The City Fifty Years Ago,
By RICHARD K. P. PANKHURST
Visitors to Addis Ababa at the turn of the century were far from imagining that Menelik’s capital founded a few years earlier was destined within the space of little more than fifty years to become the most populous city between Cairo and Johannesburg. Ethiopia’s dramatic defeat of the Italians at the battle of Adowa in 1896 had not fully dispelled the doubt as to whether an independent African state could survive in the age of the ” scramble for Africa.” Moreover, most European observers believed that the Ethiopian capital was only a temporary headquarters of the monarch and would be abandoned within a few years, as had been the case of earlier Shoan capitals, such as Ankober, Angolala and Entotto.
According to Guebre Selassie’s Chronicle of the Reign of Menelik, the houses at Entotto, though well constructed, were very cold. At the end of the rainy season in 1885 (European calendar), the Emperor and Empress accompanied by their retinue descended the mountain to enjoy the hot springs of Filwoha where a large number of tents were erected. The Empress Taitu admiring the beauty of the scenery from the door of her tent and remarking the softness of the climate, asked the Emperor to give her land to build a house there. He replied, ” Begin by building a house ; after that I will give you a country.” ” Where shall I build my house ? ” she inquired. ” In this spot,” he replied, ” which my father, King Sahle Selassie, surrounded with a fence : go there, and begin your house.” On that spot Sahle Selassie like the prophet Mikias made the following prophecy : One day as he sat under that great tree, not far from Meouat, hydromel was brought to him while he was playing chess, as was his custom. Suddenly he said, ” One day my grandson will build here a house and make of you a city.” ” It was,” the Chronicle declares, ” the will of God,” for that very week Taitu decided to construct the house ; her servant received orders to start at once ; the work began, and not long afterwards a beautiful edifice was erected. In the following year, again according to the Chronicle, Taitu left Entotto and installed herself in her new house by the hot springs. Then began the building of the town. Every chief was allocated an allotment on which to build his dwellings. ” The country was beautiful. The army loved staying there. And it was Woizero Taitu herself who ordered that the town should be given the name of Addis Ababa.”
The diary of Jules Borelli for 1887 contains a number of interesting allusions to the movement of Menelik’s court ; it suggests that the new site was only slowly gaining favor On June 22 the diarist declares his intention of visiting Menelik who is apparently at Filwoha. On October 13 he reports that the Emperor has again left for the springs. On the following day, however, he says that he went there and found that Menelik and all his retinue except the Abuna had returned to the Ghebbi or Palace at Entotto. The next day he refers to the Abuna camping at the ” prairy of Filwoha.” On October 28 and 30 he relates that he has met several members of the Court at the springs. On November 3 he records a rumor he has heard that Menelik is returning from Filwoha to his Ghebbi at Entotto. On the following day his entry contains a reference to the existence of two royal residences, one at Entotto, the other at Filwoha. ” Menelik,” he goes on, ” has decided that Filwoha shall henceforth bear the name of ‘ Addis Ababa ‘ ” (or ‘New Flower ‘). Borelli’s comment is skeptical in the extreme ; he remarks that Taitu’s ” fantasy,” as he calls it, will soon pass ; the Emperor, he adds, had first gone to Filwoha several years earlier to enjoy the hot springs ; then he had abandoned them, and only returned there on Taitu’s account.
The Ethiopian Chronicle tells that at about this time ” magnificent works ” were commenced, among them a house ” worthy of admiration for the government.” At the end of 1892 work began on the Palace, the foundation stones of the Elfin or main dwelling, being laid on 13 Hedar, and of the Aderash, or principal reception hall, nine days later. Building proceeded so fast that it has been said no fewer than fifty edifices were erected in three months. The Chronicle declares that by 1894 the Palace was virtually complete ; Menelik ordered that the waters of high Entotto be brought to the Ghebbi by pipe ; the piping system, which cost 7,000 thalers, made available two fully adequate supplies of water, one for drinking, the other for washing purposes. The latter supply, declares the Chronicle, was used to water the Palace gardens, as well as to wash the clothes of the Court and guards. Until that time it had been necessary to go down to the near-by stream on washing day.
