Translation by Tadesse Tamrat of Ethiopia’s first novel which first appeared in Amharic in 1900
Much is due to him who is kind to others.
Much is lost to him who does evil unto others.
A kind man never gives; he lends!
Atvthe beginning of the Christian era, when the new religion was still
in the process of being preached, the Christians were very few
compared with the pagans. The pagans, moreover, counting on their
superiority of numbers and greater power persecuted the Christians,
invaded their land, plundered and devastated their possessions.
After every battle the pagans would massacre as many as they pleased and
reduce to slavery all those who were captured alive. Very few as they
were, the Christians were also strongly militant in defending their
honor and the frontiers of their land. Victory was not the monopoly
of any one side, the Christians and the pagans won the struggle at
different times, neither wanting peace and reconciliation, each
aiming at exterminating the other. Every year, every month, each side
would fight and massacre the other.
Once upon a time the pagans came as usual to plunder the land of the
Christians, to castrate, to kill or to enslave them. When the news
of this pagan attack reached
the ears of the Christian king he at once mobilized his forces,
organized them under four Dejazmaches, or generals, and sent
them to fight the enemy and defend their faith. The pagan army was,
however, ten times as large as that of the Christians. The battle was
therefore won by the pagans. Three of the Christian generals were
killed in action; the fourth was captured alive by the enemy.
Countless people lost their lives in the confusion that followed.
Very few were captured alive. None of the Christian soldiers could
escape from the hands of the enemy; no one returned home alive. After
the victory the pagan army invaded the country of the Christians and
took away as much spoils as they could.
The news of the Christian defeat reached every corner of the country.
Everyone began to mourn the loss of bis relative on the battle field.
The king himself was so overcome by the sudden news of this complete
pagan victory and the loss of his army and his generals that he soon
died of grief and shock. The Christians lost their king. They had no
ruler. Their country soon became a wilderness.
The Christian general who was captured alive was sold into slavery by the
soldier who captured him. The latter never knew that the man he was
selling as a slave was
actually one of the leading generals of the Christian army.
The man who bought him, however, was much pleased with his stature and
strong build. He felt happy that he had bought such a strong slave.
Counting on his strong appearance he always assigned to him the most
difficult jobs in the household. He ordered him to cut the grass for
his animals, to split wood for fire, to load the asses with big
camping tents, and to carry the pole and pegs. All these occupations
were, however, quite new to the unfortunate ex-general. When he tried
to mow the grass his tender hands were cut by the blades of grass and
bled. His fingers, used only to holding glass bottles (Birille) in
his glorious days, developed hard scales as a result of daily work
with the axe and similar implements. Nevertheless he tried his best
to do everything for fear of provoking his master, and lest his
master apply his cruel whips on his tender body. Finally, however,
his swollen hands were sore with wounds, his shoulders on which he
carried many things were also wounded, he could stand it no more. His
master first thought that his new slave was beginning to be unwilling
to work and began to scold him and even wanted to flog him for his
negligence. But the ex-general could bear it no more. Whatever his
master might do to him he determined to be frank with him. He showed
his master his ailing body adding, "I have tried my best to
obey, but there is nothing I can do."
His pagan master saw how the hard, manual work had done much injury to
his new slave and began to suspect that this slave might be of noble
origin. He asked the soldier who sold him the slave in what kind of
clothes the slave had been captured. The soldier answered that the
prisoner had worn many decorations which when sold had fetched much
gold. The master was happy at this news. He concluded that his new
slave was no ordinary man and must have been a big man in his
country. Since he was useless for hard work, the master decided to
make money out of him.
One day the master called the ex-general in private and said to him :
"You Kafir (infidel) I bought you with much money from
the man who captured you. I am now at complete liberty to do anything
I like with you. But I feel guilty towards you. Now, send to your
relatives at home. Ask them to send you 100,000 waqets, or
ounces, of gold as ransom. On the receipt of that sum I shall let you
go home safe and free!"
The ex-general however knew that the land of the Christians had been
plundered. The king had died and the cattle were all taken by the
enemy. Moreover, even if these sad events had not occurred neither
the ex-general nor his family could raise so fantastic a sum. The
general had lived a generous life. He had decorated and rewarded the
valiant, he had given alms to the poor, and had never thought of
hoarding money. All this he knew very well and said to his master: "I
have no money to pay my ransom, I am poor. You can do anything you
want with me."
His personal servants had all been killed in action. The king had died.
He had no one on whom he could count at home. He only had his wife
and his twin children, a boy and a girl, both only sixteen years of
age. Each was a perfect image of the other. No one could distinguish
one from the other except by their dress.
His wife and children were first told that he had lost his life in the
war. Some time later, however they heard that actually he had been
sold into slavery and that his master had asked 100,000 waqets of
gold as ransom for him. This was a great relief to them. But to think
of his sufferings and hardship as a slave of the enemy was very
saddening and their inability to raise ransom to free him added much
to their sorrow. They wept at their misfortunes. The king of the
Christians had died and their country had been irrevocably
devastated. Where could they possibly raise that amount of ransom for
their dear one? Where? How could they liberate him? They could only
weep every day, but their tears could hardly help them.
The boy, Wahid, decided to go to his father’s master and offer himself as
a slave in his place. His mother, however, would not let him go. She
feared the pagans would deprive her of both her husband and her son.
Finally the children Wahid and Tobbya, and their mother pondered over
the matter and decided as follows: Wahid would hire his services to
whomever might need them and save his earnings. Tobbya would collect
wood for the fire, draw water, and prepare the family’s food. Their
mother would spin and thus earn something for her labor and help with
the sowing. Lastly, they agreed to dismiss all their servants and
other members of the household since they had nothing with which to
pay them, and, still worse nothing with which to feed them. It was of
course fantastic to think of raising 100,000 waqets of gold by
saving the money they could thus earn, but what else could they do?
That was the only thing left to them.
Their mother began spinning as much as she could. Wahid began looking for a
master whom he could serve in return for a humble wage. Tobbya went
out to collect sticks for the fire. Singing with childish innocence,
she made herself entirely responsible for their food which consisted
almost wholly of different leaves and various types of grass, and
roots. She would collect these every day and prepare food for the
small family. The three would then come together from their various
duties, discuss their problems and eat what Tobbya could prepare for
them. The next day each would return to his or her routine work.
One day Wahid, who was still looking for a job, came to a big town on the
outskirts of which, in one of the green fields, he saw the camp of a
big merchant. He approached it to inquire for work. He asked the
keeper of the animals who the merchant was and whither he was going.
The man told him: " This camp belongs to a big merchant. He
deals in ivory, coffee, and civet. He is now going to Egypt."
Thank you very much. Do you know if this merchant needs any
servants?" asked Wahid. "Oh! yes," the man replied, "
most of his servants are now laid up because of a fever that has
broken out in the camp. The merchant has been much delayed because of
this event and is looking for capable men. He has said he would pay
double the normal wage for such servants!"
Wahid thought he was in luck at last, and happy at the news, ran to the
camp without even saying goodbye to his kind informant. He approached
the biggest tent which, he thought, must belong to
There he presented himself to the chief guard saying: " I have
heard the news that his lordship wants servants. I have come to be
one of them."
The guard could not believe his ears. It was unimaginable to him that a
young boy in such noble dress and with such pleasant manners could
offer himself as a caravan servant! But he was only a guard, he knew
that his master was in desperate need of servants. He went into the
tent, therefore, and said to his master, " Sir, a fine healthy
young man is standing outside offering to be one of your servants."
The merchant was irritated by the words, " a healthy young
A healthy young man indeed?" he railed at his chief guard. As if
I needed the contrary! As for sick men I already have them in
hundreds, you fool!"
But I said a fine young man, Sir," replied the guard, implying
that he hardly looks suitable for caravan service."
The merchant did not wait to listen to this rejoinder. He hurried out of
his tent to see the applicant, and the guard silently followed his
master. When he reached the gate of the tent the latter looked here
and there. There was nobody there except for the young, tender boy,
Wahid. He turned to his guard with bewilderment and asked, "
Where is the man you told me about?"
It is I, Sir," began Wahid without giving the guard time to
answer his master’s question. " If you are willing, Sir, I have
come to offer my services to you. Please accept them kindly."
The merchant fixed the young boy with his eyes and With no little
surprise. "Eh!" he began, "That is just the type of
servant I really wanted for my caravan!" he added sarcastically,
with a grunt.
Sir," Wahid began his supplication, seeing that the merchant
thought him a good-for-nothing, " It is said that a thin but
obedient ox is much better at the plough than a fat and lazy one.
Please do not judge me by my tender looks. I am capable of serving
When he heard these wise words the merchant began to like the young boy.
But why on earth," he began addressing his young friend, "
why on earth should a fine and well-bred boy like you wish to work
for a caravan? Your language is refined, your habits elegant, and
your manners those of a man of noble birth. How then could love of
money make you desire to be a servant of a merchant?"
Wahid did not interrupt the man. He let him speak out his heart. "Oh!
Sir," he began at last, "it is not love of money really.
Had you known my sad story, and the misfortunes that befell me and my
family you would not have judged me so lightly."
Excuse me," said the merchant regretting his hasty judgment. "
Come and tell me your whole story. You know a man can at first sight
only judge from appearances." Saying this he asked Wahid to
saddle his mule for him. " We shall go out together and talk
about everything," he added. Wahid immediately saddled the mule
for the good merchant and they went out together. A few paces from
the big tent the merchant said to Wahid, " Now, my friend, tell
me all your problems."
The merchant had mounted on the mule and Wahid was walking by its side
with his left arm on the saddle. The mule was trotting gracefully.
Sir, you were right in thinking that I am of noble birth. I am the
son of a Dejazmach. I used to live a life of ease and comfort. But as
you know when the pagans invaded our country, the king mobilized his
forces under his four generals and sent them to fight the enemy. One
of these generals was my father. In the ensuing war, God was not
willing to help the Christians and so the victory went to the pagans.
Thousands of people died on the field; many others were captured
alive and sold into slavery. Three of the generals lost their lives
in action. My father was captured and sold as a slave. Recently,
however, we heard that the pagan who bought him, suspecting from his
looks that he was a rich man, has offered to free him provided he
pays a ransom of 100,000 waqets of gold.
At this news my mother, my sister and myself were saddened. We knew
we could not raise that much ransom to free him. Moreover, my father
never hoarded money; he only delighted in giving what he had to those
in need. Where could we get that much money? Had the king been alive
he would have paid it; but he died of shock as a result of his
defeat. The land is devastated; the people have been massacred, the
cattle have been plundered, and the harvests have been burnt down by
the enemy. Where could one get money?
After long and useless deliberation we decided that my sister be
responsible for preparing our food. My mother earns some money by
spinning and I have been assigned to seek service. My mother and I
will save our earnings to help raise the ransom for my father. That
is why I came to you. I would have liked to go and offer to be a
slave in my father’s place. My father has taken special care in
raising me with much comfort and luxury. I would have liked to pay
back what I owe him. My mother, however, would not allow me to do
that. She thought she would lose both of us at the same time. She
forced me to pledge myself before a priest that I would not try to do
"This is the reason why I want to be hired as a servant. Please Sir, do not
judge me badly!"
The merchant listened carefully, with much feeling and sympathy, to
Wahid’s story. When Wahid finished his tale the man said to him: "I
have some business in my tent. I shall go there. Return whence you
came. May God help you in your plans!" All merchants carry a
certain amount of money with them wherever they go. On this occasion
the good merchant gave Wahid all the money he had with him in a bag.
Before he parted with Wahid, however, he carefully asked him the name
of his father and the name and address of his master. Wahid was very
much excited at this generosity of a man he had never known. The boy
carried the bag full of gold to his house trembling with emotion and
unable to say a word. He was so happy that he did not even say
goodbye to his benefactor! Neither did he ask the name and address of
that good merchant. He simply ran off home with the money he had
Before he reached home, he hid himself in a bush, opened the bag the Not only Adam and Eve but also all the birds and the other animals She is an object of pride to all who love her, She won a crown for herself for all her troubles. Like a plant in the dry season. Every one withered under the effect of your beauty. Let every one be enchanted and allured, If that leads him to the worship of God! I have discovered something unique in your personality. So artistically made by God, you trouble the hearts of men However much I learn and understand the Gospels, I cannot believe that there is anyone on earth as beautiful Millions of Amhara hosts dispersed before him; Rases and Dejazmatches were reduced by him; He disposed many powerful kings; No weapons of war overpowered him; People trembled at the news of his approach, He crushed oxen into pieces, No chain was strong enough to harness him. He was literally a lion, an uncontrollable lion, But now he is tame, and tied down by a Mateb.13 Not even the Turks who manufactured arms. No one could break the power of your Fathers. Alas! You are very young, inexperienced in the arts of war, You do not know what to do, You dispersed your large army at the words of a priest." 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
merchant had given him, poured the contents thereof onto his shamma
and counted how much he had got.
He found that the merchant had given him 40 waqets of
gold. He was greatly pleased with that. He ran to his house, and
surprised both his mother and his sister with his acquisition of the
day. He told them the story of his meeting with the merchant, and how
the latter had given him the money.
His mother and Tobbya were astounded at the generosity of the man, and
when they thought of the possibility of their beloved one coming back
to rejoin them their hearts beat with excitement. It was evident that
the merchant had asked Wahid to saddle his mule for him and follow
him out of the camp just because he wanted to create a favorable
atmosphere for helping the boy if necessary. He thought it would be
much easier for the boy to accept a gift as a return of some service,
However generous the gift, it was for less than the amount asked as ransom.
Therefore all three resumed their efforts to raise the required
amount. Each drearily spent the day trying to earn as much as
possible and when the day was done met together in the evening for
One day they had gathered together as usual in the evening and Tobbya had
prepared their food. She had cooked the vegetables she had collected
for the day. She had laid the table and they were all having supper.
They were speaking about the generosity of the good merchant. "When
will be the day when we can save as much? When are we going to send
the ransom? When is he going to be freed? When are we going to see
his eyes again? It is going to take many, many years still",
they were saying this, longing to see their father and regretting
that they could not ransom him as soon as they wanted.
Just at that moment the door opened very gently. Someone entered slowly
and stood in front of them. All three were taken by surprise. They
looked at the strange man. It was their beloved father himself! They
could not believe their eyes, thinking they were merely day-dreaming.
The man was also exhausted by his emotions at seeing all his dear ones
together and at the same time. He just stood there motionless and
with tears flowing down his face. He could not utter a word. Neither
could they say anything. They could not even stand up and greet the
man they had been longing to see! Some minutes passed in this way but
they soon came to their senses; they began to realize that it was
their father himself, the man they had so much desired to see, the
man they had so much missed. All stood up at once and ran to him
throwing themselves on him one after the other. None could wait until
the other had greeted him. No. They embraced him all at the same time
: one of them hung on his neck, the other clung to his waist and
third fell on his knees. It was a scene full of emotion. Anyone who
saw these poor souls at that moment would verify it.
Neither could the father control his emotions. His eyes were wet with tears
and his voice was choked as he spoke: "How are you my dear ones?
How are you? How could you raise so much ransom for me," he
asked them tenderly crying like a small child. "Where could you
get that much to liberate me from slavery? I never tried to save
money for such an unfortunate emergency. Where could you get it?"
They did not know what to answer. They knew very well that they had as yet
sent no money to free him. They were only trying their very best to
save as much as they could and to raise the required amount. They
were nonplussed. They merely looked at each other. When he saw that
no one was answering his question the father turned his face toward
Wahid and asked: "Wahid, you, my son? But where could you get so
much money?" Wahid had no answer. He was sure he had not sent a
cent! After a lapse of some minutes, however, Wahid remembered the
good merchant who had before so generously given him some waqets
of gold. "Ah!" he cried. "Now I know who sent the
money to liberate you. Father, do not think it was me. No." He
then told his father the story of the good merchant, how he had given
him forty waqets of gold and how he had finally asked him the
names of his father and that of his pagan master and the latter’s
When he heard the story, the father was greatly amazed at God’s mercy. He
began to thank Christ and bless the good merchant who had liberated
him from slavery. "My son," said the Dejazmatch, "that
good merchant who never knew me and whom I never knew, who is not
related to me at all, that man sent so much money to pay for my
freedom? Not only that. He sent me a good horse and sufficient
provisions for my return journey. Thus did he enable me to be amongst
you once again, to mix with my children and my beloved wife, to come
back to my sweet home and be happy again! I must therefore go and
meet my unknown benefactor. Of course, I cannot pay back what he has
done for me. But I can at least thank him for his kindness and bless
him in the name of God. My son, please take me to his camp if he is
But Wahid knew only the merchant’s face. He did not even know his name or
whence he came. He had forgotten to inquire of such matters in the
excitement of his sudden acquisition of the 40 waqets of gold!
