Home / Q: Was Italy Defeated in Battle By An African Nation?

Q: Was Italy Defeated in Battle By An African Nation?

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A: Amazingly enough, yes. You see, by 1882 Italy had formed a colony in Eritrea in northeast Africa; and then went about negotiating a friendship treaty with Eritrea’s neighbor Ethiopia. During the negotiations, Italy got it in their heads that it would be a good idea to simultaneously invade the African nation so as to seal this pact.

The Ethiopians didn’t care much for this maneuver, and under Emperor Menelik II they gave the Italians a good trouncing in the Battle of Adova in 1896. The loss obviously didn’t sit well with Italy because in 1936 they attacked Ethiopia again. This time it was literally airplanes and tanks versus spears, and the Italians held on for five years.

With the outbreak of World War II, though, British troops and Ethiopian freedom fighters drove the Italians out of Ethiopia, and expelled them from Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, too. With their tails between their legs, the Italians scurried home.

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  • It’s amazing to see how low the whole 3 or 4 million bunch of Eritrean society have gone. their only source of comfort seems to come from insulting any thing ethiopia! what a sad bunch of society with no hope what so ever. the sad truth is, they are too small, too poor, to make a difference!




  • fosterclinks

    i think it was a great power.how about that.

  • Life is good


    You seem to know so much detail; thanks for your ‘recite’ history. But no one will ever convince me of the fact that Ethiopia is great and even greater to be independent than in the hands of white men.

    Yes Ethiopia is poor according to current state and standards; but come what may it is a great nation. Ethiopia was a country where whites were called slaves. This is not to pride ourselves with insult but instead to see how independent thinkers we are!

    Yes through its despotic leaders and western conspiracy this nation was taken to its heels. Yes we lament.

    Your argument even ends after you said Ethiopia is better under colonization. Can’t you see the plight of Africa. Could you forget Rwanda, Sudan, even at your feet Ethiopia in relation to Eriteria. Could you forget the millions of lives lost in colonialism and imperialism? Do you think Ethiopia deserves to be put at the mercy of whites in that dark stage of history?

    Try to see the big picture and let not parochialism environ your brain. Your name seems that of a slaves name ‘shankilaw’. You seem to live by the powers of resentment and bitterness.

    Use your talent at explanation somewhere not to spit envy. And I know who you are.

  • georgis

    I am very proud of the victory of Adowa it was impossible for Europeans to be defeated by the African nation. But the Ethiopians changed the impossible to “Yechalal” which means in Amharic Possible.

  • angela

    it hard to understand this,cant you put it into more interesting form,like what we would understand

  • Thank you both for your comments. Ruvy, I will check it out!

  • Shankilaw


    The Italian campaigns in Africa too were full of histories that echoed this interesting Italian personality of not taking their leaders and the draconian rule too seriously or their preference to enjoy life rather than losing/wasting it.

    In both their attempt to conquer Abyssinia/ Ethiopia (1895 and 1935), they relied pretty much on local collaborators they called “Askari” and/or “Banda” (a native collaborators) to do most of the direct/heavy fightings for them.

    Most of the time, the Italian soldiers and officers lead the battles from the back, except when they used war planes to rain nepalm bombs on the hapless Ethiopian peasant-soldiers from the air- similar to the BRAVE (smile) American and British that are doing similar things in Afganistan and Iraq these days. Of course, the British and the French also used this technique in their African colonies. The Kenyan Mao-Mao wars against British colonialism was fought between natives in the service of the British (collaborators) and natives that oppossed British rule!

    Endless feud and wars between the ruling tribes of Ethiopia -in this case between the the Tigre that include Eritreans and the the tribe of emperors Menelik II and Haile Selassie I (Amhara)- have characterised Ethiopian feudal political system. All powers that attempted to conquer this war-hardened country (Ethiopia) basically palyed one group against the other by suppling fire arms to the group that is fighting against those in power. The Ethiopians also used the Italians/Europeans to advnace their own agendas and power struggle; then as today.

    In a sense, most of the foot soldiers of the Italians in the battle for Abyssinia/Ethiopia were other Ethiopians!.

    Italians are better known in Ethiopia and in their other African colonies (Somalia, Eritrea, Libya) not for their war-mongering character but for their ability to enjoy life, have LOTS OF SEX with the locals, YES!!; for drinking wine and partying non-stop; for their incredible ability to build imposing stone mansions in the middle of nowhere, etc….