The Chronicle subsequently relates that in 1897 Menelik brought European engineers and workers to build in the Palace compound a huge Adarash or reception hall with a three gabled roof. Though it was about 60 meters in length and 30 wide, the Emperor’s army could not all enter at the same time. One man, it appears, jokingly expressed the hope that the whole sky might be a single piece of bread which he could have all for his own, but his friend replied, ” If you had such a piece of bread, God would send you as many table companions as there are stars ! ” As the number of soldiers increased Menelik arranged for the workers to build a new Adarash six times as wide. A number of other houses were also erected for preparing and storing bread, meat and hydromel. The three-gabled Adarash, the Chronicle explains, contained a single huge room, and outside on each roof one saw fifty goullelat each with an ostrich egg. During the rains water poured into the carefully built gutters like a torrent. Inside the building sixteen clusters of electric lights illumined the hall so brightly that it was said one was dazzled as by the rays of the sun. There were also windows with red, green, yellow and blue panes, as well as a stained-glass window depicting the Cross of the Apostles surrounded by vine branches and squares of divers colors The roof was supported within by thirty-four pillars of various colors while the walls were covered with marble on which representations of vine branches had also been painted. The whole presented a most splendid aspect. When the work of construction was finished, a superb throne was placed in position which shone as gold and was surmounted by a crown, stars and other ornaments which gave the ensemble a ” marvelous appearance.” This wonderful edifice, the Chronicle declares, could hold six thousand nine hundred and eighty seven persons ; bread was brought by some hundred and twenty waiters, hydromel by between a hundred and a hundred and thirty and meat by as many again. It was customary for two doors to be used so that one assembly of diners could enter as another left, the banquet being consumed not only by the Emperor’s soldiers, but by peasants who had come to receive justice, as well as by many other visitors. Menelik was ever a town-planner. In the Ethiopian year 1893 (European calendar, September, 1900 to September, 1901) he laid the foundations of a new town at Mietta ; the construction, Guebre Sellassie declares, was superb, above all the Palace which was built in a very unusual style. The new town, according to H. Le Roux, owed its name, like that of Addis Ababa, to Empress Taitu who chose for it Addis Alem, or New World. The title was significant.
The Chronicle says it was found ” less beautiful” than Addis Ababa and was only intended as a winter capital to avoid the heavy rains of Addis Ababa and also to obtain a better supply of wood. Foreigners, however, long thought that the forests surrounding Addis Alem would eventually induce Menelik to make that town the capital of the new Ethiopian world. The Italians were so fully convinced of this that they went so far as to start building a legation at Addis Alem. It is interesting in this connection to examine the writings of contemporary foreign observers who were almost unanimous in proclaiming the impossibility of Addis Ababa remaining the capital of Ethiopia. Lieut.-Colonel Wingate, who accompanied the Rennell Rodd mission to Menelik, reported, as a result of his observations in 1897, that it was widely declared the capital would soon move to Mietta on the west of Entotto. Gradually, he related, all the wood in the vicinity of the capital had been cut down and consumed, and it had been necessary to start using the forest of Mount Menagesha some fifteen miles away : ” When the distance from the forest becomes inconveniently great the capital must be removed elsewhere.” Henry Vivian, writing four years later, declared wood was then being brought a distance of sixteen miles and it “is certain that within a very short space of time Menelik will be obliged to shift his capital once more to the neighborhood of fresh woods.” A. B. Wylde, reporting at about the same time, said that, having revisited the town twice within eighteen months, ” I found it had grown larger . . . perhaps this immense straggling settlement has seen its best days, and some new place will be chosen as headquarters, as it is now nearly impossible to procure firewood for the wants of the inhabitants. … As long as a large standing army at headquarters is kept up, this settlement is shortly doomed.” Foreign commentators who foretold the demise of Addis Ababa had in mind the fate of Entotto which had been almost completely abandoned though Menelik and his Court still paid occasional visits to the Church of St. Raguel there. Gleichen reported that at Entotto he had only seen a handful of huts, the ruin of ” an exceedingly strong fortress ” and the two churches of St. Raguel and St. Mariam, while Vivian declared ” only two churches and a few brown ruins ” remained of a town ” which must have comprised fifty thousand souls.” Menelik decided, however, to save Addis Ababa, which was probably essential if his plans for the modernization and development of Ethiopia were to be carried to fruition. The Chronicle relates an incident which occurred during the rainy season of 1902. Menelik had left Addis Ababa on account of the rains, but on arriving at Addis Alem he ordered the edifice which had been begun for the use of the Court should be converted into a church. ” The kingdom of heaven,” he declared, ” is worth more than the kingdom of earth.” By thus offering to heaven the new church, fashioned as the Chronicle says in a new style which had never before been seen in Ethiopia, Menelik retained Addis Ababa as the capital of his kingdom on earth. Immediately after the rains the Emperor gave orders to construct a road from Addis Alem to the capital which the Chronicle likens to those of the Ferengi (Europeans), observing that it made possible for Addis Ababa to obtain an adequate supply of wood and other necessities. The permanence of the capital was thus assured.
