessary measures. In case of disputes arising out of this provision, the word of the French Government was to be final, subject to appeal to the Council of State.

The Article also laid down that the security and good order of the railway on the Protectorate side of the frontier would be under the control of the French Protectorate and on the Ethiopian side under that of the French legation in Addis Ababa.

The provision in Menelik’s Concession that he would supply guards for the railway was thus ignored, the new Convention being particularly objectionable from the Ethiopian point of view as it seemed to claim more or less extra-territorial rights in Ethiopia.91

Article X stated that all loans contracted by the Company on the strength of the Protectorate’s guarantee should be deposited with a bank to be approved by the Minister for the Colonies after consultation with the Minister of Finance, such monies to be withdrawn only with the former’s approval. It was further specified that loans should be used (1) to repay advances already obtained, (2) to construct the last 100 kilometres of line as far as Addis Harar, and (3) to subsidise the line to that town in the first year of its operation at a rate of not more than 1,000 francs per kilometre. Any remaining surplus could be allocated, under the same Ministerial control, to improve or extend the line or to establish a reserve or depreciation fund.

Article XI established that as soon as gross annual receipts from the operation of the line, excluding subvention money, exceeded 5,000 francs per kilometre, the Company should pay the Protectorate a percentage of them as a due, on the basis of a sliding scale : this due should be 10 per cent, of gross receipts between 5,000 francs and 8,000 francs, 20 per cent, between 8,000 francs and 12,000 francs and 30 per cent, above 12,000 francs.

It was further stipulated that for the purpose of such calculation the line would be considered as running from the middle of Jibuti station to the middle of that of Addis Harar. The line (which, of course, had not yet been completed) should not be less than 290 or more than 310 kilometres. (It in fact eventually worked out at 311 kilometres).

The due had to be paid on July 1, following the year to which it applied.

Article XII dealt with supervision. It stated that supervisory powers in Paris should be exercised by a representative of the French Government to be appointed by the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs on the advice of the Minister of Finance. This agent was empowered to examine the Company’s accounts and had to be invited to all shareholders’ meetings.

Supervision and control of the railway itself was entrusted to one or more officials appointed by the Ministers for the Colonies and Foreign Affairs. Such agents were to have free transport on the line.

The costs of control were to be met by the Company which had for this purpose to pay a yearly sum of 30 francs per kilometre of operational line. The Ministers for the Colonies and Finance were further empowered to decide in what manner the Company must furnish the required information.

Article XIII obliged the Company to provide to the French Government’s convention. The report is worthy of quotation in extenso :

" I explained to him the Convention," Harrington relates, " pointing out the objectionable clauses, the one’s about purchasing the Hawash any time after 1920, and French control of the line was received with much disgust, the former clause was not made any sweeter by my suggestion that the French evidently gave him only 18 more years of this world.

" When I had explained all the clauses which ensured the French Government’s control of the line, he remarked that now he understood why Lagarde, who he knew had a copy of the Convention had not allowed him to see it, and had put him off with the remark that it was no use showing him the Convention until it was accepted by the French Government.

" I showed him how once the French Government had acquired control of the line, and the right to prevent any competing line, having killed all commerce between the Somali Coast and Abyssinia, they would be in a position to place any tax they liked on goods coming over the line and thus force Abyssinia to take only French goods, and have him very much at their mercy. " I pointed out that Mr. Lagarde’s remark to him, that everything had been arranged to his (Menelek’s) advantage, and that all danger due to English capital being in the railway had been removed, was very far from the truth, that the so-called English money was nothing more than the money of a German Jew speculator, and gave him a brief .detail of how it had been attempted to obtain money from us to make a branch from Lasserat to Zeyla, and that we had refused though I admitted that had there been a question of a branch to Berbera to a point near Harar, we might have considered the proposition.

" I told him the story of the Press campaign about the railway in France, how it was now acknowledged by everyone official and private that the object of the railway was political and not commercial. He remarked that in the concession the Government was to have nothing to do with the railway, but I reminded him that he was mistaken, there being nothing to that effect. " To make a long journey short, I showed him that this Convention was a usurpation of his Sovereign rights, and showed a great want of respect for him on the part of the nation who had always posed as the great friend of Menelek. His face and growled grunt at this latter remark was exceedingly expressive. After having used every possible argument against the Convention and the situation caused thereby, I told him that now the French Government had so thoroughly exposed their hand, there was nothing else for him to do, but to safeguard himself against eventualities, if as he said, he did not wish the French Government to have anything to do with the railway, in my opinion there was nothing else to do, as the French had clearly shown that they, and only they, should be the sole masters of the Djibouti line, as whatever way he looked at the question, it seemed that they had got him by the throat.

" He then asked me my advice as a private individual, as to what he could do and as to what value was to be attached to my Government’s warning. I told him that as British Representative here, I could not answer him as to the value of the warning, as I was not fully aware of the views of my Government but that if I spoke as a private individual, I said I saw nothing for him but to have to accept the French proposals at least in a modified form, unless he had the support of some other Government, and that I saw nothing left for him but to try and neutralise the political effect of the French line by a competing line which he would build to the British frontier, and could try and get the British Government to build a line from Berbera to meet his. He remarked that in the Concession he had agreed that no competing line should be made, I reminded him that he had agreed that no other railway company should be allowed to build a line to the Red Sea, but that there was nothing about their building a line to his frontier, or nothing to prevent him, or a Government building a line, for that matter if we chose we could build a line from Berbera to his frontier any day we liked without asking his permission. His face lit up at my remark and he replied Yes ! It is true there is nothing to prevent me or a government building a railway. He asked if he could not withdraw his concession, to this I replied that it would not do very much good if he did, as there was 200 kilometres of railway on the ground, and how was he going to stop them working what was made or even continuing it ; the interests involved were not worth the risk of war. I could scarcely realise that the French Government would, after having publicly made law a Convention, without even asking his permission on the subject, now accept the retrocession of the Concession.

" Purely as a private individual, my advice to him was to ask the British Government were they prepared to support him in any action he might take, or supposing he saw no way out of the situation but to accept the French proposals subject to modifications, would the British Government lend him the money to build his own line from the frontier to Harar, and to build a line themselves from Berbera to join his line at the frontier. " He said that this was good advice and asked that I should telegraph, ask three questions, also Government’s views fully on the Convention between the Company and the French Government as well as their advice as to the action he should take.

" I carefully advised him that the advice I gave was my advice merely as a private individual and that he might be perhaps disappointed at the reply he would receive, as I had no reason for supposing that the Government considered the Railway question of anything like the same importance that I did.

" The King asked ‘ What about Ilg who had hoped to make money out of the Concession given him ?’ To this I replied that I felt certain that if my Government were willing to move in the matter of building a competing line, arrangements could be made between him and them to make Ilg some compensation for any loss the French Government action would entail.

" Eventually the interview concluded with the request that my interpreter should go up and fully explain the Convention the next day. Throughout the interview the King showed himself excessively displeased at the French Government’s move, and repeatedly emphasised the remarks with his cane, a sign of great excitement and temper in him, which is not often visible in him."95 The telegram to the British Government which Harrington drafted at Menelik’s request read as follows :

" Warning as desired given to the Emperor. His reply is if you warn him and he acts on your warning, are you prepared to support him in his action, or supposing he is obliged to accept the French Government’s proposal, will you lend him the money to build his own line from the frontier to Harar, you building a line from Berbera to join his line, and guarantee him possession of Harar against the French.

" He would like your views fully on the Convention between railway company and French Government, as well as your advice as to his action."

On the following day as arranged, Menelek received Harrington’s interpreter, Beru, who presented him with a detailed review of the Convention. Ilg who was present took part in the discussion. Harrington’s rather staccato report of the proceedings must again be quoted at some length, as it reveals most graphically Menelek’s attitude and what he considered the more important Articles of the Convention with which in fact it should be read :

" Article 5, para. 5 (which stated that all members of the Company’s council should be French unless otherwise authorised). When Ilg remarked that this was to get rid of him, the King said : ‘ Oh ! Yes ! but where do we come in.’ Para. 7, same Article (prohibiting the transfer of the line between Jibuti and the Hawash) fairly fetched his Majesty,’ What ! ‘ he exclaimed,’ they want the Hawash, do they ? Why can’t they stick to their own ground ? We will see.’

" Beru mentioned about the sphere of influence extending between us and the French as far as Harar and the King exclaimed ‘ Now I know why M. Lagarde was always telling us not to give any concessions North of a line to the Didessa and telling me I must not give one concession in the Wallo country or Godjam.’

" Ilg tried to calm the King, who was furious, by suggesting that they might have something up their sleeves, some proposition or arrangement to suggest to his Majesty, or perhaps proposed to give him some thousands of rifles and millions of cartridges. ‘ What do I want with them,’ said the King, ‘ to the Hawash ? What ! What ! They might as well tell me to prepare for war at once. Now I understand why M. Lagarde hasn’t got it, that he has only a rough copy, he has been sending any amount of telegrams lately perhaps making his plans, and here it is in a newspaper published in full and now it is passed and sanctioned.’

" Article 6, para 2 (prohibiting the Company from building branch lines). The King said to Ilg after the meaning of branch lines had been explained, exclaimed, ‘ Isn’t my concession to you only to lay a line ? ‘

" Article 8 (which specified the French Government’s right to fix charges). Menelek exclaimed, ‘ We did not write in the concession like this for you.’ He yelled for his secretary and when he appeared, said, ‘ Man, in how many hours can you go to Addis Ababa ? Go and get me the copy of the railway Concession. Bring it at once.’

" Beru called his attention to Article 18 (which specified that some of the Articles were subject to agreement between the French and Ethiopian Governments). ‘ Oh yes ! Oh yes ! ‘ said he ‘ read another.’

" Article 9, para. 3 (which put the line in Ethiopian territory under the control of the French legation in Addis Ababa). He said, ‘ Oh yes ! Lagarde for his own interest and glory is going to be governor in our country.’

"Article 11 and 12 (which specified the French Government’s right to share in the profits). He exclaimed, ‘ I thought it was to be for me.’ To Ilg he said, ‘ What are you going to do ? ‘ Ilg replied, ‘ We wrote that the division of profits was to be for you but they have changed it all. What can I say ?’

" Article 14 (which stipulated that the line from Jibuti to Dire Dawa would revert to the French Government at the end of the Concession). He remarked, ‘ I thought it was to be mine. Are they going to take it from me ?’

"To Article 15 (which allowed the French Government to purchase the line from Jibuti to the Hawash) he remarked, ‘ Why don’t they say they will buy Abyssinia ?’

" Ilg remarked when he started to translate Article 16 (which provided for the confiscation of the railway by the French Government) that it was an important one, on hearing it, Menelek exclaimed, ‘They will confiscate it, will they ? We will see. Why do not they say it is their own and take it themselves.’

" The King did not pay too much regard to Article 18 (which specified that some of the articles were subject to Franco-Ethiopian agreement), he said, ‘ Oh yes ! This is to smooth it all over. If they did not want me to agree, why did they not show it beforehand. This is only to cover our eyes.’

" In fact from what my interpreter tells of the King’s behaviour while he heard the translation of the Convention, he was real mad with rage.

" He ordered Ilg to tell Lagarde to come to Addis Ababa at once … it will take him all his intelligence and skill to calm his Majesty I fancy."

Menelek’s attitude and that of Harrington, who strove to strengthen it, can be seen in the conclusion of the report which tells of a further conversation between the Emperor and the envoy. Harrington notes :

" The gist of my remarks was as follows, that the French had clearly shown that the object of their railway was political and that they had every intention of having the control of the railway running to Djibouti, that I had always understood he objected to Government intervention in the railway. To this he assented, and when I referred him to my warning about the railway, when I had discussed the matter in 1900, he remarked to Ilg that everything I had ever said to him had always turned out to be true. I told him I objected strongly to the railway becoming a political instrument in the hands of the French Government and a danger to his independence which it was to our interest to maintain. The present situation unless neutralised or averted in some way or other was to my mind the beginning of the end and that the day of spheres of influence in Abyssinia was approaching, for if nothing was done by him to counterbalance the situation the Railway under French Government control would create, then I should fail in my duty did I not do my utmost to urge my Government to come to terms with France, as regards spheres of influence before the railway could make her position stronger than our’s or Italy’s. He was face to face with the fact that no matter what he did the French Government intended to have, and would have, control of the line from Djibouti. It was to his interest to seek a means to counterbalance the French move."

Developing an interesting philosophy of realpolitik worthy of more frequent quotation, Harrington concludes :

" I said to him, ‘ You told me M. Lagarde told you Government had done this out of friendship for you. If you believe that Friendships exist between governments, you are very much mistaken. You can take it from me that no such thing as friendship exists, as one understands friendship between man and man, between governments. Friendship between governments depends on community of interests and you may be sure that if anyone tells you on behalf of his government that he does, has done, or is going to do anything for you out of friendship, that man in plain language is a liar, as no government will make a considerable sacrifice for another unless it is to their interest to do so.’ ‘ True, true !’ remarked the King.

" I said that there was no secret about our preferring him as a neighbour to France, we find him easier to arrange matters with and if the worst came to the worst that he was a very much less expensive individual to have a war with than the French. I had no idea whether my Government would consider the railway question of sufficient importance to warrant their helping him, but if they did he could rest assured that they did so because it was in their interest to do so, and not out of friendship or philanthropy."96

Harrington’s own view, as explained in the same report, was that the British Government should seriously contemplate the construction of a line from British Somali-land to Harar. An engineer with experience of light American railways had estimated that a line from Berbera to Harar would cost no more than £750,000 and could expect to carry an annual load of 6,000 tons. Against the cost of construction should be set the fact that the British port of Zeila was threatened with a loss of £14,000 a year due to the competition of the French line. A railway through the British Protectorate moreover would have the added advantage that it would be of strategic use in connection with the impending hostilities with the " Mad " Mullah. " Far better," Harrington declared, " to spend the money on a railway which will retain the bulk of the Zeyla revenue, than on establishing a permanent military force to protect a trade that will once the French railway reaches Addis Harar, want a microscope to be visible, and an administration to administer a Protectorate that without a railway promises to become dependent on the mother country’s purse."97

Menelek, understandably enough, was gravely shaken by the action taken by the French. When their Minister, Lagarde, finally visited him to request his consent to the stipulations of the Convention which affected Ethiopian territory, he was met, Gilmour says, " with a point-blank refusal." The Emperor " declared that he regarded those clauses of the Convention which contemplated the ultimate acquisition of the railway up to the Hawash valley by the French Government as a direct infringement of his rights as an independent sovereign. They unmasked a design of territorial aggrandisement with which he had been unwilling to credit France."98

No dissent from this view in fact seems possible Notwithstanding the reservations embodied in Article 18, it was obvious from the first that the Convention was but a little masked infringement of Ethiopian sovereignty. Skinner, commenting on the position acquired in Ethiopia by the French as a result of the Convention, observed shortly afterwards :

" The inability of the Railway Company to confer these privileges was tacitly recognised by Article 18 which declares that the paragraphs above-mentioned shall be applicable under reserve as to an understanding between the French and Ethiopian Governments.