    They stayed only five years in Addis Ababa (even less in the rest of Ethiopia) but they left behind INCREDIBLE NUMBER OF “SELATO (HALF-CASTE) chidren in Ethiopia. Had they stayed a decade or two, the racial feature of Ethiopia would have changed into a beatiful MULATO type that is the byproduct of European and Ethiopian liason. Note that a typical “Ethiopian” is not quite a NEGRIOD type as the rest of Africa but has more in common with the Egyptians or Nubians.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    This is off the path of the article, but you might want to look at this article of mine for an insight picked up from a friend whose family fought the Fascists after they sided with Hitler…

  • STM, bingo. That pretty much sizes them up. Even Hitler went as far as to not question Italian bravery but their fickle state of mind. During a Russian history class in University, the professor spoke briefly about Hitler, Germany, Mussolini and Italy. Which prompted this question from my friend: why were the Germans ready to die for Hitler but the Italians were not prepared to give their lives for Mussolini? The prof. thought about it and said two things. The first was the story of how when he would see signs that said “no bicycles” in both countries. In Germany the sign was strictly observed. In Italy people threw their bikes in the area. The second one he put this way. In Germany no questioned Hitler’s authority and they followed him. In Italy, the Italians bought Mussolini’s rhetoric (a return to Rome and so on) but when it came to dying for him Italians applied the old adage “qui bono?” Better to share an espresso. Incidentally, many Italians were surprised to learn that he sided with the Axis. Italians did not view themselves as such. Crazy those I-talians. I wish I could add more to the African side of the equation but my ignorance of this is too great. I do know that many Africans speak Italian wonderfully and are quite classy and educated. The ones I met here in Canada anyway.

  • Shankilaw


    It was the Portuguese Catholics who sent mercenaries and instructors in the use of modern armaments who, finally, helped Chrstian Ethioipian despots recover from humilaiting defeat by “Islamic Jihadists” of the time lead by the famous Ahmad Gran. This last one had his support base amongst the islamic populations of eastern Ethiopia such as the Oromo, Somali, Afar and the Adare/Harari.

    The British, Americans and Isrealis have been training and arming the brutal armies and security forces of the despotic emperor, Haile Selassie I, who was removed from power by the same army. The junta that replaced him sought support and arms supplies from Russia/Cuba as the Americans were not keen in arming a regime that spoused a marxist ideology.

    Today, all is reversed again and the Americans train, arm and finance Ethiopia’s army and security forces; while their uusual lap dogs- the Britis- train the bloody and hated security forces of Ethiopia’s current regime in the arts of “tirture”! Haaa!!


  • Nightmare

    Ethiopians usually win the battles, but always with the help of an external hands. They lost against Ahmed Grang but the Greece rescued them, they again lost against Somalia but Rassia and Cuba again directly intervened.

  • hanachu

    Shankilaw any one can tell your in sawa not far from saudi, but not for long wadi afom will satart war soon as you said he is blood thersty and youwell be….there are a loot of daki era who thank’s god just becuse males is ethiopian lader if you naw what i mine,

  • Shankilaw


    One difference between, say, the US and Ethiopia, in terms of the way both treated their subject peoples is that Ethiopia and Ethiopians DON’T EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE their nasty deeds and all we hear is this defeaning and empty cry that says that: “Ethiopia is the symbol of black pride:, “We defeated a European power at Adwa”, “We have an ancient culture (Judeao-christian not indigenous ones they maltreat)”…etc..etc!

    Until very recently, school chidren use to sing: “Ethiopia, the land of milk and honey; the green paradise of the world where all its people live as equals…please!”….traa…tra…traa.”…Remember that? The country is beautiful and has lots of potential but look at it today!!

    Of course, the reality is far from it. Unless we acknowledge the nasty side of our history and reality; if we continue to sweep the terrible legacies of the Habasha (the Amhara + Tigre) rule of Ethiopia that made the whole country such a sad place where most collage greaduates want to MIGRATE to Europe/EU/Israel/South Africa to do dirty jobs the locals don’t touch; then we are not going to go a step forward!

    So, that is way I brought up this other side of the story of the battle of Adwa as I knew that it won’t be touched by the “proud Ethiopians”.

    As the rule of the thumb; the oppressed majority of Ethiopians (mostly from the souhthern-half of the country) WELCOMEd the Italian invasion as they thought it represented a respite from their brutal Habasha rulers from northern Ethiopia.

    Those that opted to collaborate with the British to remove the Italians from Ethiopia were the ruling people intent on RESTORING their degarding and brutal rule and live off sucking the blood of the poor Ethiopian farmers- especially those in the southern regions. Things remain the SAME TODAY!!

    The views of the peoples of southern Ethiopia rarely feature in Ethiopian historiology and that is what I was trying to highlight. Do I have a point???

    Also, let me remind you that most Ethiopians believe that Italians built and transformed the country in five years more than what had been done in thousadand years by its despotic rulers! Until very recently, the ONLY RADIO STATION in the country- RADIO ADDIS ABABA- was the one left behind by the Italians. All the major roads linking the provinces of Ethiopia were designed and constructed by the italians (albeit by using the cheap labour of the natives), etc.