Later a more prolific source of timber was discovered in the swift growing eucalyptus imported from Australia. When felled to the ground this remarkable tree quickly pushes up new stems as strong and virile as the original. The decision to hold fast to Addis Ababa marked a new era in Ethiopian history. In the old days it had been extremely difficult to administer a large empire from a single center because the mountainous nature of the terrain made speedy and efficient communications extremely difficult and because the relatively large army, accompanied by its camp followers, proved a heavy drain on the available supplies of fuel and foodstuffs. It had therefore been customary to have a series of temporary capitals, though this necessarily militated against the development of a more scientific system of administration. To develop a modern state Menelik had to have a fixed capital.
Addis Ababa was all the while evolving, reflecting the progress and development of the country as a whole. It was thus the scene of daring innovation which went hand in hand with ceaseless expansion. The Chronicle tells us that at the turn of the century talk began of constructing a railway. The telephone between the capital and Harar, which had been begun by French engineers in 1897, was working by 1899. P. H. G. Powell-Cotton, in a book published in 1902, has left a description of the first telegraph office, which, he says, was under the supervision of a Swiss engineer, M. Muhle. Situated in a large circular building it contained ” the latest inventions in telegraphic and telephonic apparatus” lying side by side with ” a few amole or salts and a pile of cartridge cases (both empty and full), which have been received in payment for messages sent. Beside the instruments in use, materials of all sorts are scattered about—cells, insulators, receivers, call-bells, and so on ; for here are kept the supplies for the smaller stations between this and Ha The Ethiopian year 1896 (September, 1903 to September, 1904) was another milestone in the progress of the Ethiopian State. In that year, according to the Ethiopian Chronicle, the capital saw a steam-engine for the first time. It was actually a small locomotive which ran between Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa. Before the year was out Menelik had constructed a mint for the production the new Ethiopian currency which had appeared in 1893 to replace the old Maria Theresa dollar, but had hitherto been minted in Paris.
Menelik was successfully laying the foundations of the future in both an administrative and an urban sense. Vivian noted, for example, that Addis Ababa already covered ” some fifty square miles ” and contained “a very large population which has never been number.” By mule ” three-quarters of an hour at least are necessary for a pilgrimage from the British Agency to the Palace and as much again to the market,” though ” in either of these journeys you must cross three or four deep ravines with stony, precipitous banks and a torrent bed full of slippery boulders.” Vivian’s account is revealing also in that it depicts something approaching a fervor of constructional work. He declares with surprise that he had seen a newly erected rail which ” had been laid for the purpose of conveying goods and building material to and fro.” The Emperor, he relates, had also introduced wheelbarrows to speed up progress, though often the laborers ” only made use of them when they were under their master’s eye. Directly they were left to their own devices, they hastened to return to their accustomed method of carrying things on their backs Wylde describes the capital’s stone quarry where laborers were at work blasting lime-stone rock while Arab and Indian masons were dressing stone. ” These men, ” he declared, ” had come from Aden and were getting much higher wages than they could procure there. They told me they also received rations from the king, and that they were saving nearly all their pay. The blocks of stone they were dressing were intended for the construction of the king’s private dwelling, and this work and the road-making were the first examples of what the present ruler is doing to improve his surroundings.” The chief stores and artillery depot were also built of stone. A more significant influence on Addis Ababa architecture was Alfred Ilg, whom Menelik had appointed Conseiller d’Etat. Ilg popularized wooden balconies, reminiscent of the chalets of his native Switzerland, there by creating a style of wood and stone building which was to remain for a generation to come, thus giving the Ethiopian capital a very distinctive appearance.
By examining the contemporary descriptions of the new town it is possible to build up a fairly comprehensive picture of it. Wylde, for example, recognized that its site was well chosen, from the point of view of its water supply. He observed that two streams, which descended from the highlands to the north and west and met in a valley about three miles to the south east of the Ghibbi, always contained ” a plentiful supply of water” which enabled the Palace to be supplied by pipe, ” the stream utilized being tapped at a higher elevation, so it requires no pumping.” Count Gleichen was equally impressed by the climate ; he declared it was ” perfect,” and far superior to bleak and hilly Entotto which was only reached by a very hilly road and tended to be far too cold at night, as well as being from time to time the scene of thunderstorms, perhaps attracted by neighboring ridges of ironstone.