" From the point of view of the Ethiopian Govern ment it is undesirable to permit the extension of this existing line by the Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia, while that Company is bound down by a contract whereby a Foreign Power seeks to obtain contingent rights in a large part of the Empire and absolute control of the means of transportation. Therefore, the Emperor has refused to formulate the limitation clauses regarding the building of additional lines, or to come to the under standing referred to in Article 18 of the Convention in this position he is sustained by other powers with political interests at stake."99

Notwithstanding such opposition, the terms of the Convention were presented to the French Parliament on April 6, 1902, when a law was passed approving the agreement and providing for the annual subsidy of 500,000 francs for 50 years starting on July 1, 1902 and guaranteeing interest and sinking fund payments even in the case of the Company’s dissolution.100

The French, generally speaking, refused to admit the impossibility of their position, and tended to attribute the Emperor’s indignation to the influence of Britain and particularly to Harrington. Though Harrington in fact urged opposition to France this was by no mean the whole story. Gilmour comments : " Nothing i to be gained by denying the fact" that Harrington " used his best endeavours to oppose the designs c France," but " French influence at Addis Ababa fell below zero—not because of anything Sir John Harrington ton had done, but because of something the French Government had done."101

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Harrington, a resolute critic of the French, gave the Emperor strong support in his opposition to the Convention of 1902. Accordingly, on August 30, we fin the British envoy requesting his Government to ascertain whether their legal experts could find any reason which would justify Menelek in abrogating his original cor cession. " Is there," Harrington asked, " any possibly means whereby a coach and four can be driven through the railway Concession without asking the Emperor Menelek to perform a dishonourable action ? "102

The Law Officers, to whom this query was forwarded in due course replied on November 17. The case the presented was ingenious, though not fully satisfying They began by drawing attention to Article 4 of the Concession which laid down that the latter would be automatically annulled if the Company failed to begin construction of the line to Harar within two year Though this obligation had been revoked by the

Emperor’s (aforementioned) letter of March 5, 1896, this cancellation was only conditional on the " immediate " construction of a telegraph line from Jibuti to Harar. Over six and a half years had since elapsed and neither the railway nor the telegraph had been brought to Harar. This, in the Law Officers’ opinion, would justify the Emperor in revoking his Concession as amended by his letter.103

The British Foreign Office, however, was unwilling to act on the basis of the Law Officers’ rather weak opinion, perhaps because the Government was reluctant to break with France, perhaps because it felt unable to take over the financial responsibilities of a railway. At all events Lord Lansdowne, the Foreign Secretary, said the Law Officers’ conclusions did not seem to him " a very strong ground " upon which to take action, and that the whole question would have to be carefully considered.104

This verdict did not prevent Harrington from continuing his efforts to find a solution favourable to Britain. He toyed with various plans. In Paris in December, 1902, he discussed with Ochs and Lagarde the possibility of making Jibuti a free port, and at the same time partitioning Ethiopia into two spheres of influence : a French one in the area of the Hawash and a British in the west.105 In February, 1903, he proposed to his Government the construction of a small British Somaliland railway to Harar of a gauge of no more than 2 ft. 6 in., which, he claimed, would cost no more than £3,500 a mile. " If Menelek asks our assistance and we fail him," he argued, "we shall lose everything we have gained and our position here will be worse than it was five years ago when we had no representative here."106

In November of the same year he considered a plan devised by Ochs whereby there should be two lines from the coast to Harar, one British and one French, and a third from Harar to the interior belonging to Menelek.107 *                  *                  *

However many plans might be devised there was no gainsaying that they all depended on the goodwill of Menelek ; railway builders or intriguers of whatever nationality could hope for no success without his cooperation as profits could only be obtained by operating well into Ethiopian territory and by handling the imports and exports of the interior.

The all important attitude of the Emperor was well summed up in one of Harrington’s reports, dated August 20, 1903. In it Menelek reiterated his argument that he had granted the original Concession on a private basis without any intention of involving the French Government as such. He therefore argued that the privileges he had given to the Company were no longer applicable in a situation where the railway was being sponsored by a foreign power. Because of this, and on the basis of his own interpretation of Article 3 he declared his right either to build or to give concessions for lines anywhere in his own country, and proposed that the British should make a railway from Berbera to Harar in which case he would make one to join up with it on his side of the frontier. Harrington reports this as follows :

" He gave the Concession on the distinct understanding that there was to be no Government interference in the affair. Since the French Government intervened in the matter, M. Ilg, the original concessionaire, stated to him in the presence of both Italian and British Representatives that it was with this understanding that he asked for and obtained the Concession.

" Had it not been for this understanding, His Majesty would not have given the concessionaire the privileges given under the Concession, these privileges were only given to enable a private Company, that was to be formed, to raise the necessary capital for building the line.

" His Majesty objects to French Government interference, as he does not wish any one Government to possess greater privileges than another in his country. In this particular instance he objects to the political and commercial advantages that the sole control of railway communication in Ethiopia from the East would give the French Government, as it seems to mean they will control the commercial development of the east of Ethiopia, he does not wish to put it in their power to do so, therefore he wishes to guard against it. In fact, His Majesty considers that a railway is a menace to his independence, and gives that one Government an advantage over the other Governments with whom he is in relation.

" His Majesty considers that the Concession was obtained from him under false pretences.

" Further, the words used in the original Concession are not’ competing lines ‘ but a ‘ line side by side.’ The Concession is in the Amharic language, and the only official version is the Amharic one.

" His Majesty holds that, having given the privileges he did to the concessionaire to enable him to form Companies to construct the line, now that the Company has made an agreement with the French Government and has received financial support, he is no longer bound to continue these privileges which were given on the definite understanding that there was to be no Government interference in the affair. But now, since the Government has entered in the affair, there is no need to his giving all these privileges.

" His Majesty holds that there is nothing in the Concession to prevent his giving a Concession for a railway anywhere within the limits of his own Empire, or nothing to prevent him building a railway within his own Empire himself.

" His Majesty’s wishes are to come to an amicable settlement with the French Government on the question, to cancel all the special privileges which do not suit, and which were granted to the concessionaire to enable him to raise the necessary capital, and to so arrange matters that the French Government shall not hold a privileged position in Ethiopia as compared with the other Government with whom he is in relation.

" Further, His Majesty desires that the British Government should build a railway line from Berbera to a point on the Abyssinian frontier, in which case His Majesty would build his own line from Harar to meet the Berbera line.

" As regards the line from Harar to the frontier of British Somaliland, His Majesty realises that the financial question is the difficulty for him, he therefore desires that, if possible, the British Government should arrange the financial question for him, and he is willing to, in case he obtains a subsidy in connection with Lake Tana and the Blue Nile for engagements already made, utilise portion of his subsidy to enable the necessary capital to be raised.

" The only condition His Majesty attaches to the Berbera-Harar line is that the line in Ethiopian territory must be the property of the Ethiopian Government."

The French Government, though unwilling to accept Menelek’s position, was fully aware of the dangers inherent in further aggravating the situation. On August 17, 1903, the Italian Wolynsky reported : " At Jibuti there is not a single French soldier, because Menelek does not wish it."108

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The result of the 1902 Convention was to earn the Company the dangerous enmity of Menelik upon whose support alone the success of the railway depended. This was particularly serious in view of the fact that the Company was no flourishing concern but in fact fluttering on the verge of bankruptcy.

The dispute with France almost inevitably caused the Emperor to turn to Britain. A month after the promulgation of the French law approving the disastrous Convention he signed with Harrington a Treaty, dated May 15, 1902, whereby he withdrew his claim to fix the western frontier of Ethiopia on the White Nile and granted the Governments of Britain and the Sudan, in Article 5 the right to build a railway through Ethiopian territory to connect with the Sudan and Uganda.109 A couple of years later, on August 28, 1904, while the conflict over the railway continued, he granted Britain a second concession, this time to build a railway to connect British Somaliland with the Sudan.110 Neither of the two railways for which Britain thus obtained concessions were in fact ever built though they played an important part in the bargaining with France.

Meanwhile in Paris, the Company, despite the subsidy, was sinking more and more heavily into debt. A hundred kilometres of line had still to be built to reach Dire Dawa, and it was obvious that reasonable profits could not be expected at least until the completion of the second stage of the project as far as Addis Ababa for which the Emperor’s permission would now probably no more be forthcoming. The agreement, to which he objected so vehemently, had moreover imposed new financial responsibilities on the Company which had been obliged, on pain of confiscation, to free itself of at least some of its British commitments.

Chefneux and his colleagues, who were on the verge of bankruptcy, now turned to two French insurance companies, La Generale-Vie and La Nationale Vie, to whom they ceded the French Government’s subvention, which would have brought in 25,000,000 francs over 50 years, in return for an immediate 11,30.0,000 francs. By this desperate measure they repaid the loans of 3,000,000 francs from the British companies and liquidated the Trust’s contract for the construction of the line. They did not, however, buy back the shares and debentures held by the English companies. With what was left of the 11,300,000 francs they continued the railway as far as Dire Dawa where the first engine arrived in December, 1903.

The gravity of the situation was intensified by the opposition of Menelek. This was forcibly demonstrated when after first agreeing to do so he refused to attend the opening ceremony at Dire Dawa. The significant of this incident, as Gilmour says, " was not diminish by the knowledge that the refusal involved a great disappointment to the Emperor who was anxious to see 1 railway and the sea, both of which would have be novel sights to His Majesty."111

No less serious, the Emperor, arguing that his original Concession had been violated by the new agreement: withdrew the privileges he had previously authorise such as the free use of stones for the construction of war; houses. When the railway officials asked his permission for them to collect the 10 per cent, levy on merchandise at Jibuti instead of at the frontier, a matter of purely administrative convenience, he " declined to accede the request, on the ground that he had granted the privilege to a commercial company, and not to a company which was practically owned and controlled by foreign government."113 An even greater blow fell when he withdrew the instruction to the customs officials at Harar that they should direct goods to be transported by the railway rather than by alternative means. The Company, relying on what they had hoped would be virtual compulsion for the merchants to convey their goods by the railway, had fixed very high freight charges. Once the proposed compulsion was withdrawn there was little reason for the merchants to load their property on camels to carry it down to the Dire Dawa terminus for transportation by rail rather than to use camels going direct to the port as of old.

The Company complained that as a result of the withdrawal of these privileges the railway operated at heavy loss.

Moreover the Emperor refused to grant the further concession required for the construction of the railway from Dire Dawa to the capital and it was upon this line that all hope of profits centred.113 On March 24, 1904 he agreed to Chefneux’s entreaties to give him a letter repeating his permission for this extension, but on the following day he withdrew the letter and could not be prevailed upon to issue it again. He explained the " while not only willing but anxious that the work should be begun with the least possible delay . . . he would not permit the line to be built by a foreign government or by a company controlled by a foreign government."114

The Emperor was at this time undoubtedly mud preoccupied with the railway question. Le Roux reports that on the inauguration of Addis Ababa’s first steam-roller on May 18, Menelek observed to Ras Makonnen that the event could in nowise be compared to the construction of the railway. " I know very well,’ the Sovereign is quoted as saying, " that we will see nothing serious here until Ilg and Chefneux’s railway scales the plateau." The Ras reporting this to the Frenchman explained that " the Emperor is not unaware that this steam-roller is but the shadow of the locomotive which is still only puffing in the lowlands (i.e. between Jibuti and Dire Dawa). He welcomes it with undiluted joy. The Emperor has not seen the Kingdoms of Europe like me. He has not shuddered at the contact of civilization." Speaking of the Emperor Ras Makonnen is nevertheless said to have added : " He is the Son of Wisdom. Without doubt God lavishes him with the clarity which we others lack. God leads him towards his destiny."115

*                *                *

The British it should be emphasised, were throughout this time most active in opposing the French. George Clerk, Harrington’s deputy, reported on April 2, 1904, during the latter’s absence in Europe, that following a rumour that Menelik was coming to an agreement with Chefneux he had himself at once travelled to the Emperor’s Palace at Holeta to protest. In the ensuing conversations with the Emperor he attacked the French conception of the railway, and threatened to " fulfil the painful duty " of telegraphing to his Government " that the King of Kings of Ethiopia had proved false to his word " of awaiting Harrington’s return before coming to a solution on the railway. The Emperor nonetheless worked out a new formula of agreement, only to have it rejected by Chefneux.116

Harrington’s return to Addis Ababa strengthened the opposition to Chefneux for the Englishman was a persuasive advocate for either the internationalization of the existing Company or the construction of a rival line to Berbera.117 Menelek generally speaking had a similar approach and went so far as to threaten the French that he would support the latter proposal.118 At heart, however, the Emperor was more of an internationalist—his attitude was summed up in a report which Harrington wrote on May 6. It stated : " King Menelek views with approval an international settlement. (1) The French Government should enter into an agreement with His Majesty’s Government to respect the independence of Ethiopia, both Governments reciprocally engaging not to attempt the acquisition of any territory nor to exercise any political interference in Abyssinia, outside their existing frontiers, except in common accord. (2) Railway should be under Anglo-French control throughout, and (3) Jibuti should be constituted a free port. Further His Majesty concurs that Italy should be offered the opportunity of taking part in the internationalization of the railway, if she wishes."119

The Company was now in fact in an impossible position. It had spent the whole of the funds received from the insurance companies, and was obtaining scarcely any revenue from the section of line thus far completed— Jennings and Addison say that costs were in the nature of 115,000 francs a month and receipts at only 15,000. The subvention of 500,000 francs was still paid annually by the French Treasury, but it went to the insurance companies and not to the Company ; the latter could no longer guarantee or be used to pay the interest and sinking fund of the shares and loans obtained for the loss of the subvention meant that there was now no security for them. French capitalists moreover were reluctant to invest in the Company because of Menelek’s refusal to allow the extension of the line into the profitable interior. The seriousness of the situation could be seen from the fact that the French newspaper La Liberte reported in December, 1904, that only the urgent insistence of Delcasse, the Foreign Minister, had induced the " Credit Lyonnais " to make a loan to the Company sufficient to enable it to pay the interest on its shares and thus avoid immediate bankruptcy.120

In their struggle for survival, the directors of the Company had no alternative but to abandon the rigidly French policy which they had pursued since the 1902 Convention. Despite the restrictions imposed upon them by that Convention they sought to obtain British capital and to undertake the internationalization of the railway, a policy which was clearly imperative if they were to obtain Menelek’s approval for the extension of the line. The British financiers were favourable to this policy, particularly in view of the Franco-British Treaty of April 8, 1904, popularly known as the Entente Cordiale, and argued that only an Anglo-French solution was likely to be acceptable to the Emperor. For the time being at least there was no gainsaying the fact that no solution was practicable which failed to win Menelek’s favour and that sufficient capital could not be obtained without drawing on British sources. The Railway News of December, 1904, reported a meeting of the British " International Ethiopian Railway Trust," at which it was stated that the Trust had 20,000 3 per cent, preference shares of 500 francs and 4,000 ordinary shares. The Company, it was reported, had acquired, among other advantages, an interest in the extension of the line. Negotiations to internationalise the railway and to transform Jibuti into a free port were said to be in progress. Heartened by the Emperor’s reaction to the Bonhoure-Chefneux Convention, the Trust had decided to acquire " large interests " in the port of Jibuti, and land and houses in the town which were expected to augment in value when the railway was internationalised. Lord Chesterfield, the President of the Trust, in presenting the annual report and balance sheet said :

" As you will have observed, our policy has been loyally to support the French Government in the enterprise, but we have always felt that only by an international arrangement would it be possible to extend the railway and work it for all nations alike. The neutralisation of Abyssinia and the internationalization of this railway were therefore recommended by us as the best course ; it is also the one which would give the undertaking the desired stability and credit. The alternative would be for the line to proceed as a purely French undertaking, which from a financial point of view might suit this Company equally well. After several years of negotiation, however, we are happy to be able to tell you that our recommendations are viewed with favour by all the Powers interested, and also we understand by the Negus himself ; pourparlers are now being conducted with a view to putting into practical effect the policy we have so long advocated."