    So, all was not bad. If there was a REFRENDUM of somesort regarding the rule of the Italians, most Ethiopians would have prefered to be colonised/ruled by the Italians than ruled by those little blood thersty tugs we call “our leaders’.

  • yacob

    There isn’t much I say today as I know where you stand.I stand by what I have already said though.
    One thing I want to tell you is the world we live in is full of contadictions. This is a reality. One of the criteria to join the League was that no member country practice slavary. Thats whyEthiopia managed to join the rest of the world to be a member nation. This being a fact Italy’s sinister accusation was not true.
    Now we have people like you who cite as evidence the same enemy’s accusation of Ethiopia as a fact. Ethiopia was not democratic country then but how many in the world were democracies?
    Ethopia might have practiced slavery in the past but the question is ‘who didn’t?’ US who claimed to have democracy in full swing was not protecting it minority rights as late as 1950s.

  • Zee


    The entire African continent is liberated from European domination because Europeans were defeated and had to leave. Last were Rhodesians (now Zimbabwe), SW Africans (Namibia now) and South Africa.

    All battles involve the phyiscal battle and the political battle. Africans prevailed all over.

    What is this thread all about???

  • Siggy

    Why are people surprised about Shankilaw’s message. There were “Bandas” during the Italian war. For those people the Italians were right to invade a backward country like Ethiopia. You know why? They want the things they get by selling their people and informing on them. Well that only shows his ignorance. Cutting and pasting an Italian document does not really make a right statement. You should read a book or two from unbiased source.

    I just feel sorry for you if you think being colonized is better that freedom.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    I studied about Ethiopia when I went to college many years ago, and wrote a paper on the instability of the Empire under Haile Selassie, predicting its downfall in the (then) not too distant future. I was right in my predictions sooner than I thought I would be. I got to most of the ethnic groups, and the fact that the provinces were all ruled by relatives of the emperor and this created a source of instability in the country. I got to the fact that the ruling groups, the Amhara and the Tigre, were not the nicest folks around (Lots of Jews still lived in Ethiopia then and debates were going on as to how to get them out. Rabbis in Israel were blown away by the idea of black-skinned Jews. A lot of them still are – racism does not die easily.), but never realized that the nature of their rule was enslavement.

    Live and learn.

  • ProfEssays

    If Ethiopia defeated Italians why it can’t defeat Eritrea?

  • Alem

    America is spreading Democracy in the world for its own security but no one can disagree with the value of democracy . Arabs are spreading Islam to Arabize everybody . they think they own Islam .
    They export the religion with the culture. Once they Arbize you with the religion they want to make you slave. That is what Mr. Shankilaw has to look in to if he is interested in slavery issue .
    Shankliaw what would you say about this incident ?
    Today my Somali friend told me: now his sister is a good Muslim and she covered her face in black
    One Arab saw her and he said why is she covering her face in black any way she is black .

    Ethiopia can be an example to the whole world where religion is personal and country is shared . people are so wise they can separate the government act and the social life, even in time of war . People can separate current trends and friendship .
    Ethiopia is a country where color and money not so important than your manner and social behavior.

    Guys ! I am sorry that we are fighting on the past history . I think there is enough resources in this world for everybody. We have to preach Love not revenge . The way the climate change(Global warming) is going it will make us forget history and fight for survival . We will not be asking who did what in the past . We all have to fight any extremism in any form and shape .

  • Ruvy in Jeruslam

    For once, Mental Floss, I have to agree with Zedd. The Zulus damn near defeated the Brits, and the Maori fought for years against British colonizers nearly winning. The Japanese finished off the Russian Empire in 1905, leaving it as a walking corpse that walked into its own execution nine years later. Shall I mention the name Vietnam?

    White folks with superior technology do not always carry the day.

  • Ethiopian – Watcher

    now you are becoming clear, very clear. You remind me of the former secretary of UN Butros Butros Gali – the enemy of Ethiopia.
    Have you ever had a coffee with him?

  • Shankilaw

    Yacob says:

    “The Italians and their friends used this accusationa as a pretext to start war against the innocent people of Ethiopia…”

    Like all self-respceting would be empirial power, the Italians too highlighted the existence of widspread and systematic abuses of human rights (slave systems) by the midieval and brutal christian despots of Ethiopia as a pretext to invade. HOWEVER, as I hope you can tell, that DOES NOT CANCELL OUT the facts (the essence of the pretext). Does, it ye ne kerkero? Nooooo!

