by RAS IMRU HAILE SELLASSIE
Translated by TADESSE TAMRAT
Belay was the son of Ato Kassa of the district of Anadad
in the Governorate of Gojjam. He grew up in this district where he had
his first schooling accordÃ‚Âing to the traditional methods of our court.
While still a young man, he entered the service of Dejach Tedla Gualu,
a nobleman of Gojjam. Belay followed his lord to Gondar in the reign of
Emperor Tewodros and was of much service to him.
The Emperor Tewodros had detained Dejach Tedla
in Gondar, together
with other members of
the nobility from other regions. Towards the end of his reign and with
the gradual deterioration and weakness of his rule, however, Dejach
Tedla escaped to Gojjam. His people warmly welcomed him and gave him
their full support. He deposed all the officials appointed by Tewodros,
by force wherever necessary, and restored his rightful rule in Gojjam.
In the meantime, his young servant Belay Kassa was always on his side
and doing everything within his power to serve the cause of his lord.
When the authority of Dejach Tedla had been re-established, and
according to the practice of the nobility at the time, Belay was given
a large estate in the district of his birth, the district of Anadad.
The holdings of 15 tenants were added by decree to his own land. These
tenants had henceforth to pay taxes to Belay instead of to his lord,
and were thus made, as it were, his property whose ownership would pass
down to his children. The only services which Belay owed to his lord,
as a result of this endowment of land, was co-operation in war. Belay,
and his heirs after him, were expected to serve in the army of Dejach
Tedla, whenever the latter went to war, and at their own expense.
Orders were passed to the officials of the District to transfer
ownership. Belay duly received his estate, and settled there. Some of
the tenants given to him were his own relatives; these were especially
contented with his promotion: they hoped he would improve their
conditions. Others who were not his relatives were not so happy about
it; they did not like the idea of being tenants to Belay, a son of one
of their own equals. Nevertheless they knew they could not resist the
orders of the chief ruler of the land. They accepted the title of
Belay, paid their taxes, and lived in complete obedience to him whether
they liked it or not. But all the same they were distressed by the fact
that, unlike Belay's relatives, much was exacted from them by way of
labour and taxes.
Their conditions would, of course, have been the same even if
they had been directly responsible to Dejach Tedla. The difference was,
however, that in addition they were suffering from discrimination:
while Belay's relatives, their fellow tenants, were being specially
favoured and had their taxes and labour abated for them, the other
tenants were forced to shoulder the full burden in taxes and hard
labour. This favouritism was what distressed them most.
Among these unhappy tenants was a man called Biresaw who was
especially displeased by the partiality of Belay. He always grumbled at
his misfortune, and his discontent was so clear that Belay became
harder on him. Biresaw thought, " After all, the son of Kassa (Belay)
was only one of us. He got this power on us only because he entered the
service of a nobleman. Perhaps I can also do the same; I might improve
my livelihood if I enter the service of some lord!" This idea haunted
him day and night and made him a prey to restlessness.
But Biresaw had a family of his own. The idea of leaving his
family, his house, and all his possessions troubled him. He also felt
insecure. He feared that if the lord whom he would serve was not a
success his life would become even worse. He therefore abandoned the
idea of leaving his tenancy. He resolved to live with patience on his
father's land. In the meantime, however, Ato Belay had appointed one of
his relatives over all his tenants. This chief tenant did not like
Biresaw and harassed him all the more. Biresaw appealed many times to
Ato Belay but the judgments were never fair ones. It was clear that Ato
Belay was himself interested in Biresaw's land which was fertile and
had a good supply of water, an ideal place for a garden. Ato Belay was
therefore intent on oppressing Biresaw so that he might be forced to
leave the land and go away.
Ato Belay was well known at the court of his lord. He was a
friend of all the great judges and high-rankÃ‚Âing officials. His poor
tenant, Biresaw, had, therefore, almost no chance of appealing to the
higher authorities and obtaining favourable judgments. The oppression
and maltreatment to which he was subjected increased every day. He
understood that Ato Belay was intent on taking away his land sooner or
later. He began to re-consider his old plans of abandoning his tenancy
and entering some lord's service. His years of failure, however, and
his uncertainties of the future did not leave his fumbled mind. He
feared that if his new adventure failed he would lose his land for ever
and live in an even worse condition. He feared to take a risk. He
resolved to try his best to accept the orders of his superiors
patiently and live in complete obedience.
But things never improved. Ato Belay's chief tenant became still
harder on Biresaw. He used to send him on an errand which took him to
very far places at the time when he had to work in his own field. He
purposely made errors in measuring the taxes which Biresaw paid in
kind, that is, in grain and honey, and thus made him pay more than was
due. He fined him even when he stayed away from work for reasons of
health. Such and many other oppressive measures were taken against poor
Biresaw. Ato Belay, the landlord, was quite aware of the injustices
upon Biresaw, and, though he liked it at heart, he used to tell his
servants in public not to mistreat the poor tenant. Yet the servants
grew more and more oppressive and the pretences of the landlord could
not help Biresaw. BireÃ‚Âsaw was very unhappy with the whole situation
and resolved, once and for all, to leave his land, his family, and all
his belongings and enter the service of some lord. This was what he had
wanted to do for a long time. But he could not make up his mind which
lord to follow. Which of the lords could he count upon?
Which was the most promising lord? Which had the brightest
future? These were the questions he could not answer by himself. He
decided, therefore, to conÃ‚Âsult a " Debtera "Ã¢â‚¬â€a clergyman who practised
fortune-telling and magic. He took the best sheep from his flock and
two "Amoles" (* Amole, the name given to the bars of salt traditionally
used as money. Vide Richard Pankhurst, Introduction to the Economic
History of Ethiopia, 1961) of salt, and went to see the Debtera.
The Debtera was a native of Anadad, and a renowned magician of
the district. He was called Merigeta Melaku. Though a native of Anadad
he was much more than a man of his small district. He served as a
Debtera at the Cathedral of the chief town. He was a sort of scribe at
the palace of the chief ruler of the land, and he was quite familiar
with the manners of the court. Moreover, Melaku was a very clever man
who was always up-to-date with the latest news and court rumours.
This familiarity with the court news and the political
manoeuvres of the day helped him very much in the practice of his black
art. To all his clients he gave the impression that there was nothing
he didn't know. He asked them their problems, he pretended to read, as
it were, their fortunes from his books, and told them what to do, or
predicted what would happen to them. What he actually did was to
connect the bits of information he had at court and use them in his
presumptious divinations. Of course, he extorted fantastic sums of
money from his clients for his " trouble." And, as if by coincidence,
at least four out of ten of his predictions would come true as a result
of which this deceitful man was highly esteemed by the people of his
district and no one took notice of the six out of ten cases which did
not come true.
Debtera Melaku was living at Anadad at the time. Ato Biresaw
went to consult him about his problems. He took with him one sheep and
two Amoles as a fee for the consultations. Biresaw's problems were how
to enter the service of some lord, how to choose the most promising
lord and how to find out who was the most suitable lord for him? This
was quite simple for Melaku and he could give the answers right away.
But he wanted to exploit the simplicity of his client. He told Biresaw
that though his problems were not too difficult to solve, it would be
better if Biresaw came some days later. Besides, Melaku explained, he
had too many other things to do at that moment. With this explanation
Melaku sent his client away after scribbling some notes to remind him
of his problems.
Biresaw knew what Melaku meant: he wanted more fees for his
consultation. After some three days, thereÃ‚Âfore, he went back to Melaku
with another sheep. This time Biresaw implored the Debtera to tell him
what he should do, and to solve his problems.
Meanwhile Dejach Tedla had died and his place had been taken by
Dejach Goshu, one of the noblemen of Gojjam. At the same time there
were rumours in the palace and among the holy men of Gojjam that
Balam-baras Adal, the son of Dejach Tesemma, another noble-
man of Gojjam, would be promoted to very high office. Melaku was quite
aware of these rumours and advised his poor client to enter the service
of Balambaras Adal. He told his client that Adal was a very promising
man and that he was the lord most suitable for him.
But Melaku advised Biresaw that he should not
marr his future by any type of misbehaviour. He should be patient,
obedient, and co-operative with the chief serÃ‚Âvants of his lord-to-be.
His future, said Melaku, lay in the house of Balambaras Adal. This
pleased Biresaw beyond measure. He believed that at last he had found
what he wanted. He was very happy and as an expresÃ‚Âsion of his
satisfaction he gave away his last thaler to Debtera Melaku and
Some weeks later Biresaw sold all his cattle, and went to
Balambaras Adal leaving behind him his land, his house, his family, and
all his belongings. He met Adal's aide-de-camp and told him the reason
of his visit, he had come to enter the service of Balambaras Adal and
render his services as an obedient and faithful follower. The
aide-de-camp presented the request to his lord, and Biresaw was given
an audience; he was given a Bal-daraba, according to the custom of the
time, who would act, as it were, as a liaison officer between himself
and the lord whenever the interests of Biresaw demanded it, and began
his service as an ordinary soldier. The men of Gojjam are born soldiers
and even the simplest peasant does not take much time to get used to
military discipline. Biresaw was soon used to his work; he followed his
lord wherever he went and was soon known as a good and faithful
messenger. He always rememÃ‚Âbered the words of Merigeta Melaku, and
though there was much to disappoint him at times, he took everything
with patience and good spirits.
Ato Belay, Biresaw's old landlord, mourned the death of his lord
for a long time. But Dejach Goshu knew him too. So he went to pay
homage to his new lord, taking with him the customary tributes. His
title to his original land was confirmed by the new ruler of the realm.
Belay was now married and had two children. He had become one of the
elders of his district, and devout in matters of religion, and was
living a happy family life. Soon afterÃ‚Âwards, however, Dejach Goshu
died and was succeeded by Dejach Tessemma, who reigned for a short time
and died in his turn. The reins of government passed into the hands of
Balambaras (now Dejach) Adal. Biresaw had now become well-known among
Dejach Adal's serÃ‚Âvants for his good and faithful service; he had
retained the same aim in life: to oust Ato Belay from his land, take
the land for himself, reduce Belay to the status of a gabar* and avenge
all the wrongs done to him while he was in that position himself. He
had started his supplications even before his lord took the reins of
government and had already extracted a promise from
Balambaras Adal that he would receive the ownership of his
native district at the expense of Ato Belay. Biresaw had entered this
promise in the official records of his lord and now resumed his
supplications reminding his lord to keep his word.
Ato Belay had, however, fulfilled all the requirements * Tenant or metayer.
at the accession of Dejach Adal. He had, just like any other owner of
land, paid his tribute to the new lord of the realm. He had brought
with him the best ox and had been granted an audience by Dejach Adal
and had been given a baldaraba from among the officials of Adal, a man
who would protect his rights and act as a link between him and the
ruler of the land. Though he knew Biresaw was Dejach Adal's servant and
though he was constantly troubled by the fact that he was his potential
enemy, he never thought he would be ejected from his land unless he
committed a serious offence against his lord.
But Biresaw continued to remind his lord of his promise to give
him the land of Belay Kassa. Dejach Adal, however, found no reason for
depriving Belay of his land and delayed the matter for a long time.