He was ashamed of himself. " Where can I now find that good
man?" he began to worry. " Where can I find that wonderful
man who has been so generous to us, who has brought back our father
to us. What can I do to find him?" Finally he decided that he
would not rest until he found the merchant and told him of the
happiness he had restored to him and his family. He would not stay at
home until he had done that. He would travel around the world, even
until his death, to find that good merchant. With this decision Wahid
prepared his provisions for the long journey, seized his traveling
stick, took leave of his family with much difficulty and set out on
his long journey.
At first Wahid traveled fast. He went in the direction of the town at
the outskirts of which he had just met the merchant camping with his
large caravan. As soon as he approached the gates of the town Wahid
turned his eyes to the field, where the merchant’s tents had been
pitched. He spent quite a long time just looking at the area where
the man had camped, thinking about the merchant. He began to cry, and
sat down until his eyes were clear of the tears that filled them.
Some time later he stood up and resumed his journey toward the town,
always looking towards the place where the camp used to be. He looked
at nothing else. As a result his neck was strained and his feet were
repeatedly struck by obstacles on his way. Careless of all these
Wahid continued his way and finally entered the walls of the town.
But what could he do there? He did not know the merchant’s name; he
did not know where he lived. He could therefore neither ask anybody
about the man nor go to his house. He found his ideas were silly. He
was confused. He just stood at the center of one of the cross-roads
like a simple fool who did not know what to do or where to go. Wahid
was a young boy who was always used to a comfortable life; it was
only during the short absence of his father that he had had a little
taste of the hard life. Now, in that town where he knew nobody he
began to feel thirsty. Hunger was added to that. He began to yawn
repeatedly, and his eyes became heavy with fear. All this while,
however, Wahid never regretted his decision to look for the man to
the end. He was determined, once and for all, that he would search
for the man even until his death if necessary. Nothing would persuade
him to change his mind!
When hunger and thirst got hold of him he approached a nearby spring, ate
sparingly of his provisions, and drank a good deal of water. He then
thanked God for His generous gifts of nature and got up to resume his
search. He began to go round the town. He went to all the squares and
public centers, to the various streets, to the churches and to many
other places. All was in vain. He could not find his man. Wahid began
to despair. It was now fifteen days since he came to the town. All
this while, Wahid wandered around the town during the day and spent
his nights in the porches of the churches taking shelter from wild
beasts. He realized that the rich merchant he was looking for was no
longer in the town. " Where then can I look for him?’" he
began to ask himself. After a long time he decided to go to all
caravan camps to join in the journeys of such caravans, and to look
for the merchant in this way. That became his final decision.
On the morrow Wahid left the town and set out in one direction at random
in search of caravans and caravan camps. Every time he came to a hill
he would climb it and try to look from the top to see if there were
any caravans or camps around. Whenever he met passers by he inquired
whether they had seen caravans on their way. If they told him the
direction whither they saw caravans heading, or the place where they
had seen caravan camps, Wahid would immediately run in that
direction, catch up the party and search for the good merchant among
the traders. The only way he could know this man was, of course, by
seeing his face. He could not ask for the man by his name as he did
not know it. Thus did Wahid continue his fruitless search for his
benefactor. He spent the day running now in this direction, now in
that, wherever he heard caravans were to be found, and spent the
night wherever he was caught by the sudden approach of nightfall.
One day, after the usual long and tedious search Wahid came to a
place where no sign of human habitation was to be found. Far away
beyond the wilderness he saw a big caravan camp. He thought it looked
liked the one in which he had met the good merchant and at once felt
happy. He wanted to reach that camp before dark and began to run. But
he had to cross many rivers and wide plains. The more he ran towards
it the more did the camp seem to retreat from him. The sun was
setting and night began to fall. Gradually it became difficult to
see. There was no moonlight to help him.
The sweet songs of birds heard in the daytime were now replaced by the
ugly voices of insects and wild animals. On either side of the poor
boy walking in the darkness wolves and foxes began to howl; hyenas,
leopards and lions made frightening noises all around him.
Nevertheless Wahid continued his way alone in the midst of the
wilderness, and shivered with fear and uncertainty.
Before sunset the songs of the birds had been a source of consolation to
him, but now he was surrounded by the cries of wild beasts. He was
very worried. He wanted to rest and spend the night there, but there
was no shelter. If he slept where he was the wild beasts would soon
devour him. Wahid was at a loss what to do. He decided to defend
himself from the wild beasts rather than be eaten by them in his
sleep. Furthermore he decided that he would not rest until he came to
the caravan camp he had seen from afar early in the afternoon.
In the meantime it was getting darker and darker. He could no longer see
his way, and began to be very frightened. He thought he saw wild
animals everywhere, a hyena, a leopard or a lion, laying in ambush
for him! "The hyena will soon eat me up," he began to
think. " The leopard will tear me to death with its cruel claws
,and the lion will break my bones into pieces! Oh! Woe unto me
tonight! If I escape the one I shall certainly be the prey of the
What else could he do? Wahid’s fear was justified. He was only a young
boy. Regardless of his fears and the darkness that had engulfed him
he continued his way in the direction of the camp he had seen. At one
juncture of this nocturnal journey he saw what he thought was a lion.
He was startled to death. His strength began to fail him. The more he
looked at the terrible object the more his fears seemed to be
confirmed; he thought the lion, thus created by his own fears, would
suddenly jump onto him and devour him mercilessly. Wahid wanted to
scare the object of his fears. He wanted to give the lion the
impression that he was surrounded by many people. He then shouted
with different voices to produce the effect of many persons running
after it: " Courage! Courage!"" he shouted. "
Surround it. Don’t let it go."
It was, however, simply his own imagination. There was nobody there
except himself, except his own shadow which added to the darkness
that confused his thinking. The object that he thought a Hon was
simply a bush. It would not move an inch whatever his endeavors to
scare it! Wahid then thought he must change his course to avoid the
terrible beast. Nevertheless when he looked back in the direction of
the bush he still thought that the lion was following him. Wahid
gradually became almost too weak to move, his fears enormously
reduced his strength. There was no shelter in which to spend the
and protect himself from wild beasts. He thought of climbing a tree
and thus avoid any dangers, but by a strange coincidence there was no
tree to be found there. Wahid began to worry greatly. His fears
increased with every minute that elapsed. Everything around
him seemed to him some wild beast ready to devour him on the spot. He
changed his course every time he thought he saw a wild beast in front
of him. While thus changing directions every now and then he came to
a small cave which suddenly appeared on his way. He was taken aback.
He was frightened to death. A cold sweat broke out over his face and
body. "I just escaped one lion," he thought with complete
despair, "and here I am again in front of another! I shall not
be able to escape this time!" His whole body was shivering like
a reed in an evening breeze. He tried to use his former stratagem of
scaring the object by shouting with different voices. He shouted and
shouted until his throat cracked with thirst. But all was in vain.
The object would not move an inch! Wahid thought he had not shouted
enough and so he began to shout with more strength and intensity
until he could shout no more. But all was of no effect. At last Wahid
began to doubt the reality of his fears. He began to suspect that the
object of his fears might just be a dark inanimate thing! He knelt
down in front of the small cave and began to stare hard at it. He
wanted to see if the object moved. After some minutes of close
observation he thought that the object did move a little. He still
stared at it, and now he thought it was even making some advance
towards him! He stared so hard that his eyes were strained and filled
with tears. He was, however, too frightened to make any movement
himself or to clean his eyes. His tears confused his sight all the
more and gave him the impression that the terrible object was heading
towards him with more rapidity. Later, however, Wahid succeeded in
mustering enough courage to throw some pebbles into the cave from
where he was kneeling. A small bird which had been sheltering in the
cave, as if by providential coincidence made a sudden noise and,
slapping the leaves with its wigs, took off and flew away in the
darkness. At first this confirmed Wahid’s fears. He thought that
the terrible wild beast was finally about to jump on him and devour
him. With this desperate idea in his head Wahid held his breath and
lay flat on the ground like a dead body. He waited and waited, but
nothing happened. "Am I still alive?" he asked himself.
Then he began to make slight movements to see if he had been bitten
by the wild beast or not. He found nothing. At first he had closed
his eyes, now he reopened them with much hesitation and found out, to
his surprise, that let alone a lion, not even a rabbit was in sight.
He even began to breathe deeply and rose to his feet. He looked into
the cave once again. It was still there. It did not move. He looked
hard at it with a strange mixture of fear and wonder. "Did I not
hear the terrible beast fly away, or was there no beast at all?"
he thought. "I am sure I have seen it with my own eyes. Did it
not bite me without my knowing?" He tried to inspect his body.
There was no sign of any attack. "What could it be?" he
began to ask himself. "What could it be that frightened me so
much? Could it be just my own troubled imagination? Anyway it is good
that nobody saw me in this frantic state! How can a man be
so much deceived by his own fears?" Wahid laughed at himself and
resumed his journey.
Wahid now gained some strength. His spirits revived again. He wanted to
reach the camp beyond before daybreak. It was, however, too late. It
was past midnight. Even the constellation of the six stars whose
twinkling light had given some consolation had now disappeared. It
became darker than before. Wahid kept losing his way but always found
it again. At last he could see the fire of the camp beyond. Now his
strength revived with renewed hope and he continued his way in the
direction of the camp fire. At this point he reached a river. He went
down into the valley to cross it. In the meantime he lost sight of
There was no moonlight. The morning star had not yet appeared. Though the
night was half over the darkness had not yet given way to light.
Moreover the walls of the deep valley and the shadows therein added
to the darkness that prevailed. Wahid hastened his steps down the
slopes of the walls of the valley. But he lost his sense of direction
and lost his way. What could he do? He had made up his mind to reach
the merchant’s camp he had seen and wanted to do that at any cost! He
literally crawled down to the bed of the river regardless of the
darkness, the thorny bushes that covered the ground, and the
difficulty of knowing the direction he had to follow.
No one knows whether the water of an unknown river is good to drink or
not. Wahid did not care to know. He had been parched with thirst for
the last few hours. His throat was cracking for want of water, and he
had lost practically all his voice. As soon as he reached the river
he knelt down and drank the water as if it were Tej (honey
wine) or Telia (beer). He never cared to examine its
cleanliness. He only tried to free it from the jelly-like green that
covered it at the surface by blowing on the stagnant water. After he
had his fill he thanked God for that, sat down on one of the rocks
and began seriously to consider how to cross the river. At first he
thought the river was too deep for him. He could not assess how deep
it was. Neither could he know which was the best ford. He could not
swim and therefore feared to start crossing the river at any point.
The river had no falls at that point, and Wahid had heard people say
that a gently-flowing river with no falls was generally deep. He did
not know what to do.
While he was thus worrying, there came, by a strange coincidence, a mule
who had escaped from the merchant’s camp on the other side of the
river. It had been very thirsty, like Wahid himself, and had come
there to get some water. The young man’s former fears of beholding a
wild beast and of being devoured by one returned to him when he saw
the mule advancing towards him. However he realized by the sound it
made that it was a mule. When it reached him it immediately entered
into the water and began drinking to its fill. Wahid could now see
that the river was not very deep. He immediately thought of getting
hold of the mule and of riding it to the camp which he was resolved
to reach that night. Therefore he had to catch it before it had
finished drinking. He slowly but surely advanced through the water in
the direction of the mule, always feeling its depth with his long
stick. Thus he crossed the river. In the meantime the mule shook
its head and ears and looked back at the wafer as if hesitating as to
whether to drink more or not. At that time Wahid approached the
animal and caught it by the collar. He first feared that it might
kick him and began stroking its body gently to make sure. The mule
submitted to his entreaties as though it had realized how much the
young boy had suffered before, as though it sympathized with him and
wanted to give him rest by letting him ride on its back. After
confirming that the mule was quite tame, he led it to a rock, and
climbed on its back. He turned it in the direction it had come from
and addressing it directly said, " Now you take me to your
camp." The mule followed the road to the camp and proceeded as
though it understood every word he said. At times, however, when it
came to a place along the road it would suddenly stop, graze a
little, and resume its journey to the camp at its own convenience.
And Wahid never urged it to go faster. He only clung tightly to its
mane to avoid falling. He did not spur the animal. He just allowed it
to trot as it wished. This he did because he felt it would show
ingratitude if he tried to tire the animal when it, of its own free
will, had allowed him to catch and ride it. " A guest never acts
as the master of his host’s house!" he thought.
The mule moved slowly and leisurely to join its fellow-animals at the
camp. As it approached the camp the mule-keepers heard its footsteps
and came running in that direction. They had just discovered it was
missing and were looking for it everywhere. When he saw this Wahid
was afraid of being caught riding a mule that belonged to others. So
he immediately dismounted and thought of hiding in the bushes around.
But the keepers of the night surrounded the mule and were trying to
catch it with the help of ropes. Wahid was thus discovered and
caught. He could not run away to escape his captors; he was too tired
because of his long journey. His feet could hardly move!
When they found the boy with the mule, the guards naturally thought that
Wahid had unfastened it from camp and had been caught while taking it
away. " Damn you, thief," they shouted at him and beat him
cruelly. All his supplications and entreaties passed unheard. Please
listen to me, I &m not a thief!" shouted Wahid weakly. It
was all in vain. " You thief, you liar, we have caught you
red-handed and now you are saying that you are no thief!" they
shouted back at him and continued beating him. When they reached the
camp some of them fastened the mule in the stable while the rest tied
Wahid’s hands and legs very tightly and left him helplessly lying on
the ground face downwards.
The cruel guards had tied Wahid so tightly that he could not move; he
could hardly even breathe. He was almost like a goat about to be
slain. Compared to the poor boy the mules and the other beasts of
burden were in much better condition. They only had one of their legs
tied to a pole and plenty of fodder was spread before them. Wahid
envied these creatures! "Oh if they had tied only my legs!"
he exclaimed. " If only I could breathe with ease like those
fortunate animals!" Breathing was now almost out of
the question for him. He almost burst his lungs. He turned his big
bright eyes to left and right. There was nobody to come to his help.
Nobody would stand by him or try to loosen his thongs. The suffering
and affliction he was subjected to was comparable to that of the
martyrs we read of in religious books. Each of the guards slapped him
in the face, struck him with his fist, and kicked him. Wahid passed
the night under such cruel conditions.
At daybreak almost all the members of the caravan who heard the story of
Wahid’s capture stood around the ailing young boy; they saw his body
sore with every kind of wound everywhere. These wounds were inflicted
on Wahid as a result of his long journey in the darkness. His captors
thought, however, that this confirmed their suspicion that Wahid was
a thief. They believed that, even before his capture he had been
caught stealing at some other place, whipped and beaten. This
explained, they thought, the wounds that could be seen on almost
every part of his body. Some of the merchants thought of giving the
young culprit over to the local chiefs for appropriate judgment.
Others said that they should keep him tied up and carry him with
Wahid’s condition in the meantime became worse and worse. He could not
breathe normally and became very weak—let alone traveling a
long journey with the caravan he did not even have the strength to
open his eyes. Some of the merchants around him kept on kicking Mm
and asking him whence he came. He could not answer. He was too weak
to do anything! He was almost at the point of death.
They pulled and pushed him around but he was almost dead. At this point
the majority of his captors thought that the boy would soon die and
that they would be held responsible for his death. It was now very
late in the morning and they had to get started on their journey.
They had no time to go to the local chief and pass Wahid over to him.
They simply untied him and left him lying on the dusty camp-ground.