Annexed to the Report were plans showing two alternative schemes :

" The first giving the English port of Berbera the same connection with Ethiopia as the French port of Jibuti. This, however, would involve a large outlay. Therefore the second scheme had been put forward, to build only the one line to Jibuti, making it a free port ; the board and management of the railway would become international."121

Lord Chesterfield went on to propose that the existing railway, as well as future extensions, should be internationalised along the entire length of the line ; he also suggested that a duty should be collected at all ports serving Ethiopian trade so as to provide the interest required both on bonds already issued and those to be issued to obtain funds for future extensions.

" The Board and management of the Railway Company," he concluded, " would become international, and for this there are, as we know, precedents : for instance, the arrangements connected with the directorate and management of the Suez Canal Company."122

Notwithstanding this allusion to the Suez Canal— naturally somewhat ominous to French ears—the plan for internationalising the railway in fact enjoyed growing support in France. This was in great measure the responsibility of the French diplomat and propagandist, Hugues Le Roux. Gilmour relates that Le Roux was " so impressed " with the Emperor’s " unalterable determination not to permit the line to fall into the hands of a foreign government that he was reluctantly compelled to come to the conclusion that nothing was to be gained by the French Government’s persisting in its demands, and that the only way for France to regain the influence she had lost was to retrace her steps as quickly as possible from the false position into which she had been led. With this conviction . . . Le Roux made it his business to lay the knowledge he had acquired during his visit to Abyssinia before several of the most important Chambers of Commerce in France."

The business men thus approached displayed " intelligible reluctance to abandon the hopes that had been raised, but in almost every instance where the question was discussed, the Chambers of Commerce petitioned the Government to accept the proposal for restoring the railway to a commercial footing."123

The arguments which had produced this volte face on the part of French financial interests may be seen from the resolutions drafted at Marseilles and Rouen. The Chamber of Commerce of the former passed the following resolution :

" The Chamber of Commerce of Marseilles, informed that diplomatic action is being taken to regulate the Ethiopian question, and having considered the two solutions proposed, resolves that the policy of spheres of influences, which would keep up political rivalries in a commercial terrain, be rejected. The Chamber gives, on the contrary, its entire support to the solution of the neutralisation of the Ethiopian railways, which would place France on a footing of equality with her commercial rivals."124

An even more revealing resolution was passed by the Rouen Chamber which read as follows :

" Considering that the second solution, which appears to have the preference of the Negus, would put an end to competitions and struggles for influence, in which we are not certain always to be the more fortunate or the stronger ;

" Considering that it would secured for our port of Jibuti an incontestable advantage ;

" Considering that if, commercially, it is no longer possible to obtain preferential treatment, it is at least necessary to secure equality of treatment with our rivals and to preserve in some way the advance we owe today to the friendly disposition of the Negus ;

" Considering, finally, that this solution would not lead France into fresh monetary sacrifices or into complications always to be dreaded ;

" The Chamber resolves

" That the French Government should continue the negotiations with the British and Italian Governments, with the object of assuring the neutralisation of the Ethiopian Railway, under the administration of a purely commercial company, in which France, Great Britain and Italy would equally participate, and of guaranteeing to our countrymen equality of treatment with our rivals."125

Similar resolutions were passed in January and February, 1905, by the Chambers of Commerce of Lyons, Saint-Nazaire, Nantes, Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux.126 Thus spoke the voice of French finance capital.

This growing French support for a policy of " neutralisation " or " internationalization " was urged by a speaker in the Chamber of Deputies who summed up he matter as follows :

" The railroad cannot remain French except by an accord with our rivals, to whom it should be easy for us to offer compensation because they also possess in Ethiopia interests which we might contest. England desires to delimit the frontiers on the north-west, west and south, and also desires the acquisition of a passage upon the high Ethiopian plateau for a railroad from the Cape to Cairo, which under the authorisation of 1902 would follow the marshy grounds. Italy desires to lose nothing of her economic advantages in this region, and should act willingly in accord with us when certain that we will respect those interests. Therefore there is nothing to prevent an understanding with our rivals, and even that we should give them a place in the management of the railroad provided that the administrative council of the Company contains a French majority."127

The French Africa Association, on the other hand, which represented French colonial interests and ambitions, was bitterly opposed to any international proposals, as were Chefneux and his colleagues. The problem they faced, however, was where to obtain the necessary funds ; it was estimated that another 50,000,000 francs would be required to continue the railway to Addis Ababa and that the Company’s debt already amounted to more than that. The extension of the railway, moreover, required the Emperor’s permission which could only be obtained on his terms—or by war if anyone was so foolhardy as to attempt it.128

The advocates of internationalization were therefore fairly confident of success in the early part of 1905.

The Establishment of Dire Dawa

The establishment of Dire Dawa was a notable event. Largely built by the Company’s engineers, it was the first planned town in Ethiopian history, and could soon boast of government buildings, a friendly hotel, important railway workshops and several good shops.143

Wolynsky noted in 1903 that Dire Dawa was’ ‘symmetrical and elegant " and added that within a year it had " taken on the aspect of a gracious city." With a population of nine or ten thousand people it was inhabited by men of Shoa, as well as Somalis, Dankalis and Gallas, and a couple of hundred Europeans and other foreigners, all of whom lived in " perfect harmony." Commercially the new town was the hub upon which converged innumerable flocks of cattle, sheep, goats and horses, as well as large quantities of grain and other supplies. Dire Dawa, Clifford Halle confirms, " sprang to life in a little over twelve months."144

Addison and Jennings record that the railway employed 30 Europeans in the town, besides an evidently much larger number of non-Europeans.145 Skinner, familiar with his own Middle West, accurately described it as a boom " city " ; he also records that it was connected by an " excellent French road " with the old centre of Harar and that the Galla tribesmen in the area had been compensated by Ras Makonnen in cases where the line had passed over their farms.146

Dire Dawa remained a permanent source of admiration long after the original engineers who planned it had been forgotten. Rey, for example, described it in the nineteen twenties as the most " progressive" and " advanced " town in Ethiopia, rejoicing as it did in roads, piped water and electric light.147 It was also the second Ethiopian town to have a cinema.148

Increasing Difficulties of the Chefneux Company

The position of Chefneux’s Company was meanwhile steadily deteriorating, in part because of the Emperor’s growing displeasure which had already prevented construction of the line from Dire Dawa to Addis Ababa, and in part because funds were running low.

Menelek’s attitude can be seen from Harrington’s reports for the first months of 1905 which show that the Ethiopian ruler was beginning to show signs of taking action on his own. On February 28 Harrington reported :

" After the opportunity I have had of inspecting King Menelek’s Treasury, I am inclined to believe that he can raise the necessary capital to undertake the construction of the railway unassisted.

" I think, too, that if Her Majesty’s Government propose building a line in Somaliland financial arrangements could be made to continue it to Addis Ababa by His Majesty."149

In a subsequent despatch of March 12, which was marked " confidential," the envoy emphasised the Emperor’s distrust of France, and added :

" I feel it my duty to warn you that Menelek’s attitude towards the railway question becomes more determined every day, and there is a danger of his taking his own decision in spite of the Powers interested, and both Powers (i.e. Britain and Italy) would be laid open to a very serious rebuff should any agreement be made with France not in accordance with his views."150

A few weeks later, on April 1, Harrington reported that the Emperor had said to him very frankly :

" Tell your Government that after the experience I have had of French policy in my country, I fail to see the value to me of any Agreement whereby the French Government have control of a railway to my capital, and that, failing the internationalization of the railway in my territory, I shall myself undertake the construction of the line."151

*                *                *

French statesmen and businessmen were by now gravely alarmed by the collapse of their country’s influence in Ethiopia. The French Ambassador in London put the blame for this on the British, arguing in particular that Harrington had prevented a Franco-Ethiopian accord in April, 1904.152 The British Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, rejected such complaints, replying in April, 1905, that Menelek if unable to obtain assistance elsewhere could turn to the German Government.153

Many Frenchmen realising the impossibility of their situation argued that their Government should retrieve the position it had lost as a result of the foolish Bonhoure Chefneux Convention. A letter in the Depeche Coloniale recognised very clearly that most of the trouble sprung from the Government’s earlier insistence on special rights in the railway. Discussing Menelek’s position vis a vis the Convention it said :

" Why not recognise the impossibility for a Chief of State to approve such clauses ? Is it not natural and legitimate for him to refuse to sanction a Convention by which a foreign government, not content with substituting itself for the private concessionaires, provides for the annexation of the railway penetrating into the very heart of Ethiopia and the zone of territory on which it is constructed ? What sovereign could agree to such pretensions ? That is why the Emperor has not authorised the continuation of the work ; that is why the rights and privileges of the company have remained a dead letter ; that is why the company is prevented from collecting the tithe which the bondholders are deprived of."154

An important debate on the railway and the loss of French prestige in Ethiopia took place in the French Senate on April 1, 1905, during which the Comte d’Aunay argued that the Entente Cordiale with Britain should be evoked in favour of French interests in Ethiopia. The Entente, which had been signed in the previous year, provided for France to support British predominance in Egypt in exchange for British backing for French predominance in Morocco. Though the agreement was not concerned with Ethiopia the Comte declared that if French interests in the railway were not protected the Entente would be a trick or even a mockery.155

" Recently," he exclaimed, " we were able to cherish the finest hopes for our position in Abyssinia. We had the monopoly of the railway which gave us a precious instrument of penetration ; one could say that the Empire of Menelek would become a colony for us from which we could gather the benefits without assuming any of the responsibility.

" Unfortunately, it was nothing but an illusion, and we are today face to face with reality ; we ask with anxiety whether other Powers will completely supplant us or more or less become dominant in Abyssinia."156

The Comte’s speech was greeted with great applause from his fellow senators.

The Foreign Minister, M. Delcasse, by no means unaware of the repercussions which the debate might have in Addis Ababa, made a statement in which we said: "We have never wished, and do not wish, anything but good to the Emperor Menelik, and we have never had any pretension, either political or territorial, on his Empire ; it is not we who would refuse to subscribe to a declaration which would have for its object to respect the independence of Abyssinia and the integrity of its territory."157

#                *                *

Menelek learnt of the debate in a matter of hours for telegraphic communication had by then been established between Addis Ababa and Europe. Ten days later, on April 11, 1905—just over three years after the Bonhoure-Chefneux Convention—he summoned the foreign representatives of France, Britain, Italy and Russia to an important audience at the Palace ; Ilg attended as Councillor of State and was responsible for translating the Emperor’s words sentence by sentence into French, while Chefneux was invited as a representative of the Company, but failed to attend on account of illness.

After the customary salutations the Emperor made a statement of policy, which, Gilmour says, impressed the Europeans there present both by its firmness and by " the evident support " it received from the " influential Rases " in attendance.158

It is generally held that the Emperor’s hand had by now been strengthened by offers of support from other quarters. He had recently signed commercial treaties with the United States, Germany, Austria and Turkey, and had received offers of assistance for the railway both from a German mission led by Dr. Rosen and from the National Bank of Egypt. Germany for reasons of international diplomacy was only too willing to assist Ethiopia in the hope of embarrassing France and was indeed playing a similar game in Morocco ; on the other hand the National Bank of Egypt, which was then organising the Bank of Abyssinia as a subsidiary, considered the enterprise could be undertaken as a purely commercial proposition.159

Though no official text of the Emperor’s speech, which Ilg translated sentence by sentence, is available, Gilmour considers that the accuracy of the version, published by the La Depeche Coloniale, " cannot be called into question." According to it Menelek spoke as follows :

" You are aware, gentlemen, how for several years past I have pursued the task of endowing my country with a railway, on the construction of which we had decided.

" You are not unaware of the great satisfaction with which I witnessed the arrival of the railway at Dire Dawa. I had hoped that after the first effort every month would bring this railway nearer to Addis Ababa. If, however, for three years the work has been stopped, you know the cause. Time has been wasted on idle discussions. I had hoped this railway would, as soon as possible, have largely contributed to the development of our Empire, for that is our principal preoccupation.

" I had also hoped that it would furnish me personally with the means of realising a wish very near to my heart— that of visiting the friendly nations in Europe.

" Accordingly, as I have just said, it is with the liveliest regret that I see the months and years slip by without our friends being able to come to an understanding on this question.

" It is precisely in order to put an end to this state of affairs that I have summoned you here today.

" I wish to beg you to convey to the knowledge of your Governments the decision which I desire to take relative to this question of the railway.

" I should have been glad to see the construction of the railway assured with the least possible delay by an agreement among the different powers, giving to each of them the necessary guarantees.

" Up to the present moment I have received no proposal from you.

" If I receive no proposal from your Governments, no proposal reconciling your international interests, and so putting an end to this conflict, I shall find myself, in order to ensure the construction of the railway, under the necessity of undertaking its construction myself, without either asking or accepting assistance from anyone.

" I shall be obliged if you will convey this communication to the knowledge of your Governments."160

These words, which were heard with the utmost attention, led to immediate discussion. Harrington at once replied, urging the need for the internationalization of the railway as the only means of guaranteeing Ethiopia’s integrity.

" In my capacity as British Minister," he said, " I am glad to state that the British Government does not follow, in reference to Ethiopia, any other policy than the maintenance of its complete independence.

" I declare that I am ready to sign at once any engagement which has for its object the confirmation of that independence.

" A railway constructed with the money of a single nation, and under the control of a single foreign government, would place Ethiopia in a situation incompatible with its independence or the integrity of its territory.

" My personal opinion is that the railway ought to remain on a commercial basis and ought not to be a political instrument.

" The best means of giving to the various interests the necessary guarantees would be to permit the capital of all the nations to participate in the construction of the railway.

"I do not see any inconvenience in entrusting the direction of this enterprise to the French Company, provided that the character of this enterprise remains international.

" I have been aware for some time past of a plan which has for its main object to harmonise the different interests concerned. This plan appears to me acceptable from the point of view of British interests.

" A Company reposing on an international basis would alone be in a position to establish gradually, and, according to their utility, a general programme for the construction of the different sections, having regard to the different interests which it would represent." Turning to the claims of France, he added : " Unfortunately I have been obliged to recognise that from another quarter my efforts have not been supported. " It is impossible for me to understand how the maintenance of the independence of Ethiopia can be reconciled with the idea of a construction of a French railway from

the coast to the capital, under the sole control of the French Government. I regret to be obliged to say that I do not understand this French policy, the less so as the proposals which have been made to me by my colleague, the French Minister, were incompatible with the very principle of the independence of Ethiopia."