Biresaw was prepared to take any step to obtain the land of Belay and
caused him to be accused of criminal charges but Belay was always
acquitted. Biresaw tried many other methods of disgracing Belay in the
eyes of his lord. He manufactured scandalous reports against him and
spread them throughout the land. So it was reported that Belay hated
Dejach Adal and that he was ready to commit serious crimes against him.
All these things were conscientiously reported to the ruler who began
taking these false accusations seriously. Biresaw who had been a simple
peasant only a short time ago, had become adept in handling court
intrigues. Ato Belay was never legally convicted of the accusations
levelled against him, but long litigations and the unjust treatment
meted out to him wore out his patience. Every word he said was reported
to Dejach Adal and by a long process Biresaw succeeded in disgracing
Belay. Later, when Dejach Ada! was promoted to the rank of Ras, he
confiscated the land of many people who had obtained their titles in
the reign of Dejach Tedla and his followers. Ras Adal gave these
confiscated estates to his own servants and soldiers. At the same time
he confiscated Belay's land and handed it over to Ato Biresaw.
Belay was at Anadad at the time. Soon afterwards the news of his
confiscation reached him causing him great distress. He shuddered at
the prospect of being humiliated and maltreated by Biresaw who had been
his own gabar in the same place where he had made his fortune. Many
strange ideas came to his mind, but he felt he had no time to
deliberate and he was only resolved in one thing; he decided to leave
Gojjam, and take refuge in the province of Shoa. His wife, Woizero
Tewabech and his two sons, seven and five years old, were the only
people he could not leave behind. He told none of his decision, and
with his small family Belay escaped at night and set out for Shoa,
following the Dejen road.
Two days later he reached the banks of the River Abay. In those
days there was no bridge to cross the river. Especially during the
rainy seasons no one would attempt the crossing. But Belay's journey
was in the dry season. A little before he reached the Abay, however,
heavy rain had suddenly fallen on the neighbouring highlands and the
river was full to overflowing. This unfortunate man was
again at a loss. He began waiting for the level of the water to go
down, but dared not delay too long fearing that someone would discover
The water had started to subside a little. Belay was a good
swimmer and took off his clothes to try if he might carry his family
across the river one by one. He plunged into the subsiding river, swam
across, and began to cross back to fetch his family. Having reached the
middle of the river without any trouble, he suddenly found himself
swept along on a strong current. He struggled to swim forward but the
swift current engulfed him and slowly carried him down the river.
His wife, with her little sons in her arms, was watching him
from afar. Suddenly she saw him being overpowered by the water which
carried him downÃ‚Âstream, past the ford. What could she do? She placed
her little children under a big tree and followed him, crawlÃ‚Âing along
the bank and crying for help. She wanted to be with her husband to the
end. Still she saw him struggling to come out of the river, but all his
efforts were in vain. Overpowered by the strong current he was slowly
taken out of sight and disappeared in the distance. But his wife would
not stop her search. She ran and ran until she lost her way and could
move no more. Her cries for help remained unanswered and she almost
fainted. Now she found herself in a wilderness devoid of human
habitation, and far, far away from those near and dear to her. There
was no human being around to console her and she almost lost her senses.
Soon afterwards she came to and remembered her children. She
started walking back to where she had left them, but she had gone a
long way and found it hard to fight her way back. Her feet were sore
with wounds, and she had no strength left. Too tired to continue she
sat down to rest under the shade of a tree, still very far from her
poor little children.
In the meantime, two men had set out on the journey from Gojjam to
Shoa. They had followed the same road as Ato Belay and his family and
thus came to the same ford of the river from where he had been carried
away. As the men reached the ford they found the two little children
crying under a tree. The men looked around to see if there was anybody
with the children, but found none. They called, no answer! There were
only two mules tied to the tree, and some provisions placed near the
crying children. The men asked the children what had happened to them.
But the children, choked with too much crying, could give them no clear
The men looked about them again to see if they could find traces
of anyone who could have brought the children there. At first they
found nothing, and concluded that the person who brought them must have
been drowned in the Abay. Soon after, one of them found a man's suit
lying on one of the rocks. This confirmed their guess. It now seemed
certain that the man who brought the children had drowned and that the
suit belonged to him. These men were now at a loss what to do with the
children. They thought of taking them to some village nearby and
leaving them there. But there was no village nearby. They could not
leave them on the river bank for the poor little children would
certainly be eaten up by some beast of prey. At last they decided that
the best thing would be to take the children with them. The level of
the Abay had now subsided so much that it could easily be crossed on
the back of a mule. The two travellers thus had no difficulty in
crossing. On the other side of the river the travellers separated each
taking one child with him to continue the journey to his own part of
Woizero Tewabech, the unfortunate mother of the two children,
eventually struggled back to the place where she had left them. But
they were not there. She ran here and there, all around the place and
could find no sign of her little ones. She cried and cried, but there
was nothing she could do. She called and shouted, but there was no
answer. She was all alone, left to her misfortunes. She thought some
wild beast might have eaten up her children and searched for any of
their remains and found nothing.
All her efforts to find them proved vain. Gazing across the Abay
she saw two men on the other side of the river. They had just crossed
and were climbing up the other side of the valley. It occurred to her
that those two men might have taken her children, but it was impossible
to cross the river by foot and make sure. She could do no more for her
children than she had been able to do for her husband. Helplessly she
wept and weptÃ¢â‚¬â€the only thing she could do. Tears flowed down her cheeks
as she sat on one of the stones chanting:
"Our big stream, River Abay Have even you turned against us ?
O God, in what way are my sins more grievous than other mortals ?
(that) Your wrath has fallen upon me, and everything has changed!
1 know I was born alone from my mother's womb But I can hardly endure this loneliness now,
there is no one I know around me. On the same day I have lost both my husband
and my children. Speak not, my voice … my difficulties are many as yet.
Where am I now, I, the unfortunate wanderer ? I am left here,
alas, I am forlorn ! A very strange thing has happened to
me; My life is destroyed all at once ! Why am I, a poor
helpless woman, left alone? What more have You in store for me ?
She didn't know what to do or where to go ! She ran now to this bush,
now to that cave … in the hope of discovering her children, but all
in vain. She began to grow tired, having wept all day, and now night
had begun to fall. She was not used to such hardships, and could hardly
stand up to this unfortunate situation. Her eyes were swollen. Her
voice choked. Her feet and her hands, with which she had been running
or crawling all day long, were sore and swollen up. After all this she
was alone in this deserted place. She almost lost her senses. She
fell down under a tree, fainting with exÃ‚Âhaustion and near to death.
In the meantime a man from Wollo, called Getaw Aliye was going home via
Shoa. He had come to Gojjam on business and was returning to his native
land by the same road that Ato Belay had taken. Night had fallen by the
time he reached the Dejen ford. He decided to spend the
night on the near bank of the river so as to cross it the next morning.
So Getaw Aliye and his two servants camped on the Gojjam side of the
river. The servants went around to collect dry wood for the fire.
Suddenly they saw something lying under a tree. They could not
distinguish what it was. At first it seemed like a boulder, or some
inanimate thing. As they came closer and closer however,
they made out the shape of a human being. Frightened by the sight, they
thought it was the body of a man killed by robbers, they went back to
Getaw Aliye and told him what they saw and felt. Getaw Aliye wanted to
see for himself. He lit a lantern and went to the place with his
servants. When he reached the place he saw the body of a woman lying
under the tree. At first he thought she was dead. But he touched the
body with the tip of his long stick and found that it moved. "Get up,
get up," he called. "What happened to you ?" Aliye asked. The woman was
too weak to reply, but her eyes opened a little and moved around
helplessly. This sad scene moved Getaw Aliye. His heart was touched
with a strong feeling of sympathy. He could hot leave such a weak,
lonely woman in that place. He thought some wild beast would almost
certainly kill her. Out of a sense of humanity Getaw Aliye wanted to
take her to their camp. But she could not walk ! So they carried her to
their camp. They made her a bed of straw and left her to sleep for some
time. Later they gave her water to drink and something to eat. But she
was too weak to eat anything at the time.
Later they gave her 'talba' mixed with honey, of which she took
a little. Now she could breathe more easily, and began to speak.
Loneliness, bad luck, and the darkness had all conspired against her
and her heart was broken with sorrow. But she got some relief after
these strangers found her and helped her out of her difficulties. Yet,
whenever she thought of the misÃ‚Âfortunes that had befallen her the
previous day tears flowed down her face though she said nothing. Getaw
Aliye did not ask her anything as yet. Much as he would have liked to
enquire of her what had happened, he saw that she was too weak, and
much too distressed to tell him anything at all! He gave her blankets,
prepared her bed, and she spent the night in peace.
The next morning, Getaw Aliye found himself much preoccupied
with the unfortunate woman. He did not know what to do with her. He
thought of taking her to some neighbouring village and leaving her
there. But the nearest village was very far from where they were, and
moreover no village could be found unless they went back, right into
the heart of Gojjam again! On the other hand he could not just leave
her where he found her. He spent much time thinking what to
with her. But he knew nothing about the woman as yet. So he decided to
find out who she was, what brought her there, and where she was going.
Now that she had rested all the night Woizero Tewabech could speak to
him and answer his questions. But she did not want to tell him
the reasons for her flight to Shoa. She only told him that she had come
there with her husband and her children the other day, that they were
heading for the town of Entoto in Shoa, that the husband had been
carried down the river by a sudden strong current while he was trying
to take her and the children across the Abay; that she left her
children under the tree and ran along the bank of the river to follow
the movements of her husband until the strong current took him out of
sight; that she could not find her children when she came back tired
and distressed; that she saw on the other side of the Abay two men with
mules whom she suspected of having carried away her poor little
children. She told Getaw Aliye that much as she would have liked to
follow up those men and make sure they had taken her children she could
not cross the river at the time. She had looked around everywhere
hoping to find the remains of her children, but all was in vain. It was
after all these unfortunate incidents, she told her benefactor, that he
found her lying under the tree, senseless, between life and death. She
sobbed and cried as she told her sad story. "God did not want me to
die", she concluded, "that is why you happened to find me here!"
Getaw Aliye listened to her story with patience, and was deeply
touched by the misfortunes that had befallen her. He asked her what she
intended to do, and whether he could do anything to help her. The woman
told him that her plan was to cross the Abay as soon as she could, to
follow up those two men whom she saw the other day and whom she
suspected of having carried away her children, and either to find her
children or make absolutely sure that she has lost them. "Now that I
have seen the unhappy end of my husband", she said, "I must also know
what has happened to my children!"
"Supposing that you could cross this river and that Allah helped you to
find your children, do you have any friends or relatives in Entoto ?"
asked Getaw Aliye.
"My husband knew everything." She answered "I know nobody myself. But
when I have found my children I will plan where to go next."
Getaw Aliye sympathized with her very much. "If her plan is to
go to Entoto, where we are also going," thought Getaw Aliye, "we shall
take her along with us and help her find her children. If they are lost
I will take her wherever she might want to go. I shall not leave her
alone in this uninhabited place." He decided on this course of action
and told it to Woizero Tewabech.