Wahid had nothing to eat, nothing to drink and there were no relatives to
come to his aid. In the previous night he had been out-of-doors and
had been subjected to the bitter cold; now he was left lying there in
the burning sun. He had no strength to rise up or crawl to the shade.
In the last few days he had been exhausted by continuously traveling
day and night. Besides, his captors the previous night had subjected
him to the cruelest treatment. Moreover the pain of having been tied
up hands and feet had almost broken his tender bones. It was now two
days since he had had anything to eat. Where could he get the
strength to move an inch? Though still alive, Wahid could do nothing
to help himself. He lay flat in the sun waiting for the last moment
when he would pass away. He was sure that he would die.
A man does not die except on the day Christ has put aside for him.
Wahid was not destined to die at that moment. An elderly woman came
by the deserted camp ground to collect the rubbish for fuel. She saw
the body lying there. At first she thought that it was something
forgotten by the merchants. As she approached the body however, she
saw it was human. She walked on the tips of her toes and examined the
body from a distance. She thought
it was dead. She was much frightened and would not approach nearer.
Nevertheless she aid not like to return without making sure whether
the man was actually dead or not. At this point she held her breath
and approached the body on tip-toe. She stared at the body. It showed
no sign of life. She decided that it was in fact a dead body which
had lain there for days. She covered her nose to avoid any smell that
might come from what she thought was a rotting body. She came within
a few steps of the body: "What man are you?" she began to
ask. "What happened to you?" There was no answer. She kept
on looking at the motionless body. She tried to make sure whether she
knew the person. In the meantime she saw Wahid’s eyes. They were
half opened. They moved a little and looked at her as if imploringly.
From the look in his eyes it seemed that he was saying to the lady,
"Courage! Courage, good lady. I am not yet dead. Come nearer and
see my ailing body, and if you can, please help me." She felt
pity towards the boy. "What happened to you, my brother?"
she asked with much feeling. The poor boy could not reply. The woman
wept and struck her chest with her fists. 2In the meantime
she ran to her house and came back with a qwancha3
of milk in one hand and water in the other. She put down the quancha of
milk, raised Wahid’s head with one hand, and gave him the water to
drink. " Your throat must be cracking with thirst" she
said to him kindly. "Drink a little water at first to moisten
it." Wahid felt the cool water on his lips. He had no strength
to draw in any drops at all. Now that she saw that his cracking lips
were moist the good old lady applied the qwancha of
milk to his mouth. Wahid swallowed two mouthfuls with much
difficulty. This seemed to do him much good. He could now open his
eyes and he began to breathe normally. The good old lady was much
gratified at the success of her efforts and put her inquib4
under his head to serve him as a pillow. She ran to a small hill nearby and called her
husband who was ploughing beyond. "Come here, come" she
called to him. "I need your help." Her husband left his
plough and his oxen in the field and came running. The lady gave him
no time to ask questions. "Please help me," she said
immediately. "Let us carry this fine young man to our house and
care for him until he recovers." These kind people carried the
boy to their house and laid him on their bed and cared for him like a
good mother and father until he had completely recovered. Wahid was
astonished by this couple and wondered at the diversity of this
world. He contrasted their kindness with the cruelty of the caravan
guards and began to philosophize. "Oh! This world is full of
both evil and good. It is full of both the kind and the cruel."
Finally he decided to take leave of these kind people. "May God reward
you for whatever you have done for me," he said to them. "I
have nothing to give you in return, except my thanks. I have become
strong again, thanks for your kind care. I must now continue my
journey." His hosts prepared him provisions for the journey and
showed him the way. At last they warned him. "Do not forget what
you have suffered before. The people of this world are bad and cruel.
Be careful in the future and do not travel alone. We had only one
son. A group of Moslems found him alone on one of the highways,
caught him, and sold him into slavery. Here we are, robbed of our
only son, our only heir and hope, with nobody to care for us when we
become old. You must beware of similar possibilities. You are still
very young. Be careful not to be captured and sold by such heartless
people!" With these last words they said goodbye to Wahid and
returned home .
This time Wahid asked the names and addresses of his two benefactors and
their lost son before taking leave of them. He did not want to commit
the same mistake which had led to all these troubles. He then resumed
his journey. He went very far but he never knew where in the Dega
(highlands) or Qolla (lowlands) he was heading or what was
his destination. He only followed the tracks of every caravan he
heard of. When somebody told him that a group of merchants were going
one way he would follow that direction until he had ascertained that
his man was not there. In the course of this useless search, Wahid
crossed unawares the frontiers of the country of the pagans. However
he still did not find the good merchant for whom he was looking.
The languages of the people, their customs, and their manners became
unintelligible to him. He was now in the country of a strange new
people. Wahid was now seriously worried. He could not go back because
he had resolved to travel until he found his man. Moreover he did not
know which way he had come and had completely lost his sense of
direction. West and East became almost the same thing to him. While
thus worrying night suddenly fell on him. "1 shall ask for
shelter in one of these houses," he said to himself. "It is
better than just being devoured alive by hungry wild beasts."
With this in mind he went to one of the nearest houses and asked for
shelter for the night.
The villagers surrounded him. They looked very happy at seeing the
strange boy. They did not understand his language. But from his
gestures they understood that he asked to be allowed to spend the
night in one of their houses. He was more than welcome to them. They
were exceptionally happy. Some of them went to his left, some to his
right and ceremoniously took him to one of the houses. For a man who
did not know their motives the welcome these people accorded Wahid
would certainly seem one of genuine hospitality and of the type
accorded to a gallant soldier coming back victorious from a battle
field. They offered him a wonderful supper. Wahid began blessing
these kind people who, he thought, just wanted to be hospitable to
him. Their true motives was, however, to treat the young boy with all
kindness and to feed him so that he would become quite presentable at
the slave market on the morrow. In the meantime they inspected his
whole body and saw the wounds that had been inflicted upon him by the
caravan keepers but which had now been cured. They pressed hard on to
his body to see if he still felt pain. They were worried that this
might actually depreciate his value in the slave market. But Wahid
never suspected that his fate was being decided by these people. He
thought that they acted out of genuine concern for him and the
suffering he had undergone. He felt they were sympathizing with him.
"These wounds have
now been cured," he said to them. "I am well now!" But
none of them understood, nor cared to understand him. They were only
concerned about the amount of money they would get for him on the
morrow. They put him in a very safe place and watched him throughout
the night to make sure that he did not escape. The next morning they
awoke him very early and gave him some porridge to eat. Then they
began anointing his whole body with marrow! This looked very strange
to Wahid. He was only accustomed to being anointed, whenever
necessary for health reasons, with butter very carefully boiled with
sendel and other perfumes. He never knew that human beings could be smeared with
marrow like cowhide or ropes made out of animal skin. He therefore
reacted against the application of the marrow on to his body. "Please
do not touch me with that," he cried. "I do not want it at
all." Though they did not understand his language the men could
tell from his looks and gestures that Wahid resented the marrow. His
supplications, of course, made no difference to them for the only
thing they wanted was a handsome amount of money for Wahid. With his
belly filled with porridge and his body abundantly anointed with
marrow this hope was more than possible. Wahid resigned himself and
allowed his stubborn hosts to do what they wanted. It still had not
dawned on him that they had any motives other than helping him
recover from his wounds. "Oh God!" he exclaimed full of
wonder, "How kind and hospitable are the people of this
On the morrow, around 10 o’clock in the morning his hosts beckoned him
to follow them. he thought that those kind people wanted to take him
out for a walk and followed them immediately. They surrounded him and
he walked in their midst. Soon afterwards they reached a fair-sized
village. It was surrounded by a wide moat as if it were the fortified
castle of some lord! It was then encircled by a big stone wall at the
top of which were placed small branches of acacia and other thorny
trees so that no one could succeed in jumping over the wall. Within
that wall were many big rectangular houses and two round ones. There
were only two gates to the village, a very narrow one on one side and
on the other a much bigger one. The latter was specially made for
mounted persons to enter the village with ease.
At the main gate was stationed a man as black as Satan himself. His
chest was very wide; his stature very short, his eyes as red as
burning fire, and his nose as flat as if a roller had been
intentionally applied. He had diligently decorated his normally
massive arms which were as thick as the feet of an elephant with
large rings made of copper and tin. Around his naked belly he wore a
large belt on which hung a curious sword with four blades. This
strange man stood at the gate with a deadly stick in his right hand
ready to strike anybody who would trespass into the compound without
Wahid thought that the fortress belonged to the local governor. The men who
brought him there had sent a message announcing their arrival to the
owner of the house. They were soon given permission to enter. With
his hosts on either side Wahid passed the gate, and immediately
observed a group of wretched human beings coming in from every
direction. Some were crying; others looked deeply pensive and worried
about their fate. Wahid began to suspect that all was not well. He
realized that all the kindness shown to him the previous night was
not without some ulterior motive after all. He patiently waited to
see the end of the strange drama. What else could he do? Wahid was
now in a very unfortunate situation. He did not understand the
language of the people around him. He could only look around, and
guess what they meant! The dreadful place belonged to one of the big
slave dealers. The strong walls around, the thorns on top, and all
the fortifications were there simply to ensure that no slave escaped
his unpleasant lot.
The chief slave-dealer came out of his house and began inspecting the
human merchandise brought to him for sale. He began making inquiries
about their price. At length he came to Wahid. He inspected the arms,
the legs and the general stature of the boy. After a short amount of
bargaining Wahid witnessed his own sale into slavery. He saw his new
master handing a number of dollars to the men who had brought him
there. Those "kind and goodly" people returned home with
the money which they had so easily acquired for Wahids" youthful
head and left the boy behind them.
Fortunately his new master was not too hard on Wahid. He did not seek to make
money on this young boy. Indeed he even did not want him to work like
a slave. He liked the tender looks, the manners and personality of
Wahid and let ham grow in his house as a playmate of his own
Even under these conditions Wahid never forgot the object of the journey.
"How can God" he thought, "Jet me stay in the hands of
these pagans?" How can he deny me the opportunity to meet that
good merchant and rejoin my beloved family?" Gradually Wahid
came to know many Christians like himself who had been sold into
slavery and were serving the same master. He began to make friends
with them. He asked these men the place of their origin, their names,
and those of their relatives. He did this with much precaution for
fear of being discovered toy his master and punished.
Among these slaves was the son of those kind people who found Wahid lying
in the deserted camp of the merchants who had beaten him almost to
death. Those people had told Wahid the name of their son before he
had left them. This fortunate discovery pleased Wahid greatly. Wahid
told the boy that his parents had been very kind to him. He also told
him that they were weeping day and night over the loss of their son.
Wahid and his new friend began to lake each other. They became almost
one. They shared their secrets and had common hopes of one day
returning to their respective homes.
It was one year now since Wahid set out on his unfortunate journey. His
family still did not know his whereabouts and were convinced that he
had lost his way. They waited and waited, always weeping and mourning
for the return of Wahid. It was all in vain. At last Wahid’s father
resolved to look for his son, he saddled the horse that the good
merchant had sent him for his return home and set out on his search
for Wahid. There was nobody who could accompany him. He had lost his
servants and followers as a result of "the war: some had fallen
in the battlefield, some had like himself been captured and sold into
slavery by the enemy, and when
he returned home he had himself fallen into poverty with the whole
country desolate and the king dead. When she saw her father set out
on a long journey without any companion, Tobbya feared that her
father would also lose his way. She began to cry and would not let
him leave alone. "Father" she implored him, "how can
you go alone on such a long journey? You have never been used to
traveling alone, nor to the hardships that accompany such journeys.
Who will bring fodder for your horse? Who will draw water for you
when you feel thirsty? Please, father, let me follow you on this
journey. Do not leave me behind, father. I can at least break the
monotony of the long journey by conversing with you. I can also graze
the horse for you. Please do not leave me behind!" Tears were
flowing down her beautiful cheeks as she spoke. Her father understood
her worries, he felt her love for him, and began himself to cry.
"No, my child, no. You cannot do that, my dear. You are still a young
girl. You have never been exposed to extreme cold and heat. How can
you stand such a long journey with the thirst and hunger that
accompany it? How? Oh, no, my beloved, you cannot come with me."
"I shall not let you leave alone. No. I am coming with you, Father, I
can." Tobbya implored her father to let her go with him. But her
father was still adamant. He saw the difficulties they would have to
face if he took a young girl, still in tender years, on such a
"You cannot help me in anything. On the contrary you will be a hindrance
to me. You will delay my success in finding Wahid. No, Tobbya, you
are not going with me." He told her very clearly the problems
they would face if they went together. "Look here, Tobbya,"
he tried to convince her, "You are still very young. You have
been brought up with much comfort and luxury, with tej for your daily
beverage. How can you stand the thirst and hunger and the fierce heat
of the sun? How can your feet which are used to the softness of
Persian carpets, stand the thorns and gravels of the road? No,
Tobbya. You must stay at home with your mother." With this final
resolution he embraced her and kissed her cheeks. Tobbya was still
not convinced. She did not give up her insistence on traveling with
her beloved father. "Father, do not worry about me," she
told him. "I am still young and can get used to new conditions
of life. Indeed it is only the licentious and the corrupted type of
rich fortune: a disciplined, intelligent person can easily get used
to poverty and hard life, if need be. This will not be difficult for
me. On the other hand, if you leave me behind my worries about you
and Wahid will almost kill me. It is much better for me to go along
with you and participate in your search for my brother."
"Why do you not understand, Tobbya?’" reproved her father. "What
about your mother? What will people say if I take you with me? How
can we leave your mother alone with nobody to console her if the
"Oh! forget what people will say," remarked his wife. "Do not
worry about me. I can easily get an elderly woman who can live with
me. The only thing that worries me is that Tobbya might be tired on
the way, and then she would be another problem for you. However, if
she feels she can do it, you do not have to worry about me."
With this the lady turned to Tobbya and asked her. "My dear
child, do you really think you can make it?"
"Yes, Mother, Yes. If you do not mind being left alone and if you permit me
to go with Father, Mother, I am sure I’ll make it. Only help me to
get his consent."
Before her father gave bis consent, an idea occurred to Tobbya. But she was
afraid to tell it to her parents. "The only problem, Father, is
. . ." she began. Courage prevented her completing her sentence.
Her father understood that something was running in her mind,
something she was afraid to express. "Come, my child. Tell me,
what are you thinking about?"
She plucked up her courage and decided to break the news. She had her own
plan about the journey but she was too shy to explain it directly.
"You know, Father, two persons look much stronger than just
one." Tobbya began digressing, still afraid to come to the
actual point. "Even a lion, our deadliest enemy, will think
twice before he attacks two people. But," continued the young
girl coming to the point, "but, it is only when the two persons
are men that they look stronger. Nobody is afraid of the fair sex. I
must therefore leave my woman’s garb when I travel with you, and be
dressed like a b . . . b . . . " She was too shy to say the last
word of the sentence. Her father, however, understood her plan and
said, "you mean, dressed like a boy. Don’t you?" Tobbya did
not dare to look at her father’s face. She covered her eyes with both
hands and said in a voice choked with fear and emotion, "Yes,
Father. That is what I mean. Well, I could not think of anything
better, Father." It was now clear to her father that his
daughter was really resolved to go with him. He did not want to
detain her any longer. "Fine," he said at last. "Come
now. Get ready, and let us go. Quick." Tobbya was very happy.
She immediately had her beautiful long curly hair cut in the fashion
of a boy. She put on a boy’s garb and took leave of her mother.
Father and daughter then set out on their long journey.