M. Lagarde, the French Minister, embarrassed by this attack, at that moment made a brusque movement as if with the intention of speaking, but Harrington went on :

" It seems to me that we could come to an understanding on this question of the railway just as we have just agreed on the creation of a bank. I can pledge my word that my Government is in no way concerned with the creation of this bank, which is a purely commercial and international enterprise, and I repeat that I shall view with pleasure, and will support with my Government, an arrangement in the sense I have indicated."

M. Lagarde then made a brief non-commital statement in which he regretted that he could not express his opinion on the matter. " When my Government shall have come to some decision," he said, " I shall have the honour to submit its decision to Your Majesty."

A member of Menelek’s entourage thereupon pressed him to give some explanation of French policy to date, but he merely replied : " What I have done during the past twenty-two years ought to reassure His Majesty he Emperor in this respect."

Menelek then intervened. The report, which continues in reported speech, says the Emperor said he was " obliged to express his regrets at being for the last three years in the same situation, that is, faced with a Convention into which the Company entered in 1902 with the French Government without his authorisation, an agreement by which his supremacy is threatened. His Majesty has always looked upon the construction of the railway as a commercial enterprise, he has never admitted that this railway should become a political instrument in foreign hands. His Majesty recalls to M. Lagarde his astonishment and displeasure when this agreement was submitted to him. He recalls also to M. Lagarde that His Majesty himself charged him to inform the French Government that he disapproves of this convention."

The Italian and Russian Ministers were then invited to speak. The Italian, the Duke of Gaetano, said his Government had informed him that it desired to see the Company internationalised, while Likatscheff, of Russia, said he would hasten to put before his Government the views the Emperor had just expressed.191

*                                              *                                              *

The shareholders of the Chefneux Company meanwhile continued to demand the exercise of the Entente Cordiale on their behalf. At a general meeting in December, 1905, there were complaints that diplomatic pressure by the French Government had not been sufficient. So far from asserting them effectively to obtain what they termed their ‘ rights ‘ from the Emperor, their Government had failed to hand over to them the 10 per cent, levy on merchandise carried by the railway in the French Protectorate, which by this time, they asserted, would have risen to between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000. Their troubles with the Emperor, they rightly declared, were due to clauses in the Convention the French Government had forced them to sign in 1902 which were " visibly incompatible with the sovereign rights of the Emperor." Nevertheless, they claimed, " we have given to the Government the greatest and most devoted co-operation in leading the Emperor to accept these clauses "—but without success.

*                *                *

The year 1905, which saw the Emperor’s public audience with the diplomats, drifted in 1906 without the Powers taking any action as requested. Menelek thereupon delivered an ultimatum.

On March 15 Harrington telegraphed that Menelek had sent a message to him, as well as to the representatives of France and Italy, which declared :

" In April last year we communicated our views on the railway question to the Representatives of the Powers. France, Great Britain and Italy are the Powers concerned in the railway, but up to now they have not informed us of their views ; therefore we ask you to inform your Government by telegram that if no solution satisfactory to us is presented by the three Governments by May 8, we shall take steps to construct the railway ourselves, as the development and welfare of our country demand it."162

No satisfactory reply came so the Emperor, as good as his word, began operations himself. In May, 1906, the American Skinner noted that the railway controversy was still unsolved, and adds :

" The Emperor has . . . taken a first step in the execution of his threat to build the line himself if international agreement could not be brought about. I have been advised by several correspondents in Ethiopia that a large number of workmen are now being employed, and that the grading has been completed for a considerable distance from Addis Ababa, the work proceeding towards Dire Dawa. The Emperor himself is providing the labourers, and the work is proceeding under the general direction of the railroad company, presumably with the expectation that an eventual settlement will be had, which will enable the company to take over the portion for which the Emperor is now furnishing the funds."163

Harrington confirms the above report in a letter of June 29, in which he states: " The Emperor Menelek, in a recent audience, suddenly interrupted a conversation with me . . . and said that the time-limit assigned by him for the settlement of the railway question by the Powers had elapsed some weeks, and His Majesty added that he was now going to build his own railway."164 *                *                *

Despite the Entente Cordiale the British and French representatives in the capital continued to work against each other’s interests. Thomas Hohler, who served in the British Legation in 1906 during the illness of Harrington, relates that at the end of May of that year the French minister, Klobukowsky, was largely preoccupied with the question of how to persuade the Emperor to allow a French railway as far as Addis Ababa. Hohler’s own instructions from Sir Eldon Gorst, the British Resident Minister in Egypt, were that he should help the French, " or, at all events, not to put any obstacle in their way." Since, however, the French proposals seemed " to imply a certain amount of interference with the internal administration of the country," Gorst " thought Menelek might resent this, and said that before joining

Klobukowsky in putting pressure on the Emperor, I ought to get instructions from home. He feared that the French object was to increase the dimes which were to finance the construction of the railways, which might embarrass our trade. Meanwhile, I abstained from doing anything about it, and the result was I got a letter from Klobukowsky charging me with bad faith. I sent him a very polite answer, and when he came to return my call he said he had never meant it, nothing was further from his thoughts ; his first two hours with me were enough to convince me of my droiture d’esprit, franchise, etc. I think it was an attempt to over-awe me so that he might have me tied nice and tight to the wheels of his chariot. I asked him, did he propose that the dime should be imposed on imports from the Sudan also, and he replied in the affirmative. Of course, it was absurd to imagine the Sudan would agree for its exports to be taxed, to support a railway leading in the opposite direction. The Italians also objected to the dime being applied on the Eritrean frontier."165

Hohler states that Klobukowsky later incurred Menelek’s wrath by saying that " if the railway negotiations did not go through, he would stop all import of arms through Jibuti."166

The Tripartite Agreement of 1906

Towards the end of 1906 the three Great Powers, Britain, France and Italy, in part prompted by a belief that Menelek’s failing health meant that his reign was coming to a close, decided on resolving their rivalries in this part of Africa. On December 13, 1906, they signed a Tripartite Convention which provided for concerted action in Ethiopia which was accordingly divided into three spheres of influence.

Article VI affirmed the agreement of the three Powers that the railway as far as Addis Ababa, together with an eventual branch line to Harar, should be built either by the then existing Company or by any other French company which might succeed it with the approval of the French Government. The agreement of the other Powers to this article was conditional on their nationals enjoying equality of travel and trade both on the railway and at the port of Jibuti. The Article further specified that merchandise travelling on the railway should not be taxed for the profit of either the Colony or the French treasury.

Article VII laid down that the French Government should ensure that an Englishman, an Italian and a Representative of the Emperor should be appointed to the Administrative Council of the Company or companies charged with the construction and operation of the railway. The British and Italian Governments agreed in return that a Frenchman should be appointed an Administrator on any British or Italian company which might be established to build or run a railway from Ethiopia to the neighbouring British or Italian territories. It was further understood that the nationals of the three countries should enjoy equal facilities to travel and trade on such lines, as well as in the British or Italian ports with which they might connect, and that merchandise should not be taxed for the profit of the British or Italian colonies or their treasuries.

The three Powers expressed their willingness to extend these clauses to the advantage of nationals of other countries.

Article VIII stated that the French company should abstain from any action in respect of the old Concession for the extension of the railway westwards of Addis Ababa (as this area was conceived of as a British sphere of influence).

Article IX specified that the three Powers were agreed that, in so far as foreign capital might be required, the construction of a railway to the west of Addis Ababa should be carried out under British auspices, that any railway linking Eritrea with the Benadir (Somalia) to the west of the capital should be under Italian auspices. The British Government at the same time reserved the right to construct a railway from British Somaliland to the Sudanese frontier, the Concession for which, as we have seen, Menelek had granted on August 28, 1904. The British nevertheless agreed that they would only act on the understanding of prior agreement from the French and Italian governments, the three governments undertaking not to build without agreement among themselves any line penetrating Ethiopian territory or linking up with Ethiopian lines and pledging themselves to avoid direct competition with any lines established under the auspices of any other of the signatory powers.167

Ilg, who realised that this Tripartite agreement endangered the whole railway project as originally conceived by the Emperor and himself, was very critical of its terms. In a private letter to a friend he commented with insight that it was obvious that the Emperor would " energetically veto " the agreement, that the extension of the railway would be postponed for years, and that the economic and commercial progress of the country would therefore be greatly retarded. Turning to the wider implications of the convention he expressed doubt whether even if it were honoured by its signatories it could prevent Germany, Austria, the United States or other countries competing with them in the country.168

Menelek’s reaction was not dissimilar. When the representatives of the three Powers presented the Convention to him, he proudly replied :

" The Convention of the three Powers has reached me. I thank them for having acquainted me with their desire to consolidate and maintain the independence of our Realm. But this actual Convention of theirs (the Powers) is subordinate to our sovereign authority, and it is noted that it cannot bind our decision.

" Written in Addis Ababa December 4, 1906."169

Fears that the Tripartite Agreement would be a prelude to attempts to dismember Ethiopia and to put pressure on Menelek generally were only partially justified for each of the three Powers was still inclined to place its individual interest above the interest of the three. As Harrington had said to Menelek four years earlier, " no such thing as friendships exists, as one understands friendship between man and man, between governments ! "

Early in 1907, however, Harrington visited France and Italy to urge the advantages of what was really a united front against Ethiopia. Though until this time an avowed friend of the Emperor he now undertook a more or less unfriendly act which he later described very frankly as follows :

" My chief object in visiting Paris and Rome was to ensure that the Representatives of the three Powers, France, Great Britain and Italy, should receive strict orders to follow out a policy in the interest of whites as against blacks, and that if the Representatives were not in accord about any particular point, they should not disclose their differences of opinion to King Menelek, but refer the question to their respective Governments."170

In practical terms Harrington was trying to do no less than overthrow the situation in which the European Powers competed against each other for the Emperor’s favour. This competitive situation (the significance of which in the matter of the supply of firearms is discussed by the present author elsewhere) had hitherto been the basis of Menelek’s strength.

In view of the new state of affairs, the ageing Emperor had little alternative but to rely on the labour and capital of his own people. Undeterred he ordered the work to go on, but for technical as well as financial reasons the pace was slow. On November 21 Hohler reported that the Minister of War, Fitawrari Hapta Giyorgis had informed him that the Ethiopian Government had decided to construct the line without foreign assistance. " Shoa," Hohler adds, " will provide the labour, while the other provinces will be called upon for monetary contributions."171

The Company, realising that it had earned the Emperor’s displeasure, appears to have attempted to curry favour by the offer of a substantial gift of arms. Lieut. D. A. Sandford later informed the War Office in London that in 1907 or 1908 Chefneux and his Colleagues had shipped 25,000 Lebel rifles and 2 million rounds of ammunition to Jibuti. These supplies were, however, detained at the port because of Menelek’s refusal to deal with the Company, and were not sent on to Dire Dawa until the latter half of 1909.172

*                *                *


Menelek’s decision to extend the railway himself without the participation of the old Company was symbolic of the disgust and mistrust with which he regarded the men who had signed the regrettable Convention of 1902. After that event, as we have seen, he had withdrawn the privileges which did much to keep Chefneux and his colleagues out of bankruptcy—slowly but surely the Emperor was thus knocking his nails into the Company’s coffin. According to Gilmour, there was " not the slightest room for doubt that the principal ‘ right and privilege ‘ which the shareholders believed would be secured to them . . . was the right to levy the 10 per cent ‘ droit’ to which they were entitled in the terms of the Concession." The withdrawal of this and other privileges had far-reaching effects.

The Company now discovered to its sorrow that it could keep itself solvent only by the issue of bonds and that capital could only be obtained from England. Success or failure therefore seemed to turn on the principle of internationalization, in other words the willingness of British capitalists to invest in a French undertaking and the willingness of the French Government to tolerate growing British control. The question in a way was which was more important : the principle of the Entente Cordiale of 1904, and the Tripartite Agreement of 1906, on the one hand, or the principle of the 1902 Convention, on the other ?

Throughout the first half of 1906 the Company appeared able to weather the storm. It issues bonds to meet the interest payments due in March and June, the necessary capital being subscribed in England. No objection was raised by the French Government, though it will be recalled that all such transactions, according to the 1902 Convention, had actually to be authorised by it. In August, however, a new French Minister for the Colonies, M. Georges Leygues refused to allow a similar policy to be adopted to meet the September payment. The Company was thus placed in a position of great difficulty as failure to meet the coupon due in September would result in bankruptcy. Chefneux and his colleagues solved the problem by obtaining an advance from the British Trust in return for a mortgage on the Dire Dawa Station and 40 kilometres of line on the Ethiopian side of the frontier. A further advance from the Trust to meet the December coupon was arranged on the basis of a mortgage on another 20 kilometres of line in Ethiopian territory.173 By such expedients the Company remained solvent throughout 1906, but it did so only by drifting more and more under British influence. This aroused considerable resentment in France. The French publication Questions Diplomatiques et Coloniales complained that in return for the above loans the Company had transferred the right to construct the line beyond Dire Dawa to the English Railway trust which was able to work much less expensively, that the Company had passed to the Trust the operation of 60 kilometres of the line already constructed between the Ethiopian frontier and Dire Dawa, and that two representatives of the Trust had been introduced to the Company’s administrative council. The year 1907 dawned with the Company once again on the verge of bankruptcy and with the problem of the March coupon to be faced. The Trust again agreed to make the necessary advance in return for a mortgage on a further 20 kilometres of line. This proved the straw which broke the camel’s back, for on March 27 the French Government declared that the loans contravened the 1902 Convention and gave the Company three months in which to regularise its position (which was impossible). June came, and the problem of meeting that month’s coupon proved insuperable as the Trust now refused in the altered circumstances to act as fairy godmother.174 The Company therefore at last had no alternative but to declare itself bankrupt; it therefore passed into liquidation.

Faced with this long expected development the French Government favoured the establishment in Paris of an all French " Societe d’Etudes " to study the affairs of the railway. With the assistance of the French " Banque de l’lndochine " the Company continued to operate the railway yet a little longer. On January 20, 1908, however, the bankruptcy proceedings culminated in the issue of a judicial order for the liquidation of the Chefneux Company, and the transfer of its activities to a new Company to be formed with French support, for the completion and operation of the railway to Addis Ababa, allegedly under conditions which would safeguard the interests of the shareholders and creditors of the defunct Company. Klobukowsky was sent to Ethiopia with the task of negotiating with the Emperor to transfer the Concession to a new company.175

Menelek’s Second Concession

The way was thus at last clear for a new venture. On January 30, 1908, the Emperor, who had long since withdrawn his support from the old Company, willingly granted a new Concession for the operation of the railway and its extension as far as Addis Ababa. This Con-, cession was granted to his personal physician, Dr. Vitalien, as representative of a new railway company.