    To use another and recent example: the US rationalised its invasion of Iraq, among other things, by citing Saddam’s gross human rights abuses (eg, the way he gassed the Kurds, massacred the Shias, etc). As we all know, that was a pretext for the invasion. But, that does not erase the fact that Saddam was a nasty…nasty piece of meat…JUST LIKE ETHIOPIA’S rulers of yesterday and today.

    By the way, Ethiopia is yet to FINISH freeing ALL its slaves as there are regions of the country where people still keep their slaves just lie domestic animals!! Yup! TODAY. Want a proof? There is a website that deals with this same issue and is operated by people that are campaiging to free these sad souls from the chains of Ethiopia’s slavery. Lets not even start on the need to free millions of Ethiopian’s from HUNGER, from the TYRANNY of its christian rulers (Tigre + Amhara people of northern Ethiopia), etc. Shall we?…

    …and then you added:

    “The problem we have in today’s generation is their ignorance about their own history and let their inferiority complex play.”

    I bet you’ve no idea – before I told you- that there is an ongoing campaign at the moment aimed at freeing the remaining slaves Ethiopia. Then, who is “ignorant”? Moi????……ooooooo! tysssss!

    That said, I know that you -like many other “proud Ethiopians” here defeding the indefenssible are MEMBERS OF THE RULING PEOPLE (AMHARA + TIGRE). Expecting you to be impartial about the way your people treat the enslaved and brutalised people of southern Ethiopia is like asking the architects of the Apartheid regime to be objective about their treatment of the black South Africans.

    The only- and MAJOR- difference between these two oppressors is that; the white rulers of Apartheid South Africa were capable of feeding THEMSELVES AND THEIR SUBJECT PEOPLES (AFRICANS).

    The Ethiopian tormentors, on the other hand, emanate from regions that are in PERMANENT FAMINE (Tigray, Amhara, Wollo….ring the bell?) that can’t feed their own people, let alone those they brutalise and live off….POOR SOULS!

    These oppressed Ethiopians would WELCOME a new Italian inavsion with flowers and dancing in the streets, in the bushes, in their homes.

    PS: the warplanes and mustard (?) gasses used by the forces of Mussolini targeted mostly the home regions of Ethiopia’s oppressive rulers and their armies. As such, most people in southern regions of Ethiopia were VERY HAPPY about their action…and many families named their kids after the Italian or things Italian. Can you name some of these terms???

  • Goldman

    The Ethiopians victory over Italians is the Victory of all Africans, and we should be proud of it. Ethiopia is a great country with beautiful people.
    P.S. Let it be known!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ras mick

    shankilaw u have an identity problem u need to go fix ur self up.i am half eritrean and half ethiopian but i cosider my self as etiopian.u know why? cuz ethio the most beautiful country in the whole word. despite the fact we have our internal problem ,at least we have a good heritage and culture that we can proude off.why do u think there is always war in africa,including the one that we r having right now.it is because of colonization.so if u r ethiopian u should be proud of urself.

  • Zedd

    Mental Floss

    Amazingly Yes??

  • yacob

    I think the deafeat of an European power at the battle of Adwa is what gave the rest of Colonialists to reconsider their advance to colonize Ethiopia and hense a free country.
    It was indeed and is Ethiopian pride. Only those with a slave mentality like shanklaw who don’t take this pride easily. They think their inferior and victim mental status would score them some browny points with the whites they consider as ‘God’.
    As the saying goes ‘yayiT misikir dinbiT’ shanklaw brought the Italian accusation of Ethiopia as a proof for Ethiopias’ ills. The Italians and their friends used this accusationa as a pretext to start war against the innocent people of Ethiopia. Can anyone justify the acts of Shanklaw’s ‘civilized’ Italians when they used the muster bombs against civilians? Didn’t they use it against the rules of the League?
    The problem we have in today’s generation is their ignorance about their own history and let their inferiority complex play.
    Shanklaw is a typical example of this trap!

  • STM

    They were very unorganised militarily in the 19th century, as they were during WWII. Mussolini, hoping for a bite of the colonial cherry, really sentenced whole legions of his soldiers to death by sending them into battle against the very organised British, who rolled them up very swiftly in North Africa. The reason: nothing to do with the bravery of the Italian soldiers, which was proved later at the battle of El Alamein, although many were not keen on Mussolini’s brand of nationalism.

    They were, quite simply, badly led and dreadfully underequipped. The same is true of their African campaigns of the 19th century.

    I have an Italian friend who explains the attitude of many Italian soldiers this way: “Why would you want to be off killing people or dying for something you don’t believe in when you can be at home with your family, eating good food and drinking wine.”

    That’s a pretty good point, I reckon. I wish Adolf Hitler’s legions had had the same thinking.