After many days of traveling Tobbya and her father reached the town which
Wahid had told them would be his first destination. But they did not
know anybody there. They could ask no one about Wahid. They only
wandered around the squares and the market places looking for him;
but it was all in vain. At last they thought that Wahid might have
met the merchant. That merchant, Wahid had told them, carried many
items of trade to and from Egypt. They decided therefore to wait for
the merchant at the main halt at which caravans to Egypt left the
country. If Wahid had met the good man, they believed, they would
find him with the caravan on its trip to or from Egypt. They asked
people to show them the direction of the place. But the road they
followed took them elsewhere; it led them to a place they had never
dreamed of. The path would now take them to the area of Weyna Dega
or land of middle elevation, now to a Qolla or lowland
etc. Finally they came to a very rich Dega or highland. Their
hearts palpitated with happiness as they saw the rich, beautiful
scenery from beyond. It was harvest time. They could see hundreds of
bundles of grain all stacked in piles. Many laborers could also be
seen in the fields reaping and
collecting the crops. Moreover, there were fields tilled with young
crops, and others just being sown with various kinds of seed. It was
a splendid sight that would make one’s hunger fade away even without
Tobbya’s strength revived at the sight of this wonderful scene. Her father was
very happy to see his daughter so strong. She had of course put on an
A’jet’e Bbab (a narrow-sleeved, knee-long, shirt) and a
shannna (a cotton sheet worn by both men and women over their
tight-tailored habits) on which she had slung a piece of sheep skin,
elaborately worked and embroidered at its edges. In this way she
looked like a fine young boy. Her father who was always surprised at
her unfailing strength said: "Oh! my child, not only your dress
but also your strength would convince one that you are a boy!"
Tobbya was indeed very strong: she never complained of the long
Tobbya and her father had already climbed the heights of the Dega and
had just left the low regions of the Qolla. At the edge of the
Dega highlands the felt the cooling effect of a breeze blowing
from the high table-land beyond. They sat down on the ground and
began to admire the fertility and beauty of the place. While thus
contemplating night began to fall upon them. They got up and went to
look for shelter in one of the villages nearby. They intended to
inquire about the road that would take them to the trade station
through which merchants to and from Egypt passed. They planned to
follow that road on the morrow and look for Wahid. With this in mind,
they went to one of the houses in the village nearby and asked to be
allowed to spend the night there.
A woman immediately came out of the house to meet them. She had
evidently been crying before they came and was drying her eyes as she
came out of the house. "Where are you coming from?" she
asked them. "What news have you brought for us?" There was
obviously something troubling the lady very much. She was the owner
of the house. "We have not heard any news arid we came that
way," replied Tobbya’s father pointing in the direction they had
"Please come in and have a rest," answered the good lady. "Your
horse will be kept with ours, and you will spend the night here with
us. As long as we have control of our house God’s guests can freely
accommodate themselves in it. In two or three days’ time, however, we
may not have shelter ourselves. Who knows? The pagans who are forcing
their way into our land might either burn it down or take it for
themselves as if they had built it themselves! Oh! My house, my
property! Oh, my beloved house, I have seen much happiness and
comfort in you. Oh! Oh . . ." Her voice was choked with emotion,
and she again began to cry very bitterly. After some minutes,
however, she realized that she was crying in front of guests who knew
nothing about the cause of her distress. "Do not be afraid, my
friends," she said in a voice full of regret, and drying her
eyes. "You shall know all about it after you have had something
to eat. Besides, it is not good to hasten to hear bad news."
With this she returned to her work.
Tobbya was much frightened at this. She tried to persuade her father to
leave the house and seek shelter somewhere else. In the meantime, at
some distance from them, they saw a man who looked very pensive. He
looked so much immersed in his thoughts that he seemed to have almost
forgotten everything around him. Sitting on a stool, his head buried
between his knees, he was pensively beating the ground with a small
stick. He did not at first notice the arrival of Tobbya and her
father. Later, however, he raised his head, breathed very deeply and
seeing that there were guests at his house, got up and went to meet
them. "I was very much lost in my thoughts! By the way, where
are you coming from, and where are you going?" They explained
the object of their journey. "Oh! my friends. How can you do
that?" he began. "The pagans are coming to invade our land.
How can you travel towards them instead of escaping to your country?
Would that not mean plunging into the burning fire?"
"We do not know anything about what you are saying. What is the matter?
Please tell us the story, sir."
"Oh! You have not heard about it yet! Well, I shall tell you. You know it
is already a year and a half since our country was defeated by the
pagans. Our land has since been destroyed, and our king died of much
grief. We thus lost our king, our leader. We have no leaders now.
With no leaders the soldiers disappear from the scene like a swarm of
bees that has lost its Queen. This news of complete disorganization
has reached the ears of the pagan king. He has therefore mobilized
his forces once again and is coming to invade our country with
thousands of camels carrying his banners. His plan is to convert all
the Christians to his religion and to massacre those who refuse to
accept it. It is said that his men will reach here in two or three
days time. He knows that there is no organized army to defend the
country. He is confident that he can seize the country without
difficulty. His people will simply take possession of our houses and
property as if they were theirs! This is the story, my friends. That
is why my wife has been crying; that is why I was pensive as you saw
Tobbya and her father were shocked at the terrible story. Her father
especially began to cry when he thought that Tobbya, his beloved
daughter who left her mother to accompany him, would fall in the
hands of the pagans. He could not speak a word. He wanted to tell
their host of the part he played in the last war, and of the
suffering he had undergone as a result. But his voice was choked with
emotion and he could not prevent his tears from flowing down his
Their hostess called her husband and asked him to bring the guests in for
supper. She had laid the table beautifully for them with an abundance
of Enjera, or bread, and different dishes of Wet. With
skilled waiters on either side of the table, and lanterns hanging at
every corner, the inside of the house looked like a bride’s house.
It was a large family. There were many servants each doing his
respective task. Some were responsible for the Telia, some for
meat, some for the Wet, and there were others who brought
water for washing the hands and those who carried the lanterns.
Tobbya and her father were very much surprised at this display of
wealth. They could not believe that the lady who was crying only a
moment ago and the man who had told them the terrible story were the
owners of that magnificent household. They were especially surprised
at the number and the orderly activities of the servants serving
supper. It is of course
usual for well-to-do peasants in the country side to look very poor
when you see them out of their houses, at home, however, they become
unexpectedly impressive. For Tobbya and her father however, the case
of their hosts seemed quite extraordinary. Moreover their hosts were
of the type of people who could make guests feel at ease. Tobbya and
her father, who were very much frightened at the sad news only a
moment ago, forgot their worries for the moment at least and ate and
Tobbya and her father were, nonetheless, greatly worried. They were all the
time thinking about the pagan invasion which was expected on the
morrow. Very tired by the long journey as they were, they could not
sleep at all. They spent almost the whole night planning how to
escape from the hands of the enemy.
They woke up very early the next morning and saddled their horse to set
out for the day’s journey. Their hosts gave them enough provisions
for the day, a basket full of Enjera and biscuits, and a horn
full of Tej were prepared for them. They took these with much
gratitude, blessed their hosts, and took leave. But they still did
not know which road to take to escape the enemy. When they came to
the main road they hesitated whither to go on now. They thought of
going back to the Qolla region to avoid being captured by the
enemy; now they thought of another thing. They were thus undecided
when ail of a sudden the horizon became dark with heavy smoke in all
the four corners. The enemy was entering the country, massacring all
those who resisted his advance, capturing women and children, burning
houses and churches, destroying the crops on his way, and cutting
down the trees for fuel and for the construction of temporary huts.
Tobbya’s father was shocked at the intensity of destruction that the enemy was
causing. More than anything else however, it was the sad prospect of
his beloved daughter falling into the hands of these cruel
unbelievers that troubled his heart. He was at once all tears. He
embraced his daughter and said to her, crying: "My dear child,
my beloved daughter. You came out of your mother’s bosom just to
accompany me in this useless journey, and now you are going to fall
into the hands of these merciless pagans. Where can I take you? Where
can I hide you? I could stand and suffer my capture and subsequent
slavery in the last war because I am a man, and eventually my master
could change me for money! But . . . Oh! My dear who will change you
for thousands of dollars even for the most precious treasures of the
world? You are still young and extremely beautiful. The delicacy of
your looks and the sweetness of your manners are such as have never
before been seen in the world. No one who once gets hold of you, my
beloved, will not change you even for all the gold, the diamonds and
the riches of the world. Oh! No …" He cried very bitterly as
he spoke. He had two principal reasons to worry. The first was that
he had heard people say that the enemy was resolved to kill every man
or young boy among the Christians Now since Tobbya was in a boy’s
fashion her father feared that they would immediately take her for a
boy and kill her. Secondly, if the enemy discovered that she was in
fact a girl then she would be lost to him forever and would pass over
to the hands of the enemy! There was nothing he could now do to avoid
one or other of these eventualities. He could only cry like a small
child over these sad prospects.
Tobbya could also see the gravity of the problem. Nevertheless, she was
trying to console her father with nice words though she was herself
weeping at the prospect of losing her father. "Father," she
said to him crying, "God has done wonders, almost a miracle in
rendering it possible for you to be delivered from slavery. He does
not start what he does not intend to accomplish. He will certainly
protect us from all evil or dangers through His usual mercy. Do not
worry, Father. Do you think that Christ does not do miracles more
than once? No, God is never tired. God does not forget. He is always
the same. He does not change. God loves once for all, and never
hates. No, do not worry, Father. Let us leave everything in the hands
of God!" These words which were full of faith consoled her
The smoke of the burning houses and crops came nearer and nearer as the
enemy advanced on his destructive march into the Christian land. But
Tobbya and her father had still not decided where to escape. The
people of the village where they spent the night had already begun
running away at the sight of the approaching destruction. It was a
disturbing sight to observe the exodus of people from that fertile
countryside. The young and strong carried away the old and the weak.
Children who could run on their own were led in front, and babies
were carried by the adults. Everyone ran to some place for
protection. Everyone indiscriminately disappeared into caves, bushes,
or some other place of shelter.
Tobbya and her father finally decided to try to escape somewhere before the
enemy reached them. They readjusted the saddle and galloped off at
full speed. When they came to a large, green field they dismounted
for a moment and let the horse graze. They seized the opportunity to
take some rest for themselves. Soon after, they resumed their flight.
Even the horse seemed to understand the danger that would befall them
and he galloped with much zeal and good will. Even when Tobbya’s
father wanted to give the horse some respite by holding the reins
tightly and thus reducing its speed the horse hastened on.
There was no place, however, where Tobbya and her father could hide from
the destructive forces of the approaching enemy. They were now in the
midst of a large, interminable plain. There were no trees there and
no place to hide. Some distance further on a hill rose sharply from
the midst of the plain. It was small but very high and looked almost
like a pillar standing on a wide, leveled floor. At the top of this
hill there was nothing but piles of rough and sharp pieces of stone.
There were no plants there except one tree whose branches had been
whitened by the droppings of the ravens that inhabited it. The trunk
of this tree formed part of the wall of a ramshackle little hut. This
hill was undoubtedly in sole possession of the black birds that lived
on its top.
When she saw this hill, Tobbya said to her father: "Father, look,
that hill! You know that the invading army is interested only in
places which offer prospects of much spoil. They would therefore
hasten to areas which are fertile and highly populated. Only such
areas offer "prospects
of much food, money and gold. That hill, however, it seems to me, is
inhabited only by birds and no one would in any way try to climb or
overrun it. Let us, therefore, go there and escape from the enemy and
wait until the army passes by." "Oh! yes, my daughter,"
her father agreed. "God bless you, that is a very good idea. Let
They galloped towards the solitary hill. When they reached its foot they
did not know what to do with the horse. It was not the loss of the
animal as a piece of property that troubled them, but parting with
such an understanding animal. But what could they do. It would be
foolish to lose one’s life for the sake of a horse. They regretted
their misfortune, unsaddled the horse, and let it go. "Go
wherever you want," they said, "and may God give you a good
master!" Tobbya and her father then started to climb the hill.
The slopes looked as though no human being had ever got to the top.
There was no trace of any path leading there. Anyway, they forced
their way up and were tired almost to death when they reached the
top. They dried their sweating faces with the ends of their shamma,
took some rest and began looking at the vast plain around their
place of refuge.
The top of the hill commanded a very wide view. From there, one could see
clearly whatever took place in all the four corners of the plain.
Tobbya and her father could now see the approaching army advancing
from the horizon. They began praying: "Oh! God, deliver us from
this destruction." With their hands on their foreheads to
protect their eyes from the sun Tobbya and her father looked and
looked. The army was approaching toward the hill. Tobbya could see
their horse at the foot of the hill. It was waiting for them. It
seemed as if it expected Tobbya and her father to come and ride off,
she thought. She feared that if the enemy saw the horse they would
discover that somebody was hiding at the top of the hill. But she
could do nothing at all, and the advanced guard of the invading army
had already reached the foot of the hill. Their horse disappeared in
the midst of the cavalry of the enemy.
Tobbya and her father were extremely frightened. Their hearts beat in fear,
afraid of being seen from below they lay flat on the ground and only
occasionally did they raise their heads to look at what was going on
below them. Of course, nobody could possibly see them from the plain
even if they were standing up. Even a big elephant with its enormous
body could not be discerned on the top of that hill. Tobbya and her
father, however, were so afraid that they dared not even cough in
fear of being overheard by the people in the plain. The former
Dejazmach, Tobbya"s father, was only afraid for his daughter. He
did not care what happened to him. Indeed, were he alone he would
have wished to take some courageous action worthy of his title and
upbringing. However, as the proverb goes, "A man who spends most
of his time with a woman is almost a woman himself." The
ex-Dejazmach could do nothing but cry like a child over his hard lot.
There was now no one to defend the country against the enemy with its
innumerable hordes. The enemy, on their side took away whatever
pleased their eyes: food, money and gold . . . as much
as their animals could carry; and Tobbya. "They take away the
food of the sons’ of Adam and burn it down, thus reducing their own
king to eventual starvation. They drive the people out of their homes
and burn everything down. Oh! what a cruel world!"
From the top of the hill Tobbya and her father could see whatever
destruction the invading hordes effected on the countryside. The
enemy marched in a big line consisting of innumerable rows of
hundreds of people. When the line reached the foot of the hill it
divided into two columns and marched on either side of the hill. When
it passed the hill the lines joined up again and marched as before.
In the meantime they destroyed all the country through which they
passed. They deprived the people of their property, they took them
prisoner, and killed mercilessly those who resisted their cruelty.
That hill, however, was like an island in the midst of a troubled
sea, and no one cared to look at it. Thousands and thousands of
soldiers passed by. Later in the evening their number gradually
decreased ."I think the army has almost finished passing by,"
said Tobbya to her father. "You see God has saved us from their
cruel hands. We will spend the night here and very early in the
morning we’ll make good our escape in the opposite direction. It is
certain that the army will not march back to the country it has just
plundered. Eh? What do you think father?" As soon as she
finished her sentence something appeared suddenly on the horizon,
something which looked as dark as the clouds of Hamle.5
Tobbya and her father could not at first discern what it was.
Soon after, however, they realized that it was a cloud of dust rising
from the plain as a new group of the invading army advancing towards
them. It was obviously the retinue of the enemy king. This divided
into two and marched on. Tobbya and her father despaired, and all
their hopes went to the winds. They resumed their prayers to God.
The king and his retinue in the meantime approached the
hill. The drums and the trumpets of the royal band could now be
heard. Gradually, even the decorations of silver, gold, and other
precious stones and the colorful uniforms of the king’s followers
could be seen shining under the light of the setting sun. Behind all
this splendor came a small group of people consisting evidently of
the king and a few dignitaries of his court. The king was riding a
mule which was almost crushed under the weight of the gold and the
precious stones that formed part of the royal uniform. An
enormous canopy elaborately worked of silk and gold was held over the
head of the king to protect him from the sun. He was talking to a
select group of people around him as he rode by.
It was now late in the afternoon and the sun had already began to set.
The king’s followers stopped marching. Evidently the king had decided
to camp there. The beat of the drum changed its rhythm to announce
the king’s order. Soon after, a big round white tent was pitched at
the center of the king’s retinue. Many others were at once also
pitched. One of the tents was almost as big as a small hill. It was
made of red cloth and had a huge summit made of gold at its top. On
the side of this golden summit were attached drapings of gold and
silver and small bells alternately placed one after the other. On
this tent was hung a flag bearing the arms of the
king and his army. Tobbya and her father were now sure that this tent
belonged to the king and that the banner on the flag symbolized the
idol which the king and his army worshiped
As soon as the king’s red tent was pitched his soldiers followed suit
and literally filled the vast plain with innumerable tents. The plain
was now covered with the king’s army. This army was so vast that one
could hardly believe that it belonged to only one king. It seemed
that no other army could be strong enough to conquer it. Tobbya and
her father could do nothing but pray; and indeed, let alone to climb
the hill, there was not even one soul who cared to look at the hill.