Vitalien was an unusual person. A coloured man from Guadeloupe, he had studied medicine in Paris before being appointed physician to the railway in 1899. In 1901 he had entered Ras Makonnen’s service only to leave for Jibuti and later for France during the subsequent railway dispute. In the following year, however, he had returned to Ras Makonnen whom he had helped to establish a hospital at Harar. As a result of this Menelek had called him to Addis Ababa in 1904 to serve as his personal physician. On going to Paris on leave in February, 1905, he had made contact with officials of the French Foreign Office, members of the French Inter-Parliamentary Committee on Colonial Affairs and various French Chambers of Commerce ; he was regarded as an expert on Ethiopian affairs and a person with influence at Menelek’s court. On his return to Ethiopia in February, 1906, he had found Ras Makonnen dying, and, after treating him to the end, had travelled to the capital where the Emperor had appointed him court physician. The British envoy Hohler in a report written at about this time, stated that Vitalien, whom he called a " coloured native," was often referred to as a " nigger," spoke Amharic " fairly well " and was " in constant attendance " on the Emperor. At one moment Menelek even seems to have contemplated making him Minister of Health in his first cabinet.176

Vitalien had thus acquired a position in which he could be of service to France, his country of adoption. The French Minister in Ethiopia, M. Klobukowsky, found Vitalien a useful intermediary for the Banque de I’Indo-Chine which was interested in acquiring the railway Concession. As Vitalien later complained Klobukowski’s plan had two phases ; in the first Vitalien was to obtain the Concession ; in the second he was to be made to " disappear " so as to be replaced by the Banque de l’lndo-Chine.177 In accordance with this plan the bank had offered in December, 1907, a month before the grant of the new Concession, to put Vitalien on their pay-roll by placing 500 francs (i.e. 200 dollars) a month in his bank account at Jibuti. Vitalien had refused this offer in the hope of a more advantageous arrangement after the Concession was signed.178 This anticipation was at least partially correct, for in one way or another, Vitalien later received 68,000 francs, though he later went to law in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain more.179 Money, it should be added, often flowed fast in those days : the Company for example quite openly made gifts to prominent Ethiopians to win their favour.180

Though mentioned by name in the Concession, Vitalien appeared in it only as the agent of the new railway company, i.e. as " representant de la nouvelle Societe des chemins de fer ethiopiens " ; he was in fact merely a man of straw and soon disappears from the story, becoming a doctor in Harar, immediately the Company was established.181

The new Concession reaffirmed the essential principles of the Emperor’s original Concession and thereby negated the claims embodied in the ill-fated French Convention of 1902 ; several clauses, however, were borrowed from that Convention and reversed to ensure greater control by the Ethiopian Government. The details of the Concession were as follows :

The Preamble stated that the old Concession granted to Ilg in 1894 was transferred to Dr. Vitalien, as representative of a new company.

Article I stated that the Ethiopian Government would be partners in the railway. The Company was given charge of the line between Jibuti and Dire Dawa and assumed the responsibility of its operation and extension from Dire Dawa to Addis Ababa. It further took over responsibility for 2,300,000 francs due to the Emperor from the old Company and agreed to pay him an interest of 5 per cent, on them.

The Ethiopian Government for its part undertook to provide a quarter of the capital, either in money or labour.

It was agreed that the general direction of the line to be constructed should be from Dire Dawa, via Assaboto, the Hawash and Bossette to Addis Ababa.

Article II specified that the Concession should run for 99 years from the day when the line was completed and in operation as far as Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian Government undertook not to authorise the construction of rival or branch lines in the region of the railway between Jibuti and Addis Ababa, but reserved the right to build roads leading to the line. The Company was obliged to start work on the line between Dire Dawa and the capital within a year of the signing of the contract ; the time in which the work had to be completed was to be decided upon after the arrival in the capital of the company’s engineers.

Article III stipulated that throughout the period of the Concession the Company was obliged to run such services as would be necessary to meet the needs of freight and passengers ; the Company furthermore undertook to avoid all interruptions in the service except in case of force majeure.

Article IV stated that for the lifetime of the Concession the Ethiopian Government would measure and give the Company the lands necessary for the construction of the railway, depots, stations, workshops, as well as a 1,000 metre wide strip from the frontier to Dire Dawa, a 200 metre strip from Dire Dawa to the Hawash, and a 50 metre strip from the Hawash to Addis Ababa. It was stipulated, however, that the sub-soil would remain the possession of the Ethiopian Government, though the Company was entitled to take free of charge from this zone or even outside it all materials it might need, for the construction or operation of the railway, such as water, wood, lime, sand and ballast.

The Article further laid down that the location of stations should be agreed with the Ethiopian Government, and that in case of mobilisation or war the Company would be expected to stop their trains wherever necessary, even outside stations, in order to load or unload troops or materials of war, the Ethiopian Government having to inform it of its requirements in advance.

Article V stipulated that the Company should establish along the railway a telegraph and telephone line and employ the personnel necessary to operate them. The Company had to transmit all communications of the Ethiopian Government free of charge. If the first wire was insufficient the Company had to establish a second at its own expense. The free use of the telegraph and telephone was reserved for the Company and the Ethiopian Government, but travellers would also be able to use these services on showing their tickets.

Article VI ruled that the Company must not increase its share capital without the prior agreement of the Ethiopian Government. It was expressly forbidden from using its capital for enterprises other than the construction and exploitation of the railway or from transferring the Concession or the railway in whole or in part to other Ownership by sale, agreement or any other means.

Article VII specified that the Company had to inform the Ethiopian Government of its share capital. In order to assist the Company with the construction of the railway, the Government authorised it to collect a duty of 6 per cent, on all merchandise except that belonging to the Government, this fee being in addition to customs and transport charges. It was to be collected at Dire Dawa and could be charged after two months of the commencement of work. Of this 6 per cent, two-thirds were to be kept by the Company and one-third be given to the Government which would use it first to construct feeder roads for the railway and later in other ways for the benefit of the country. Goods imported or exported by the Company were to be exempted from all taxation except customs dues.

Article VIII declared that if the resources of the Company, together with the 4 per cent, levy on goods in transit, were insufficient to meet its needs, it was authorised to accept help from the French Government ; no such help could be accepted, however, unless there was a deficit.

Article IX forbade the Company from altering the direction of the line already laid or to be laid in Ethiopian territory or from building branch lines without the consent of the Ethiopian Government. The Company was obliged to submit its statutes to the Government which was entitled to have them modified if they were not in conformity with the Concession.

Article X entitled the Ethiopian Government to nominate a representative to the Company’s Administrative Council. The Company in turn was obliged to inform the Government of the name of its President as well as of its Representative in Addis Ababa, which latter must be replaced if considered unsuitable by the Government. To ensure the carrying out of the contract each side was to appoint a controller responsible for supervising the construction and operation of the railway. All expenses thus incurred were to be borne by the Company.

Article XI entitled the Company to fix its charges for passengers and freight traffic. These charges, however, could not be higher and should rather be lower than those already existing.

Baggage, merchandise and agents of the Government, as well as chiefs travelling with their followers, were to be charged at half price. In order to take advantage of this provision such travellers had, however, to carry a certificate from the Government. Ethiopian post, postal officials, official post and couriers were to be carried free of charge, and Government merchandise had to be given priority over all other merchandise.

In time of war the railway had to be put at the disposal of the Government which would pay the Company at cost price for the services required of it.

The Company was forbidden from transporting troops or war materials in or out of the country without a written order from the Government. If it acted in this respect without orders it must forfeit the railway to the Government unless it could prove that it had been misled and acted in good faith.

Article XII laid down that in return for the Concession the Company should pay the Government an annual due based on the receipts per kilometre : 15 per cent, of the receipts between 6,000 and 8,000 francs per kilometre, 20 per cent, between 8,000 and 10,000 francs and 25 per cent, above 10,000 francs. This due was to be calculated on the entire length of the line constructed on Ethiopian territory and would be payable until the expiry of the Concession.

Article XIII established that the Ethiopian Government would protect the railway on Ethiopian territory and furnish the necessary troops. It could not, however, be held responsible for any accident which might result from causes outside its control. The guards it supplied for the protection of the railway were to be lodged and paid by the Company which had also to transport them and their baggage at its own expense.

Article XIV stated that at the expiry of the Concession the railway and its fixed assets, on the Ethiopian side of the frontier, would become the property of the Ethiopian Government without compensation. The rolling stock and movable property remained the property of the Company, but the Government could purchase them in whole or in part for a price estimated by experts.

Article XV established that disputes about the interpretation of the Concession should be submitted to arbitration. Both sides were entitled to choose an arbitrator ; if these failed to agree the Government and the Company should together choose a third arbitrator whose decision would be final.

Article XVI confirmed that the Ethiopian Government should nominate a member of the Company’s Administrative Council, with the same powers and emoluments as other members. The Company agreed at the same time to appoint a Representative in Addis Ababa. Article XVII specified that all materials, metals, coal and other merchandise imported by the railway and necessary for its work were exempt from customs charges.

The Government was given the profits from stamps on waybills and receipts delivered to merchants for goods transported. This tax was fixed at the rate of 1/2 guerche on a charge of 10 francs.

Article XVIII forbade the Company from transferring the Contract to any Government or company either by sale or exchange.182

This agreement between the Emperor and Dr. Vitalien having been signed, the French Minister in Addis Ababa shortly afterwards obtained Menelik’s approval of a modification of it to the financial advantage of the Company. The Emperor in two letters, dated respectively May 20 and 27, 1908, agreed that the dues established in Article XII should not be payable by the Company until it had ceased to receive assistance from the French Government, as provided for in Article VIII and had paid back such advances.2 Repayment of such advances was to be effected by deductions from the excess of receipts over expenditure of the railway at a rate of 15 per cent, up to 2,000 francs, 20 per cent, between 2,000 and 4,000 francs, and 25 per cent, above 4,000 francs.183

The Franco-Ethiopian Railway

On March 24, 1908, the Company was constituted to operate the Railway Concession which Vitalien had received on its behalf- It was given the name it still bears, Compagnie Chemin de Fer Franco-Ethiopien de Jibuti a Addis Abeba. The Company had a fairly influential administrative council which was not surprising on account of its backing by the French Government and the Banque de l’lndo-Chine. Its president was Ernest Roume, Hon. Governor General of the French Colonies and Administrator of the Banque de l’lndo-Chine, while its administrative council also included Octave Homberg, and the Marquis de Reverseaux of the Banque de l’Union Parisienne, Charles Michel-Cote, of the Compagnie-Generate d’Electricite, C. Carraby, of the Comptoir Nationale d’Escompte de Paris, S. Einhorn of the Banque Francaise pour le Commerce et 1′ Industrie, G. de la Fontaine, of the Credit Industriel et Commercial, J. Raindre of the Banque Russo-Chinoise, R. Brouillet of the Compagnie Francaise des Chemins de Fer de l’Indo-Chine et du Yunan, J. Giraud of the Banque Transatlantique, and M. Boucard, a member of the Council of State.184

As soon as the Company was formed it opened up negotiations with the French Government to obtain recognition from it, and a special mission was appointed to ascertain the cost of the further work to be done on the line already in use and for its prolongation to Addis Ababa. October 26, 1908, a Convention was signed by the French Minister of Finance and the Colonies and Ernest Roume for the transfer of the Concession from the old Company to the new.

The creditors of the Chefneux Company were not satisfied by its terms. A General Assembly of the Company in liquidation protested against the attitude of the French Government and its representative Klobukowsky, and appointed a Commission to vindicate the rights of the old shareholders and creditors. The French Government, however, retorted on December 8, 1908, by a Presidential decree deposing the Chefneux Company from its Concession on the ground of breach of Articles V and XXVI of the 1902 Convention which barred the Company from augmenting its capital without consent of the French Government and stipulating that the Company’s Administrative Council must be all French.185

On the issue of this decree the Governor of the French Somali Protectorate took immediate possession of the railway from Jibuti to the French frontier, and at the request of the French Government the Ethiopian Government took over the line to Dire Dawa.

The Emperor, lacking the technical personnel required, agreed that the French Consul at Harar should be made secretary of the line inside Ethiopia, while the head of a battalion of French military engineers was put in charge of technical operations.

Chefneux and his colleagues of the Imperial Ethiopian Railway Company and their French and English creditors continued to endeavour to salvage what they could from their bankrupt enterprise. The French Government, it will be remembered, also had an interest in the shares and loans of the deposed Company, the interest and repayment of which had been guaranteed by the French Parliament by the law of April 6, 1902, " even in the event of the purchase of the railway or the dissolution of the Company." By a " transaction " of March 6, 1909, between the French Government and the Chefneux Company, 99 annual payments of 610,748.10 francs were registered as due to the Company, as well as the moneys in hand or due to the Company on December 8, 1909, the movable property of the Railway, and the rights which the Company claimed to possess in the Company of Lake Assal and certain mining concessions. The deposed Company was further given the right to subscribe one-fifth of the shares of the newly formed Company.

The Second French Convention

On March 8, 1909, two days after the conclusion of this transaction, the French Government signed a Convention with Dr. Vitalien which in many ways corresponds to the earlier Convention of 1902, but was without those Articles of the earlier document which had given such afront to the Emperor. It imposed upon the new Company a heavy burden of payment to the bankrupt concern.

Article I of this Convention transferred the Concession for the line between Jibuti and the Ethiopian frontier from the old Compagnie Imperiale des Chemins de Fer Ethiopiens to the new Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Franco-Ethiopien, and granted the latter Company permission to accept the Concession from Menelik for the line from the frontier to Addis Ababa.

Article II specified that the Company should be constituted according to French law and that the statutes concerning its object, share capital, headquarters and the composition of its Administrative Council could not be altered without the authorisation of the Minister for the Colonies acting in agreement with the Minister of Finance. The Company was further prohibited from ceding all or any of its rights, employing its resources for other purposes, issuing bonds or contracting any other loans without such authorisation.

Article III fixed the Company’s capital at 17,300,000 francs, of which 15 millions were in paid up shares and 2,300,000 in shares belonging to the Emperor.

Article II bis stated that the Company should take over all railway equipment, whether movable or immovable, connected with the line between Jibuti and Dire Dawa. In return the new Company agreed to pay the old Company or its claimants 99 annual payments of 610,748.10 francs.

Article V laid down that the construction of the line between Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa should be completed within two years from the promulgation of the law approving the Convention ; projects had to be submitted for successive 100 kilometre sections so that approval for the first section from Dire Dawa could be given within a year. Work had to begin immediately on approval of the plan for the first section and should be pursued without interruption.

Article VI authorised the Company to construct and operate the railway with the capital derived from the shares and bonds issued. The monies arising from the subscription of shares paid in cash, amounting to 15 million francs, were to be used for these expenses, with the exception of 5 million francs reserved as cash and to meet provisional deficits charged to its account as a result of the Convention.

Article VII stated that the French Government guaranteed an interest of 3.50 francs and amortisation on share capital up to 17,300,000 francs, including the 2,300,000 francs in shares belonging to the Emperor as a result of the Convention of 1908.

Redemption was to begin four years after the promulgation of the law approving the Convention and be complete within 94 years.

The interest and the amortisation on the bonds issued had to be paid in a manner approved by the Minister for the Colonies in agreement with the Minister of Finance.

The interest would be calculated according to the actual rate of investment resulting from the sale price of the company’s deeds and must not exceed 4 per cent.

Depreciation was to begin four years after the promulgation of the law and terminate 94 years after promulgation.

The guarantee of the Government was to be attached to the bonds themselves and was to remain operative even in case of the company’s liquidation or dispossession.

Interest and depreciation on the " prime d’economie " were laid down in Article IX. The interest was calculated on an average rate at which the " primes d’economie " were placed.

The new company agreed to put at the disposal of the liquidating company or its rightful claimants the 99 annuities of 610,748-10 francs.