  • Italy jumped on the “let’s get our place in the sun” race to get its spoils in Africa. The problem is that they were not ready for it. The 19th century wasn’t that kind to Italy. STM, that’s not necessarily true. Politically Italy was a minnow but in every other aspect it had great potential. The British did see the Italians and Germans as potential rivals after unification. But you are right that it didn’t really shock Europe. France losing to Prussia in 1870 was far more shocking.

  • OppositeOfShankilaw

    I think Shankilaw has an identity problem. People of new nations or aspiring to be try to distort historical facts. Adwa has nothing to do with Salvery. Salavery existed, exists and will exist just it form changes.
    You said “don’t you think that Ethiopia would have been A LOT BETTER had it been colonised by Europeans? This shows you lack of self confidence. Prosperty comes from with in not by believing in a white prophet or by enviting blood sucking capitalists.

  • Shankilaw


    Yes, I read that the king- rather emperor Menelik II- went to the battle BUT didn’t actually fight as all Ethiopian kings meant to as he was miles away from the actual battle field. Do you know that he was carried all the way from his capital, Addis Ababa, to the battle front (Adwa, 1000 kms away) on a wagon ported/carried by hapless slaves??? Of course, you don’t!

    Though Menelik II went to war himself, the same couldn’t be said of other rather VERY COWARDLY leaders of Ethiopia such as Emperor Haile Selassie I (Ras Tafari), Col Mengistu Haile Mariam and the current ZINGERO, Ato Meles Zenawi. These last ones are notorious in sacrificing millions of young lives to stay in power and they themselves NEVER took part in any warfare! It is sufficient to quote this famous Ethiopian lyric to illustrate my point:

    “Yal tegera feres Tekil iyalachu; ke Maychew fertito, london gebalachu”. Who does this refer to?

    The following is a VERY IMPORTANT HISTORICAL DOCUMENT that illustrates the shameful character of Ethiopia as a slave-owning nation where the vast majority of its people, until very recently, were SLAVES!
    I found it on one of the Ethiopian discussion forums. Read, learn and make up your mind on an informed basis. OK?


    Dear Ethiopian Compatriots:

    This is a document or a memorandum presented by the Italian Government delineating the reasons for the expulsion of Ethiopia from the League of Nations, the forerunner of today’s United Nations Organisation. The main point of their argument was the condition of slaves and gabbarhood (a slave-like system) to which Abyssinia/Ethiopia has reduced its subject populations, all in the southern half of its empire.

    On the other hand the change of political masters at Addis Ababa, has so far been a mere case of taking turns aimed at: accessing, redistribution, and consumption of gibbir in the form of a patronage, albeit with the changes in the methods used for the collection of the same. Gibbir is a form of “tax” forcefully collected from the non-Abyssinian populations that have remained gabbar to these days.
    Successive coups and counter-coups have never been against gabbardom (a system built on the generation, collection and allocation of gibbir), but for it!(italics?) The (coups) are avenues to inherit the gibbir-based treasury of the state for the exclusive benefits of the group that takes state power and retains it via the instigation of violence for the benefit of its specific constituency (of Abyssinians, in this case).

    I believe that this document has the potential to serve as a ‘manifesto’ or as a ‘mission statement’ for our efforts and aspirations to become a free people, at last. Such is a cause that is aimed at reversing our unchanged status as gabbar/slaves of the Ethiopian empire-state. It could, at least, serve as a foundation on which to build one or enhance the existing manifesto. Needless to say that the same is a valuable historical document on its own right.

    Geneva, September 11th , 1935. Official No. C.340.M.171.1935.VII.

    As regards the condition required by Article I of the Covenant [accord] regarding effective guarantees of a sincere intention to observe international obligations, the Sub-committee pointed out that, in the past, Ethiopia had not fully observed her international engagements. During the discussion it was stressed how difficult it was to reconcile Ethiopia’s demand with the circumstance that Ethiopia, once admitted to the league, might sit in judgement on countries under mandate, more civilised than Ethiopia herself and not stained with the disgrace of slavery…



    Clear distinction between the Abyssinian State and the territories conquered by it. Difference of religion, language, history, race, and political and social structure. Negus’s domination over non-Abyssinian populations. The gebbar system (a form of slavery) applied to subject populations. The Ethiopian Government’s responsibility for the decimation of the subject populations. Ethiopia’s incapacity to possess a colony.


    On this subject it is first of all necessary to obtain a fundamental idea of the position. It is commonly said that Ethiopia is a national State in Africa which forms a single unit. Nothing could be further from the facts. The Ethiopian State, in its present form, is composed of two regions which are clearly distinct both geographically and politically.