"If this is your plan" he told her, "we shall take you along with us
and help you find your children." The woman thanked him and followed
the party. He gave her a mule to ride, they crossed the river, and
began their way to Entoto. They ascended the slope of the plateau
overlooking the river and camped at a place
called Jarso. They asked everybody they met about two travellers. They
spent another day at Jarso asking the villagers and other travellers
who appeared to be passing, but there was still no sign of the
children. Their mother began to despair and wept bitterly.
Getaw Aliye observed from her manners that the distressed mother
of the two lost children was a well-bred lady. He felt very sorry for
her and did his best to console her. But she was so overcome with grief
that she did not even notice his kind words. She couldn't understand
how people could be happy in this world of sorrow. For her there was
nothing in this world except sorrow.
They left Jarso the next day and resumed their journey. They
kept on enquiring of the two travellers with two little children
whenever they met anybody. but their efforts met with no better results.
The two little boys were called Kassahun and Getaneh. Of the two
men, the man to whose lot it fell to take Kassahun the elder boy, was
called Ato Debaye from the district of Basso in Shoa. He was a member
of the landed gentry who owed military service to the King of Shoa
whenever called upon. As soon as they crossed the river Abay, Ato
Debaye and Kassahun left the main road at a place called Aleta-Mariam.
Debaye had relations living a little from the road, whom he wanted to
visit on his way back from Gojjam. It took them the whole night to
reach the place. After spending some days there Debaye took Kassahun to
his own house at Basso.
The other man who took Getaneh, the younger boy, was called Ato
Dinka, a Gurage merchant from the district of Agemja. Ato Dinka left
the main road from Gojjam to Shoa just after finishing the ascent of
the heights of Goha-Tsion. Then he followed the Ginde-Beret road and
there to Agemja.
The men who carried away the little boys had thus branched off
the main road to Shoa, and Getaw Aliye and Woizero Tewabech could not
therefore obtain news of "the two men with the two little boys." But
they went on enquiring everywhere they went. Getaw Aliye took her to
Fiche and Debre Libanos to see if they could find them there. Aliye
went much out of his way to help the poor woman. But it was to no
avail. There was no trace of "the two men with the two little boys."
Woizero Tewabech could not think where else to look for
the little ones. She lost hope of finding
They reached Entoto, still without news of the children. One day, some
weeks after they reached Entoto, Ato Aliye told Woizero Tewabech, "I
brought you here and I tried my best to help you find your children.
Unfortunately we could not find them. Well, it is time I went back to
Wollo, my native land. It seems that you have no relatives or friends
here. What are your plans? How are you going to live in this place?"
"It's true," replied Tewabech "I have no relatives,, no friends
here, but I shall look for some kind of work; in the town. God willing,
I will find someone to have: my services and I will make my living in
this way. Until then I can live by begging. What else can I do? So far
you have helped me greatly, may God reward your for your kindness."
But Ato Aliye had been thinking a great deal about her in the
last few days. He was a bachelor and he: knew Tewabech had nowhere to
go in Entoto. So he was considering the possibility of taking her in
marriage., "If you have no relatives or friends here" he said to hen
with due respect. "Why don't you come with me and live with me as my
partner? I am a bachelor myself.' So why don't we live
together and help each other?'"
At first she was startled at the idea. She understood that
he wanted to marry her, but it was only a short while since she lost
her beloved husband and her little children. Misfortunes had befallen
her one after another. She never thought of marrying again. Indeed, she
had thought at times of abandoning the world and entering one of the
convents. Now she was very much troubled at the request of Getaw Aliye.
She could not refuse him, she thought. She had already told him of: her
plans to live by giving her services. Besides, he had helped her very
much and brought her out of her difficulties as much as he could. She
thought it would be ungrateful on her part to refuse his request. She
was still wavering when she thought of another excuse:
She knew Ato Aliye was a man from Wollo. She also heard him swear at
times in the name of "Allah"' So she concluded he was a Muslim. She
wanted to use this religious difference as an excuse for refusing his:
proposal. "I am the daughter of Christians," she said, "so how can I
live with a man of another religion?"
"I have been baptised in the reign of Emperor Yohannes. I am now a Christian" answered Aliye with satisfaction.
"What is your Christian name?" Tewabech asked but Aliye had forgotten
the name given to him by the proclamation of Emperor Yohannes. He told
her the first name that came to his mind; which was Wollettai Gebriel.
Tewabech knew this was not a man's name: She smiled for the first time
since she lost her husband and children. She did not want to embarrass
Getaw Aliye and did not reveal that he had given a woman name. She only
said, "I see, so you were baptised by the proclamation of Emperor
Yohannes!" Emperor Yohannes was one of the most famous Christian
Emperors of Ethiopia. He loved his religion so much that he proclaimed
that all his subjects be baptised whether they liked it or not. He
ordered that all Ethiopian Muslims embrace the Christian religion Many
Muslims had therefore been baptised out of fear and without any
understanding of the religion of the Emperor. Getaw Aliye was one of
Woizero Tewabech considered the matter very deeply, "I don't
know what will happen to me in this city" she thought. "I have no
relatives or friends here. But Getaw Aliye has been of much help to me.
He has almost snatched me out of the jaws of death.
Indeed he will be greatly disappointed if I let him down now. I shall
accept his proposal and I will work hard to make him a full Christian.
He has already told me he is a Christian, and that is a good start. As
to his conduct he is indeed a good and kind hearted man. It is better
for me to accept his request." With this Woizero Tewabech told Aliye
that she would marry him if he was a Christian.
Getaw Aliye was much delighted at this. Though he knew very
little of her he had come to love and respect her very much. The
strength of her faith, the kindness of her heart, and the beauty of her
person had charmed him. He soon took her to his native land, Wollo, to
his home at Borumeda.
Ato Belay had been carried away by the Abay out of the sight of
Tewabech. She had followed him down the river as far as she could and
had gone back to her children thinking he had been drowned. But he
conÃ‚Âtinued his struggle with the Abay even after his wife had returned
for her children. He swam very hard. At one point he met a big log of
wood floating on the river. He swam towards the log and got hold of it.
This gave him some respite, since he could easily float with the log
without wasting energy pn swimming. At times, however, when he came to
inconvenient places, he would release the log and swim on his own.
Then, when he came to better places he would cling to the log again. In
such a way Ato Belay and his log reached a turn of the river where the
strong current forced the log on to the wall of the bank. The log was
stuck into the earth, and stood still. Ato Belay clung on to it. Just
nearby, there was a very big tree with huge long branches stretching
over the water. Ato Belay made great efforts to get hold of a branch.
After many difficulties he caught one and after a great struggle
managed to heave himself out of the Abay.
He landed on the other side of the river, at the place called
Ginde-Beret naked. He collected some big leaves, plaited them with
grass, and covered himself in a fashion not very much different from
that of the first man, Adam, when he was forced out of Paradise. He cut
a branch of a tree to serve him as a stick with which to clear his way.
The bank of the river was covered with a dense growth of plants, and it
was very difficult to find one's way through. In such a dejected
condition Ato Belay set off hoping to reach some village someÃ‚Âwhere.
He had spent the whole day swimming and struggling with the
mighty Abay, trying to save his life. This had tired him beyond all
measure. Moreover, the log which became the cause of his final success
in landing had broken his leg. Ato Belay was too tired and walked with
much difficulty. And the way was itself very difficult; there was no
road and he had to clear his own passage. This was not an easy task and
he had to crawl some of his way, when this was easier than to clear a
way through the plants. Yet he went quite a long way despite his
difficulties. His only aim was to reach a place where men lived, but
this was very difficult indeed.
Night began to fall and Belay was still in the dense forest that
covered the bank. Though he had been a good soldier in his time and a
very courageous one at that, he couldn't help starting at the slightest
sound in the lonely, majestic forest that bordered the river. He
followed the narrow path which he found with great difficulty and
continued his way. But it was becoming too dark, which added to his
difficulty. He missed his path now and then and lost his way in the
forest. His last hope of reaching some village was now shatÃ‚Âtered. He
had thought that the small path he had discovered would lead him to
some inhabited place. But now he lost his way and he did not know what
He was in a desperate situation when all of a sudden he saw the
light from a fire some distance away to the East. The sight cheered him
and his hopes of reaching an inhabited place began to revive his heart.
"This must be a camp fire," he thought, " and somebody must have made
it." He decided to make his way towards it. This was no easy matter. No
path was in sight, only the twinkling flame of the fire beyond acted as
a guide. At times he would hear the snarling of wild beasts on the
prowl around him till his blood froze with terror. At other times the
flame of the fire would dwindle in the distance making him afraid of
losing his way again. Moreover, he was by now utterly weary, his feet
refused to obey him and many a time he fell into thorny bushes which
bit into his flesh. Wearily he would pick himself up and resume his
difficult journey only to fall again with the same painful
consequences. After such a long and miserable journey he reached the
camp fire at about midnight.
For Ato Belay had guessed rightÃ¢â‚¬â€-it was a camp fire. A big
merchant travelling to Shoa had camped there for the night and his men
had made the fire which guided Belay to the place. As Belay was
approaching, the men had become aware of movement in the forest and had
heard a noise. The slow, almost imperceptible stirring of the bushes
and the indistinct shuffle grew louder. They immediately concluded that
a thief was making his way into the camp. Shouting Thief! Thief! . . .
they ran towards the unfortunate man armed with their big sticks. They
saw poor Belay moving very slowly towards their camp. He had heard
their shouting and understood their alarm. He tried to escape from
those angry men, but couldn't. He tried to explain to them that he was
not a thief, but his weak voice was drowned in their shouting and
nobody heeded his entreaties. The furious men showered their sticks on
the poor man, tied his hands with a rope, and took him to their camp.
When they came to the fire they saw the man's wounds and scratches all
over his body and covered with leaves knitted together with grass
threads. The men thought that they guessed right. He was a thief who
was caught and beaten up somewhere else and was making another attempt
to steal, this time from their camp. They shouted with satisfaction and
went on beating the poor man. Belay wanted to tell them the truth, but
it was all useless Ã¢â‚¬â€the angry men wouldn't listen to any excuses!
The big noise in the camp had stirred the chief merchant from
his sleep. He dressed and went down to his men who shouted triumphantly
that they had caught a thief, and went on maltreating the man they
didn't know in the presence of the chief. But the chief merÃ‚Âchant was a
kind-hearted gentleman. Much as he seemed to believe the story of his
men, he couldn't bear to see a weak man being so inhumanly treated in
his presence. He immediately ordered his men to bring the man to him.
At first he thought the man was a Galla and asked him gently in
Galligna who he was and where he came from.