All the travelers agreed that the most conspicuous sight on approaching the capital, and the one which first caught the eye, was the Emperor’s enclosure built at the end and on the highest part of an out-jutting lower spur of the Entotto mountains. There they caught their first glimpse of Menelik’s red-tiled Palace, surrounded by a plantation of sycamore trees. Captain M. S. Wellby, who arrived just when Menelik was about to set forth on one of his campaigns, declares that ” on all sides ” he saw ” extraordinary numbers of mules, ponies and donkeys grazing on the excellent pasturage, and in the most suitable spots villages of canvas had been pitched, all indicative of the king’s impending march into the Tigre.”
Wylde’s account, which is complementary to that of Wellby, declares that ” at the foot of the Ghibbi there is lower land in which are situated the hot springs of Filwoha, generally with a thin cloud of steam hanging over them, and quite close to these a small pond and water meadow belonging to the king . . . We could see groups of soldiers’ tents dotted over the landscapes belonging to the men of the numerous military leaders of other districts that had come to pay their respects to the king, and through my glasses I could see a constant stream of people both mounted and on foot going to and from the king’s palace, which seemed densely crowded with a mass of specks like the smallest of ants, in fact the hill might be likened to an ant-heap with its busy workers going backwards and forwards.”
Lieut-Colonel Reginald Wingate has left a detailed account of the Ghibbi at this time :— “The dwelling-house is called the Elfin, a two-storeyed white-washed building about forty-five feet high ; the roof is red-tiled, and the various windows and balconies are painted in several colors—green, yellow, red and blue. Besides this building there are : the aderash, or principal hall of reception, a large oblong construction capable of accommodating six hundred or seven hundred persons ; the saganet or clock-tower, where the Emperor dispenses justice on two days during the week, and the gouda, or depot, a white building which serves as the Emperor’s storehouse.”
In addition to these buildings there are, within the royal enclosure, the workshops, arsenal, carpenters’ shop, etc., and a private chapel. ” All around the Ghibbi are grouped the enclosures of the principal men of State, officers, and others, the importance of the individual being measured by the size of the enclosure and the number of the smaller huts grouped around it.
“All the huts in the town are of the same form, circular or elliptical, with thatched conical roofs ; there are very few two-storied buildings ; but some of the houses, more notably those of the Europeans, are oblong in shape, and the roofs are of the ordinary shape, with three or four small peaks capped with circular moulds, serving the double purpose of keeping the thatch in position, and of ornament. Almost every Ras or Governor of a province, has his compound in Addis Ababa, and the hut accommodating generally an insufficient number of followers, it is supplemented by tents of all shapes and sizes.”
The capital therefore presents the appearance of a gigantic camp, and this is actually what it is. “Nevertheless Addis Ababa was never conceived in the military terms of previous Ethiopian capitals. Gleichen, for example, was careful to note that the old fortress at Entotto had possessed two parapets and had been surrounded by a ditch which ” formed a complete defence in itself” ; the Addis Ababa Ghibbi, on the other hand, presented no such marked features of defence : ” all it has consists of a palisade about fifteen feet high—not particularly strong—and two internal stone walls. Perhaps it is because Menelik wisely desires to rule by love and not by fear.” Gleichen has given us a glimpse of the old St. George’s Cathedral which was later replaced by the one which stands in Addis Ababa today. ” The Church,” he tells us, ” was of the ordinary circular shape, on a hill about a mile from the Palace and close by the market-place.” It possessed an elaborate episcopal gilt cross on the top, and inside ” pictures of all sorts of sacred subjects.” Beside the work of Ethiopians depicting the lives of notable saints there was ” a representation of the Day of Judgment, the Emperor (an excellent portrait) occupying a prominent position amid the prophets, saints and other worthies.” There were in addition four or five pictures presented by the Russian Red Cross Mission as gifts from the Tsar : ” good modern ecclesiastical oil paintings of the Greek Church.”