    (a) The old Abyssinian State, consisting of the regions inhabited mainly by Abyssinian populations speaking kindred languages derived from Southern Arabic. But the old Abyssinian State itself could not be called a national State, because even in those regions there are considerable non-Abyssinian minorities, such as the Agau in the Tsana and Nile regions, the Falasha of Semien, professing the Jewish religion …and others. Nevertheless, their common allegiance to the dynasty of the House of Solomon, and the fact that for ages they [peoples of the northern half of Ethiopia] had belonged to the same group of States, have to a certain extent welded all these regions into a political unit which, though rough and shapeless in structure, might have a position of its own in the composition of present-day Ethiopia.
    This Abyssinian State has well-defined and exact historical, geographical and ethnical boundaries. On the west, towards the Nile basin, and on the east, towards Danakil, the frontier of the Abyssinian State coincided with the edge of the plateau. The Abyssinians, a mountain people, are clearly distinguished by race, language and religion from the populations which inhabit the torrid Danakil plain and the valleys sloping down towards the Sudan.
    To the south, the boundary of the Abyssinian State was marked by the course of the Blue Nile as far as its confluence with the Adabai, by the watershed between the Blue Nile and the Awash, and by the course of the river Awash as far as its entry into the Danakil plain. The territories beyond these boundaries, in the south, are inhabited by non-Abyssinian populations which, throughout the centuries of their history, have been traditional enemies of the Abyssinian State.

    (b) The non-Abyssinian areas recently conquered by the arms of the Negus Menelik.-Beyond the confines of this nucleus of the Abyssinian State there were, until forty years ago, other native States, some of which have a long historical tradition of independence. Among the principal may be mentioned the Emirate of Harrar, which comprised the regions between the river Awash, the Webi Shebeli, and the south-eastern edge of the plateau, having the inhabitants of Ogaden as tributaries. The Emirate of Harrar is a Moslem State which was ruled for centuries by the dynasty of its Emirs, and was the cultural and religious centre of Islam in South-East Africa. The continuous relations maintained by the Emirate with the Arab countries of the Levant had brought that state up to a level of civilisation far superior to that of Abyssinia. We need only mention the fact that, even to-day, Harrar is the only town in the territory of the present Ethiopian State which is built of masonry and is not composed of huts hovels made of branches, apart from few buildings in Addis Ababa.

    In the south-west, the kingdom of kafa was founded by the western Sidama peoples. The political and social constitution of this kingdom and its history (which comprises at least 600 years of independence, from the fourteenth century to the Abyssinian conquest) form the subject of various well-known works published only recently; and, not to quote Italian writers, we need only refer to the voluminous work of the Austrian traveller Franz Bieber.

    In the south, there is the kingdom of Wollamo, founded by the Sidama populations of the Omo. How this peaceful little agricultural State was devastated and destroyed by the Abyssinians is described in a work by a Frenchman, M Vanderheym, which is nothing les than an indictment of the Abyssinian State.
    In the west, there is the Sultanate of Jimma, a Moslem State that became a centre in Westrn Ethiopia towards which Moslem currents flowed from Harrar and Egypt. Under the patriarchal administration of its sultans of the local dynasty, Jimma had reached a high degree of economic prosperity, which it retained, being the only Moslem State remaining independent of the Abyssinians until the Negus annexed it to Ethiopia a few months ago.

    The Abyssinian State is completely different in every respect from these vast “colonies” which it has recently acquired:

    (a) In religion, because the Abyssinians are Monophysite Christians, whereas the Somali, Harrari, Galla [Oromo], Sidama are largely Moslem, and in part still pagan;

    (b) In language, because the Abyssinians speak Amharic and Tigrai (Semitic languages), whereas in the conquered regions the languages spoken are totally different from the Abyssinian languages, but are interrelated among themselves-e.g.-Galla [Oromo], Somali, Kafi, Wolamo, etc.;

    (c) In political and social structure, because the Abyssinian State is based on the feudal system, whereas the Emirate of Harrar was organised on the model of the States of the Arabian peninsula, and the Sidama States have a highly centralised organisation of their own;

    (d) In race, because the Abyssinians are Semiticised people, whereas the Galla, Sidama, Somali, Tishana, Yambo and the rest are Cushitic and Nilotic peoples;

    (e) In history, because the Emirate of Harrar, for instance, has for centuries waged relentless warfare against the Abyssinian State. Indeed, this warfare might be said to constitute the whole history of Abyssinia itself; records of it existed from at least the fourteenth century onwards. The Abyssinian domination constitutes, in fact, the subjugation of a conquered people by its age-long enemy.