The strange man answered in Amharic: "I am not a thief as they
suspect," he shouted "I am only one of those unfortunate creatures who
are at times visited by the hardships of this life. Yesterday, I tried
to swim across the Abay at the Dejen ford, but all of a sudden, while I
was still in the middle of the river, the river began to swell and a
strong current carried me down, far from the Dejen ford. I spent all
the day swimming and struggling to save my life. Late in the afternoon
however, as if God had ordained that my life should be spared, a log
came floating down the river. I held on to it and began to float. This
gave me a little respite at first, and finally, with the help of the
log, I landed at a lonely place, far from any human habitation. I did
not know what to do or where to go. I completely lost my sense of
direction so dark was the night. Much later I saw your camp fire and
came crawling to your place. Unfortunately, however, as if 1 had not
already had enough of my share of hardship, your men, my brethren here,
came down upon me, believing I was a thief. They beat me, tied up my
hands and brought me here. I tried to explain my situation; they
wouldn't listen to me!"
The chief merchant realized from his manner of speaking that Ato
Belay was a real gentleman and he believed his story. He sympathised
with him and apoloÃ‚Âgized. "It is because they didn't know . . . since
you followed the wrong way they took you for a thief. You will tell me
all your problems tomorrow morning." With this he ordered his chief
servant to give him some clothing, something to eat and a good place
where he could sleep well. He also instructed the servant to bring
Belay to him the next morning. After that the merchant returned to his
Most of the men who had beaten him up regretted their cruel
action against Belay when they saw their master treating him with
kindness and respect and when they saw Ato Belay himself speaking in
the manner of a gentleman. There were others among them, however, who
had no conscience about the mistaken identity and their inhuman
treatment of the strange, innocent man.
It was his good and correct use of Amharic that helped Ato
Belay. It had made his story acceptable by the chief merchant and his
men. In those days the people living around there who were suspected of
robbery and theft spoke only Galligna; they never spoke good Amharic.
It was Amharic that saved Ato Belay.
The chief servant who was entrusted with the good care of the stranger
took him to his own tent, gave him some clothing;, made a fire to warm
him since he was shivering with cold, gave him something to eat and
something to drink. Ato Belay passed a tolerable night.
The next morning, however, he began to feel very ill. The long
struggle with the river, the arduous and painful journey in the
darkness of the previous night, the cruel beatings inflicted upon him
by the servants and the bitter cold to which his body had been exposed
Ã¢â‚¬â€all these hardships were beyond the endurance of an ordinary man. His
body was covered in sores and had swollen in many places and his
condition was poor. The chief servant in charge of him reported this to
the merchant immediately.
The merchant wondered what to do with the sick man. After some
deliberation he decided to take him to the nearest village by mule.
Once they reached the village he would place him under the care of the
chief of the village or some other notable person there, and give to
the person concerned enough money for his upkeep until he recovered.
After everything was ready for the journey, the merchant mounted the
sick man on a mule and assigned two of his servants to support him.
At noon they reached a small village. They camped there and
spent a whole day looking for a reliable man to be entrusted with the
patient. It was Sunday. In the morning the merchant went to the small
village church to attend mass. He met the chief priest of the church
and thought that he might take charge of Ato Belay. After mass the
merchant asked the chief priest for an interview. The priest took him
to a place where they could get some privacy. They sat down there and
talked for sometime. " One of my men has fallen sick,"
began the merchant, " and he is delaying my journey. I want to leave
him here if I could get a reliable person to look after him. I am ready
to give the necesÃ‚Âsary amount of money for his maintenance. But I don't
know anybody in this village. Could you please find me someone I could
rely upon and in whose custody I could leave my man ? " The
chief priest thought for some time and said, " I will take care of your
man myself. You can leave him with me."
The merchant was very happy at the offer of the chief priest. He
took Ato Belay to his house, gave the priest quite a large amount of
money, and said to him: " I count very much on your honour and your
sense of responsibility. Do not spare money in taking care of the man,
even if you have to spend more than what I gave you. I will come back
after some months and will pay you the balance." With this the merchant
and his party left Ato Belay behind and went their way.
Ato Belay Kassa (that is the full name of the sick man) was laid up for
a long time at the house of the chief priest near the small church. The
cold that he was long exposed to and the hardships he faced before he
met the merchant had greatly affected his health, and he was coughing
very much. The chief priest took quite good care of him as he promised
to the merchant, not merely because he had received money but also
because of his Christian responsibilities and the brotherÃ‚Âhood it
entailed. Within three months Ato Belay's health began to improve.
Soon afterwards, when his health began to mend, Ato Belay began to be preoccupied with his wife and
his children. Where could they be now? What sort of things could have
happened to them? These were the questions looming in his mind.
One day he went to Aleka Seyoum, the chief priest of the village
who had taken charge of him, and thanked him for what he had done for
him in the days of his sickness. " May God reward your kindness to me,"
said Ato Belay. " I cannot aspire to repay your kindness and paternal
care myself. I have a wife and two children and I left them in a
dangerous place at the time of my misfortunes in the Abay; now that I
am recovered, I must go about looking for them."
" Indeed, you must begin to look for them," replied Aleka
Seyoum. Forthwith he ordered provisions to be prepared for the
departing Ato Belay.
Another thought came to Belay's mind. He did not know the name
of that good merchant who had brought him to Aleka Seyoum and who had
paid quite a large amount of money for his maintenance. He wanted to
know at least his name. He asked Aleka Seyoum. But Aleka Seyoum had
forgotten it. This disappointed Ato Belay greatly. He wanted to know
the name because, though he did not have money to reimburse the
merchant, he at least wanted to express his gratitude to him personally
if he would ever meet him again. MoreÃ‚Âover, if the merchant would allow
him, he even wanted to repay the money by working for him for sometime.
Nevertheless he knew that good men hardly expect repayment for their
good works, and what he actually wanted to do was to meet his
benefactor again and thank him for all he had done for him. "Anyway I
know he is a merchant from Shoa," thought Belay. " Once I know what has
happened to my wife and my children, I'll look for him at merchant's
quarters in Entoto," he decided. With this in mind he parted with the
good Aleka Seyoum and went his way.
Ato Belay planned to go to the Dejen ford of the Abay and spend some
days near Goha Tsion church in the Woreda of Jarso, district of Selale.
There he wanted to ask any travellers he met if they had seen a woman
with two little children on the road to Shoa. At times, however, Ato
Belay suspected that they might have returned to Gojjam since they knew
nobody in Shoa.
Ato Belay arrived at Goha Tsion. While a young boy he had attended
church schools, and he knew " Kene "* too. As soon as he reached Goha
Tsion, therefore, he began serving in the Church of Our Lady there, and
lived in one of the hovels built over tombs, for about eight days.
During this time he spoke to almost everyone he met on the
Gojjam-Shoa road. He disguised himself in the best possible way so that
people who were coming from Gojjam might not discover him. He shaved
his beard, changed his clothes and looked quite a different man. He
asked everybody he met on the road what people said about Ato Belay and
his family and their whereabouts. He said that he was a
distant relative of Ato Belay's wife! Some of the travellers told him
that it was said in Gojjam that Ato Belay, together with his wife and
children, had left Gojjam because one of his old tenants had received
the title to his hereditary land. But nobody knew whither he had gone.
Some people suspected, however, that he had left for Shoa. Nobody
could tell him more than that.
This questioning continued for about eight days. After
questioning any travellers on the road, he would go to his poor, lonely
shelter within the churchyard and intone the following chant, entitled
" Song of the Cross ":
"Lonely by day and pensive at night,
I am tired of this monotonous world;
Its very existence is corruption, its misfortunes are many,
I am tired of this monotonous world;
The Cross of the Son of God is a shelter to my soul, I am tired of this
monotonous world; Blessed is he who abandons the world, he shall eat of
the bread of Manna, And the church shall offer him its blessed wine."
One day he met some relatives of his wife who were travelling on
the road. They didn't know he was Belay since he was disguised. But he
knew them and asked them questions about his family and himself. But
they could not give him any better answers. They did tell him, however,
that the parents of his wife were much grieved at the flight of Ato
Belay and their daughter. This piece of information assured Belay that
his wife and his children had not returned to Gojjam.
Many new and strange ideas began to flock into his mind !
"Perhaps", he thought, "my wife plunged into the Abay when she saw me
carried down the river. Perhaps she was drowned and my children were
devoured by some beast of prey." His mind was greatly troubled. He did
not know what other steps to take so as to trace the whereabouts of his
wife and his dear children. He began to despair.
There was only one thing that calmed his restless heart: and
that was his strong Christian faith and his undying hope therein. After
staying for a week at Goha-Tsion Ato Belay decided to go to Entoto, the
capital of Shoa. There he would look for that merchant who saved his
life and only then would he make his decision of how to make a living.
With this he set out for Entoto.
He arrived at Entoto safely. But he found neither his old friends nor
his relatives there. In those days there were neither inns nor hotels
where strangers like him could lodge for a time. It was very difficult
to secure a lodging even if you had money! But Ato Belay found shelter
in a tomb-house in the churchyard of Raguel. He also began serving in
the church as a Debtera. In the meantime he began looking for that good
merchant who made it possible for him to recover from his hopeÃ‚Âless
situation. He looked for him in all the market places and in the
quarters of merchants. But that good merchant was nowhere to be found.
At the same time Belay was considering what sort of work he should
undertake in the future. He decided to go to Harar to serve as a
Only a short time previously Harar had been evacuated by the
Turks as a result of their negotiations with Emperor Yohannes. Emperor
Menelik had then gone to Harar at the head of his army for the
take-over. When the Turks left, Emperor Menelik promoted Balambaras
Makonnen to the rank of Dejazmach and named him Governor-General of the
new province. He gave the Governor-General part of his army, ordered
many of his high-ranking officials to serve under him, and left for
Entoto himself. Soon afterwards, however, it was discovered that the
Division that was left in Harar was not sufficient to keep the
necessary order in the newly-acquired region. There were rumours that
many new men were required for the Service, and that life in Harar was
very comfortable. It was under these circumstances, therefore, that Ato
Belay made a decision to go to Harar and enter the service of the new
Some weeks later, Ato Belay met some other travellers and made
his way with them to Harar which he reached safely. In those days men
from Shoa were very much in demand. A man who came to Harar from Shoa,
would immediately be received with respect and arrangements would be
made for his living. One of the servants of the Governor would be
assigned to look after him, and a living allowance would be given to
him according to his rank and the needs of his family.
As soon as he arrived in Harar, therefore, Ato Belay was
attached to the office of the Agafari (Lord Chamberlain) and was given
an adequate living allowÃ‚Âance and a respectable residence.
In a matter of months Belay began to distinguish himself in the eyes of
his superiors for his sense of duty and devoted service. After only a
year's stay he became known to Dejazmach Makonnen himself.
On Sundays and other holy days Dejach Makonnen used to go to
church. There he would always see Ato Belay who also liked to go to
church. Moreover, Belay scrupulously assisted at the Court and
carefully carried out his duties. Dejach Makonnen watched all these
with satisfaction and began to take a liking to him. SomeÃ‚Âtimes he
would call him and speak to him personally. Thus Belay gradually
acquired favour in the eyes of the Governor and his situation improved
In those days, for quite a long time after the evacuation of the Turks
and the Ethiopian take-over, order was not yet complete in the new
province. Presently the Somalis of the lowland region, in the Wereda of
Girri, joined hands with the peasants of the higher lands and rebelled
against the officials and soldiers of Dejach Makonnen stationed there.