Another important church described by foreign travelers was the Sellassie, or Trinity, Church. This P. H. G. Powell-Cotton found, was a thatched circular building surmounted by an elaborate gilt cross. ” A raised, open verandah surrounded the sacred edifice, the wall of which was hung with colored chintz. Several large doors led into the interior, the center of which was occupied by a square structure reaching to the roof, thus leaving but a narrow space outside it for worshipers This is the holy of holies, in which the ark containing the holy books is kept, and may only be entered by one of the officiating priests. The whole exterior of this shrine was covered with highly colored religious prints, pinned on to the wall. Among these were two or three European paintings on canvas and a few specimens of Ethiopian art. The most interesting portion of the church was the vestry, situated in a sort of crypt. Here were piled in open chests, hung on nails or cords, or stacked in corners, the most extraordinary collection of gorgeous-colored vestments, mitres, crutches, umbrellas, sacred books, sistrums, drums, incense-burners, processional crosses, and all the properties used in the elaborate ritual of the Ethiopian Church, in fact a perfect museum of curiosities . . . How I should have liked to spend a week turning over and examining these treasures ! but no such luck : the priests hustled us out, after permitting us only a hurried glimpse at them.” Foreign observers were always keen on visiting the market which was held on a slope of the hill going down toward the Palace. The market conducted business every day except Sunday ; the busiest day was Saturday, when from the early morning villagers came from all quarters and might be seen driving their donkeys and mules laden with goods for sale. Powell-Cotton who knew many of the most famous markets of the East, declared that of Addis Ababa ” the most interesting. There one obtains a truer notion of the productive powers of the country in both raw materials and manufactured articles, and can learn better what foreign goods find a ready sale among the people than in any of the many markets I have seen in the four continents. To the market-place at Addis Ababa come grains and spices, peppers and condiments from every corner of the kingdom, coffee from Harar and Lake Tsana, cotton from the banks of the Blue Nile, gold from Beni Shangul, and civet from the Oromo country, while salt from the far north of Tigre is the current change for a dollar. Fine cotton shammas, heavy burnooses of black, blanket-like cloth, jewelery and arms, saddlery and ploughs, all are here.” Vivian was ” amazed by the density of the mob ” who seemed to allow ” scarcely a square foot to spare anywhere.” The vast concourse was made up of a multitude of persons sitting in the open air in rows according to the materials they had to sell, their goods either displayed on the ground, or in shallow baskets in front of them. ” Purchasers and loafers,” Powell-Cotton relates ” wander about between the rows, and a noisy hum of voices goes on all day. Up aloft in a straw sentry-box sits the Nagadi Ras, or head of the merchants, whose business it is to superintend the market, put a stop to quarrels and settle all disputes that are brought before him.” The greater part of the market was devoted to the sale of the commonest articles and provisions, grain, grass, sheepskins, fuel, cottons from America, Manchester or India, and German and Italian hardware.
Captain Wellby considered one of the most interesting corners was where hundreds of ponies were assembled. Their finer points being discussed by vendors and experts. He also had something to say of the woodsellers who often had to carry their ” turbs ” or long pieces of wood from a distance of fifteen miles,” the sellers of honey who sold their wares at a dollar for 8 lbs., and the various vendors of grain who brought in principally barley and tieff, but also peas, oats, rice and linseed. ” There are also for sale,” he added, ” silver trinkets, cloth, beads, cartridge-belts, files, skins, leather straps (machanya), saddles, inferior knives, various articles made of iron, hardware, and so forth, and lastly fowls, sheep and cattle. One is much struck by the appearance of the women who throng the market, for many of them are exceedingly pretty.”
Power-Cotton’s description of the market is perhaps the most exhaustive. The jewelery section, he declares contained ” thick silver-rings, which are threaded and worn round the neck, women’s ear-rings in the form of highly ornamented solitaire studs, generally gilt, and curious ear-rings worn only by men who have killed an elephant, which are fashioned like elaborate finger-rings, sometimes with little chains pendant to them. There are also hairpins with filigree heads, like those used for women’s hats at home, tiny ear-picks in the form of spoons with handles of variegated shapes and patterns, bracelets and rings, necklets of fine chain, and little charm-boxes as pendants, as well as crosses, plain or of filigree-work. . . . “Next to the raw-hide market, where you may usually find some leopard skins and occasionally a lion’s pelt, are established the vendors of imported dressed and dyed leather, colored to bright reds and greens for the decoration of saddles, bridles, and cartridge belts. There also are for sale the large, soft sleeping-skins which every Ethiopian loves to possess, and leather sacks for holding personal luggage while traveling by mule. In the crowded corner devoted to the sword-sellers you may see a petty chief, with one or two trusty followers, testing the blade of the big, straight sword taken from the Dervishes, which will fetch as much as ten to fifteen dollars. Close by, other purchasers are examining the curve of an Ethiopian sword in its bright red scabbard, or perhaps choosing one from a pile of French blades made for the Ethiopian market. . . .”