If the receipts indicated in Article XXIII were to prove insufficient to cover the charges stipulated, the difference was to be advanced by the French Government unless the clauses of Article XXIV were applicable.

The amounts advanced by the Government were to be reimbursed, including simple interest, according to Articles XXIII, XXIV and XXIX.

Other articles laid down initial expenses, the establishment, for the Company’s own benefit of a bonus of 10 per cent, on the first five millions’ savings, 20 per cent, on the following 5, and 30 per cent, on the surplus, and, on the other hand, at the same rate, a penalty for exceeding initial expenses to be fixed after the return of the fact-finding mission sent to Ethiopia.

The French Government was to exercise controlling rights on construction and expenditure, had to give its approval to the appointment of the director of works and to projects and contracts worth more than 100,000 francs.

The third Chapter laid down conditions of operation by reserving for conveyance on behalf of the French Government the same rights as those of the Ethiopian Government.

The Company was to operate at its own risk, but if the gross receipts fell below 3,000 francs in two successive years and if the reserves could not cover the deficit the French Government undertook, from the third year, the responsibility for the excess of real expenditure above receipts until such time as the receipts again reached 3,000 francs. The sums thus advanced by the Government were to be credited to their account and reimbursed according to the stipulations of Article VII.

A " prime de gestion " (management fund) was to be established as follows : When the working reserves had attained their maximum and as long as they remained at that maximum all economies made by the company within one year on the sum provided for expenses during that year were to be allocated to the company as remuneration for good management and were to belong to it, together with the right of disposing of them, quite apart from the amounts already allocated by articles VIII and XXIII, unless the stipulations of Article XXIV applied.

This Article XXIV stipulated that, as long as the Government’s guarantee was called in or that the Government had not been reimbursed of the amounts it has advanced, 11/2 per cent, of the share capital, half of the surplus, was to be allocated to pay off the advances paid by the State, or to increase reimbursements already being made.

It will be seen from the above what precautions had been taken by the Government to ensure that in any event and even in the most favourable circumstances the remuneration of the capital and of the new Company should remain very moderate.

Article IV fixed the duration of the Concession at 99 years and ruled that upon expiry the Government would take over from the company.186

By thus reasserting the French position on the railway without making any reference to that of Britain or Italy, the Convention of March 8, 1909, meant in fact an abandonment of the Tripartite Agreement of 1906, which, it will be recalled, provided for the appointment of an Englishman, an Italian and a representative of the Emperor to the Company’s Administrative Council. The French Government in fact had at all stages been motivated almost exclusively by self interest. This indeed was the complaint of the British envoy Thesiger who remarked in 1910: "Throughout the whole question the French Government has kept faith with no one . . . They repudiated all the obligations imposed upon them by the Tripartite Agreement when they believed they could further their own advantage by doing so, and they threw over the English bondholders without compensation when they wished to get the whole control into their hands."187

The Convention of March 8, 1909, nonetheless brought to an end the almost interminable history of manoeuvres and negotiations by financiers and governments. Paul Olagnier, the advocate who pleaded Vitalien’s case against the new Company in 1921, alluded to the rather underhand character of much of the proceedings by quoting from the operetta Les Brigands by Melhac and Halevy where the brigand chief Falscappa departs on an expedition, leaving his daughter Fiorella in the hands of the old man Pietro whom he asks to distract her by telling her a story about thieves.

Pietro : A story about thieves . . . What shall I say ?

Fiorella : Well, old man, tell me, as my father asked you, a story about thieves.

Pietro : Willingly ; once upon a time there was a big financier

Fiorella (after a silence) : and then ?

Pietro : that’s all.

The story of the railway, Olagnier concluded, was much longer " because there were more financiers."188 A similar story could be told of governments.

The Extension and Operation of the Line to Addis Ababa

The new Company seems to have taken over work on the Dire Dawa-Addis Ababa stretch fairly soon after the completion of the necessary formalities. Lieut. D. A. Sandford reported to the British War Office in September, 1909, that 13 kilometres beyond Dire Dawa had been cleared and levelled, that the necessary embankments had been made and thai the materials for bridges had been collected, though neither the ballast nor the rails had yet been laid. There was, he says, " no lack of coolies "—Somali, Galla and Danakil ; their working day was about ll1/2 hours, for which they received 5 piastres.189

The British envoy Hervey reporting at about the same time gave the additional information that the Ethiopian Government had agreed to build one fourth of the new line, excluding the laying of rails and sleepers, and that in order to heal the old dispute the contract for this work would be given both to Chefneux and to Julian Humphreys, the agent of Ochs Brothers.190

Completion of the project, however, took a number of years. The laying of the rails, according to Zervos, was started in May, 1912, some eight years after the completion of the original stretch of line from Jibuti to Dire Dawa. Construction work continued without interruption for some three years, and in 1915 the line reached Akaki, some 23 kilometres from the capital. Akaki remained for some time the terminus of the line. During the troubles of 1916 the Ethiopian Government requisitioned the Line from September 26 to November 16, evidently on the basis of Articles IV and XI of Menelek’s second Concession. Completion of the line was thus for some time delayed, work not being resumed until the Regency of Ras Tafari, the future Emperor Haile Sellassie. The first trains arrived at the capital in 1917, by which date the service operated along a line of 784 kilometres, i.e. 311 kilometres from Jibuti, to Dire Dawa, 237 kilometres from Dire Dawa to Hawash, and 237 kilometres from Hawash to Addis Ababa.

Hotels and restaurants were to be found at Dire Dawa and Hawash, and restaurants at Aicha, Afdem and Mojjo. There were 29 tunnels, one nearly 100 yards long, and the construction work of the line as a whole was described by Rey as an engineering feat " equal to anything in Africa." The final development was the building of the capital’s railway station which was inaugurated on December 3, 1929.

Train services seem to have considerably improved after the establishment of the new Company. Sandford, who first travelled on the railway in 1907 before the bankruptcy of Chefneux and his colleagues, observed in 1909 that he was " at once struck by the apparent increased efficiency of the line." He added that the permanent way " appears … to be in good repair, which it certainly was not in 1907." Out of two weekly passenger trains each way, one each way had been made ‘express’ and did the journey from Jibuti to Dire Dawa in 81 hours instead of 12 or more.191

The old policy of high rates, however, was not abandoned. The first-class single fare from Jibuti to Addis Ababa was, for example, £16, though the corresponding charge in England for a journey of equal distance would have been infinitely less, being estimated by Harmsworth at £5 and by Farago at only £2. The free allowance, as Powell complained, was moreover very small—amounting to only 10 kilos—and the charges for excess luggage were, he said, " exorbitant."192 Freight charges, according to Dunckley, were equally " iniquitous," a typical load being made to pay £43 per ton as compared with about £4 in England.193

A British Board of Trade publication reviewing these rates in 1932 nevertheless tended to exonerate the Company for its tariff, observing : " The rates of carriage are comparatively high when considered in conjunction with the low standard of purchasing power of the people and the inferior grade of exported produce. It would appear nevertheless that the tariffs in force are not unjustified, owing to the small tonnage available for transport and extensive abuse of the half tariff concession."194

Customs formalities were at first also most inconvenient. Rey describes the procedure at Jibuti as " a most irritating bit of officialdom " : the contents and value of every package had to be listed in duplicate and then an excessive number of statistical and transit fees would be charged. During World War I the practice was moreover adopted of levying the 10 per cent, levy in kind as the Colony was short of supplies. Having " run the gauntlet" at Jibuti, the goods had again to pass through customs at Dire Dawa even if they were bound for Addis Ababa. Everything, he says, was " turned out of the train, opened, examined, and delayed," the result being that " cases once having been opened are not properly fastened again, goods are pilfered from them while they are lying about (often for weeks) . . . and the remnents frequently arrive broken and damaged." Traders were therefore obliged to keep a staff at Dire Dawa to deal with goods there and to effect their transport " with as little loss and damage as possible by means of hard work, cajolery and bribery." On finally reaching the capital a third customs examination followed on the basis of a 12 per cent, ad valorem tax, the general inconvenience being intensified by the absence in the early days of either depots or warehouses with the result that goods if not at once collected were " exposed to both pilfering and the effects of sun or rain."195

The various formalities, which, however, were later improved, resulted in many delays. " Goods," Rey explains, " take almost as long to come from Jibuti to Addis Ababa by rail as they did formerly by camel caravan, and the condition in they arrive is frequently little better. Six weeks to two months is a normal period in which to expect one’s goods." Such delays were also in part occasioned by shortage of rolling stock.196

Such difficulties had a direct result on the Ethiopian economy, Addis Ababa prices, according to Maydon, being nearly double those of England.197

Franco-Ethiopian Railway : Expansion of Passenger Traffic 1915-1935

Franco-Ethiopian Railway : Expansion of Trade on the Railway 1910-1935

The extension of the railway nonetheless led to a substantial though by no means revolutionary increase in passenger and freight traffic. The greatest expansion took place in the field of passenger traffic where the total number of passengers carried in 1915 increased three-fold by 1917, six-fold by 1920, and twelve-fold by 1927. The development of freight traffic was much less spectacular. The 1910 tonnage exported did not double until 1918 or quadruple until after 1935. Imports, on the other hand, were considerably more buoyant, The 1910 figure had doubled by 1914, trebled by 1918, quadrupled by 1925 and quintupled by 1926. The general character of this development may be seen from the accompanying tables.187

The greatest expansion in exports occurred in the field of coffee, particularly the so-called " Abyssinian" from the west of the country, as well as in hides and skins. The 1910 coffee tonnage had doubled by 1922, trebled by 1924 and quadrupled by 1927 ; trade was virtually limited to the " Harari " variety until 1921 after which the export of the " Abyssinian " type increased threefold within six years. The hides and skins tonnage exported in 1910 doubled by 1917 and trebled by 1925, but did not quadruple in our period.

A substantial increase in freight was recorded for the principal imports, among them abujedid and other cotton cloth, salt, petrol and sugar. The number of tons of textiles imported in 1910 doubled by 1914, but dropped again in the war years and did not reach or exceed that figure until 1927. The transport of salt, on the other hand, expanded very rapidly indeed, increasing

Franco-Ethiopian Railway : Expansion of Exports of Coffee and Hides and Skins, 1910-1930

no less than nine-fold in the 10 years from 1910 to 1918. The growing carriage of other commodities, mainly luxury goods, may be seen in the following table :

An important effect of the railway was the linking of the Ethiopian and French Somali economies, a development which nonetheless failed to result in any very great expansion in the commerce of France as such. French official sources estimated on the basis of all available data that Ethiopian foreign trade in 1914 totalled

47,720,000 francs, of which goods to a value of 38,945,000 francs passed through the French colony as against only 8,775,000 francs through other territories. The corresponding figures for 1917 were 43,875,000 francs through French Somaliland and 12,715,000 francs through other territories, or a total of 56,590,000 francs. Ethiopian foreign trade in 1914 thus constituted almost 39 million francs out of the total French Somaliland trade of 68 million francs, the corresponding figures for 1917 being 44 millions and 79 millions respectively.

Trade between France and Ethiopia through the French colony was never very substantial except during the initial period of railway construction when large quantities of material were imported for building operations. This may be seen from the following figures :199

The belief sometimes expressed in the early days of the railway controversy that the line would give France a monopolistic or semi-monopolistic trade position in Ethiopia thus in fact proved as unfounded as the claim that Ethiopia would be reduced politically to a colonial status.

The effects of the railway had many ramifications. These included a general decline in mulateers’ profits, as observed by Walker,200 and a general increase in economic activity as well as a growth in the population of Addis Ababa.201

*                    *                  *

The position on the eve of the war may be briefly summed up. There were then two weekly services in each direction : trains left both Jibuti and Addis Ababa every Sunday and Wednesday during the dry season, but were somewhat less regular during the rains. Zervos writing at this time tells us that the Company employed about 180 Europeans, and some 1,500 local personnel, while Makin wrote of 162 Europeans and 2,000 " natives," who included, it appears, a number of Yemeni Arab as well as Gurage porters and other employees.202 The Company, according to Zervos, had 54 locomotives, 46 luxury passenger coaches, 10 mixed first and second class coaches, 26 third class coaches and 2 service coaches and 445 goods waggons. The trains were able to pull 200 to 350 tons depending on the section of the line, the net load being about 180 tons. With one train a day in each direction the Company could therefore transport 120,000 tons of goods a year, but the system could be easily geared to four trains a day in each direction with an annual potential of about 500,000 tons.203

*                    *                  *

Mussolini’s impending invasion brought about a change in the railway’s ownership when, on January 7, 1935, a Franco-Italian agreement was signed whereby France recognised Italian interest in the line and transferred 7 per cent, of the shares to Italy. The result was that the French had 52 per cent, of the shares, Ethiopia 25 per cent, and Italy 7 per cent. The remaining 16 per cent, were owned by sundry investors.204

On the Eve of the Battle

The following poem was written in Ge’ez by Aleka
Gabre Medhen before the battle and was sung in Addis
Ababa while the fighting was in progress and its out-
come still in suspense. This free translation by Mengestu
Lemma and Sylvia Pankhurst appears in the latter’s
book, Ethiopia, a Cultural History, in which a more
literal translation is also given:

Gomorrah and Sodom1, lands of retribution,
shall find pardon in the terrible day of battle2.
But you, base city of Rome,
That has come upon you which did not come upon
For Menelik, saviour of the world,
Has sent you swathed in blood to visit Dathan and
Abiram3 in the grave;
And he will not leave even one of your seed to
bear your name;
For, remembering the counsel of Samuel of old,
And knowing that the punishment of Saul was due
to his disobedience in sparing Agag4
He has sworn that the sword in his hand shall
exterminate every grain of your seed.

1. Sodom and Gomorrah, according to Genesis XIX were
destroyed by fire and brimstone rained upon them from heaven
because not five just men were found in them. That other
cities would suffer a more terrible fate is suggested by Christ
in the Gospel of St. Matthew X, 15: “Verily, I say to you
it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the
day of judgment than for that city.” Precedent for attributing
to other cities the punishment afforded to these cities is to be
found in Revelation XI, 18: “And their dead bodies shall be
m the streets of the great city which spiritually is called
Sodom.” and in II Peter II, 6, it is stated that the punishment
of Sodom and Gomorrah made them ” an example of those
that after should live ungodly.”

2. This reference is to “the battle of that great day of God
Almighty ” in the Revelation of St. John the Divine XVI 14
and also to the battle of Adowa itself.

3. Dathan and Abiram challenged the leadership of Moses-
according to Deuteronomy XI, 6, » the earth opened her mouth
and swallowed them up.”

4. According to the Book of Samuel XV-XVI. Saul was
anointed King of Israel by Samuel at the bidding of God
but, being instructed by God to destroy the Amalekites and
their cattle, Saul seized the cattle for himself and spared the kind, Agag, thereby incurring divine wrath. Samuel, therefore, killed Agag and anointed David King of Israel at the bidding of God.

Menelik’s Proclamation on Mobilising His Forces for the Battle of Adowa

” God by his goodness in hurling down my enemies
and extending my empire has preserved me until this
day. Until now I have ruled by the grace of God. As
we all must die I shall not be distressed if I am killed.
Nevertheless the Almighty has never yet forsaken me
and I am confident that he will not forsake me in the

” Enemies have now come upon us to ruin the
country and to change our religion; they have crossed
the sea which God has given us for a frontier. Consider-
ing that our flocks were exterminated and our people
tired, I have not wished to do anything until now.