This gave them much hope as the proverb goes: "When death is
overdue it seems to have never existed at all." They believed
that they would spend the night in peace and resume their flight on
the morrow when the army broke its camp and marched on.
It had always been the custom of the kings to survey the area around
immediately after they have camped at a place. To do this they
usually climb to a high place which gives a wide view of the
surrounding area. Soon after the tents were pitched, therefore, the
enemy king, together with a select group of high dignitaries rode to
the hill where Tobbya and her father were hiding. When he reached the
foot of the hill he dismounted and together with his followers began
to climb the slopes. He had his field glasses with him, and there is
no doubt that his only purpose was to see the surrounding area.
Tobbya and her father were now confused. Where could they escape? What could
they do? Evidently there was nothing they could do to save their
lives. Both believed they would soon die at the hands of the enemy.
said her father, "we are now nearing our end. We will soon part
company. May God protect you, my child. You have suffered all this
for my sake. May God bless you," he cried. But he did not want
to be seen by the enemy crying like a child. So he dried his eyes and
waited for the worse to come.
The king and his small retinue finished climbing the hill, and appeared
at the top on the opposite side. The king was himself the first
person to see Tobbya and her father. "Who are those people?"
he asked. "What are they doing on this deserted hill top?"
With this he went directly towards them.
His followers were extremely angry at the sight of Tobbya and her father.
Indeed they all at once drew their swords and ran towards the poor
creatures to put an end to their lives on the spot. "Leave them
alone, leave them alone," ordered the king. "I saw them
before all of you did and I did not try to kill them. Why then do you
threaten them? These poor creatures are unarmed and defenseless You
do not kill such people. You just capture them. On the other hand, if
you see somebody who is armed and who is out to fight and kill, then
you fight with him. If you kill defenseless people, like these two,
it is no display of valor at all. Even I, young as I am, would not be
interested in killing them. It is only when I am faced with a
courageous and skillful swordsman that I would fight to the last and
kill him. Eh? Perhaps it is only by killing such defenseless people
that our soldiers have established their names! Well, we shall make
a new proclamation to avoid such cowardly acts. Now, leave these
Kafirs alone; they are our personal captives.
The king spoke in a low voice and Tobbya and her father did not hear a
word. They did not understand whether the discussion was favorable
Her father, however, stood courageously in front of the king and his
followers and looked them straight into their eyes like a man worthy
of his previous title and background. His whole body, however, shook
at the movements of Tobbya who held him tightly with both hands. Now
and then he put his hands behind him to encourage and console his
When the king observed the fears of Tobbya he began, pagan as he was, to
feel sympathy towards the poor child. He approached her father and
said, "You infidels, why did you come to this solitary hill?"
"We came here to escape the devastations of the war," answered her
At this juncture the king’s jester came forward and began to make fun of
Tobbya and her father. He was an extremely ugly creature. Very small
in stature, he was extremely thin and looked more like a living
skeleton than a complete human being. Specially when he tried to
laugh he looked much uglier than the monkeys of Chiloda. "You
know, these Kaffirs believe," the jester told the king, "that
their God lives in the sky. So they have climbed this hill to be
nearer to him that he may quickly send his help and save them from
our hands!" Then he turned to the captives and said, "Now,
where is your God? Why doesn’t he come now and save you from our
Tobbya’s father could not stand the jester’s impertinence. He was greatly
enraged when he heard that ugly little fellow make fun of the name of
God! "The God of the Christians," he said courageously
"this God at whom you are laughing has no limits to His power.
He transcends the heights of the mountains, the vastness of the
plains, the infinity of space, the depths of the oceans, heat or
cold, light or darkness. All these elements cannot destroy His mercy
or His wrath. He is free of the factors of space and time. Everything
that is shall exist or cease to exist according to His will. All are
almost nothing in front of God. All are equal in front of Him; the
strong the weak, the courageous, the cowardly, the rich, the poor,
the ruler and his subjects, all are equal for him. In this world
those who believe in Him and those who do not shall both live
equally; they are born, they grow, they become old and die. In the
world to come, however, all shall be judged by Him according to their
deeds on earth. And now myself and my little son shall believe in Him
until we die. Even if we die now, even if you kill us on the spot, we
know it is because of our human weaknesses and not because Christ is
incapable of saving us from death!"
It was the custom of the kings in the past to keep a dwarf at their
court, and in the midst of the king’s followers, therefore, there was
an extremely small creature accompanying the jester. He was so small
in stature that one could hardly see him except when he spoke. As
soon as Tobbya’s father finished what he had to say, this little
creature took up one of the sentences out of context and began to
play on words, "Eh? So you say all are equal? all are almost
nothing, then how would you classify me? Logically it means that I do
exist, or that I am equal with this ugly jester. According to this
Kafir 1 am either equal to that tree or I do not exist at all!"
At this the king and his followers laughed. Even Tobbya, though she
was still shivering with fear behind her father, could not help
smiling at this funny creature.
The king interrupted his followers and said, "Well, God created the
world by his own will and he rules the people of the world according
to their respective religions. He listens to the prayers of all
peoples in their various languages. He judges them according to their
faiths and deeds. Man, however, has always believed that his religion
was the only possible truth! No, my friends, no, don’t make fun of
the religion of others. It is only God who knows the truth.
Moreover," he added with some hesitation and much thought, "Who
among us really knows if Christianity is not a better religion?"
Everyone among his followers was greatly surprised at this rather
unexpected pronouncement of the king.
Tobbya and her father did not know that it was the king himself who spoke
these favorable words. They never suspected that the apparently
easy-going and unassuming young man was the king of that big army.
He was the youngest of all his followers. While all the others were in
their bright-colored uniforms with glistening decorations he was very
modestly dressed like an ordinary person. But all his words were good
and calculated: "Oh! If only the king himself were as kind as
this young man!" they thought. "It is better for us to be
captured by these rather kindly people than by others!"
They thought that the king was then in his royal tent. They never
suspected it was the king himself who, followed by some of his
followers, had climbed the hill on which they had been hiding.
It was beginning to be dark. "Bring my field-glasses," ordered
the king. "Night is falling before we survey the country."
He began looking around in all directions, and it was clear from his
looks he was very much satisfied with the orderly way in which his
army had camped in the vast plain below. The plain was extremely wide
and one could hardly see its ends even from the hill-top. Except for
this hill on which Tobbya and her father had been hiding, the plain
was almost level from one end to another. The king’s army had
occupied almost the whole surface of this endless plain. One could
not, for example, see the limits of the camp from the center even
with field glasses. It was a large army in a vast field. Moreover
when night began to fall, the small white tents of the camp looked
like the stars in the blue sky above.
"Oh! It is late my friends, let us go back to our camp," said the
king to his followers. Before he set out, however, he approached
Tobbya and her father, "You Kafirs, follow us to the camp. Don’t
be afraid. If you want to live with us we shall make you comfortable.
If, on the other hand, you want to remain here in your country we
shall let you go when the war is over. If we let you go now our
soldiers will find you on the way and destroy you." Tobbya’s
father was extremely happy to hear that. He now hoped once again that
nothing would happen to his daughter. In the meantime, though he
could not suspect that the young man who addressed them was the king
himself, he began to believe that he was the most important man among
the group who had climbed the hill with him. He believed that the
young man was at most the son of the king or of another dignitary of
the court. With this in mind Tobbya’s father said to the young man,
"My Lord, you have seen how my son and myself were shivering
with fear when we first saw you here. I don’t care what happens to
me. My only fear and great concern has been for the life of this
little child of mine. But now you have yourself been so kind as to
encourage us. We are very grateful for this, my lord. Our life will
finally depend, however, on the word of the king himself, and we beg
you to intercede for us in front of him when we go to the camp."
At this the king signaled to his followers not to reveal his identity
and replied to Tobbya’s father, "Well, that is fine. I shall beg
His Majesty to spare your lives and pardon you."
As soon as they reached the camp the king ordered his chief Aide-de-camp
to give a tent to Tobbya and her father near the royal tent and to
look after them very carefully. This order was executed to the
letter; and they were given very good accommodation and all their
needs were carefully provided. Tobbya and her father were greatly
surprised at this strange happening, "Could the young man be the
king himself?" they thought. But he seemed too young for that,
he had barely passed his twentieth year. Moreover he was very
modestly dressed when they saw him. Otherwise he had all the
characteristics of a prince, he had an agreeable character, his words
were very pleasant and precise, his manners were . highly refined,
and his looks extremely handsome. Though he was a pagan and a very
young man, he had all the majestic airs of royalty. Only his uniform
belied his high position. It had always been the custom of kings and
princes to refrain from the personal use of colorful uniforms and
precious decorations. All these things are too much below their
dignity. For them their illustrious birth and cultural refinement
suffice to indicate their pre-eminence. They only delight in
decorating their soldiers for their valor, in building magnificent
palaces and furnishing them beautifully, in providing their horses
and mules with elaborately worked harnesses, in developing their
countries, in rendering justice to their subjects, and in granting
pardon to their subjects. They know very well that decorating
themselves with silver, gold, diamonds and other precious stones
would not bring any difference to their already high positions.
Indeed, it is only people of very mean extraction and humble
professions like the Azmari or minstrel and the king’s jester
that need such external embellishments. Besides, even asses or stupid
fools can look at least presentable if loaded with shining
decorations however unmerited. But, as the saying goes, a lion with
his modest and majestic airs looks much smarter than an elephant with
his awkward tusks. Therefore, regardless of the modesty of his
clothes the other day, regardless of his youth, Tobbya and her father
were in due course strongly convinced that the young man who was so
kind to them was the king himself. It was a strange coincidence that
they had fallen into no other hands but those of the king. This must
have been the work of God and they thanked God for his mercy.
On the morrow, before the camp was broken, the king saw Tobbya and her
father nearby as he came out of his royal
tent. He approached them smiling and said. "Do not fear. Nothing
will happen to you. I have told the king about you!" Tobbya and
her father were very happy and bowed very low. They pretended that
they still did not know that he was the king himself. But the young
prince turned around and ordered his Aide-de-camp to provide them
with two fine horses and to let them ride together with his personal
retinue so that the crowd would not molest them. This order was soon
followed and the two captives rode on two very fine horses only some
yards behind the king. They were now quite certain that their lives
were no more endangered; on the other hand, now that they felt quite
secure themselves, they began to think of Wahid.
At about noon the army began to camp. The king’s royal tent was pitched
as usual in a central position and the area around was immediately
covered by numerous tents. The king’s warriors were coming from every
direction with all their spoils of the day. Chanting their war songs
as they took their respective places in the camp. Just in front of
the royal tent the king sat majestically on his golden throne. Round
him were also seated the most dignified members of his court. To the
left and right of the throne stood very tall slaves with drawn swords
in their muscular hands. Some yards behind these stood a squad of the
royal guards consisting of five thousand soldiers. The soldiers had
now stopped chanting their songs. Nothing of the usual hustle and
bustle was heard. Silence reigned everywhere. Even the king was
silently waiting for his soldiers to display their spoils of the day
before him. It was a magnificent sight. Thousands of warriors in
orderly ranks silently standing around the throne with all their arms
and colorful uniforms and decorations, and in the midst of all this
glory the young, dark-complexioned, but very handsome king sitting on
his golden throne with all his oriental splendor, the whole setting
inspiring a maximum of fear and respect. For Tobbya and her father
the scene compared with the Last Judgment of the New Testament.
After everything was in order, thousands of warriors passed by the throne
displaying their trophies, dancing and reciting tukkera or war
poems. The young king was smiling with much satisfaction. For poor
little Tobbya, however, it was an unbearable scene. All this joy and
happiness at the court of the enemy meant the destruction of
thousands of her fellow Christians. It also meant without doubt that
paganism would prosper in the country. This saddened her heart and
she wept behind her father’s shamma. The King saw Tobbya from
his throne and knew that she did not enjoy the scene. He understood
her feelings very well. He suddenly left his throne, and entered into
the royal tent interrupting the procession without any explanations.
The young king had lost his parents while still a child. Besides, he had
no brothers or sisters. It was his uncle who had brought him up with
his own daughter who was of exactly the same age as the king. The
king loved her like his own sister. His cousin loved him too. Indeed
they called each other "Sister" and "Brother".
Their love for each other was so great that he would not leave her
behind even in time of war, and her tent was always next to his.
The main royal tents were five in number; two of them belonged to the
king, the third to his cousin, the fourth to his uncle and guardian,
the fifth tent was reserved for royal guests. Between each of these
tents there was a fence made of shammas so that the entrance
of one tent could not be seen from that of another. Around all this
at some distance was a circular fence of qimja or red cloth.
Within this fence, and immediately next to the royal tents was a
pleasant, small tent assigned to Tobbya and her father. They placed
them there so that the ordinary soldiers outside might not molest
them. Immediately outside the red shamma fence were located
the most important parts of the royal household: the treasury, the
storehouse, the kitchen, and the quarters where tej was
prepared and stored. All around these important places was stationed
a squad of the royal guards consisting of the most able-bodied and
strongest soldiers about 5,000 in number, armed to the teeth with
brilliant weapons embellished with gold and silver. Next to these was
a mounted company of the royal guard consisting of about 100,000
cavalry. Beyond these began the camp of the ordinary soldiers and
their commanders arranged in various divisions.
No one was allowed to approach the qimja fence. The guards
prevented anyone from speaking or making a noise near it. After
sunset, therefore, not a soul would be seen there nor any sound heard
except the drapings of the royal tent moving to and fro at every
stroke of the wind.
The king, it had been announced, was giving a banquet that evening. The
royal household was therefore in the usual hustle and bustle.
Numerous servants were running here and there with various
assignments for the preparation of the banquet. Some time before the
banquet started, the king went out of his tent for a walk. In the
meantime, however, he saw Tobbya sitting with her father at the
entrance of their tent. She had buried her head on her father’s knees
with her eyes fixed on the ground. The moment he saw her, the king
thought that she was crying again and. he approached their tent to
try to console the small child. When they saw him coming toward them,
Tobbya and her father stood up from their seats. "Would you like
me to present you to the king? Would you like to see his face?"
he asked them.
"No. sire. We do not want to see the face of any other king except yours,"
answered Tobbya’s father very quickly. The king understood that they
now recognized him, and added directly, "Well, you don’t want
any other king except me, trust me. I shall not forsake you."
With this he went back to his tent.
It was some time since Tobbya and her father had understood that he was
himself the king. The young king, however, had not yet realized that
Tobbya was a girl and not a handsome little boy as her dress would
make everyone believe.
On the morrow, the king ordered that the army should take a rest for a
day. He himself spent the whole day contemplating how to make an end
to the campaign and how to administer the people as a whole.
He was very much affected by Tobbya’s sorrow at the moment when his
warriors were displaying their spoils. He decided to bring the whole
campaign to an end so that the lives of thousands of innocent people
might be saved, and the whole country spared from destruction.
this effect he decided to make a proclamation. At first the king’s
Chief Herald went up to higher ground stood on a stone, and made the
announcement. The announcement was, as usual, proceeded by the
Hear! May God deprive the king’s enemy, the enemy of our Lord, and
the enemy of our country, of the sense of hearing!" Then
followed the actual proclamation:—
"O you Christians! There has always been war between us and you either
because of the difference of our religion, or because of border
problems. Thousands of our people on both sides have lost their lives
in these wars. The reason behind all this destruction has always
been, however, the misunderstanding and; the sharp sense of
competition that existed between our respective kings. The ordinary
people had very little part in initiating these conflicts, but they
have always been those who suffered most. Had there been goodwill and
mutual understanding between the kings the lives of so many innocent
people could have been saved. Our respective peoples could have
respected the borders and lived in their own countries according to
their religions. I myself have been a victim of this legacy of
conflict and warfare. In the last few months I destroyed the lives of
thousands and devastated your country. I now regret this senseless
manslaughter and general destruction I have caused so far. It has now
become clear to me that you have no king or army to defend you. I
feel very sorry to have destroyed a defenseless people. From today
on, therefore, all hostilities shall be discontinued. Those who have
left their homes because of the war, those who have killed or robbed
others during the war, may return to their respective places and live
in peace. I have hereby granted a general amnesty to all those who
have fought against me in the period of hostilities. Let everyone
live according to his own religion. We have had enough of the old
religious conflicts and all must respect each other’s religion. No
one will be allowed to laugh at or make fun of, another man’s
religion. Though I am not a Christian myself, it is my sacred duty to
rule everyone equally irrespective of his religion. Therefore all of
you must live in peace and resume your old professions: the merchant
may now resume his commercial activities, the farmer, his
agricultural duties, and the clergy, their religious services.