    The Abyssinian domination in the conquered countries takes concrete form in the slave trade and the so-called gebbar system. The slave trade will be considered below. It should be pointed out here, however, that the slave trade is due not only to a desire for gain, but also to the idea, deep-rooted in the Abyssinians’ mind, that their victories have left them absolute masters of populations which, in their eyes, are no more than human cattle. This conception of the Abyssinians is confirmed b a typical incident narrated by Sir Arnold Hodson in his work ‘Where the Lion Reigns’ (page 41): ‘An old Abyssinian was shooting with the sight adjusted at more than a thousand metres. I said to the Dedjiajmatch that the bullets might fall on the mountain and kill someone. He burst out laughing and said, ‘What does it matter if they do? There is nobody here but Shangalla’ (Shangalla is the name given by the Abyssinians to the Nilotic peoples).

    The gebbar system is a form of slavery, and is regarded as such by European writers and travellers. In each of the countries conquered and annexed by Abyssinia, a body of Abyssinian troops is stationed, comprising the soldiers themselves and their families. The inhabitants of the conquered country are registered in families by the Abyssinian chiefs, and to every family of Abyssinians settled in the country there is assigned one or more families of the conquered as gebbar. The gebbar family is obliged to support the Abyssinian family; it gives that family its own lands, builds and maintains the huts in which it lives, cultivate the fields, grazes the cattle, and carries out every kind of work and performs all possible services for the Abyssinian family. All this is done without any remuneration, merely in token of the perpetual servitude resulting from the defeat sustained thirty years ago. It amounts to what Anglo-Indians are accustomed to call “the law of the jungle”.

    The gebbar can never obtain freedom from their chains, even by ransom. They must not leave the land assigned for their work, and, if they run away, they themselves are subject to the terrible punishment which are inflicted in Ethiopia, and to which we shall refer shortly, while their village is bound to supply the Abyssinians with another family to be reduced to the condition of gebbar, in place of the fugitive family.

    As to the effects of slavery and the gebbar system, all who know the facts are agreed: the non-Abyssinian regions of Ethiopia are becoming a vast desert. Every Abyssinian chief sent to those parts finds it necessary on his arrival to provide himself with slaves and his soldiers’ families with gebbar. And when he leaves the conquered countries to be transferred elsewhere, he takes away with him, and allow his soldiers to take away with them, the greatest possible number of slaves and gebbar to be employed at his new residence. This constant draining of the population of the subject territories is particularly terrible, because the slaves and gabbar are decimated, during the long journeys, by hunger, thirst and ill-treatment from their Abyssinian masters. We quote evidence from non-Italian sources.

    Sir Arnold Hodson (‘Seven Years in Southern Abyssinia’, London, 1927, page 146) writes of Kafa: ‘There has recently been a change of Governors in Kafa, and, as usual, the outgoing official was taking away as much as he could in goods an slaves’. …

    Thus the population of Kafa, which Cardinal Gugliemo Massaja estimated at a million and a half before the Abyssinian conquest, is now reduced to 20,000. Again, whereas Vittorio Bottego estimated the population of the Burji in 1895 at 200,000, there are now no more than 15,000 people in the region. And Sir Arnold Hodson, who was Consul at Gardulla, not far from Burji, writes as follows (‘Seven Years in Southern Abyssinia’, page 102): ‘Burji had been sadly devastated quite recently, and very few natives were left there. The responsibility for this rests with a former Governor of Sidamo, named Ato Finkabo, who appears to have carried on a very flourishing business in slaves from these parts. In fact, he became so enterprising that most of the natives who were left fled to Conso and Boran to escape falling into his clutches’.

    George Montandon calculates (‘Au pays des Ghimirra’, page 223) that the population of Ghimirra has declined in a few years from 110,000 to 10,000.
    The responsibility of the Addis Ababa Government for this incredible state of affairs in the non-Abyssinian areas of the south is particularly great, because it has compelled some of the more warlike non-Abyssinian peoples to arm themselves in defence of their lives and liberty; and theses foreign peoples, having acquired arms and ammunition, have in their turn become slave-raiders, preying upon the unarmed neighbouring tribes, and so have increased the destruction and the scourge of slavery.

    In conclusion we need only quote …Major M Darley, who has had a very long experience of Ethiopian affairs, and who wrote in 1926, three years after Abyssinia’s entry into the League
    (‘Slaves and Ivory’, page 34): ‘Abyssinia should be the heart of North-East Africa, but all the veins or roads, which should supply the rest of the starving body with nourishment, are blocked by the Abyssinian policy, abysmal and suicidal, of depopulation, retrogression and racial extermination’.

