On the Eve of the Battle

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

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


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

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

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

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

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