Nearby at another stall, are exposed for sale circular convex shields of black buffalo hide, those for the populace ornamented by geometrical figures stamped on the leather, while those borne by officers are decorated with strips and bosses of silver, or of silver-gilt for the higher ranks. . . . “Near the top of the hill one long alley is devoted to cotton goods from America, India and Manchester. Lancashire, I regret to say, supplies by far the smallest quantity, for the English manufacturer will neither make the quality nor supply the lengths required in Ethiopia. ” The money-changers’ quarter,” he continues, ” is perhaps one of the most striking, for instead of piles of copper, coin and cowries, as in India, one sees stacks of amole—the Ethiopian currency. These are bars of crystallized salt, some ten inches long by rather more than two inches wide in the center, with slightly tapering ends bound round by a band of rush. In the capital four of them are equivalent to the dollar, but their value varies in different parts of the country. . . .”
The red pepper and the butter bazaars were not places in which to linger, the former on account of the particles getting into one’s eyes and nostrils and acting like pungent snuff, and the latter on account of the strong, rancid smell. . . . “Beside all the commodities I have named there were to be found, each in its own market, coffee-beans, sugar, wax and honey, tej and tella (mead and beer), stored in great jars called gombos, large shawls called shammas, iron ploughshares, knives and spears, rhinoceros-hide whips, bamboos for tent-poles, bundles of split wood ten feet long for building huts, little bundles of long, tough grass for thatching or larger ones for fodder, overgrown faggots for fuel, tobacco for chewing and in the form of snuff (for the Ethiopian does not smoke), every kind of grain for bread, and divers condiments for flavoring”
“On a flat stretch of ground on the southern side of the market is the mule and horse fair ; here may be seen horses galloped by wild-looking men, with their shammas streaming behind them and the rhinoceros-hide whip in full play. Presently the owner espies a likely purchaser, and instantly the horse is stopped and thrown back on its haunches. Mules are being examined for traces of old sore backs, and the air is filled with the shouting, wrangling, and bargaining inseparable from the buying and selling of a horse. The Ethiopians have an excellent rule, that before a bargain is complete, the vendor and the purchaser must together lead their beast before an official, who registers their names, witnesses the paying over of the money, and exacts a fee from both parties to the contract. No horse may be sold for more than fifty dollars, but a mule may go up to three hundred.” The author of the above catalogue elsewhere discusses the foreign traders who had found their way to the new capital. There were already, he declares, four or five French merchants, the most important being M. Savore who had just opened a new house and shop, ” a good many Greeks,” who dealt largely in liquors and scents, a few Armenians, one of whom was a baker, and a Swiss watchmaker. The premises of the Greek and Indian merchants were mainly situated to the south-east of the town, just below the market. ” The latest arrivals ” were several new Indian firms. The proprietors owing to their thrifty habits were ” rapidly taking the trade from both French and Greeks, and finding a ready sale for goods in respect of which it was thought there would be no demand. Instead of sending cash to the coast they lay it out in ivory, civet and gold, and so obtain a double profit.” One of the most interesting Greeks was Balambaras Giorgis, a curio dealer, who had served in Menelik’s victorious army at Adowa, the only European to do so. Another Ethiopianised foreigner was an Irishman, McKelvie who had remained in the country since the time of Theodore, had married an Ethiopian wife and dressed in a shamma.
Vivian corroborated this account of the success of the Indians ; he declared they were ” completely cutting out the French merchants who have already begun to complain bitterly about the competition. The fact is that an Indian can travel about with one servant and a minimum of baggage, whereas a French merchant travels like a prince, with a great retinue and every conceivable luxury. Moreover, the Frenchmen give themselves ridiculous airs. One of their shopkeepers, who had been summoned to the Palace, sent in after ten minutes to say that he could not wait any longer. The Indians also derive considerable assistance from the weekly post, which any British subject is allowed to use, while the French postal service is unsafe and irregular.” ” The French,” he added, ” expect too much too quickly ” and were not unknown to adopt ” sharp practice, which may pay for the moment, but cannot answer permanently. … I had occasion to visit the store of one of the leading French traders. … He showed me several bottles, and I noticed on the lower ones some very elaborate labels : ‘ Grande Marque Extra Fine,’ and all the rest of it. Moreover, many bottles were done up in wire-netting, like the very choicest and oldest brands in Europe. My curiosity was pricked as to the market which the man could hope to find, but he said with a smile, ‘ I don’t recommend those. They are intended for the natives, and contain the filthiest muck you ever imagined.’ This struck me as a very eloquent, as well as a very frank summary of French colonial trade.”