"May all of you understand that I have come not to destroy but to build a
nation. From today on you are all my subjects, and will always be
ruled with justice and respect. Everyone must in turn recognize me as
their King. Those who have fled away may now return to their previous
houses and properties. As compensation for the damage that the war
has brought on you no taxes shall be levied on you for two years.
"If there are any members of the Royal Family living, they may return to
their old possessions and governorates together with all the Princes,
high-ranking, officials, and other followers. Similarly all the Rases, the Dejazmatches and other
dignitaries may return to their respective offices and resume their
duties in peace according to the customs and the law of their nation.
Should there be anyone after this proclamation, however, who refuses
to return home and continues to disturb the peace by molesting my
people and my kingdom he shall be outlawed for ever and shall be
hunted down as the enemy of the kingdom and the people.
"The peasants and the soldiers must always live in mutual respect. The
soldier should not mishandle the peasants. Both of you serve me
equally in your respective fields of activity: While the soldier
follows me with his arms in times of war, it is the peasant who tills
the earth and provides all of us with food. Everyone renders his
services equally to the king and to the people at large." As the
royal announcer finished reading the proclamation everyone shouted
"Well done, well done!" and expressed their satisfaction
with prolonged applause.
After the proclamation the campaign was discontinued and the king began
building a new capital city at the camp. The king saw Tobbya and her
father every day, and gradually came to like her very much. Now that
she was living with much comfort at the king’s palace and was no more
exposed to the difficulties of a long journey, Tobbya was regaining
her real self and grew more and more beautiful everyday. Though she
politely kept herself at a distance from the king in fear of being
discovered, the king liked her more and more everyday and called her
to his presence now and then. Her father was himself worried at this
growing familiarity. "Courage, my child," he encouraged
her, "try to speak, and walk, and act like a boy. Try your best
to keep your identity disguised. You can do it." Tobbya was
always dressed like a boy and no one suspected her true sex. But
everyone who saw her was at once bewitched by her beauty. Everyone at
the court liked Tobbya.
Tobbya was indeed very beautiful. Her big eyes could compare with the
morning star for brightness. Her eyelashes grew abundantly on her
eyelids. Her nose was aquiline, and her lips looked like roses in the
morning. She had her hair cut in a boy’s fashion, but the luxuriant
growth thereof looked like that of the wheat fields in Sene.6
Since she was no more exposed to heat and cold, nor to hunger and
thirst as during her long journey with her father, her sun-burnt face
recovered its original color, and her beauty seemed to betray her
true sex. Tobbya was of medium stature such as would become a perfect
lady. Her fingers were as smooth and tender as Amelmalo.7
Her elegance that of a queen. Her legs were of perfect formation.
Her snow white teeth and her sweet smile would satisfy any man. In
short, her beauty was such as would make one believe that God must
have taken special pains in creating her. Indeed, even apart from her
physical characteristics Tobbya looked like an angel as regards both
her heavenly beauty and her sweet personality.
"Even angels fall in love with the beautiful!" says an old proverb.
When the young king saw the perfect beauty that God had bestowed upon
Tobbya he liked her very much and decided to make her one of his
personal followers in his court. He wanted her to grow in the milieu
of high life at the palace. He never suspected, however, that she was
actually a girl. His love was only an
innocent admiration for the extraordinary qualities of the young boy
that Tobbya pretended to be. Moreover the king was about the same age
as Tobbya: She was 18 years old, he was hardly 20. This similarity of
youth intensified the king’s special concern for Tobbya.
The king hesitated at first. Finally he decided to tell Tobbya and her
father of his plans for the young boy. One day they were suddenly
called to the king’s presence. They were specially worried about
Tobbya’s identity. "Could the king have discovered the true sex
of Tobbya?" they thought. For Tobbya the prospect of such a
discovery was unbearable. She couldn’t even walk normally. Her
studied manners of a young boy were all forgotten. But the king did
not suspect anything at all. Indeed as soon as they came to his
presence he quietly ordered all his servants to leave him alone with
Tobbya and her father and spoke to them in strict privacy. He looked
at Tobbya at first and said. "Listen young boy. Wouldn’t you
like to live with me? Wouldn’t you like me to make you one of my
intimate courtiers, to bring you up in my court, and confer upon you
honorable officers and and illustrious decorations?" Tobbya was
either afraid or very shy. She said nothing. She left the decision
for her father. The king was, however, staring at Tobbya all the time
as if expecting the answer from her. The tense situation was however
broken by her father who began to reply to the king’s question. The
king turned his face to Tobbya’s father and began to listen
attentively .At the opportune moment Tobbya turned her face towards
her father and began winking at him and shaking her head to suggest
to him that he should refuse the king’s offer.
"Your Majesty," began her father, "it is a special honor to be
one of your intimate courtiers and to live in your palace. My son and
myself are very grateful to you for this kind offer and for having
given us this unmerited attention. May your kingdom spread throughout
the world. May your kindness to your people remain unchanged. My son,
however, is not used to the manners and decorum of royal life. He is
from a humble private family. Excuse me your Majesty. I cannot accept
"Your Majesty has given us your word of honor that you would send us back
to our home once the war is finished. Please send us back to our
country according to your promise. That is our wish."
The king seemed to regret the fact that he had not fulfilled his promise.
"My word of honor shall not be changed," he assured them.
"I shall certainly send you back to your home if you want. I
would, however, like to ask you something. Why do you hate living
with me? Is it because we are not of the same religion? If that is
the case you know very well that I have made a proclamation to the
effect that every one should live according to his religion. Do you
have any other reason? Why are you afraid to stay with me? Tell me
everything openly." When Tobbya’s father heard these kind words
from this young king he decided to tell him everything, every secret
he had so far kept between him and his child. ""Your
Majesty," he started, "it is only my wife who is staying at
home and it is very long since this young boy and myself left home.
We first left our place in search of my elder son who set out on a
journey last year to look for a man who had been very kind to us. We
could find no trace of him at all. In the meantime your Majesty’s
army came pillaging and destroying the country. We just wanted to
turn back and escape to our country, but it was too late. Then we
decided to hide on that solitary hill in the hope that none of your
soldiers would be climbing it. It was there where by divine
coincidence, we were met by Your Majesty and made your captives."
Tobbya’s father had now decided to tell the young king everything in
his heart and even the identity of his child. "This … This"
he started.8 At this juncture Tobbya was very angry with
him. She looked at him with much anxiety and struck her lips with the
tip of her hand indicating that he should not make such a blunder at
that moment. Her father understood her worries and immediately
changed the subject of his discourse. "This world, Your Majesty,
is not becoming to the poor and the helpless. We have been lamenting
the loss of my elder son, for a whole year. This small child cannot
therefore forget his beloved brother and remain here at Your
Majesty’s palace for the sake of comfort and the pleasures of court
life. No, Your Majesty he cannot remain here," he concluded.
Tobbya was relieved when she saw that her father changed the subject
and did not reveal her identity to the king. She was very much
concerned because she had heard that all pagans had a mania for
possessing every woman they happened to come across. She was
therefore worried that once the king knew her real sex he would
simply take her as his wife. Moreover, she did not see the wisdom of
telling one’s secrets to a stranger however kind and trustworthy.
When the king heard the story of Wahid he looked very much concerned. He
asked Tobbya’s father many questions. "When did he leave for his
journey? Which direction did he say he would take?
"It is exactly one year ago that he left us. He wanted to go to the
commercial center at the border of the country where caravans to
Sennar and Egypt passed on their journey to and from our country. He
is of the same age of Tobbya. Both are now between 17 and 18 years
old." "Then they are twins, aren’t they?" asked the
"Oh! yes. Indeed one is a perfect copy of the other. They look like each
other so much that it was difficult even for myself and my wife to
distinguish the one from the other."
"If he left a year ago," said the king, "it is quite impossible
that my soldiers have met him. In that case it would have been easy
for me to get him. I am afraid that he might have been met by some
slave traders and sold into slavery." Then he thought for some
time and said. "Anyhow, if the boy is still alive I will get him
for you. Do not worry I shall get him for you. But it will take some
time. Both of you must stay with me in the meantime. Tobbya shall be
one of my intimate courtiers. He shall be one of those very few who
have freedom of movement even within my private quarters. And you
shall be counted among the members of the nobility. You must
always attend all our state and special
occasions. You are henceforth to participate at all the banquets
given by me every day."
Tobbya and her father could say nothing at that moment. If they refused the
king’s offer it would almost certainly mean that Wahid would be lost
for ever. Even for themselves it was not advisable to quarrel with a
king. He could do anything with them if he liked. While they were
thus debating within themselves the king got up. "Think it
over," he said to them, "and tell me your wish sometime
later." With this he left his palace and went for a horse race.
Tobbya and her father were left alone. They could now discuss freely between
themselves. "My child," he started, "you know it is
much better for us to stay with the king in order to find Wahid. I am
only afraid that the king and his followers might discover your
identity. Otherwise it is not good to refuse the offers of such a
king. After all he is a king of the pagans who are famous for their
cruelty and ungodliness. If we do not accept his suggestion we shall
never get Wahid, nor do I know what kind of misfortune will happen to
us." "Father," said Tobbya, "how long can I live
with my false identity? How long can I stay with men and act like a
boy? If we stay here for long my identity will be discovered and the
danger is still worse. I am worried about that, Father. But what can
I do? If it means my brother’s return I must try my best. I shall
accept the king’s offer and live with his intimate courtiers. May Our
Lady help me in disguising my identity.
Well, if you are determined to try your best you must always be careful to
act exactly like a boy."
soon as the king returned from the horse race he asked them their
decision. They told him that they would humbly accept his offer.
When he saw that Tobbya and her father had confidence in him the king gave
them enough property to live on. He gave them a big tent to stay in,
a mare and a horse to ride on, many slaves and servants, and much
gold and silver. Tobbya and her father had therefore a complete
household all at once. Their tent was pitched within the royal living
quarters, i.e. within the red-cloth fence. Tobbya was made one of the
most intimate followers of the king. Her father was endowed with high
honors and illustrious decorations and made one of the most
On the morrow the king made the following proclamation: "Any one
who bought any slaves within the last year shall bring them to me as
soon as this proclamation comes to his knowledge. I am looking for a
person lost since last year. The man among whose slaves this person
may be found shall be compensated with ten times the amount he spent
on the purchase thereof and with other special rewards." This
proclamation was announced at every corner of the country and in all
the squares and other important centers of the cities and towns.
Since the kingdom was very large, however, no one came with his
slaves for about five or six months. In the meantime Tobbya and her
father lived at the king’s palace according to his order.
The king’s admiration for Tobbya grew every day. Not only her beauty but
also her excellent personality and refined manners made her very dear
to everybody. The king’s uncle and guardian, and his daughter also
liked Tobbya very much.
The king’s cousin was especially attached to Tobbya the young handsome
boy at the king’s palace. She always stared at Tobbya wherever she
saw him. She spoke of nothing else but Tobbya. The king soon
discovered that his cousin was in love with Tobbya. He once tried to
find out how much she loved Tobbya, and asked her "Sister, would
you like your future husband to be as handsome as Tobbya?" His
cousin liked the king very much and there were no secrets they did
not share. She was therefore quite free with him and told him frankly
that she was in love with Tobbya; she only did not want her old
father to know that she loved a Christian. Indeed she used to tell
the king that neither in his place nor anywhere else had she seen or
heard of such an extraordinarily handsome and cultured young man as
Tobbya "Tobbya is a very sweet young man. If only he were not a
Kafir]" The king understood his cousin’s feelings. He
also had the same respect and admiration for Tobbya. His cousin’s
love to Tobbya, however, intensified every day. Day in and day out
she did nothing else but think and dream of Tobbya. In their private
conversations she spoke to the king of nothing else but Tobbya. This
she did in the hope that he would one day make it possible for her to
marry Tobbya! What ignorance! The poor little girl did not know that
Tobbya was also a girl disguised in a boy’s dress!
The king did not mind his cousin loving Tobbya. Indeed he would have
liked her to marry the young boy. He only feared that his uncle and
guardian would not give his daughter to a Christian. Neither would
Tobbya like to marry anybody but a Christian.
Tobbya did not know all this. She spent the whole day in the presence of the
king and returned to her father in the evening.
"My child is everything well?" her father would ask her when she
returned to him. "Yes, father. Thank God there is nothing wrong
as yet! The king, his uncle and cousin all seem to like me,"
Tobbya would answer. When she left for the king’s tent in the
mornings her father would always say "May the God of the
Christians protect you, my child," Thus Tobbya and her father
lived very well for a long time.
Tobbya and the king’s cousin became more and more familiar as time went by.
The king’s cousin began speaking to Tobbya directly. Tobbya herself
was also very willing to talk to the king’s cousin. In her disguised
state Tobbya considered it a relief to speak with a girl, therefore
spoke more freely and willingly with the princess than with the king
himself or his courtiers. This surprised the king and gave the
impression to the princess that the young boy, Tobbya was beginning
to reciprocate her love. Gradually Tobbya’s familiarity with both the
king and his cousin grew to such an extent that it began to inspire
jealousy in the hearts of the other members of the king’s court. How
can such an upstart, and a Kafir be more influential than us;
everybody in the court began to say. They began to complain and
grumble everyday and decided finally to ruin Tobbya’s name and career
in the king’s court by creating a false story.
Tobbya’s growing familiarity with the king’s cousin provided them with a
wonderful theme to play upon. The king’s jester, whom I had an
occasion to describe before, that tiny piece of a human being, played
notorious part in the nasty game. Immediately after lunch the king
had the habit of sleeping for sometime. At that time everything
within and around the palace was silent and quiet. Tobbya’s enemies
decided to use this period for their scandalous purpose. They plotted
to send Tobbya to the tent of the king’s cousin and in the meantime
to inform her father that the young boy was having privacy with the
One day, soon after the king went to bed for his usual siesta, the king’s
jester came to Tobbya and told her that the king’s cousin was
urgently looking for her. Tobbya never suspected that the jester was
trying to ruin her name and went immediately to the tent of the
king’s cousin. No sooner had she entered the tent than the king’s
uncle himself came in followed by his men. He was almost mad with
anger when he saw the young boy, Tobbya, in his daughter’s tent at
that hour of the day. He had been told by Tobbya’s enemies that the
young Kafir was having dishonorable relations with the
Princess and now he had caught him almost red-handed. He was furious.
The news of Tobbya’s "dishonorable conduct" was soon spread in
the palace among all the courtiers and the servants of the king. The
rumor ran that Tobbya, the king’s new favorite, the young Kafir
boy, was caught in the Princess’ tent having infamous relations
with the king’s cousin. The news also reached the king himself, but
he did not believe it. Soon after, however, his uncle came to his
presence, and gave him an ultimatum. "Your Majesty, either you
punish this disrespectful young Kafir, or I shall die." The king
began to reason with his uncle and said "My Lord, how can
Tobbya. that gentle and well-mannered boy, do such a thing? How? His
uncle persisted "But your Majesty I have myself caught him in my
daughter’s tent. He must be severely punished," he insisted. "I
shall call Tobbya himself" the king promised, "and examine
him to find out if he has really done it. If the story is true I
shall send him away with his father to their own place. 1 cannot,
however, have them punished because I have first given them my word
of honor that nothing bad would befall them if they stayed with me."
He asked Tobbya to be brought to his presence and asked her: "Tell
me, why did you go to my sister’s tent today? Why?" Tobbya knew
very well that she was innocent of the guilt she was charged with.