ReÃ‚Âinforcements were needed from Harar and Belay was sent with the
troops. At the ensuing battle Belay disÃ‚Âtinguished himself for valour
and military skill and was soon promoted in rank. He was now a
respectable veteran, loved and respected by the Governor-General
himself. This made many of the Governor's servants, who always aspired
for their master's favour, very jealous of Ato
Belay, There were even some who wanted to create
problems for him and who worked behind the scenes to break his good
relations with their master. Yet Ato Belay received all these with
admirable patience and continued to serve with his usual goodwill.
Indeed, he answered their wicked schemes with fair play and their
mischief with kindness. All these evil forces could not prevent his
rapid promotion. Indeed many of the plots of his enemies were
discovered. Despite all these adverse forces Belay was promoted time
and again and was soon one of the well-known men of the
Governor-General. A few years later he was promoted to the rank of
Fitawrari and made the Governor's Agafari (Lord Chamberlain). Thus Ato
Belay was put in charge of the Court and attended on guests and others
who paid homage to the Governor.
Soon after that a merchant from Shoa came to Harar on business.
He brought with him many items of trade for which there was a great
demand in Harar. He took with him many asses loaded with the valuable
things he wanted to sell there. The journey went smoothly until they
reached the big forest in the Woreda of Deder in the province of Harar.
In this big forest the merchant was robbed of his asses and all the
things he brought for trade. With great difficulty he and his men
managed to save their lives. They immediately reported the inÃ‚Âcident to
the local chief. The merchant reported in writing all the items of
trade he had lost and the animals of which he had been robbed. He spent
several days at the headquarters of the local chief awaiting the
findings of the local administration. But no action was taken by the
local officers to catch the culprits and secure the lost things. The
merchant and his men went to Harar, therefore, to appeal to the higher
As soon as they reached the town the merchant and his men went
directly to the headquarters of the judge Soon afterwards, however,
Fitawrari Belay saw the merÃ‚Âchant and his men in the public square.
When he saw that the merchant was a stranger he ordered his servants to
call him. "Stranger," asked Fitawrari Belay, "where are you coming
from? And what is your trade?" "1 come from Shoa," replied the
merchant. "And I am a trader." A few days ago I was robbed of all my
things and my animals in the Woreda of Deder. I reported this incident
to the local administrators but no action was taken to help me. I have
come here to appeal to the higher officials and to see if anything can
be done to help me!"
In the meantime Ato Belay was looking at the man very
attentively. When he heard that he was a merchant he thought the
stranger looked like that good man who had helped him near the river of
Abay. It was very long agoÃ¢â‚¬â€about 13 yearsÃ¢â‚¬â€since the incident had taken
place and he could not easily recognise the man. MoreÃ‚Âover at that time
he had seen the merchant for only two days, when he was too weak to
observe anything clearly. " Could this stranger be the same man to whom
I owe my life? " he thought. " Anyway, whoever he is, it is good to
help a stranger. I will try to ask more about him later." With this
Fitawrari Belay wrote a letter to the local officers of the Woreda of
Dedar. The letter conÃ‚Âtained particulars about the things robbed, and
an order to the officers of the Wereda to make investigations all
around the region, and to bring to Marar both the robbers and the
things they took within ten days. Should the officers fail in this, the
letter warned, they would themselves be held responsible for the
Ato Belay decided to invite the merchant to his house and ask
him some more questions. He ordered one of his servants to look after
the merchant and his men and to bring them to his house for lunch.
Lunch time arrived and Fitawrari Belay went home. The merchant and his
men followed the party as they were told to do and went to Belay's
house. The servant who was put in charge of the merchant and his men
reminded his master that they were outside. When lunch was ready Ato
Belay ordered the merchant to be called in, and they dined together. In
the meantime Fitawrari Belay asked the stranger many more questions: "
My brother, where is your native land and what is your name?" asked
"My native land is Bulga in the province of Shoa," replied the merchant. "My name is Gebre-Medhin."
"When did you start to work as a trader? In what parts of the country did you have business?"
"I started business about 15 years ago. At first I used to take
things from Shoa to Gojjam through Ginde-Beret and
vice-versa. I used to deal in honey, butter, and textiles
according to their demands in Gojjam or Shoa. After some years,
however,* my business there began to diminish and I started dealing in
hides and skin and other miscellaneous items of commerce. In that
business I worked for six years. But now I was told in Shoa that the
demand for certain goods here was very high. This urged me to my
present adventure to Harar of which the only result was that I was
robbed of all my things."
When the man told him that he was carrying on a trade between Shoa and
Gojjam along the road of Ginde-Beret, Ato Belay guessed that this
stranger was the same good merchant who had helped him near the Abay.
He wanted to know more of the man and went on asking other questions.
" About 13 years ago," continued Belay, "I was myself at
Ginde-Beret. I think I have seen a man who looks like you one Sunday
morning at the church there. Could it be yourself?"
"It is possible," answered the merchant, "About that time, I had
a sick man in my party and I went to the church to look for somebody
there who might take care of my sick man. It is possible you saw me
then and there."
"Do you know the chief priest of the church?"
"Yes, I know him. He was called Aleka Seyoum. As a matter of fact I left my sick man with him."
"Do you remember the name of your sick man?" And did you see him after his recovery?"
"Six months after I left him there my business took me back to
Gojjam and I went to Aleka Seyoum's to ask about my sick
man. Aleka Seyoum told me that after he recovered the man
left, as he said, to look for his family. The sick man was a stranger I
met accidentally in one of my camps. I didn't know him well and I don't
remember his name now. But since he suddenly fell sick
in my camp I took him to the church and left him with the Aleka."
During all these questions and answers the merchant never
suspected that he was speaking to the man he had helped 13 years ago.
But Fitawrari Belay had guessed and guessed right the first time that
the merchant was his old benefactor.
Fitawrari Belay was greatly pleased to meet that good merchant who
almost snatched him out of the jaws of death. He rose up from his table
and revealed himself to the merchant. " You are a wonderful man, my
friend," he told the merchant. " I am the same man, the sick man you
left with Aleka Seyoum at Ginde-Beret thirteen years ago. I am the same
man to whom you brought life with your kindness." With this he stood up
and kissed the man, his eyes full of tears.
Ato Gebre-Medhin, the merchant, could not believe his eyes. He
was greatly surprised at the whole thing. Moreover, he was a man who
never gloried in his deeds, especially those he did with Christian
Fitawrari Belay gave his old friend a special place to lodge in,
and acted as host to the merchant and all his men. He felt very
grateful to God for helping him meet this good man after so many years.
Some days later the Chief of the Wereda of Deder caught the
culprits who robbed the merchant and his men. They were brought there
with all the things they had robbed, and the good merchant recovered
every cent he lost on his way to Harar.
Fitawrari Belay wanted to tell his master, Dejach Makonnen, of the
kindness of the merchant. One day he took Gebre-Medhin to the palace
and introÃ‚Âduced him to the Governor-General. " This man is a true
Christian," he told the Governor, " I knew him many, many years ago."
Dejach Makonnen was greatly interested in true Christians and in
men who really feared God. He therefore wanted to retain this man of
God in Harar and give him a job there. He told Belay to ask the
merchant if he were willing to accept the offer.
Belay was also interested in the project. He wanted to keep the man as
an intimate friend for the rest of his life. He had always wanted to
have such a good man as his friend. He therefore asked him to stay in
Harar and enter the service of Dejach Makonnen who was, he told him,
very kind and considerate. Gebre-Medhin had himself considered the
matter and when he was told this by Fitawrari Belay he accepted the
offer with pleasure.
Fitawrari Belay told his master that the merchant was willing to
serve him and to stay with him in Harar. Dejach Makonnen immediately
ordered the merchant to be given some job in the Department of Stores
and Supplies. He was also given a residence of his own and a handsome
Some years later Gebre-Medhin distinguished himÃ‚Âself for honesty
and a great sense of duty. Dejach Makonnen himself was personally
interested in his services, and made him the head of the Department of
Stores and Supplies with the title of Negadras. Fitawrari Belay and
Gebe-Medhin became very great friends. Their love and
mutual intimacy grew as the years went by.
At that time the relations between Emperor Menelik and the
Italians were beginning to grow tense. With the abrogation of the
Treaty of Ucialli hostility between Ethiopia and Italy increased. Italy
trespassed on the sovereign land of Ethiopia and began invading the
Province of Tigre. Emperor Menelik ordered the mobilisation of all his
forces in the various parts of the Empire.
He promoted Dejach Makonnen to the rank of Ras and made him Chief of
Staff together with Ras Mikael of Wollo. Ras Makonnen and Ras Mikael
were ordered to march in front and engage the enemy at Ashange. Ras
Makonnen was followed by many of his soldiers and high-ranking
officials from Harar. Moreover he received reinforcements from Shoa:
many divisions were added to his forces and led the march to the north.
In front of the Division under Ras Makonnen was a battalion commanded
by one Fitawrari Gebeyehu of the Emperor's Army. The battalions from
Kenbata and Gurage also followed Ras Makonnen's forces from Harar.
The forces from Wollo, Yejju, Wadla, Delanta, Begemder, Lasta,
Waag, and Tigre were all ordered to march under the command of Ras
The forces of Ras Mikael and Ras Makonnen formed the main body
of the Ethiopian Army. Behind them came the Emperor Menelik
and Empress Taitu, followed by the armed forces called from the
borderÃ‚Âlands of the country and the small landed service men. The
Emperor left some forces in some places to keep internal peace while he
was away on the battlefield.
One day Emperor Menelik, Ras Makonnen, and Fitawrari Gebeyehu camped at
Koremasch, Desie, and Golbo respectively. A big quarrel had developed
between the commanders of the front battalion of Ras Makonnen's forces
and the rear battalion of Fitawrari Gebeyehu's. The quarrel arose when
both claimed the same camping ground.
The camping ground in question was at Boru-Meda. It was the
compound of a great local chief. The comÃ‚Âpound was very large and there
were many houses within it.
Basha Getaneh, commander of one of the Battalions from
Gurage-Sodo in the vanguard of Ras Makonnen's forces, wanted to camp in
the large compound of the local chief. On the other hand Basha
Kassahun, a major commanding one of the rear battalions in Fitawrari
Gebeyehu's forces also claimed the comÃ‚Âpound as his camping ground.
Each claimed he had occupied the compound before the other. The quarrel
became serious. Each side was ready to die rather than surrender his
claim of the camp. There was a great noise as each party shouted
insults at the other. They were almost on the point of shooting when
the landÃ‚Âowner's wife intervened.