” But our enemies have begun the affair by advancing
and digging into the country like moles. With the help
of God I will not deliver up my country to them. Ever
a patriot of my country I have never yet wronged you
and I will never give you sorrow. To-day, you who are
strong, give me of your strength, and you who are weak,
help me by prayer and by thinking of your children,
your wives and your faith. But if through negligence
you refuse to follow me, take heed. You will hate me
because I will not refrain from punishing you. I swear
by the Holy Virgin that I will accept no prayer for
your pardon. I leave in the month of Teqemt. Men
of Shoa, go and wait for me at Warra Ilu; let everyone
be assembled by the middle of Teqemt!”

The Ethiopian Song

Italian nineteenth century adventures in Africa were
long opposed by large sections of the Italian population
at home as can be seen by a glance at the files of old
Italian newspapers, such as for example, the socialist
Avanti or Critica Sociale.

The following song by Ulisse Barbieri, a democratic
Italian poet, symbolises this attitude. It first appeared
nine years before the battle of Adowa, on July 14, 1887,
in the Provincia di Mantova, the local weekly news-
paper of the town of that name. It is sung to the tune
of ” Inno di Garibaldi” (Song of Garibaldi), then a
popular democratic song in Italy:

In nome d’un dritto—che a noi si contende
Ognun le sue leggi—la patria diffende.
I martiri nostri—li chiaman . . . spioni.
Con forche e cannoni—ci voglion domar.

Le “tende” dei nostri—son fatte per noi;
Son la oltre il mare—le case dei tuoi! . . .
Su armiamci a battaglia! —Su armiamci a legioni!
Le forche e i cannoni—sapremo sfidar! . . .
Va fuori dall’Africa,
non siamo predoni;
va fuori dall’Africa
vigliacco stranier!

Che importa a noi liberi—dei codici vostri?
Che importan le leggi—non fatte per noi?
Do dritti parlante?—Lasciateci i nostri.
Noi nulla del vostro—vogliamo da voi.
II cielo, il deserto—il mar, gli orizzonti,
Le vette inaccesse—abbiamo dei monti,
Veleno hanno gli alberi—le braccia zagaglie
son nostro tripudio—canzoni a battaglia.
Va fuori, ecc.

Dei nostri deserti—son vaste le arene,
Ruggisce il leone—va ulran le iene.
E noi del Hone—piu forte il ruggito,
Mandiam per l’immenso—deserto infino.
Ruggito di liberi—che ai vostri moschetti,
Baluardo invincible—oppongono i petti;
Son cupe le gole—dei nostri burroni;
Saremo legioni—la patria a salvar.
Va fuori, ecc.

Son pochi i mandati piu ancor ne vogliamo! . . .
Migliaia e migliaia—mandatene ancor . . .
Piu bella la festa—sara che aspettiamo,
Piu grande la strage—che anela ogni cor!

Intorno alle teste—recise dal brando
e membra dei morti—col fuoco bruciando,
Trancato col ferro—1’anelito estremo . . .
Ancor urleremo—va fuori o stranier!
Coll’—odio nell’ anima
ancor urleremo . . .
Va fuori dall’ Africa,
Va fuori stranier.

The Cost to the Victor

The cost to the Ethiopians of defeating the Italian
invaders at Adowa was heavy and was paid by thou-
sands of Ethiopian families from all parts of the coun-
try. The full extent, of Ethiopia’s loss may be judged
from an account of Augustus B. Wylde, sometime
British consul for the Red Sea, who reached Massawa
six weeks after the battle, having been sent by the Man-
chester Guardian to investigate the causes of the Italian
defeat. In his book Modern Abyssina he relates that
during his tour of Northern Ethiopia he was first visited
at Adi Caieh by Ethiopians who gave him terrible
accounts of the famine and cholera that had devastated
the country as a result of the human carnage. As he
approached the site of the battle, he found the familiar
countryside tragically transformed.

“From a distance a hamlet on the mountain side
might be seen, and looked as if it were perfect, only no
people could be seen moving about, and no smoke issu-
ing from the cottages. On approaching, the roofs of the
huts would be found in bad repair, and on entering it,
not a human being was to be seen. The doors of the
building were nearly off their hinges, the torn bushes
that shut the enclosures round the huts were to one side,
and grass and weeds were growing everywhere; a more
luxurious patch of vegetation or rank grass, about six
feet length by two in breath, would mark the spot where
some poor victim lay unburied. On looking into the
houses they would be found as if the occupants had just
vacated them, but on closer examination, when the eye
got accustomed to the semi-darkness inside after the
glare of the bright sunshine in the open, several skeletons
would be found, either on the raised end of the hut or
on a bedstead. In one hut I found five remains; one was
that of a woman, as I could tell by the remains of her
dress, alongside of her on the same bed lay two small
skeletons, one a little larger than the other, both of the
little skulls resting on the arm bones of what perhaps
was their mother. Behind the door was another body,
evidently a boy, the leg bones stretched out and those
of the upper part of the body in a small heap. The owner
of them had evidently died with his back resting against
the wall; the last body was curled up near the fire-place
alongside which were several empty cooking vessels.
One examination of these abandoned villages was
enough for me, and from this specimen I could see what
this fertile country had suffered from the series of years
of war, famine and pestilence.” Everywhere were “burnt
villages and destruction.”

“The best view of Adowa,” he continues, “is to be
obtained from the hill on which are situated the old
ruins of the Jesuit town of Fremona, which is situated
to the north-west and about two and a half miles off.
Two miles further off to the north is the monastic
settlement of Adi Aboona, the property of the Aboona or
chief of the Ethiopian Church. Although Adi Aboona is
on slightly higher ground than Adowa, a good view of
it is not to be got owing to an out-jutting spur from
Mount Selado, which ends just vis-a-vis to Fremona.
From the latter the whole panorama of the town is
spread out before one, and to me after an absence of
twelve years I could hardly believe that the heap of
ruins and the nearly deserted houses were the same place
that I had spent so many pleasant days in. With the
exception of the five churches of Our Saviour, the
Trinity, the Virgin Mary, Saint Michael and Saint
George and some few large houses, the place seemed to
be a mass of ruins and broken-down enclosures.
“I had come from Aksum by the direct road and on my
way the villages the nearer one got to Adowa showed
what the country had gone through, as the majority
of the houses were unroofed and in a tumble-down con-
dition. Skulls of men and bones of animals were fre-
quent, victims of the famine and the plague, and every
yard from Fremona towards once happy Adowa pre-
sented some fresh horror . . . here were the remains of
unburied humanity, dirt, filth and corruption at every
step, and, although the heavy rains had washed away
parts of the fragments, and the grass was growing
luxuriantly, still a sickly smell of decaying flesh per-
vaded the atmosphere, and every few yards I had to put
my handkerchief to my nose and go as fast as possible.
I asked Schrimper if he called it healthy and a fit place
to come to, and he replied, ‘Oh, this is nothing to what
it was ten days’ ago; it was not sweet then. ‘Nearing the
end of the town the ground was not so bad, and at the
market-place it was clean enough, and there was nothing
much to grumble about; but still there was a sort of
unhealthy feeling, and my spirits were down at seeing
the ruins, the misery and the alteration in everything. I
looked in vain for the good houses and the enclosures
with their nice shady trees that used to exist at the
west of the market green. Ras Aloula’s fine establish-
ment, that formerly covered the ledge of ground above
the market, was in ruins, the bare walls and the black-
ened timbers alone marking the spot where once used
to be a well-ordered household . . .

“The day after my arrival at Adowa, I made the first
of many visits to the battlefield, perhaps the most dis-
agreeable task I ever had to perform in my life, one
position being more foul smelling and disgusting than
another. A burying party of Italian engineers had been
allowed by the Ethiopians to come and inter the dead,
but the condition of the corpses prevented them from
being moved, and a few loose stones were their only
covering which, instead of facilitating the decomposition,
only retarded it; not half of the bodies had been attended
to, and in some places, putrescent masses held together
by ragged clothes marked the details of the fight . . .
Bird and animal life was absent, they even could not
face the horrible Golgotha, and the hyenas had long ago
left the district to procure something more tempting than
what the battlefield offered them … There are some
things in one’s life that never can be forgotten, and this
is one of them that I shall carry with me as long as I
live, and shudder when I think of the thousands of white,
brown and black men that lay dotted about this lovely
country, that gave up their lives to gratify an election-
eering policy in a far-off land’.”

How the News was received in England

The English “man in the street,” who until then had
been profoundly unaware of Italian diplomatic
manoeuvres to annex Ethiopia, opened his newspaper
sixty years ago to learn that, for the first time since
the Carthagian Hannibal marched into the Valley of
the Po some two thousand years earlier, an army from
Africa had decisively defeated a large and well equipped
European force. It is interesting to examine how these
events were presented to the British public by The
Times, and how that semi-official newspaper explained
what it considered to be the interest of the British

The dramatic news from Africa immediately resulted
in the collapse of the Italian Government of Signer
Crispi, which was considered responsible for the defeat.
Newspapers all over the world were therefore con-
fronted almost simultaneously with exciting war reports
and news of an Italian Cabinet crisis. The Rome
Government had of course been deeply implicated in
the Ethiopian war and only a few days before the battle,
The Times had published a revealing report from its
Rome correspondent which illustrates Franco-Italian
jealousy about the intended partition of the Horn of
Africa. It asserted that the Italian Government was
aware of “a secret treaty” between France and Ethiopia
in which the French were supporting Menelik in order
to discomfort Italy. The Paris Temps immediately
denied what it called this “extraordinary” report, while
a despatch from the Paris correspondent of The Times
made it apparent that colonially minded sections of
French public opinion, though opposed to Italy as a
rival colonial power, were unwilling to side with the
invaded country because it was situated on the African

” No one here—I have not to take notice of this or
that scatter-brained person, or a few habitually malevo-
lent minds—wishes for the success of the Abyssinians
at the price of the discomfiture of a civilised nation,
from which it is quite possible to differ in aims and
opinions without being supposed to cherish any ill-will
when that nation is face to face with a brave but bar-
barous foe.”

Despite these words, the Paris correspondent averred
that there was a tendency in French circles to be “rather
kindly disposed ” toward ” the presence of serious diffi-
culties for Italy in Africa.” He was confident, how-
ever, that the “somewhat bitter complaints” of the
Italian politicians would “induce no revival of hostility”
against Italy in France.

The great Ethiopian victory necessarily changed the
entire picture. The Times, which until then had referred
to the Ethiopians as a “barbarous foe,” now chided
General Baratieri for imagining that he was confronted
with “undisciplined and ill-armed savages”; as we shall
see, a few days later, the newspaper declared that the
Ethiopians were “a civilised power both in the way
they made war and in the way they conducted their
diplomacy.” On March 6, it discussed the Italian politi-
cal crisis in the following words:
” Though the Crispi Government cannot be held
directly responsible for the Italian defeat at Adowa, it
was certain that General Baratieri’s blunder would bring
about its overthrow . . . Signor Crispi’s action appears
to have the approval of moderate men . . . but the
extreme Left, enraged by the curtailment of its oppor-
tunities for vituperation, has not been able to control its
temper either within the Chamber or outside. The
sitting seems to have closed in hopeless confusion, while
Radical Deputies placed themselves at the head of
excited mobs, marching through the streets with loud
cries for the impeachment of the fallen Ministers. It
is, happily, difficult for human nature to remain long at
fever-heat. The very violence of these demonstrations
tends to shorten their duration, so that after a certain
amount of shouting, gesticulating and anathematising,
we may expect the Piazza Colonna to regain its wonted
calm and the people to regain the rational consideration
of events.”

Reporting that the Marquis di Rudini had set up what
was to prove a merely interim administration the news-
paper alluded to other Italian problems:
” While the excitement in Rome arises naturally out
of the profound chagrin with which a sensitive people
receives the news of a great calamity, there are threats
of disturbance in other parts of Italy which are of a
more disquieting character. In Sicily there is chronic
disaffection, which, it will be remembered, was not long
ago suppressed or driven under by Signor Crispi. His
fall in circumstances so deplorable will undoubtedly
prove a great encouragement to all the disorderly fac-
tions … It must therefore be hoped by all friends
of Italy that, whether under the Marquis di Rudini or
another, a Government may be promptly formed cap-
able of steadily maintaining the authority of the laws.”
Despite the hopes of such “friends of Italy,” riots were
reported from Rome, Naples, Milan and the other prin-
cipal cities, and a telegram even reached London, report-
ing the assassination of ex-premier Crispi. On the
following day, March 7, it was learnt, however, that
this report was unfounded, a Times editorial declaring:
” the good name of the Italian people has not been dis-
honoured in its hour of trial by the crime of a maddened
mob.” The editorial went on to recall that “the Italians
of to-day” were “the descendants and the heirs of the
people whose Senate thanked an erring and defeated
General, after the crushing disaster of Cannae because
he had not despaired of the Republic.” The news-
paper would “not permit” itself “to discuss the possi-
bility that the (Savoyan) dynasty may be threatened”
as “a revolution in Italy would be unspeakably calami-
tous to the country itself and would menace the tran-
quillity of the whole of Europe.” (These arguments
were to be voiced again almost half a century later
when it was thought that action by the League of
Nations might possibly bring Mussolini’s invasion of
Ethiopia in 1935 to a halt). Advising the Italian people
not to display such “ingratitude” to King Humbert,
whose father had “played so noble a part in winning
and consolidating Italian unity and freedom,” The Times
advised a policy of caution and compromise as best cal-
culated to serve Italian interests in Africa:
” What is to be deprecated in the interests of Italy is
the hasty and inconsiderate adoption of a policy of
extremes. Some of her counsellors support the present
outcry of the populace for an immediate and uncon-
ditional retirement from Abyssinia. Others exhort her
at all costs to wipe out what is represented as a stain
upon her honour by renewing her military and financial
efforts on a greater scale than ever. Both courses, in
our opinion, are equally unwise. A complete and pre-
cipitate withdrawal would be surely and speedily
repented, and the responsibility for it would be urged
against the King’s Government at no distant date by
those whose interest it is to create troubles. On the
other hand, it is absurd to say that the honour of Italy
can only be secured by undertaking the conquest of
Abyssinia—a task which would not be hopefully
attempted in the existing state of public opinion. Her
true policy would appear to be that of withdrawing
from the mountain region where General Baratieri met
his ruin, as well as from Kassala, where she is threatened
by the Dervishes, and holding Massawah with the domi-
nating positions in the neighbourhood, as a pied-a-terre
from which to watch events. Thus the present might
be made safe while the future would not be com-
promised.” However “natural” the impulse “to pour in
men and munitions” to avenge the defeat, the political
horizon was “not so clear,” The Times added a few
days later, that Italy could not “afford to entangle herself
in adventures which there is no hope of carrying to a
successful issue except by means of exhausting expen-
diture and persevering effort.”