Powell-Cotton noted that Menelik’s new Custom House was near the market, its entrance being next to the horse and mule fair. ” A strong wooden gate,” he records, ” gives access to a yard, with a large building in the center where the officials sit in an open verandah, receiving dues and granting receipts. Opposite them lies a long range of buildings, in which the merchandise is stored until it has been valued and the Customs are paid. Lying about in odd corners are elephant tusks, some whole, others sawn in half, while outside the verandah are piles of forty or fifty each, among them some splendid specimens.”
Foreign writers also naturally paid considerable attention to the residences of the diplomatic missions, which, as Vivian observed, were then divided into two camps, French and Russian against English and Italian, all concerning themselves with ” little else than political intrigue.” Menelik was always generous in granting land to foreign legations so they were invariably surrounded by extensive property. The British Residency, as it was called, was situated on a kind of terrace, at the foot of a steep hill, a narrow but steep ravine separating it from the Russian a quarter of a mile off. Wellby noted that it was ” close to Ras Makonnen’s own important-looking dwelling” and ” well-fitted for a cricket or polo ground.” He seemed slightly disappointed however that because ” almost every tree had been cut up for firewood and the supply had to be carried on men’s heads from a greater distance day by day ” it had not yet been possible to build anything more pretentious than a round wattle hut. Powell-Cotton elaborated this account. ” A turf wall some four feet high,” he noted, ” encloses about ten acres of land, which space is again divided by another turf wall into two unequal portions. In the upper part of the larger enclosure were two tukuls of the usual Ethiopian pattern, but with European doors and windows. These were the private dwellings of Captain Harrington (the British representative) and Mr. Baird, his secretary. Slightly nearer the entrance, and to the left, were the two reception-tents, side by side. The first was luxuriously furnished with arm-chairs and lounges, the tables piled with the latest papers and periodicals from home, and with files of Reuter’s telegrams, which are forwarded by camel-post from Zeila to Harar, and thence by telephone. The second and larger served as the mess-tent, where, when seated at a perfectly appointed meal, it was hard to realize you were in Ethiopia. On the further side of the large tents were other tukuls for Mr. Beru, the interpreter, Mr. Wakeman, the doctor, Bradley, the groom, and the cook-house, while behind these were yet others which contained stores and the treasure and ammunition, guarded by Sudanese police. The smaller half of the compound was divided into four sections—one a narrow strip at the back, where the Sudanese with their households lived in little huts, next to this a large grass field, in which the ponies were tethered and where the dhobie spread his washing. Adjoining this came the stable-yard, which contained a long, pent-roofed building, supported down the center by poles, and capable of holding thirty horses ; in front of this structure were other tukuls, comprising a harness-room and fodder stores. The last enclosure, lying nearest the city, was filled with yukuls for the Ethiopian servants and their wives, in the largest of which grinding corn and making the native bread was continuously going on.”
Somewhat more imposing was the Russian Residency which Wellby describes as ” a white-washed and suitable house, commanding cheery views of all the neighboring country.” Guarded by a tame ostrich which nevertheless sometimes occasioned the visitor some fright, the Russians kept up considerable state and sported a Cossack guard. Vivian declared it was no uncommon sight to see a long procession of Russian soldiers, ” fair men rigged out in the regular Russian uniform with peaked caps.” There were also five Russian doctors in gorgeous uniform who ran a Red Cross hospital where people were attended free at an annual cost of £7,000 to the Tsar, and much to the disgust of English writers who looked on the whole affair with considerable jealousy and made many cynical remarks about the ” white Tsar’s love ” for Ethiopia. Addis Ababa’s European community was at that time also discussing the marriage to a Russian officer to an Ethiopian lady, this being, as Powell-Cotton said, ” the first time one of their number had gone through the religious ceremony with an Ethiopian. . . . When the bridegroom, an officer in the Imperial Russian Guard, asked Menelik’s permission to marry her and take her to Russia, the reply was, ‘ Certainly, if you have your Emperor’s leave to do so.’ ”