The compound belonged to the local chief of the Kebele of
Boru-Meda, Ato Aliye. He was not at Boru-Meda at that moment. He
had gone to Desie when Ras Makonen had camped to deliver the
traditional provisions (meten) he had collected from his locality. His
wife, however, was at home when the quarrel started. When the
shouting increased and when the
quarrel seemed to take a very serious turn she went out herself
followed by her own men. She went right into the centre of the quarrel:
" Why are you quarrelÃ‚Âling my brothers?" she began, "You are out today
for a common purposeÃ¢â‚¬â€to fight the enemy of our land and to fight him
together. How can you quarrel among yourselves now? How? " She had
already understood that the quarrel was about who should camp in her
comÃ‚Âpound. " As for a camping place," she went on, " our place is quite
enough for both of you. We can give you a house each to the commanders,
and the soldiers can camp all around the place. In fact your presence
here will protect us from other groups of soldiers who might be looking
for camping ground themselves. There is fodder for your mules, and we
will provide you with as much food and water as we can. It is a matter
of one or two days. Why should you quarrel for this? "
The lady looked dignified and gentle. Her words were very
sensible and the calculated manner with which she pronounced them
seemed to convince both parties. They soon resolved their differences
and accepted her advice. The lady gave one house to each commander and
assigned places for the soldiers to camp around their leaders.
In the evening the master of the house, Getaw Aliye returned from
Dessie. He was much pleased to find that the quarrel which, he was now
told, had started in his place had ended in peace, and he thanked his
wife for settling the problem so deftly. Now that the problem was
peacefully settled Getaw Aliye and his wife wanted to invite the two
commanders for supper. The guests came and dined together. A lively
conversation started. " If your wife had not intervened," Basha
Kassahun of Basso told Getaw Aliye, " the quarrel would have been
fatal. It was as if God had sent you like a good angel to save us from
evil. Moreover, the advice you gave us, my lady, was quite to the point
and memorÃ‚Âable. On my part I thank you very much for all you have done
" I am greatly pleased," replied Getaw Aliye, " to know that she
has been able to settle the dispute between your parties. You shouldn't
have quarrelled on so small a point, you know!"
The other commander, Basha Getaneh of Gurage, was a reserved man
and contributed very little to the conversation. When she saw that he
spoke very little the lady of the house asked him, " Why don't you join
in our conversation, my brother? In which part of the court were you
living, and from which province are you coming now?"
" I come from Sodo, a town in Gurage," he replied " My life has been
full of difficulties. I am not sure where I was born; but it is most
probable that I was born in Gojjam: I can still remember some things
from my early childhood. I grew up, however, at Agemja, in Gurage, in
the family of one Ato Dinka.
" I heard Ato Dinka tell his friends something about me. ' I found this
boy,' he would say, ' beyond the River Abay near the main road. There
was another boy with him. I think he was his brother. I took this boy,
and the man with whom I was travelling tool the other'."
Getaw Aliye's wife was listening to his story very attentively
and when the man stopped speaking she went on asking him many more
"I heard Ato Dinka repeat this story to many of his friends,"
confirmed Basha Getaneh. " And I used to listen to the story many
times. Ato Dinka had two sons. I was serving the family as a slave. I
used to draw water, wash the feet of everybody, clean the house, and do
all sorts of things for the family. Most of the hard work in the family
was laid upon me, and my assignments were mostly things beyond my
capacity." At this the lady of the house seemed very much affected. She
listened to the story breathlessly staring at the man all the time. She
did not want to interrupt him, but was obviously very impatient
"The cruelty of my master became unbearable," continued Getaneh. "
Sometimes he used to beat me. But when I grew up and could decide
things for myself I fled to the local chief, Kegnazmatch Ayele. I
entered his service and began my career as a soldier. In the meantime
Ato Dinka was looking for me and some weeks later he found me there. He
claimed that I was his slave and that I unlawfully fled from his
service. He took me to court where I strongly opposed his claim and
said that I was not a slave at all. The case was very difficult for the
ordinary judges, and it was passed over to the court where the governor
of the land, Kegnazmatch Ayele, took the chair himself. KegnazÃ‚Âmatch
Ayele was a very clever man and he conducted many investigations to
settle our dispute. There were many points to my advantage. Firstly, I
spoke very good Amharic, even better than Ato Dinka himself. This was a
thing that no slave could do at that time. Secondly my name had
remained the same since my childhood. I had told Dinka that my name was
Getaneh when he first found me and he had not changed it since then.
This was additional evidence in my favour. The governor ruled that my
Amharic and my name disproved Ato Dinka's claims on me. "
We have never heard of a slave called Getaneh," he said whilst giving
his verdict. He denounced Dinka's claim, punished him for defamation,
and set me free."
Getaw Aliye's wife could bear it no more, she realised that the
man narrating the story was her own son, one of the sons she had lost
near the river. His name and the place from where he was taken by Dinka
were sufficient proof for the truth of the identification. It was a
unique moment. She suddenly rose from the table and embraced him crying
"I am your mother Tewa-bech."
The other guest, Basha Kassahun of Basso, was also listening to
the story very attentively. The man who brought him up had told him
that he had found him on the bank of the same river. As Getaneh told
his story Kassahun suspected he might be his brother, and when he saw
the dramatic re-union of his brother and his mother he could no more
disguise himself. He joined in crying "I am also Kassahun, the other
son taken from the bank of River Abay." Their eyes filled with tears
and the three embraced each other at length.
Getaw Aliye was greatly surprised at the whole turn of events. The two
brothers, and their mother were beside themselves with joy. They forgot
everything around them and wept with delight. Only long afterÃ‚Âwards did
they come back to their senses and began to thank God for having
reunited them after so long a time. The story was not new to Getaw
Aliye. He had met her at the bank of Abay, he had taken her to Shoa
with him, and helped her to seek out her children. So it was not very
difficult for him to believe that these guests were her true sons.
Tewabech related to her sons all that had happened to her since
she had lost them. She told them how she saw their father being carried
down the river by a strong current, how she had left them under a tree
and had gone to see the end of her husband, how she followed the course
of the river until her husband disappeared out of her sight, and how
she could find no trace of them when she returned to the tree under
which she had left them. She told them this sad story and they all
started to weep again. The men were telling their mother how they were
brought up. in their respective places, and thus they went on chatting
until much after supper.
The man who took Kassahun from the bank of the Abay in his
childhood was a man from Shoa called Ato Debay. Debay had no children
of his own, so he adopted Kassahun as his own child. He loved him
beyond measure and brought him up like his own son. When he died later
he bequeathed to Kassahun all his land and other possessions. Kassahun
took Ato Debay's place in the military service. His good service and
sense of responsibility brought him promotion after promotion until he
was commissioned captain, the rank he now held. When Kassahun told them
this story, Tewabech was much pleased with the success of her son and
thanked God who helped him so much. Kassahun related to his mother and
his brother what Ato Debay told him about his origin. Debay used to
tell him, he said, how he found him on the Gojjam side of the Dejen
Ford. Debay was travelling with another man he did not know. They found
two children at the bank. One of them was Kassahun whom Debay took with
him. His fellow traveller carried the other child to his own place.
Debay and his fellow traveller had suspected at the time that the two
children were brothers. Ato Debay used to regret, Kassahun told them,
that he had not been able to take both children.
Getaneh on the other hand was brought up in slavery. After he
was set free, however, he entered the military service in his Woreda.
There were many outlaws in the Woreda who broke the peace. Travellers
were malÃ‚Âtreated, caravans robbed of their things, and order disÃ‚Âturbed
by these outlaws. One day a traveller was beaten almost to death and
his belongings robbed by the outÃ‚Âlaws of the Woreda. A contingent was
sent to pursue the culprits and bring them before the law for due
punishÃ‚Âment. Getaneh was also ordered to go with this continÃ‚Âgent. They
encountered the outlaws at a place and in the battle that followed the
latter were overwhelmed and fled. But Getaneh would not return without
capturÃ‚Âing them and went on chasing the criminals until he was
seriously wounded and could not fulfil his bold mission. He was in bed
for many days because of the serious wound he received in his pursuit
of the criminals. When he recovered, however, his comrades and his
superiors unanimously praised his valour and his devotion to his work
as a result of which he was eventually commisÃ‚Âsioned a major, his
The two brothers and their mother went on chatting until midnight. They
were greatly astonished at the work of God. Only some hours ago the two
brothers almost killed each other, when the lady of the house, out of
mere kindness and love of justice, intervened and brought them to
peace. Now they had become brothers and the lady who saved them from
fratricide had become their own mother. What a wonderful miracle!
The next morning order came from the commander-in-chief to every
division of the army. The order said everyone was to stay in his camp
for two days more. In the meantime provisions would be distributed for
the soldiers, and the mules and other animals weary of the previous
day's long march were to be changed. The two brothers were pleased with
the order which gave them some respite to talk with their mother and to
enjoy her maternal love for two days more unmolested by any military
Their mother called them for breakfast early in the morning.
This time Getaw Aliye was not at the table He had been out to fulfil
his duty (as local chief) of announcing and executing the orders that
came from his superiors. Kassahun and Getaneh were alone with their
mother at the breakfast table. Soon after breakfast they started their
spirited conversation again.
"By the way, mother, are you happy here?" asked Getaneh, the younger of the two.
"My husband is a good man," she replied. "He never troubles me.
He goes out of his way to please me. MoreÃ‚Âover, he was always beside me
in the days of my misÃ‚Âfortune. He helped me very much in my efforts to
find you. There is only one problem between us. When he first asked me
for marriage I refused his hand because I could not live with anyone
but a Christian. He told me he had been baptized in the days of Emperor
Johannes. This gave me heart. I knew that most of the people of Wollo
were baptized at the time out of fear of the Imperial decree of Atse
Yohannes, but I thought I could use his baptism and build on from
there. I hoped I could instil Christian sentiments and Christian faith
in him. But this has been practically impossible. He has ben brought up
as a Mohammedan and to change his attitude and make him a true
Christian has been very difficult. Whenever we want to slaughter an
animal for food he calls a Christian from the neighbourÃ‚Âhood to slay
the animal for us. This he does to please my sentiments. This is the
only eternal problem between us. Otherwise we are always on good terms."
"Have you given him a child?" asked Kassahun.
"No, I haven't," replied their mother. This was at least
something. They were happy that she did not give her Mohammedan husband
a child for there was a great difference between Moslems and Christians
at the time. For instance, the one could not eat the meat of an animal
slain by the other. There were many other social barriers between the
two groups. A Christian was not allowed to live with a Mohammedan,
especially as man and wife. This was considered as a great breech of
faith, and was strictly forbidden by the Church.
Some Christian men who wanted to marry Muslim girls could only do so
after they had converted them to Christianity and had them baptized in
church. Similarly a Mohammedan could not marry a Christian girl
withÃ‚Âout converting her first. In this and in many other circumstances
there were big differences between the life of Christians and that of
The two brothers were therefore very angry with their mother for
marrying a Mohammedan. The younger of the two was especially furious at
the news. Their mother feared this would happen even before she broke
the news to them. She had even wanted to withhold the truth from them
for some time, but it was obvious that this was useless since they
would soon discover the fact. They were greatly ashamed that their
mother had married a Mohammedan. They went out of her house and began
consulting each other on the course they should take to bring their
mother out of that shameful impiety. They planned to separate their
mother from Getaw Aliye either by sending her back to one of their
homes or by taking her with them to the battlefield. But they decided
that she should no more live with Getaw Aliye.