Meanwhile the Parliamentary crisis dragged on in
Italy and fuller news of the debacle of Adowa poured
in. On March 9, The Times had much to say on both
subjects. Discussing the battle, detailed news of which
had at last reached England, the newspaper seemed
almost to be fighting the engagement a second time; it
went to considerable length to point out Baratieri’s tacti-
cal errors. Being pro-Italian it repeatedly referred to
the Ethiopian army as “the Shoans,” though in fact the
principal provinces of Ethiopia were all included in the
armies at Adowa, and in particular the Tigre, which
the Italians had assiduously endeavoured to detach from
its loyalty to the Ethiopian Empire.

The Times’ account is as follows:
” The latest accounts place the Italian loss in the
battle of Adowa at a figure so high that we cannot but
hope there is a serious mistake somewhere. It is esti-
mated at no less than 7,000 white and 2,000 native
troops, though what proportion of the missing are killed
and how many are prisoners it is at present impossible
to say. As the total number of troops engaged in the
attack is given as 15,000 and cannot have been very
easily in excess of that number, the disaster has clearly
been one of quite exceptional magnitude. One-half the
forces, and, if the figures are correct, much more than
one-half seem to have disappeared. Italians will find
a melancholy consolation in the fact that their troops
fought with desperate gallantry. One division seems
to have been practically destroyed where it stood, after
inflicting enormous loss upon the enemy. It was prob-
ably owing to the severity of their punishment that the
Shoans abstained in a manner otherwise unaccountable
from a pursuit which might have rendered the catas-
trophe even more appalling. They have evidently now
followed up their victory for Adigrat is invested, and
the position of its garrison renders the whole situation
infinitely more difficult to deal with. Adigrat is not
upon the direct line of retreat, and General Baratieri
seems to have been too hard pressed either to turn aside
and avoid leaving the road to Asmara open to the
Abyssinians, or even to give the garrison timely notice
of its impending isolation. With 600 sick in hospital its
movements were seriously hampered, and the enemy
seem to have been within a few kilometres before the
commander was aware of his danger. From the tone
of his message it may be doubted whether he is even
now acquainted with the full extent of his disaster, for
he speaks cheerfully of having a month’s provisions. So
far as can be judged at the present there is little chance
of relief reaching Adigrat within a month in face of
what is plainly a forward movement on the part of the

” While the Italian troops displayed splendid valour,
their generals seem to have set at defiance all the elemen-
tary rules of warfare, and especially of mountain war-
fare. The Shoan army was posted upon an elevated
plateau to the number, it is said, of 80,000 men. General
Baratieri must have had abundant opportunities of learn-
ing of their equipment and the use they could make of it,
consequently he can hardly have imagined that he was
dealing with undisciplined and ill-armed savages. Yet
he behaved as if nothing were in front of him but a
rabble which would melt away on contact with disci-
plined troops. He attacked that plateau with three
divisions, marching through three valleys or ravines,
and therefore completely isolated and incapable of
mutual support. He neglected the elementary rule never
to engage your forces in a defile without occupying the
hills that command it. The rocky heights that effectively
separated his columns were taken possession of by the
Shoans with the utmost facility, because they practically
entered on the level. They could therefore flank each
of General Baratieri’s divisions, which struggling in the
narrow passes, had no room for the evolutions required
to offer even such defence as was possible against such
odds. To attack such an enemy at all on the front was
a serious blunder, but to attack in that particular manner
shows an almost incredible disregard of the rudimentary
principles of military science. The motives which
impelled General Baratieri to push forward regardless
of the danger to which he exposed his reinforcements
he knew to be on the way, and to make his ill-judged
attack without awaiting their arrival, almost baffle con-
jecture. It would, however, be well to await further
details before attributing his impatience purely to per-
sonal motives. Italy is not the only Power which on
political or religious pretexts interests herself in Abys-
sinia, and it is just conceivable that there were political
motives for pressing the unfortunate General to score
some success if possible, even at the serious risk of

Turning to the political situation in Italy, the news-
paper announced that Signor Saracco had failed in his
efforts to form a cabinet. It continued:
” On the immediate question of the policy to be pur-
sued in Abyssinia, the Cabinet will have to come to a
decision which, whatever its nature, will arouse opposi-
tion from one side or another. Each of the three pos-
sible policies has its advocates. With a large section of
the nation the whole Abyssinian enterprise is unpopular,
and nothing short of complete abandonment would
satisfy some critics. On the other hand, the feelings of
a high-spirited people are profoundly stirred by the
crushing reverse at Adowa, which to many will seem
to1 call for the most determined efforts to regain the
position that has been lost. Between these two is the
middle course which we have ventured to urge upon the
Italian Government that of rigorous concentration
within an area capable of being, defended without exces-
sive effort.”

Elaborating this proposal, the editorial concluded:
” Italy need not abandon any of her claims or renounce
any project that careful consideration may show to be
feasible. But in the meantime a defensive and waiting
policy seems to be clearly indicated alike by military
and political motives.”

The Times deeply regretted the fact that a European
army had been decisively defeated by a “native” force.
It now stressed the difference between the Ethiopians and
other inhabitants of Africa, then also confronted with
imperialist pressure. The Ethiopians, it declared, were a
“civilised power both in the way they made war and
in the way they conducted their diplomacy.” They
should, therefore, not be confused with “savage tribes
incapable of making a stand against a regular European

Discussing the outcome of the campaign The Times

” It was true that, in some respects, the military
disaster seems to be less crushing than was supposed.
The Abyssinian generals do not appear to have followed
up their victory with the vigour enjoined by all the
masters of the art of war. Hence the actual destruction
of the Italian forces is less complete than it might easily
have been and has been assumed to be.” Moreover,
considerable numbers of stragglers were turning up at
Italian headquarters. The newspaper continued:
” Unfortunately this is about the only gleam of con-
solation that can be found in the story of a most dis-
astrous enterprise. Though the men remain, the army
has sustained a deadly blow. Such a reverse, accom-
panied by heavy loss of artillery, cannot but prove
demoralising to any force and specially to one largely
composed of native levies. The more we learn about
the matter, the more serious does it become from this
point of view.”

All this merely served to strengthen the newspaper’s
conviction that it would be “unwise” for Italy to
attempt a policy of immediate revenge. It added:
” Were the Shoan army to make an energetic forward
movement, it would be difficult to assign limits to the
embarrassments of the Italian Government.”
Actually, as we shall see, the Emperor Menelik con-
fined his advance to the frontier existing at the time,
Ras Makonnen signed in Rome on Ethiopia’s behalf
the annexe to the Treaty of Uccialli, even though the
Italians by trickery had advanced that frontier beyond
the line they occupied when the Treaty was signed.
The attitude of The Times was thus one of friendship
for the aggressor, qualified only by a criticism of Italian
tactical mistakes. Thus it declared that the Italians had
” to do more than merely reconsider the plan of opera-
tions followed, under considerable pressure from home,
by General Baratieri. They have to revise their whole
policy towards Abyssinia, and if on mature consideration
they think it necessary to attempt the conquest of the
country, they must make up their minds to efforts very
much greater and more exhausting than they have
hitherto contemplated.”

Developing this train of thought the same editorial
concluded: “It is felt at this moment, in every European capital,
that the position in Italy is critical, and her action is
watched, if with varying sympathies, at all events with
unvarying closeness of attention. A mere African expe-
dition against nomad tribes would not affect her general
position or call forth all this anxiety. It is seen that
she is involved in an enterprise of a totally different kind,
which, if persevered in, cannot but profoundly affect all
her European relations. Her allies of the Triple Alli-
ance are exhibiting the most unmistakable symptoms of

Discussing the British attitude the newspaper was
brutally frank:
“The sympathies of this country cannot be thought
doubtful for an instant. Englishmen have a sincere and
enduring friendship for Italy, while English policy
regards her as an essential and most valuable factor in
the political equilibrium of Europe. Her aims in
Abyssinia we in this country regard without the faintest
tinge of jealousy, while her general well-being, political
and financial is earnestly desired.”

The fact that The Times admitted that Ethiopia was a
“civilised power,” both in her methods of warfare and
in her diplomacy, renders cynical the sympathy accorded
to Italy in her unprovoked and unscrupulous aggression
and the assertion that she “need not abandon her
claims,” but she should bide her time to strike again at
Ethiopian freedom at some favourable opportunity.
Italy’s claim to govern Ethiopia, we have seen, was
based on a discreditable trick—the inclusion in the
Italian version of the Treaty of Uccialli of words which
did not appear in the Ethiopian version, the only one
which the Emperor Menelik signed. British sympathy
for Italian aggression had, in fact, three motives: (1)
Hope that Italian expansion would prevent the French
from obtaining influence in the area in question; (2)
desire to win possible Italian support in the Mediter-
ranean; (3) fear less the defeat of a European Power
by an African nation would create unrest in British

When order was at last established in Italy The
Times devoted a leader to the situation on March 11,
wherein it expressed its thankfulness that the Italian
Government appeared to have adopted the course of
action it had itself been recommending. It declared:
“After the first outburst of national grief and disap-
pointment men are settling down to calm and earnest
consideration of the condition of affairs . . . Popular
demonstrations against the despatch of reinforcements
to Massawa have given place to a general conviction that,
whatever decision may be ultimately arrived at as to
Italian policy, it is indispensable that General Baldissera
should receive all the support he may deem necessary.
Those responsible, whether immediately or approxi-
mately, for the disaster at Adowa, will undoubtedly be
called to account in good time. But for the moment the
more pressing duty is to effect the relief of the garrisons
at Adigrat and Kassala. and to offer the Negus a front
sufficiently formidable to make Italy once more mistress
of her actions in Eritrea.

” The fact must be faced, although it is nowhere more
sincerely deplored than in England, that events in
Abyssinia constitute a grave embarrassment for Italy,
no matter in what way they may be dealt with . . .
Italy is most unfortunately involved in a difficulty which
cannot be immediately shaken oft’ by anything she can
do; and to that extent she is hampered in any other enter-
prise she may desire to pursue.”

The columns of The Times make interesting reading
throughout the first half of 1896. The St. Petersburg
Correspondent, for example, reported that some 12,000
roubles had been collected in Russia for an “Abyssinian
fund,” but that the Italian authorities were obstructing
a Russian Red Cross mission to Ethiopia which had been
despatched at a cost of 130,000 roubles. “The conse-
quence is that the nursing sisters, with part of the
baggage have been ordered back to Russia, and the rest
of the party are obliged to make a much longer and
very difficult journey though desert country with no
prospect of arriving at Menelik’s camp before the rainy
season . . . These painful details have been officially
announced at a special meeting of the Red Cross
Society.” Tsarist Russia was, in fact, the only European
power to champion Ethiopia at the time of Adowa.
The rulers of St. Petersburg had close religious ties with
the Ethiopian Church, were totally devoid of colonial
ambitions in Africa, and were, moreover, anxious to dis-
comfort the Italians, at that time the allies of Germany
and Austria, a rival European power group. In April,
The Times reported the despatch of a Russian scientific
mission to Ethiopia led by M. Dimitreff, which was
closely followed by General Shvedoff, ” several military
officers” and a priest. The newspaper felt the matter
deserved a leading article which ridiculed the fact that
the Russian Red Cross chaplain had brought with him
“20,000 small crosses of the Orthodox pattern,” com-
plained that the officers were seeking to stir the troubled
waters for sinister reasons and warned the statesmen of
the French Republic that the Imperialism of the Tsar
might be more dangerous to their Red Sea colony than
that of their Italian neighbours.” ” The sudden develop-
ment of Russian interest in the Abyssinians,” it declared,
“is a subject for the curiosity of Europe . . . Russia,
it is true, is not more noted in the annals of philan-
thropy for any unusual eagerness to succour than for
zeal in ministering to their spiritual necessities. As a
rule her works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual,
are rigidly restricted to members of the Slav race. But
as she has manifested lately an unexpected concern for
the religious welfare of the subjects of King Menelik,
it is quite natural that she should likewise display an
exceptional solicitude for his wounded soldiers . . .
Russian military officers have proved most effective
missionaries before now, and perhaps the Abyssinians
may harken to them for the present . . . Several of
of the Balkan States have enjoyed in an unexpected
fashion, the beneficence of the Tsar. Servia wanted
money, Montenegro wanted rifles, and the ruler of
Bulgaria had cravings to be recognised by the Powers
. . . The Russian adventure in the domains of King
Menelik seems rather worthy of Count Ignatiefl (the
leader of Russia’s ‘military party’ advocating the
manifest destiny of Holy Russia and general Slav ex-
pansion) … It is not, perhaps, very likely to succeed,
but if it does succeed nobody will have more cause to
regret its success than France. The Republic will find
the Tsar a much more unpleasant neighbour to Obok
than the Italians.”

In May, The Times reported the issue of an Italian
Government Green Book. Though the publication of
this volume had clearly been devised by the Italians to
blame their debacle on lack of support from Britain,
it also contained interesting diplomatic revelations. In
particular, it showed that after much discussion the
British Government had agreed on the eve of the battle
to allow the Italian army to land at the port of Zeila
and pass through Somali territory so as to divert
Ethiopian forces southwards for the defence of Harar.
The Times strongly criticised the publication of this
Green Book, declaring that it was calculated to stir up
anti-British feeling in Italy, and was so arranged as to
bring into “undue prominence” the points of difference
between the two powers so that “the substantial agree-
ment on essentials was in no small danger of being
ignored.” On the projected campaign against Harar it
” The point of most interest to ourselves in the docu-
ments is the account they give of the negotiations opened
up by Italy in respect of Zeila. The Italians, at one
period of the campaign, believed that by landing troops
at that port and marching them in the direction of Harar,
they could distract the attention of the Abyssinians and
divert a portion of their forces from the theatre of
operations further north. General Ferrero, the Italian
Ambassador in this country, was instructed to ask our
permission for the landing of the troops. The British
Government were quite willing and even anxious to
give the Italians any aid they rightly could give them,
but the objection to the proposal was obvious. It was
possible that the column operating from Zeila might be
repulsed and driven back upon Somaliland. Were we
to endanger a British possession from a desire to assist
a friendly people?”

There was, moreover, another diplomatic obstacle—
the opposition of France. The Times continues:
“France regarded the project with intense jealousy,
and we were naturally reluctant to give her any just
grounds of offence, either of a general kind or arising
from our agreement with her in regard to Harar itself.
These topics were discussed with the freedom usual in
diplomatic conversations of a confidential nature between
Lord Salisbury and General Ferrero, in London, and
between Sir Clare Ford and Baron Blanc, in Rome . . .
The project was received, and in January of the present
year Lord Salisbury assented to the passage of the
Italian troops through Zeila while making reservations
to spare any just susceptibilities on the part of France.
At various points in the negotiation of this extremely
difficult and complex affair, our Government were not
able at once to accept the view of the Italians, and on
one occasion especially Baron Blanc, in conversa-
tion with the British Ambassador, in Rome, signified his
annoyance in very plain terms. Exaggerated language
was employed, and in possible contingencies action was
spoken of which, doubtless, it was never intended to carry
out. These conversations have been published in the
Green Book, and it is difficult to suppose that they can
have been published with any object but one. That
object certainly was not to inform the Italian people as
to what the relations between Great Britain and Italy
really were at the close of the Crispi Administration.
Those relations were always friendly, as they are friendly
now. They depend on interests too deep and solid to
be affected by petty questions in remote parts of Africa.
Our friendship rests upon our common interests and
our common objects in the Mediterranean, and while
those remain it can never be shaken.”