Captain Ciccodicola’s Italian Residency was in the opinion of Powell-Cotton ” the most luxurious dwelling in Addis Ababa.” The Italian being anxious to regain for his country some at least of the prestige lost at Adowa was determined to make a show. ” As he was anxious to have a suitable place for the Italian Residency as soon as possible, and the collection of timber for a large house in Addis Ababa is a matter of much time and difficulty, he decided to buy an existing compound with two houses. These he converted into dining and drawing rooms, connected by passages with a circular reception hall, from which the sleeping apartments and offices opened out. The whole formed one of the most picturesque yet comfortable dwellings I have ever seen. Entering through a gatehouse into a courtyard, we left our mules and attendants, and then proceeded through a second gate ; on either side was a raised open tukul, in one of which the sentry on guard beat a gong to announce our approach. We then found ourselves in a second courtyard encircled by a covered way and with beautifully laid out flower-beds in the center At the further end was the reception hall, hung with leopard skins and trophies of arms. . . . This apartment, with its Persian carpets, couches covered with polar-bear skins, statuary, pictures, precious curios and works of art, its shaded lamps and candles, was pervaded by an atmosphere of luxury and refinement.” Ciccodicola, Vivian observes, had moreover been empowered to spend Italian secret service funds on an extremely lavish scale and was availing himself of the opportunity. Mr. Legarde, the French representative, whom Menelik had created Duke of Entotto, also had an important residence, for France at this time was the country with which Menelik had greatest contact. Wellby describes the residence as being surrounded by a cage-like stockade which ” not only shut out most effectively hyena and jackal, but also most of the sun’s life-giving rays,” while Powell-Cotton describes the Legation as ” a large, oblong tukul, with no visible windows.” Inside, he declares, ” it was so dark that at first we could hardly see the chairs we were invited to take. As our eyes became accustomed to the gloom, we found we were seated in an apartment draped throughout in red and blue, and decorated at intervals with gilt stars and shields which displayed the tricolour of France. In the center of the straight wall, facing the semi-circle in which we sat, stood a gilt throne, raised on a kind of platform and surmounted by a canopy flanked by curtains. On either side, on the lower level of the floor, a small chair was set. The whole effect—added to the dim, religious light—was distinctly weird.” Such, Vivian commented, was the state kept up by ” the representative of republican France.”
The Ethiopian Chronicle relates that in 1905 the Bank of Ethiopia was chartered, and in the same year a fire which destroyed many of the Court buildings enabled the replacement of wooden edifices by stone. Soon afterwards St. George’s Cathedral was rebuilt in a new octagonal style. The architect in charge was the Greek Orphanies, and the engineer, an Italian, Castagna ; Greek workers were also employed. A steam-engine arrived from Europe to transport the stones required for this and other new edifices. A year or so later the Itieguie hotel was built near the new Cathedral, ” a large house for strangers,” as the Chronicle calls it, where the finest foods of both Europe and Ethiopia were served. In 1907-8 the first Ethiopian cabinet was formed, for as the Chronicle says, Menelik wished to implant into the country European customs. The new Menelik II School opened its doors in October, 1907, and reached a hundred students in the following year. In December, 1907, the first motor-car was driven into the capital by two Englishmen, Bentley and Halle, who were soon followed by other drivers.
Clifford Halle, who penned an account of his arrival in what would be today considered a very primitive car, has something to say of the Ethiopian capital at this time. He refers to several Ethiopian churches built in stone ” and saw in the distance the larger houses of the European merchants.” Menelik, he goes on, ” had evidently made good use of his steam-rollers, for the macadamized roads were excellent.” The Emperor impressed him as extremely alive to modern needs. ” He was quite enlightened,” Halle notes, ” to the advantages of a railway up to his capital, and the consequent increase of trade and of the wealth that would follow ; but he was equally well aware that foreign capital meant foreign interests, and sooner or later foreign soldiers following those interests. He questioned Bentley as to the impressions he had gained of the Japanese people, and let it be seen that he had closely followed the marvelous ascent of that great nation into a world power.” As soon as the two Englishmen had presented the car Menelik was not content merely to inspect the new arrival ; he was almost at once in the front seat with the driver proceeding at top speed, ” the old Emperor laughing and puffing for breath, with his goggleless eyes streaming, as happy as a schoolboy, while the now galloping escort was left somewhere on the horizon.” Though there is no record of the Empress joining the expedition, she spoke kindly to the driver and expressed satisfaction that he differed from so many ferenge who talked big and did little. The face of the capital was changing. At the turn of the century Wylde had complained that Addis Ababa was little more than ” a conglomeration of hamlets and huts with hardly a decent house to be seen anywhere.” ” The whole settlement,” he added ” seems to have been built in a hurry.” Robert Skinner, who led the first American mission to the Court of Menelik and reported only a few years later in 1906, saw a city already transformed. The approach, he declared was ” grand ; high mountains were on both sides and ahead of us, and we marched between fields of waving grain. . . . Having entered the city we found ourselves traveling over one of the smooth and well-built roads with which Menelik is introducing modern civilization.”