But she was afraid that her identity might be revealed during the
cross examination. She could not answer the king’s question. She was
quaking with fear suppressed.
But anybody could tell her innocence and reliability from the look of her
face. However, she did not know what to say to the king. To reveal
the truth that she was called by the Princess would not be good for
the name and honor of the king’s cousin. She therefore preferred to
keep silent. The king was much troubled at this. "Why don’t you
answer my question?" he asked her with much concern. "How
could you do such a thing to my cousin. I have always counted on your
gentle manners and refinement, and I had prepared great plans for
your future. How could you do such a dishonorable act?"
At this Tobbya’s father came suddenly and said. "Your Majesty my
son can never do such a childish thing. Never. Believe me, Your
Majesty!" When he heard this the king’s uncle was very angry.
"Your Majesty, I have told you that I myself caught the boy
almost red-handed, and here is his father telling me to my face that
I was lying to you!" Tobbya was looking at the ground all the
time and quaking with fear. When she saw a dangerous scene developing
between her father and the king’s uncle she raised her head and
addressed the king: "Your Majesty, I have never deserved to be
one of your courtiers. I have always lived a very humble life and
have never been used to the intricacies and pageantry of court life.
I had mentioned this to you from the very beginning. But your Majesty
has showered upon me all these unmerited honors of attending upon
you. My conduct and manners have not changed since. If, however, you
are convinced of the guilt I am charged with, punish me, if not,
pardon me. But Your Majesty, please do not let my father suffer
anything because of my mistakes. Please do not abandon your idea of
finding my brother for us. Your Majesty, do not let my brother
disappear for ever because of these unfounded suspicions of
misconduct on my part."
"Well," answered the king, "that is a different thing now. But tell me,
why did you enter my sister’s tent?" Tobbya did not wish"
to disgrace anybody. She said nothing. The king was much troubled. He
could not believe the story because every word that Tobbya pronounced
was full of truth. On the other hand, he could not totally disprove
the story because Tobbya refused to answer his question. The matter
was getting very serious because of Tobbya’s unwillingness to
cooperate. Her father saw that things were getting out of hand and
began to despair. He thought that Tobbya would be punished severely
for no fault of hers ; that his son would be lost to him for ever,
and that he himself would be disgraced and driven out of the king’s
palace. The only way out of all this trouble was to show to the king
that the allegations against Tobbya were false and totally
impossible. This could only be done by revealing to the king the
secret of Tobbya’s identity. He therefore asked the king for a
private audience. Everyone else was ordered out of the king’s
reception hall. The king, Tobbya, and her father were left alone.
Your Majesty," Tobbya’s father began, " it has always been
possible that many innocent souls have been punished for no fault of
theirs because of insufficiency of proof. Even you, Your Majesty,
merciful, kind, and wise as you are, you are nevertheless a human
being. You cannot penetrate into a person’s heart and soul to find
out whether it is really innocent or not. You are always bound to
believe the reports of your courtiers. This scandal cannot be cleared
unless I openly tell you the ins and outs of the story. But, Your
Majesty, you must first give me your word of honor that the secret
will be kept between the three of us." When the king promised
that he would keep the secret, Tobbya’s father told him their story
from the very beginning, including the true identity of his child.
The king was sorry for Tobbya. He was also amazed at the story. He
admired her courage at being disguised as a boy to accompany her
father in his long search for the lost brother. Her unwillingness to
disgrace her enemies even at the risk of her name and honor was also
equally marvelous Though he pitied her for the difficulties she had
undergone in the past, the king was much
pleased to know that she was a girl. So far he liked Tobbya only as a
young handsome and well mannered boy. Later however, when he knew her
identity his admiration was changed into real love and he began to
have high expectations. His heart began to beat fast whenever he
thought of Tobbya. His whole body began to tremble at every sight of
the beautiful young girl. But he was very careful not to show it to
anybody, above all to his uncle and his cousin. He would have liked
to punish and disgrace his courtiers who were responsible for the
false story, but no formal disproof of the allegations could be made
without betraying the the secret he had promised to keep.
Finally the king decided to give a false impression to his uncle and his
courtiers that he was convinced by the allegations. He therefore
ordered Tobbya to be deprived of all the honors and decorations
bestowed upon her, to be dismissed from service, and to live
henceforth with her father in the same conditions in which they were
living before she entered the king’s service. He called Tobbya and
her father, however, and told them of his real motives. He gave them
much gold and property in private, advised Tobbya to stay in the tent
all the time, ordered her father to show up at the palace only once
every day, and sent them to live on their own. Their tent was
pitched, however, just opposite to that of the king at his own
instructions. So that he could at least be able to look at Tobbya
through his field glasses every now and then.
The king’s uncle and Tobbya’s enemies were very happy to see the young
boy dismissed from the king’s service just as they wanted. His
cousin, however, was shocked when she heard that Tobbya was no longer
in the king’s service. She was extremely sorry at "his"
dismissal. She wept and wept all day long and could neither eat nor
drink. The king was very sorry for her not only because she could no
more see her love every day, but also because he knew that her love
was useless. He could not tell her the secret because of the word of
honor he had given to Tobbya’s father.
Many days passed since Tobbya left the king’s service and her enemies were
exulted at the success of their plot. But the king knew everything.
He only waited silently for the right time to punish his dishonest
servants. Tobbya, on the other hand, did not have any grudges against
any one. She never cared for honors or for the king’s service. She
was only looking for the day when her brother Wahid would be found.
Her only hope was that her father, Wahid, and herself would one day
meet and go back to her mother in happiness.
The king was doing his best to please Tobbya in private. He urged his
representatives and the governors in every corner of his kingdom to
send all slaves acquired within the previous year to his palace. The
king’s proclamation was now heard everywhere and people began to come
to the king’s palace with their newly acquired slaves. The king had
proclaimed that he would give to the owner of the man he was looking
for ten times the amount of money he had spent on his purchase and
some other special gifts besides. This caused everyone to bring their
slaves to the presence of the king.
The king was very happy when he saw thousands of his subjects coming to
him with their slaves. He called Tobbya’s father in private and told
him to look for
Wahid among the troop of slaves that would pass by their tent. He then
ordered that the people should march with their slaves by the tent of
Tobbya and her father. On the morrow, thousands and thousands of
slaves marched by the tent. Tobbya and her father watched with
patience from dawn to sun-set. Wahid was not among those slaves that
passed by all day long. They started to despair when night began to
fall. When it was too dark to see the king ordered that the remaining
part of the crowd would march on the next day. The king watched
Tobbya and her father through his field glasses all day long to see
if they had found Wahid. He was greatly disappointed to know that the
boy was not found on that day. Tobbya and her father could not sleep.
They spent the whole night weeping at their misfortune. It was the
same thing on the next day. Wahid was not found at all. They
completely despaired now. "Wahid must have lost his life
somewhere, or else we would have found him by now," they said to
On the third day, Tobbya and her father were watching the slaves pass by
as usual. They waited and waited. It was already noon and Wahid had
not been found. They had now almost no hope at all. Indeed they were
even tired of looking at the mass of human beings flooding by. Only
now and then would they look up and see if it was Wahid there. It had
now become almost instinctive for them to do that. Wahid was not
At about noon, however, Tobbya saw a young man walking side by side with
a clean-shaven Mohammedan merchant. The young man was carrying a
stick on his shoulders and was walking slowly and pensively. As soon
as she saw him Tobbya thought that his general stature and his
movements looked like those of her brother. But the young man whom
she was looking at looked much darker than Wahid. The young slave and
his Mohammedan master approached the tent. Tobbya knew now beyond any
doubt that the young man, who looked a bit darker because of
extremities of cold and heat was her own brother, Wahid. She was
overwhelmed by her sudden discovery and could not say a word. She did
not even tell her father what she saw. She only stretched her hands
towards Wahid and fell down flat on her face.
Her father did not see what happened. He only saw his daughter suddenly
fall on her face. He did not know what happened to Tobbya. When he
saw her fall down he ran forward to pick her up. In the meantime
Wahid saw his father suddenly and recognized him at once. "Father!
Oh! Father!" he cried running towards him and hurling down his
stick from his shoulders. The boy threw himself on his father and
kissed him wildly. "How on earth did you come here?" he
asked the old man. Wahid, Tobbya and their father were now clasping,
hugging, and kissing one another. They were overwhelmed by the
suddenness of their reunion and the happiness thereof. All the time,
however, none of them could say a word to the other. It was as if
they had lost their faculty of speaking, for a moment. Wahid
recognized only his father. He could not recognize Tobbya at first.
He could not recognize the young boy who was eagerly kissing him with
his father. It was only much later that the secret was explained to
In the meantime the king saw through his field glasses that Tobbya and
her father had at last found the lost boy.
He immediately ordered Wahid and his master to be brought to his
presence. The king was extremely happy when he saw Wahid for the
first time. Wahid was indeed a perfect copy of Tobbya. Everybody who
knew Tobbya at the king’s court could not tell that it was another
boy. Indeed, many thought that it was Tobbya herself who was being
recalled to the palace. Tobbya and Wahid were perfectly identical.
The only difference between them was to be found in their
temperaments. However much she tried to hide it, Tobbya had always
the delicacy and sweetness of the woman in her. Wahid on the other
hand, had the dashing characteristics of his sex. The king was highly
gratified at this. "I have now found a husband for my cousin,"
he said to himself. "She can never tell that it is anybody else
but Tobbya and will continue to love him."
The king ordered the promised gold, money, and special presents to be
given to Wahid’s former master and sent him back to his country.
"Stay with me in the palace," he said to Wahid. "I
shall bring you up in my court and I’ll make you live in comfort and
happiness." Wahid did not know what to say to the king who had
been so kind to himself, to Tobbya and their father. At last he made
up his mind. "Your Majesty," he told the king. "I
first went out of my country to look for a certain merchant who was
kind to me and to thank him for his good deeds. While in search of
the man I underwent innumerable difficulties, and I was finally sold
into slavery. You have just freed me from this bondage. But I have
taken it upon myself never to stay at home until I find that kind
man. I shall never go back on my word, Your Majesty, I shall look for
him until either I succeed in finding him or die. I cannot chose
comfort and happiness at Your Majesty’s palace and forget my friend.
Please excuse me Your Majesty. It is I who will be the loser, you can
always find hundreds to serve you happily and willingly."
The king admired Wahid’s determination and strong will. "If that is
the only reason," answered the king, "I shall find your
friend just as I found you. Don’t worry about that. Only accept my
offer and stay with me here in my palace." "Your Majesty,"
answered Wahid with much feeling, "if you promise to do that for
me, I am more than willing to serve you. Let alone to live in comfort
and happiness, as you have said, I am even willing to stay with you
as one of the humble slaves in the palace."
The king immediately gave an order for an announcement to be made
throughout his kingdom inviting all merchants within his realm to
come to his palace. The proclamation read as follows:
"All ye merchants within my kingdom, be sure to come to my palace as soon
as you have heard this proclamation for those of you who have been
plundered during the war. I shall restore your merchandise to you;
and for those who have not lost anything during the war I shall issue
passports which will ensure you safe and free movements everywhere."
On the morrow Wahid was made one of the king’s courtiers with all the
honors and decorations that Tobbya formerly possessed. The king made
him a very intimate attendant, and almost all the courtiers of the
king began to be jealous of the young boy’s status. The king warned
Wahid, however, of the possibility that his courtiers
might try to create stories against him, as they had done in the case
of Tobbya, to bring about his disgrace. He warned him not to accept
any orders except from himself, and not to leave his presence at all:
Wahid would therefore spend the whole day in the king’s presence and
then go to his tent at night to join Tobbya and his father.
The king’s cousin did not know of Wahid’s coming to the palace. After the
scandalous story against Tobbya and herself her father had ordered
her not to leave the tent at all and never to go to any of the
quarters where the king received his courtiers. But the king knew her
feelings towards Tobbya. He knew how much she loved Tobbya, and how
much she lamented her dismissal from the court. One day he wanted to
console her. "Don’t worry, my sister. If you love him I shall
take him back to my service." When she heard these words she was
extremely happy."My Lord and brother," she said to him, her
eyes wet with tears, "if you do that for me, My Lord, I am ready
to renounce my royal status and serve you as one of your cooks or as
one of your humblest slaves. I know that as your cousin I have all
the world at my disposal. But what purpose would all this glory serve
if one could not get what one wished? There can be no happiness in
this world in such circumstances. It is much better to be happy in
poverty than to suffer in richness. If you want to make me happy, my
Lord, help me to be married to Tobbya the only boy I have loved so
much in my life; and I shall be ready to return your kindness by
renouncing all my royal honors and serving you as one of your humble
servants." She wept as she spoke. But before the king could
reply to her demands her father came suddenly, and the king left them
alone. The Princess was left in suspense without knowing what the
king’s answer would be. The king himself was in love with Tobbya! He
could think of nothing but her. Everything else began to slip from
his memory. At times he would stop in the middle of sentence and
grapple for words trying to remember what he wanted to say. In the
evening, after the usual banquets he would send out all his
courtiers, go out of his royal tent, and stare at Tobbya’s tent
beyond for hours in the perfect silence of the night and would only
go to bed when he felt too sleepy to remain awake.
This was his first love. Tobbya was the first and only one he loved and
wanted to possess. Indeed, before he knew the true identity of Tobbya
and wanted to make her his queen no woman ever came to his mind. He
was such a disciplined and serious prince. Once he loved Tobbya
however, he dreamt of nobody else but her! He would have liked to go
and pay her a secret visit every night. But he knew Tobbya very well.
He knew her strong will power, her shyness, and the strength of her
faith. The only thing he could do was to ask Wahid how Tobbya was
when he came early in the morning. "How is Tobbya?" was the
first thing the king said to Wahid every morning. Such was his love
for Tobbya, a secret he could not share with anybody, not even his
beloved cousin. In the meantime, thousands and thousands of merchants
began to come to the palace in accordance with the king’s
proclamation. Those who had been robbed of their merchandise during
the war came to ask for restitution. Others came to receive the royal
permits which would give them free and safe passages every where.
Every merchant without exception came to the king’s palace. The king
was very happy to see them coming. He told Wahid to look for his man
attentively and ordered the merchants to march in front of him.
Wahid stood at the gate and began looking for his benefactor. He looked and
looked but could not find him the first day. On the morrow he resumed
his search he looked for hours and hours without success. Very late
in the morning, however, a merchant walked slowly in front of him
looking very sad. He was literally in rags and it was evident from
his looks that he had been suffering from hunger. He had been robbed
of all his property and had undergone innumerable difficulties. When
he saw him, Wahid was extremely happy. He jumped and fell on the
knees of the good man. "How are you my lord?" he asked the
merchant clinging onto his knees. "How are you my kind
benefactor?" The countenance of the merchant had much changed
because of the extremities he suffered. But it was not difficult for
Wahid to recognize him.
The merchant was astonished. At first he could not remember where he had
known the young man who was prostrating himself before him in spite
of his honors and illustrious decorations. Later, however, when Wahid
told him his story he remembered clearly what had happened. But he
was not happy because he did not want his good deeds to be publicized
in this world. He wanted to do good for its own sake, not for vain
As soon as he saw that Wahid had found the man he was looking for the
king ordered him to be brought to his presence. He asked him how much
property he had lost during the war, and gave him twice as much.
Moreover, he made him a Negadras (a kind of agent for financial
affairs) in the district where he lived, and sent him home. It is
sometimes true that the deeds of men are visited upon them not only
in the world to come but in this world of men. Once he had fulfilled
his promise to find the merchant for Wahid, the king called him and
his father to his presence in private. "You were weeping day in
and day out at the loss of your beloved son," he said to Wahid’s
father ."But I found him for you and thus made you happy."
He then turned to Wahid and said: "And you Wahid, you were
looking for that good merchant for months on end: you were even sold
into slavery in the process. 1 freed you from bondage and found the
man for you. Now," he added looking at both of them, "now
it is your turn to do something for me in return!" Wahid and his
father were confounded. They could not imagine what they could
possibly do for the king.