    It will thus be seen that the Ethiopian State, administratively and politically disorganised as It is, carries the dire effects of its domination (slavery and gebbar) into vast regions of East Africa which were conquered by the arms of the Negus only a few years ago. It is surely in the interests of civilisation that the Harrari, Galla [Oromo], Somali, Sidama, and other peoples which have for centuries formed separate national entities, should be removed from Abyssinian oppression. To effect an immediate settlement of this grave problem is, indeed, to act in conformity with the spirit of the covenant, which requires that colonisation should be carried out only by advanced States which are in a position to ensure the development and welfare of the native peoples…

    The documents show:
    (a) That Ethiopia recognises slavery as a legal condition;

    (b) That raids for the capture of individuals for purposes of slavery are continuing on a large scale, especially in the southern and western regions of Ethiopia;

    (c) That the slave trade is still practiced;

    (d) that the Ethiopian Government participates directly in the slave trade by accepting slaves in payment of taxes and allowing detachments of regular troops to capture new slaves;

    (e) That, in addition to slavery proper, there exists the institution known as “gebbar”, to which the population of non-Ethiopian [sic] regions are subject, and which is a form of servitude akin to slavery;

    (f) That the Ethiopian Government has taken no account of the recommendations made to it by the committee of Experts on slavery, more particularly as regards the abolition o the legal status of slave, as appears further from the report submitted to the League of Nations in May 1935…
    By her conduct, Ethiopia has openly placed herself outside the covenant of the League and has rendered herself unworthy of the trust placed in her when she was admitted to membership. Italy, rising up against such an intolerable situation, is defending her security, her rights and her dignity. She is also defending the prestige and good name of the League of Nations.”


  • STM

    “The battle of Adwa left the European powers in shock.”

    No it didn’t. It left the Italians in shock.

    The major powers in Europe never considered Italy a European power at the time.

    It’s hard to imagine the French or British being in shock over Italy’s defeat. I doubt they were even surprised.

  • Shankilaw is an Eritrean

    Folks you need to know that eritreans who were defeated and colonized by Italy have an inferiority complex. They can not stand the fact that Ethiopia maintained her dignity while they served as slaves to Italy. Therfore they demean Ethiopias great victory in order to make themselves feel better. They are a complex bunch. Does anybody know a good head shrink?

  • Alem

    I think Shankilaw is scaring people by talking about slavery . Did you know the king himself went to ADWA to fight ? Did you know that he was king of kings and he had all the kings participated in the war. Lately it is slavish mentality to silence Caucasians by talking about slavery . at least they apologized and acknowledge the wrong doing of their forefathers. (I was off Monday for MLK holiday ). What do you say about the Arabs who have done atrocity to Africans and never even acknowledged it? Don’t you see all Arab media talking about Somalia as a good Muslim country ? where where they the last 16 years ? My friend it is always better to be independent mentally and receive hand out than not receiving handout and being mentally dependant .

  • hodes

    ethiopia is really the pride of africa

  • Shankillaw

    But there is another untold but ugly side to the battle of Adwa.

    Do you know that the vast majority of Ethiopian soldiers that fought in the battle of Adwa were SLAVES that went- rather ordered- to fight on behalf of their masters?

    If so, do you guys seriously believe that these poor wreteched souls willingly fought to MAINTAIN their status as slaves in Ethiopia? I very much doubt that.

    Contrary to the myth of Adwa or the often repeated (uncritically) significance of the battle of Adwa in enhancing black pride and anti-slavery struggle- the actual Ethiopia’s rulers fought NOT against white domination and slavery BUT to protect their OWN SLAVE SYSTEM from aliens or white colonisers!

    Another thing: It was the Italians that FINALLY FREED millions of Ethiopian slaves from their brutal owners (1936-1940) and gave ethnic groups and moslems that had been treated as non-citizens in Ethiopia some respite from the tyranical rule of the Orthidox-christian rulers of Ethiopia.

    That said, don’t you think that Ethiopia would have been A LOT BETTER had it been colonised by Europeans?

    What does “free” Ethiopia represent today? A nation that lives on white man’s food handout! Doesn’t this last aspect contradict the oopla of Ethiopia being the “pride of the black race”…traa…traa..?


  • david

    Great nation, great people, Ethiopia & Ethiopians.

  • Adwa Lover

    Adaw was not the first place the Italians tasted defeat. The Great Ras Alula of Ethiopia defeated them in many battles such as Dogali culminating in the Italian defeat at Adwa.

  • Habeshaw

    Yeah.. The battle of adwa belogs to not only Ethiopia but the whole Africa. They came to Eat our resources but we never let them in…

  • Israel

    The battle of Adwa left the European powers in shock.After 40 yrs of preparation, the Italians come again to attack Ethiopia, this time with airplanes,tanks and chemical weapons/ the Ethiopians are the first to be attacked by chemical weapon as a nation.They only managed to stay for 5 yrs.The ethiopians fought ferociously and kicked them out.

  • David

    The ethiopians almost never lost a war to any country.There have been an intense cover up campagne to hide the truth about the battle of adwa, where the Ethiopians astoundly defeated a major european army,Italy, which was suported by Nazi Germany.

  • ethiopian

    Battle of Adwa, no Adova.