It is said often that men are the heads of households. But a head is nothing unless the heart of the home provides love, courage and a lifeblood of fortitude to us. Too often we honor bravado and hubris, but we would be nowhere if we did not have the emotional strength and the enduring care that women provide to households throughout the world. What is true of household is truer still of nations; women are the fabric of society and the cornerstones of the public without whom chaos would arise out of order.
I don’t write the above paragraph as just a flowery homage to women; I can cite endless examples of women who have kept countries together as they stepped into the breach to save unions from disintegration. I wrote last week of Atse Tewodros II (link), who united Ethiopia through sheer force and without whom the Battle of Adwa would not have been possible. What Atse Tewodros made possible would have been trivial and could have led to the colonization of Ethiopia at the hands of Italy if it was not for the valor of Etege (Empress) Taitu. Etege was the gale wind that blew the invading Italian army right back to Rome in defeat.
A nation’s true power is found in her ability to navigate diplomatic waters; hard power (guns) lead to victories but only soft power (diplomacy) can keep nations from unraveling and being undone by external enemies. Before the first shots were fired at the Battle of Adwa, Italy tried to use their soft power and cunning to subjugate Ethiopia. The one space that was free of colonization in “Africa” was in danger of being turned into a protectorate of Italy and in the process becoming the client state of Rome. As frictions grew between Italy and Ethiopia, Italy tried their hand at chicanery as they gave Menelik II the Treaty of Wuchale in order to prevent war.
The Treaty of Wuchale was a poison pill, it would have effectively ended Ethiopia as a country and turned the longest running empire and a biblical nation into an appendage of Italy. It was Taitu, the lioness and jegna (hero) of Ethiopia who stiffened the spine of Menelik II and told him to rebuff the duplicitous Italian offer. Her defiant stand should forever be noted by all Ethiopians and “Africa” as a whole; without her, we Ethiopians would be speaking Italian and the clarion call for liberation and all free loving people globally would not have been birthed—Etege Taitu was the womb of Adwa. The hubris of Rome was met with the audacity of Etege Taitu, this is what happens when anyone tries to get in between a mother and her children.
Born in Wollo from a Christian and a Muslim family, Taitu Betul was a woman ahead of her time. She was the third of four children born into a royal family that traces its roots to a lineage of rulers connected to King Solomon. This is why they call Ethiopia the Lions of Judah, Judah was the king who united the 12 tribes of Israel whose bloodlines gave birth to King David, King Solomon, and in time Yeshua (who we now call Jesus). It is from this same bloodline that the kings of Ethiopia branched off as Solomon and Queen Sheba gave birth to Menelik I. Try as some have to erase this story, the Lions of Judah do not get washed away easily—Italian invaders found out the hard way in the Battle of Adwa.
Royalty is not inherited, true royalty is what we do in our lifetime. Tiatu earned every bit of the privilege of being called royal. Instead of resting on the laurels of being a princess, she dedicated endless energy and time in pursuing her education as she became fluent in multiple languages and was able to read and write in Ge’ez. She was a force of nature wherever she went. There are certain people who own the room when they walk in; Taitu would own the whole building the minute her presence was felt. Her leadership was so renowned that she would serve as a co-equal to her husband Menelik II during a time where most women on this earth were still being relegated to the periphery of society. Not even the zeitgeist of her era could subdue the moxie of Taitu.
It took two lions who trace their lineage to Judah to save Ethiopia from rivalries within and enemies without. Kassa Hailu, who later took the name Atse Tewodros II, rose up from dust and ended Zemene Mesafint (age of the princes) and in the process saved Ethiopia from falling apart at the seams. What Atse Tewodros II saved, Taitu preserved through one part ferocity and another part grace. She was Joan of Arc on another level; an empress who did not lead from behind, she was right at the front lines in the Battle of Adwa. She gave moral support to her troops and even cared for the wounded and dying. Taitu was not just the empress of Ethiopia, she was the saving grace that pulled Ethiopia from the fire.
While I cannot discount the leadership that Menelik provided during the Battle of Adwa, for me the greater distinction and acclaim should be given to Etege Taitu. As always, society is quick to note the accomplishments of men while disregarding the achievements of women. Perhaps this is why our planet is being licked by the fires of anger and animus, we put way too much stock in pride and ego that is the primary trait of men instead of seeking the kindness and grace that is abundantly evident in women. I wrote an article once titled “Memo to sHE” (link) where I gave homage to the strength and vitality found in women; I did so with Taitu in mind for she was the ROCK that kept a nation united. Although my biggest hero is Atse Tewodros for the way he gave his life for the nation he loved, in all honesty it is Taitu who inspires me even more for she is the heart that defiantly beats in us all.
Taitu’s name means sunshine, her distinction during stressful times and her decisions during duress is the reason that Ethiopia retained the 13th month of sunshine given to us by God. This story of Taitu does not only apply to Ethiopia, all of us here in America and beyond need to really pause and look back in order to find a way forward. We are being led by self-centered men from Ethiopia to America and beyond who are leading us over the cliff as they work for the masters of greed and power in order to nullify Adwa and colonize the planet. If we only look back to past times of defiance, we would understand that we are not fated to a life of oppression. Tyranny has a shelf life of zero the minute we unite and become the gale winds that blows back wickedness the same way Etege did 120 years ago.
We can learn from the past; it is high time for us men to step up and be the leaders we keep saying that we are. The time of talk and bragging is over; too many of us are letting women do the heavy lifting as we shift around in our seats. In all honesty, a lot of society’s ills can be traced to the breakdown of the family. In one too many households, women work full time away from home only to come back to their abodes and work another full time job—one person doing the work of two. We men need to stop turning up saying inane things like “40 is the new 20” and act our age and do our part. Pride alone does not feed a people neither does ego provide for the family; instead of pressuring girls to be more like men, maybe the truth is that we need to teach ourselves to have the profound strength that was found in Etege Taitu and all women.Taitu passed away in 1918 without a child to her name. But in reality, her children were tens of millions because she was the mother and emebet that gave birth to Adwa and then nourished the nation for another 20 years. She was the shield that protected us from the flames of Italy and the fire of colonization. Her greatest attribute was not her tenacity though she had that in spades; Taitu’s most amazing trait was her heart for she gave hope and love to a nation in ways only a woman can. Taitu is the lioness of Judah whose blood and spirit of defiance still beats in all of us. #EtegeTaitu
Instead of seeking power through men, maybe it is time we empower women—we would have peace on earth then::
The Ghion Cast below talks about the Battle of Adwa, a resistance against colonization that would not have been possible without Etege Taitu.
Below is a music by Aster Aweke (link) and Yegna that celebrates the spirit of Taitu that lives in all of us.
This is why I keep putting quote marks around the word “Africa” (if you want more than just a picture, click HERE to read more)
Nuri ZELALEM MAMA ETHIOPIA” ~ Ye Jote Worke
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.