"Your Majesty," they told the young king, it is indeed true that we
should do something for you in return. But what on earth could we do
for you except to express our gratitude for all the kindness you have
done to us, and to pray that God may give you a long and prosperous
life? You could fulfill all our wishes because everything is within
your power. But you know we can do nothing for you in return.
Moreover is there anything in this world you could not get if you
wanted; anything that we, your humble servants, could do for you? No,
Your Majesty, no."
"It is true," he replied, "I can do everything I want. I am
king, and my kingdom is wide. Though I am still young and have lost
my mother and father, my god has given me all that I need in this world. There is only one thing I
lack to make my happiness complete, something I can only get with
your help. It is not only kings and rich men that can help others. I
do not ask you what you cannot do for me."
"’Well Your Majesty tell us what you want us to do for you. There is nothing
within our power that we will refuse to do for Your Majesty." A
cock who lives with his hens by picking microscopic grains from the
ground is much happier than a lonely fox who is let loose among sheep
and goats and has plenty to devour! So is my position, though I have
everything at my disposal I am not completely happy as yet. If you
want me to be perfectly happy," he said finally addressing
Wahid’s father " give me the hand of Tobbya and let her be my
wife. And you Wahid " he added looking toward the young boy, "
accept the hand of my beloved cousin and marry her. Once you marry
her you shall be the first man in my kingdom next to myself. This I
promise to you!"
Tobbya’s father was stunned at the unexpected demand of the king. Moreover, he
was worried about Tobbya’s reactions. He knew she cared much for her
religion and feared that she would at once reject the proposal.
Finally he decided to postpone his reply " Give me some time to
think about it," he said to the king and went home. Wahid too,
did not reply. He wanted first to see what would happen to Tobbya.
Tobbya was shocked when she heard of the king’s plans. Indeed she was
surprised. She never wanted a life of comfort and grandeur and could
not at once assent to his proposal. She only thought of the various
possibilities. If she refused, she thought, it would be ungrateful to
the king who had done so much for her and her family. If she accepted
his hand it would be tantamount to denying her religion and would
mean that she preferred the comforts and pleasures of his transient
world to the happiness and eternal glory of the world to come. She
finally decided to refuse the hand of the pagan king whatever the
risks. Before she took any step, however, she prayed her Lord to
protect her father and brother from all dangers that might befall
them because of her decision. She then wrote the following letter to
Your Majesty! I have just heard that you asked my father for my hand.
I was surprised at this sudden and unexpected news. You are a great
king, a rich man under whose power everybody and everything trembles.
All the peoples of the world respect your name and honor You have had
a glorious past and greater things await you in the future. How can
such a man condescend so much as to ask the hand of a poor girl like
me? Indeed it would certainly show great respect for me if I accepted
this unmerited honor But I know that I do not deserve it I cannot be
a suitable match for you. Please leave me alone, Your Majesty.
Moreover, I cannot give my hand to a king who has not been baptized
in the name of Christ. I cannot deny my religion and forfeit the
eternal life and glory that await me in the world to come for the
passing, transient comforts and pleasures of this world. I stretch my
hands towards God, and shall never give my hand willingly to a pagan.
I have pledged myself, Your Majesty, not to marry anyone but a
Christian. I pray Your Majesty to take
this in good spirit. You have indeed done a lot for us : you have
found my brother for us and made us happy. No man can do anything in
return for such kindness. It is only God himself who can reward you
for it. You do not know Christ, but he knows you, and will certainly
reward you for your goodness!" At the end of the letter Tobbya
added "You remember, Your Majesty, you have given us your word
of honor more than once that you would send us to our country in
peace. I pray you, My Lord, to fulfill your promise and to make it
possible for us to return home as soon as possible." She gave
the letter to Wahid and begged him to deliver it to the king in
The king was very sorry at the failure of his proposal. He could make
Tobbya his wife by force, but he knew very well that forced marriage
cannot be a success and that a king should not misuse his powers to
obtain by force whatever he wanted. He also thought of sending his
friends home according to his word of honor But that was
inconceivable! His whole body trembled at the thought of sending
Tobbya away and losing her for ever. He could not stand it. He
preferred Tobbya to everything else. He felt that his kingdom, his
crown, his riches and all his royal grandeur were nothing compared to
Tobbya. His heart beat and he had a terrible fever when he thought
of the possibility of losing Tobbya. He was extremely troubled
by his feeling and began to avoid people. He refused to
give any audiences. It was announced that the king had a fever
and that he would not see anyone. No one except Wahid was allowed
to see him. The king felt almost desperate as regards the possibility
of marrying Tobbya. She had once and for all vowed not to marry him
because he was not a Christian. He spent hours and hours in
meditation. He knew clearly that Tobbya would not change her mind
at all unless he became a Christian. Finally after long
contemplation he decided to embrace the Christian religion. "
Go and tell your sister", he said to Wahid at last, "that I
have decided to become a Christian and marry her. Go and convey to
her my congratulations. Tell her to get a priest for me who would
teach and baptize me in private." Tobbya was very happy at the
news, not because she was going to be a queen, but because God had
used her as a means of converting the great pagan king to
Christianity. She praised the name of God for his kindness.
The king began in earnest preparing for the great day. He announced that
he was going to give a grand feast after some months and ordered
everything to be ready soon: tella and tej were
prepared and many heads of cattle were collected.
At night one of the high priests of the church came from one of the
monasteries and began teaching him in secret the fundamentals of the
Christian faith. He was not the only one who attended this nocturnal
course. Also his cousin participated in the secret lessons. The king
had planned to give her in marriage to Wahid who looked like Tobbya
whom she loved as a disguised boy. He called her in private and said
to her " You must become a Christian if you want to marry your
beloved Tobbya. I myself have decided to be baptized and to marry a
Christian girl." She readily accepted the idea and attended the
secret lessons with him. Both began to understand the teachings of
Christ. In the meantime the king made secret arrangements for all his
weapons of war to have the sign of the cross carved on them. A new
flag and seal was made bearing the signs of the cross instead of the
pagan ones. Now all the royal drums, the trumpets, the shields, and
all the medals and other state decorations bore the cross and other
signs of the Christian faith. The names of the pagan gods were
erased and the name of Christ inscribed in their place. After all the
preparations for the feast were finished the king and his cousin were
baptized by the high priest at midnight one day before the king’s
wedding day. On the morrow, before sunrise, the king ordered his new
flag to be fixed on his tents and the old one to be put on the fire.
Then at day break the big drum began to be heard resounding at the
square in front of the palace with two banners bearing the cross
carried on either side of it. This meant in accordance with usual
practice that a very important proclamation was going to be made and
that everyone should assemble in the main square to listen to the
announcement. Everyone was still in bed, but when the regular and
familiar beats of the drum were heard all hastened to get up and
ran to the square as soon as possible. Some could not
get the time to wash their faces nor even to get dressed properly.
Everyone ran to the square to hear the proclamation. Within a short
time the square was full of thousands of people.
The king watched this from his palace. When he saw the people gathered he
sent his chief herald accompanied by his large group of announcers
down to the square. The king’s chief herald was dressed in special
costumes of honor: a llemd, or short cape elaborately worked with
gold, golden shoes, golden hat, a golden zennar or cartridge belt, a
beautiful gown and green trousers of silk, and carried the document
of the proclamation in one hand and a golden stick in the other. With
such pomp and grandeur the king’s herald reached the square. The
rhythm of the drum became faster and faster signifying that the time
for the big announcement was arriving. The people waited silently for
the proclamation. Everyone was pushing everyone else in frenzy to get
near enough to listen to every word of the announcement. Finally one
herald ascended the platform as usual to pronounce the king’s wishes.
"Listen, listen ye people," he began, "May God render
deaf the ears of the king’s enemies!" After the pronouncement of
this formula with which every proclamation started, the chief Herald
of the king read slowly and in a low voice the words of the
proclamation which were then repeated loudly by the announcer on the
central platform. It ran as follows:
"Oh my people, and my country! There is only one God who created the
world. He created the earth, the heavens, mankind, animals, and all
the other things in the world. There has never been another creator
nor shall any other even come in the future. The only True God was
before the World and will continue to be even after this transient
world passes away. We believe in God the father, God the son, and God
the Holy Ghost who is only one God.
"This Almighty God first created Adam and Eve and made them multiply and
reproduce the human race.
glorified His name for this. For years and years our ancestors
multiplied themselves and filled the face of the earth. They began
living in the different parts of the world and their languages and
ways of life became different .Their beliefs and religions also
became different. Men forgot the True God and began worshiping idols.
But God still loved the world and sent his only Son to the world. The
Son of God came down from the Heavens, was incarnated and born by the
Holy Virgin Mary. He became man like any one of us and taught the
Word of God. He was crucified, and died on the cross. His disciples
went round the world and taught his words. Wherever they taught the
name of God the people understood the words of God and believed in
Christ. They were baptized in the name of Christ. Those who did not
listen to the teachings of the Apostles remained in darkness and
continued to worship idols, evil spirits, trees, and mountains.
"I have also been carrying on this heritage of darkness and ignorance.
But now Jesus Christ has opened my heart. He has pulled me out of the
darkness of ignorance and made me know the only and true creator of
the World. I am convinced in the Truths of the teachings of Christ.
Let it be known to my beloved people that I have become a Christian.
Those who have me and would like to follow me may be baptized; those
who do not love me may do otherwise. Let those of you who accept to
be Christians, move to the right hand side and camp there; those who
prefer their old ways of life may proceed to the left and camp there.
These were the words of the king’s proclamation. There was no one who
wanted to camp at the left hand side. All wanted to be baptized All
decided for Christianity! Every one silently proceeded to the right
hand side and camped in order as if no change was introduced at all.
The king had been worrying that he might be left alone, he was very
happy when he saw that his people honored his new religion and
followed him. He immediately passed a royal decree to the effect that
Christians might possess slaves but no one might keep Christians as
All were saved because of a merchant. All believed in Christ because of a
woman. The whole of Christian Ethiopia was established because of the
words of a king.
A very big das, or temporary pavilion was built for the wedding
ceremony. The tables were set at once. Wat was prepared in a
very large quantity, and tej was kept in hundreds of
containers ready to be served to the royal guests. Areqe was
made available. Many head of cattle were slain. Glasses and birille
were washed and set in order on the tables. Everything was now
ready for the feast.
The king had already prepared "the royal costumes and ornaments for
his queen. A new tent of red silk richly embellished with gold was
pitched for her. A large fence of red clothes, like that for the
king’s tents, was built round the tent. Hundreds of body guards lined
up around it. Tobbya was dressed in her magnificent costume of a
queen and was led into her new tent with a retinue of beautiful
lady-attendants almost as gorgeously dressed as their royal mistress.
A thousand shank-ilia or Negro soldiers armed with shining
swords and wearing their tall red tarbooshes came to join the queen’s
body guard and formed part of Her Majesty’s followers. Tobbya’s camp
looked more active and more beautiful than that of the king himself.
Wahid was made the king’s Ras Bitweded9 and was crowned
with the traditional coronet of his new title. The king ordered all
the high ranking officials of the old Christian Kingdom to camp with
Wahid and become his followers. Wahid’s army and following soon
became the largest after that of the king himself.
It was decided that both the king and Wahid should marry on the same
day. The king’s cousin still thought that she was going to marry
Tobbya, the young handsome boy she loved. The king still did not tell
her the secret of Tobbya’s identity. So on the eve of their wedding
day he took Wahid to her to see her reactions. When she saw Wahid in
his new costumes of honor wearing the coronet of the Ras Bitweded
she never doubted that it was not Tobbya. She longed to see her
beloved so much that as soon as she saw him she burst into tears. She
could not stand the happiness of seeing "Tobbya" once again
after such a long time! she only said to the king that "Tobbya"
must have increased much in height since she saw him last. "His
name is no more Tobbya," the king told her. "I have given
him another name. He is henceforth to be known as Wahid.10 Wahid
means one, or united as one.11 I gave him this name
because on this day the pagans and the Amharas11 (Christians)
are united into one. His original name has been given to my wife. She
is to be known as Tobbya."
"It is fine, Your Majesty," answered his cousin. "It is a good
name. It has a good meaning. I agree."
The wedding was celebrated. The marriage made thousands and thousands of
people happy. The kingdom and the new religion were greatly
As soon as he was thus honored Wahid remembered the son of these kind
people who helped him recover from the wounds inflicted upon him by a
group of merchants. He searched for him, found him, and made him his
And the king composed the following lines in praise of Tobbya:
"Where has such a beauty blossomed,
She must be an angel sent down from heaven;
Created by God with no defects, and no blemishes.
She enchants the whole world, both men and women;
Despite all these blessings of Nature, she knows no pride:
She cut down her beautiful hair in a boy’s fashion;
She renounced her softest dresses of silk to put on a rough
She abandoned her tender Persian carpets, and walked on
foot on the roughest of roads; She left her comfortable throne for a dirty
solitary hill; While free from faults she was accused of dishonorable
acts; She was dismissed from service by the folly of a dwarf
and his infamous accomplices. She was disguised as a boy for the sake of
When her identity was revealed, however, she united two
conflicting kingdoms. Tobbya is a courageous girl—she displayed her
valor in the battle field, And she was the only one who captured the enemy
In response to His Majesty’s poem Tobbya sang the following lines:
”Why all this criticism"?
What has Tobbya done, except to marry a king?
No power of the Christian kings of Abyssinia,
You are now sitting on the great throne.
The Amharic has the double meaning,
" a fine young man " or " a healthy young man."
It is this latter meaning that the merchant understands when the
merchant tells bin. about Wahid.
The Ethiopians beat their chests with their fists as an expression of
sorrow or pity. This is particularly the practice of women,
especially in funeral processions.
Qwancha, a basket container used for keeping milk or other liquids.
Ingib, a bowl-shaped basket used to hold and measure grain.
Hamle, the Ethiopian month of greatest rain.
Sent, the tenth month of the Ethiopian year.
Amelmalo is the final and softest stage in the preparation of cotton
before being spun. The cotton, after being cleaned and softened is
rolled into small pieces of long cylindrical form… These pieces are
called amelmalo and are taken one by one to be spun into fine
threads. Amelmalo is therefore taken as a symbol of refinement and
fineness, often in connection with delicate fingers, because, if
nothing else there is a similarity between a finger and an amelmado.
The Amharic word for "this" is of the feminine gender.
Tobbya therefore understood in mediately that it referred to her and
that it would thus reveal her identity. She immediately warned her
father, however, who cleverly played on the word and used it to refer
not to Tobbya but to the world which in Amharic can be considered
either masculine or feminine.
Ras Bitwoded, a title of the greatest honor Has, literally means head
and Bitwoded, beloved.
Literally, one united, etc.
Amhara is strictly speaking the name of one of the main tribes of
Ethiopia, a tribe which was converted to Christianity in the early
centuries after Christ. Being very militant and having struggled for
centuries with the Muslims on religious and political issues, this
tribe has given its name to the Christian population of central
Ethiopia. The name of the tribe was often used as a synonym for a
Christian. Even today, especially in the highly islamized regions of
Eastern Ethiopia the common people use the term Amhara for all
This refers, of course, to the King’s love for Tobbya.
The mateb is the piece of cloth worn by Christians as a sign of their
faith, term is often used us a symbol of Christianity.
Not only Adam and Eve but also all the birds and the other animals
She is an object of pride to all who love her,
She won a crown for herself for all her troubles.
Like a plant in the dry season.
Every one withered under the effect of your beauty.
Let every one be enchanted and allured,
If that leads him to the worship of God!
I have discovered something unique in your personality.
So artistically made by God, you trouble the hearts of men
However much I learn and understand the Gospels,
I cannot believe that there is anyone on earth as beautiful
Millions of Amhara hosts dispersed before him;
Rases and Dejazmatches were reduced by him;
He disposed many powerful kings;
No weapons of war overpowered him;
People trembled at the news of his approach,
He crushed oxen into pieces,
No chain was strong enough to harness him.
He was literally a lion, an uncontrollable lion,
But now he is tame, and tied down by a Mateb.13
Not even the Turks who manufactured arms.
No one could break the power of your Fathers.
You are very young, inexperienced in the arts of war,
You do not know what to do,
You dispersed your large army at the words of a priest."
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