'" If we simply ask him to divorce our mother," the two brothers
agreed, " he would certainly not be wilÃ‚Âling. And if we disclose to him
that we cannot tolerate her marriage with a Mohammedan he would lie to
us again pretending that he was a Christian, just as he lied to her
many years ago. Now that God has merciÃ‚Âfully rejoined us after so many
years, we certainly cannot leave her with him. We shall peacefully ask
him to give us our mother. If he is willing, well and good; if not, we
shall have to take him to court and take her away by law. Now that it
has been God's will to rejoin us, our mother can no longer live with a
Mohammedan." The two brothers decided to follow this course in
re-claiming their mother.
As soon as Getaw Aliye returned from his morning work Getaneh
and Kassahun went to see him. " Now that God has been willing to
reunite us, our friend," they started, " we would like to take our
mother with us. Please give us our mother."
Getaw Aliye was surprised at their request. " Why, my brothers,"
said he with bewilderment, " she has lived with me for so many years.
Since her arrival here she has brought honour and respect to my family.
I don't think I have ever displeased her. When I first met
her in the days of her misfortunes, and in her effort to find you, I
have done my best to be of some help to her, and she is my witness for
all that. Why do you have to raise such a sad question, my brothers,
while we are rejoicing at your reunion? Moreover, you are marching to
the battlefield. Why don't we postpone the question until you return
safe and vicÃ‚Âtorious? After that we shall ask for her own decision and,
should she prefer to go with you, we can decide then."
The two brothers did not want to agree with this suggestion. "
Hitherto fore, we do not want our mother to live separated from
ourselves. As for the war, that is not much of a problem. There are
many women marching with the Army. Doesn't even the Emperor take his
Empress to the field, and what if we also have our mother with us? That
is not a problem at all. Please give us our mother and let her go with
It was obvious to Ato Aliye that the two brothers were quite
determined to separate him from his beloved wife. " She has not
quarrelled with me," answered Aliye, " and she has never wanted to leave
me. I cannot give you my wife. I cannot, by parting with your mother,
destroy my family which she has painfully built up for so many years
and, further, who is my lawful wife." Getaw Aliye would not flinch from
his decision. They understood quite well that he would not be willing
to give her up. So the two brothers went to Dessie to bring the case
before the local judge and the commander-in-chief.
Basha Kassahun and Major Getaneh arrived at Dessie at the
special court of the joint commanders-in-chief. At the court sat
Fitawrari Belay, Ras Makonnen's Agafari, together with the judges
designated by Ras Michael, the other joint commander-in-chief. This
special court was created for the purpose of safeguarding the peasants
from the looting of the soldiers. Looting was strictly forbidden; but
there were some soldiers who broke the Imperial decree and looted the
people. Such criminals would be fined at the special court of the joint
commanders-in-chief where they were forced to return their illicit
loots to the poor peasants, and be punished for breaking the law.
Kassahun and Getaneh awaited their turn for the whole day. At
last their turn came to put forward their case before the court. "We
had lost our mother for many years," they told the court, "now we have
found her in the house of a local chief. We asked the chief to give us
our mother, and he refused. We appeal to the court to call the chief in
question and ask him why he is not willing to give us our
The court assigned one of the guards to deliver the summons to the
chief ordering him, in the name of the court, to appear the next day
together with the woman, allegedly the mother of the applicants. The
applicants paid the customary fee, fixed by law, to the man who would
deliver the summons, and took him with them. When they
reached Boru-Meida the messenger of the court called Getaw Aliye and
ordered him, in front of witnesses, to appear in court the next day
with the woman allegedly the mother of the applicants.
The next day was a Friday. On Fridays and WednesÃ‚Âdays Ras Makonnen
himself would sit at court to hear appeals, should there be any, or, in
case there were no appeals, to preside in person at the ordinary
hearings of the court. At such hearings many great men and notable
personalities would attend the court, as was the custom on Wednesdays
and Fridays in the Imperial Palace and in the courts of the
Governors-General of the Provinces. Even if they were marching for war
this custom of hearing appeals used to be observed for a longer or a
shorter period of time as circumstances would allow.
On that Friday Ras Makonnen, accompanied by his judge and other
high-ranking dignitaries, sat at court and conducted many hearings. The
Agafari of Ras Makonnen was as usual acting as the master of
cereÃ‚Âmonies. He kept order in the court and gave the appliÃ‚Âcant and the
accused each their own places. It was his duty to see that the court
procedures were duly observed. Getaw Aliye had come to court with his
wife as ordered. His adversaries, Kassahun and Getaneh were also
present. When their turn came to have their case heard by the court
Agafari Belay gave them their respective places and they began making
their stateÃ‚Âments. The two brothers did not want to raise
the religious point for two main reasons. Firstly, if they said they
would not like their mother to be married to a Mohammedan, Aliye would
argue that he had been baptized in the days of Emperor Yohannes. This
would complicate the case. Secondly, raising the religious point in
court would bring a public disgrace on their mother who had lived for
so long with Getaw Aliye. They simply told the court that they had lost
their mother for many years. Just the other day they found her at the
local chief's house. They asked the chief to give them their mother. He
would not let her go with them. "This is our complaint against the
accused", they told the court. "We claim our mother and we want to take
our mother with us."
The court asked Getaw Aliye to give his statement in his own
defence. "Two days ago," he told the court, "I had come here to deliver
the traditional provisions I collected from my locality, in my capacity
as the local chief. When I returned home I was told that these men had
furiously quarrelled on my compound, each claimÃ‚Âing priority to camp
there. They almost killed each other whilst all the village assembled
and cried for help. At this noisy scene my wife intervened. She gave
both of them and their parties enough room to camp in and thus settled
their differences. When I returned everything was settled and I thanked
my wife for her clever handling of the unpleasant affair. Later we gave
them fodder for their animals, and as much food and drink as they
needed for their men. Moreover we invited both of them for supper. We
ate, drank and parted in peace. The next morning to my
greatest surprise, these men came to me and asked me to give them my
wife who has lived with me for 21 years ! They claimed she was their
mother, and told me they would like to take her with them. Only
yesterday, I told them, you were strangers even between yourselves, and
you were furiously quarreling. But now you claim my wife for your
mother and you would like to carry her away from me. I cannot give you
my wife. Moreover you are going to war and even if you have any
complaints against me we shall settle that when you return safely after
the war. But, my lord," continued Getaw Aliye, "they would not listen
to me, and they wanted to take my wife by force, while she does not
hate me herself, and would not like to leave me at all."
"We have made sure she is our true mother", rebutted the two
brothers, "though it is very long since we lost her. Ours is a long
story. She can give her words and can relate the whole story better
than any one of us. It was accidentally that we have met and know one
another. It was a miraculous act of God that suddenly reunited us. We
were very little children when we lost her, and it will be better to
ask her to make a statement herself."
During all this time Fitawrari Belay had no inkling that he was
personally and closely involved in the case. He was simply ensuring
order in the court in his capacity of Agafari of Ras Makonnen.
One of the judges thought the case would take much time and wanted to
postpone the hearing for another day. "You are now going for war", he
remarked, "and it has been said that the accused has lived with her for
21 years. Why don't you postpone the hearing until your safe return
? I think there is nothing urgent about
the matter. The accused can give a guarantor for the security of his
wife, whom you are claiming for your mother, until the case is settled
by the court."
"There are many other points, my lord, that we did not want to
disclose at the moment" replied the two brothers. "We are not willing
to let our mother continue to live with the accused, unless the court
should decide otherwise. If you ask her to give her word many points
can be easily clarified and that will not take much time. We request
the court to continue the hearing and settle the dispute on the spot."
Ras Makonnen was himself willing to continue the trial, and the judge
agreed to let the woman, allegedly the mother of the applicants, give
her words as requested by the latter. Tewabetch had therefore to tell
her long story to the court from the beginning to the end.
She started by telling the court that twenty-one years earlier she had
been living in Gojjam, in the district of Anedad. Her first husband
there was a man called Belay to whom she gave two children. At this
juncture Fitawrari Belay who was standing at that moment between the
applicants and the accused was taken by surprise. The woman's story
startled him from the very beginning. He was looking at the woman, and
was listening to her story very attentively until she finished. At
times he turned to the other side and looked at the applicants.
"At that time", the woman continued her story, "one of our
tenants took our land at the order of Ras Adal (later King
Tekle-Haimanot, and ruler of Gojjam) whom he had been serving for
years. Our old tenant thus came to rule over us. My husband, however,
said he would never live under the rule of his former tenant and
decided to go to Shoa and make his living there. With this decision he
took me and our two sons and we left secretly for Shoa. At that time
Kassahun the elder of the two was seven, and Getaneh only five.
" We followed the Dejen road to Shoa. When we descended the
heights and entered the valley of the Abay there was an unexpected
rainfall on the highÃ‚Âlands. Though it was the dry season this rainfall
was enough to fill the river. We waited for the level of the water to
go down. But we could not wait for long since some traveller might have
seen us and might have spread the news of our flight all over Gojjam.
When the level and strength of the river began to diminish, therefore,
my husband began to swim. He wanted to try the river first by himself,
and then to carry each one of us across in turn. My husband was a very
good swimmer. At first he easily crossed the river. On his way back,
however, a strong current of water suddenly overpowered him whilst he
was in mid-stream and, despite his struggle, it gradually carried him
further and further away from us and the Dejen Ford.
" That was a horrible moment for me. I immediately left these
two children under a tree and tried to follow the course of my husband
crying for help. I ran for hours along the bank of the river to see if
my husband would come out of the terrible water somehow. But all was in
vain. My beloved husband drifted down the river until finally he went
out of my sight.
" After this long and useless struggle to recover my husband,
after many hours of crying and hardship in the wilderness, I returned
to the tree under which I had left my children. But they were not
there. I thought some beast of prey might have devoured them and looked
for their remains around the place. Nothing was to be found. While
returning later to the same tree, however, I saw two travellers beyond
the river who had just crossed the Abay. They had some animals with
them, and I strongly suspected at that moment that those men might have
carried my children with them. But I could not cross the river myself
and make sure if that was true. After all this double misfortune I was
left alone in the wilderness that surrounded the river. I wept bitterly
to no avail, and I was shivering with shock and bitter excitement. I
was at a loss what to do. I almost went mad with grief, and . . ." As
Tewabetch told her sad story silence reigned in the court and everybody
held his breath until the story ended. Every eye was fixed on Tewabetch
and all were attentively listening to her. But the Agafari, Fitawrari
Belay, was greatly shocked and troubled by the story of her
misfortunes. He forced himself to be calm until the end of the story.
But at times this was beyond his control. Tears would suddenly flow
from his eyes, and he would wipe his face with the end of his shamma.
He did not want others to see that he was troubled by the story.
" Night fell," continued Tewabetch, " and I lay down in the
wilderness, between life and death. At night I could vaguely remember,
as if in a dream, some men coming and carrying me to their camp. They
gave me talba mixed with honey and I drank a little of that. This gave
me a little strength. It brought me back to the world and I could
breathe again. They gave me something to eat but I could not take any
food at all!
" The man who took me from the place where I fell weak and
senseless, and gave me all this help was this man, Getaw Aliye. The
next morning Getaw Aliye asked me where I came from, what happened to
me the other day, and where I intended to go. I told him the tragic
story of my husband and my children. ' My husband, myself, and our two
children were coming from a very far land,' I told him. ' Yesterday my
husband was carried down the river by a very strong current while
swimming in the Abay. I left my little children under this tree, and
went running along the bank of the river to see my husband's end. When
I returned from my useless search for my husband I lost my poor little
children. Immediately afterwards, howÃ‚Âever, I saw two travellers who
had just crossed the Abay. I suspect those men have taken my children.
I am planning to follow those men and look for my children.' When I
told him this, Getaw Aliye took me with him across the river and helped
me look for my children. When my search proved in vain I despaired and
went with Getaw Aliye to Entotto.
"In Entoto I knew nobody. I spent some days lookÃ‚Âing for a job.
But when the time came for Getaw Aliye to go back to his native land,
Wollo, he came to me and said, ' I understand you know nobody here. I
am a bachelor myself and, if you are willing, I want to marry you and
take you with me to my native land.' I was determined never to marry
again after having lost my beloved husband and my children. But I had
no other choice now under the circumstances. I was also afraid that, if
I remained alone in Entoto more calamities might befall me. With this
in mind I accepted his proposal and came here with him.
"Getaw Aliye has rightly told the court that it is about
twenty-one years since we met," she continued, " and he has always been
good to me. It was just by mere coincidence that I met, and came to
know, my sons. Two days ago, as if they were sent by God himÃ‚Âself, they
happened to arrive at our place. They were strangers to each other.
Indeed they had quarrelled, each claiming priority to camp in our
compound. They were almost ready to exterminate each other in the
quarrel. Getaw Aliye was not at home at the time. When I heard the
noise and the big quarrel I went out to the men myself, followed by my
servants and tried to intervene. I told them that the place was big
enough for all of us. I begged them to stop quarrelling on such a
minute point. I then gave each enough space to camp in.
" During all this time," Tewabetch told the court, " I never
suspected they were my sons. When Getaw Aliye returned home later,
however, we invited both of them to supper. In the meantime we
discussed many things and had a pleasant conversation.
"In the course of the conversation, Getaneh, the younger of the
two, told us a long story about himself. In his story he told us he had
many difficulties early in life and that he led quite a hard life from
his childÃ‚Âhood. From his story I got many points that conÃ‚Âvinced me he
is one of my lost sons. The story he told us is a long one, my lord.
But it will be very useful for the court in making its decision. Should
you permit me, my lords, I would like to tell it to the court!"
Ras Makonnen himself, and the judges, were all eager to know the
end of this complicated story and, though the case had already taken
much time, they permitted Tewabetch to continue her story. " Getaneh,
the younger of my two sons," she went on, " told us that he was brought
up by one Gurage merchant called Ato Dinka of Agemja. ' Dinka used to
tell his friends,' Getaneh told us, ' that he found me at the bank of
the Abay, on the Gojjam side of the river. There was also another child
with me, Dinka said, whom another man who was travelling with him took
along with him! He used to treat me like a slave and imposed upon me
too much of the hard work to be done. But when I was stronger I fled to
the Governor of Gurage and entered the military service.' In this
story, my lords, there are two points that are of particular
significance to me in identifying my son. Firstly, Dinka told his
friends that he found Getaneh at the bank of Abay. Secondly, Dinka also
reported that there was another child with Getaneh at the bank whom
another traveller took along.
"' Dinka was looking for me,' continued Getaneh, ' and when he found me
he took me to court claiming I was his slave. I denied that I was his
slave, and after a long investigation it was discovered that my name
from childhood was Getaneh and that I spoke very good Amharic. These
two points liberated me from my slavery.' In this part of the story, my
lords, his name was another convincing point for identifying my lost
" During all this time," continued Tewabetch, " the other guest was attentively listening to Getaneh's story.
' My name is Kassahun,' he suddenly announced to my greatest
surprise,' and I was also found beyond the Abay on the bank of the
river. The man who brought me up, Ato Debay of Basso, Shoa, used to
tell me that while he was travelling with another man they found me
there. There was also another child with me who was taken by Ato
Debay's fellow traveller. Ato Debay often regretted that he had not
been able to take both of us. Kassahun is my name from childhood. Was
this the name of the other child you lost?" he asked me. "Perhaps I
might also be your son and his brother." At this point, my lords, I
came to know they were both my lost children. Their name, their age,
the duration and the circumÃ‚Âstances of the story have convinced me that
they are my true sons." With this Tewabetch finished her story.
The story astonished everybody at the court. "Do you doubt the
truth of the statements your wife just made?" one of the judges asked
Getaw Aliye after some minutes of silence.
"No. Not at all, my lord," answered Getaw Aliye. "All she has
said is true. Everything she has told the court about her experiences
since I met her is perfectly true. Before she invited them to supper
and before we had a long conversation, these two men did not know she
was their mother at all. And as far as I can judge from the
circumstances to which I was myself a witness I believe they are her
true sons. It is only when they wanted to take her away from me that we
In the course of the hearing Ras Makonnen had noticed that his
Agafari, Fitawrari Belay, was particuÃ‚Âlarly touched by the story. He
had also noticed that, at times, during the recital of the story, Belay
burst into tears. He loved Belay very much and as a sign of his love he
always called him Belayneh, as an endearment. When he saw his reactions
to the woman's story, Ras Makonnen wanted to know why his Agafari
should be touched so much by the story. " Belayneh," the
com-mander-in-chief addressed his Agafari. "It is true that this story
has deeply touched all of us who have listened to it here in court. But
I have observed that you are specially affected by the story. Why
should you feel so sad at the wonderful work of God? Why should you be
sorry at the miraculous reunion of the two men with their mother?"
"Your Highness," replied Fitawrari Belay, "the story is not yet
finished and you are going to hear much more. I thank God who directed
me to the service of Your Highness. I have learnt many things since I
met you. Your kindness to the poor, your unswerving love of justice in
protecting the weak from the powerful, your untiring effort to please
men by your good works, your fear of God, your sympathy with your
people, all these have inspired me and have become shining examples I
shall follow all my life. For all this, Your Highness, I thank God who
directed my feet to you. It is already 20 years since I entered your
service; but under the influÃ‚Âence of your great faith and good works I
feel young again! To serve a master like you, a master who can easily
feel and understand the deepest feelings of others; to serve such a
master, Your Highness, is a great blessÃ‚Âing even if one only earns
one's daily bread from such a service. It is doubly fortunate for me to
be your servant and at the same time your Agafari."
No one at court ever suspected that Fitawrari Belay was
personally involved in the case. " From what we have heard so far, my
lords," Belay addressed the court, "it was the names of her sons that
mainly helped her in identifying them. At no point in the story,
however, was her name mentionedÃ¢â‚¬â€not even once. Therefore, please permit
me, my lords, to call this woman by her name." The judges did not
understand the point of this request. But they held their breath for
some time and said nothing. Some time later, however, one of the judges
said to Fitawrari Belay: "We don't understand why you should request
that. But I don't think it will matter much if you call her by her
name. Go ahead!"
At that point Fitawrari Belay turned his face towards the woman
and looked at her attentively. " Woizero Tewabetch," he called her, "
isn't that your name? "
Tewabetch did not understand what he meant by that. She did not
see the point in the strange man's strange question. But just for
formality's sake she looked at the judges and answered with
bewilderment, "Yes, that is my name."
"Yes, that is her name," re-affirmed Getaw Aliye. "The man she
was alluding to as Ato Belay," he told the court, " the man whom she
saw drifting down the river, that man in the story, I am he!" This
sudden disclosure took everyone by surprise. The court was under the
spell of complete silence for about two minutes. The two parties, the
applicants and the accused, to his left and right, were shocked at his
announcement and all looked at him with surprise.
Fitawrari Belay continued his story and told the
court how he met a floating log on the river, how he clinged on to the
log, and how, when the log stuck on to the other side of the bank, he
struggled out of the water with the help of the branches of a tree
which grew near the river. He was completely naked at the time, he told
the court, and he covered his body with leaves. He tried to find a way
out of the dense growth of shrubs. This was a very difficult job
indeed, coupled with the darkness of the night. While in such a
difficult position he saw a camp fire ahead. He struggled towards it
and at about midnight reached the camp with great difficulty. The camp
belonged to a merchant and his men. When he reached there at such a
late hour of the night, however, the merchant's men took him for a
thief, tied him up and beat him up. At this juncture the chief merchant
came, asked what the noise was all about, and ordered the men to untie
and stop beating Belay. Then he ordered his chief servant to look after
him for the whole night. The next morning, Belay continued his story,
he fell ill. The bitter cold of the previous night, his long struggle
with the river, and the beatings of the merchant's guards had been too
much for him and he succumbed the next morning. The merchant was very
kind to him. He assigned two of his men to support him on to a mule and
thus took him to Ginde-Beret. There the merchant gave a sum of money to
the chief priest, Aleka Seyoum to look after Belay until he recovered.
Three months later Belay recovered and
went to Goha-Tsion to enquire about his wife and their children. He
stayed there for some time, but his search proved useless. Then he went
to Entoto where he tried for many days to meet that good merchant who
almost saved his life in Ginde-Beret. When he failed to meet the
merchant Belay went to Harar to make a living there. About 12 years
later he suddenly met the merchant in Harar. He identified the man with
great difficulty and introduced him later to Ras Makonnen in whose
service he too entered. Some years later the merchant was made His
Highness Negadras in Harar. "This man is here with us as chief of
supplies for the army," Belay told the court and showed the man to the
judges. With this short statement Belay concluded his story.
In the meantime, Negadras Gebre-Medhin, the merÃ‚Âchant Belay
alluded to, was also present at the court. When Belay finished his
story Gebre-Medhin told the court that it was true, that the story took
place 21 years ago. He also related, in short, everything he knew about
The judges, and all the spectators that were at the court were
astonished at the miraculous story that took place in their own time.
After some minutes of complete silence, the chief justice stood up and
addressed Getaw Aliye, chief of Boru-Meida, "You have heard the case
right now," he told him. "Do you have any more rebuttals to make?"
Getaw Aliye didn't know what to reply. Moreover, all the people
involved in the case were greatly inspired by the dramatic nature of
the story and each expressed himself in verse as follows:
" What more can I say ?
God has brought her children from Basso and Soddo, He has miraculously saved her husband from the
mighty Abay, He has kept her with me for so long only to show his
wonders, When God is behind the scene, and reunites all together ? "
What more can I say, except to go in peace.
" Why do people deny the truth of Resurrection, When we actually see
the dead thus returned to life ? Abay was only lying when he told me he
overcame my husband, I see my Belay here, he is the winner of the two.
Oh! mortals, make merry and prepare your feasts We have guests from the
dead who have come back to life."
KASSAHUN and GETANEH:
" The morning star came out of her abode, She intervened in the quarrel
between us, And killed our quarrel with
her soft words and without arms.
Our mother came here to serve a man, How come she saved us from killing
each other ? The strong currents of the Abay dragged our father down
the river But who sent the log to save his life ? What a miracle is
this case That doubly enriches the sons with a father and a mother!"