On this day 125 years ago, Ethiopians united beyond their differences and whipped the hindparts of thousands of would-be Italians colonizers. The progenies of Caesar arrived at our shores boasting “veni, vidi, vici” only to be sent back packing where they came from humiliated and humbled by the prowess of Ethiopian jegnoch. European powers learned a lesson that day as did oppressed people throughout the world; no force on this planet can subdue a united people no matter how much they are outclassed on the battlefield.
As we exit “Black History Month” and enter “Women’s History Month”, it’s only fitting that I acknowledge the heroes that are often overlooked yet were instrumental in one of the most audacious military victories in the history of warfare. Credit is often given to Emperor Menelik II for leading Ethiopians into battle yet very few acknowledge that his wife Empress Taitu, a fierce warrior in her own right, was right by his side and at the front of the line as they met Italians at Adwa.
In fact, more so than Menelik, it was Taitu who recognized the treachery of Francesco Crispi as he tried to use guile in order to colonize Ethiopia through diplomacy. In 1889, the Crispi offered Menelik a “Treaty of Wuchale” which ceded the provinces of Bogos, Hamasien, Akele Guzai, Serae and parts of Tigray to Italy. In return, Italy acknowledged Menelik’s continued dominion, offered financial assistance and military supplies. What Menelik did not realize at first is that there were two versions of the treaty; it was Taitu that caught on to Crispi’s subterfuge and pressed her husband to reject Italy’s overture. With repudiation came belligerence; two years later, Ethiopians and Italians faced off at a battle that shook the world.
Taitu’s contributions did not end with just recognizing Italy’s bad faith proposition; to the contrary, her indispensability became evident when bullets started flying. She stood with Menelik at vanguard and stiffened the spine of Ethiopian soldiers. Vastly outgunned, Ethiopians nonetheless stood tall as they advanced against Roman aggressors. Battalions from Shewa, Gonder, Gojjam, Harar, TIgray, Wollo joined the battle as one unit; Tigrayans, Oromos, Amharas and beyond formed a diverse sea of tenacity in order to drive Italians out of Ethiopia.
In a culture where women are often relegated to the periphery, the Battle of Adwa was an occasion that witnessed the full vitality of our better halves. As Abel Chala, a history teacher at Kotebe Metropolitan University, explains it, the battle of Adwa revealed that true necessity of women and their impact in Ethiopia’s war against colonialism.
“We generally hear that Ethiopia won the battle, but we ignore the fact that women played decisive role in the victory.” Noted professor Chala. “There were ten-thousands of women who prepared their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons for the war in which they also took part.”
Women were not at Adwa to just observe and tend to the wounded, they were there to rumble and inspire men to be victorious or risk losing their honor. “Women were the leading force behind the victory of Adwa,” explained Wizero Mamite Mehretu. “They were preparing food and water, providing medical care for the wounded and they were following the solders with a slogan of ‘ freedom or death.”
Adawa includes all ethnicities💚💛❤️Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, Wolayta, Gambella and so on… our fathers stood together with love. If it wasn’t for Menelik we wouldn’t have true identity or history💪🏿 ሁልጊዜም ጣይቱ ሁልጊዜም ምንሊክክክክክክ ✊🏿
#adwa #EthiopiaPrevails pic.twitter.com/m78vvBkbUy
— እቴጌ👑 (@ButukaEt) February 28, 2021
Ethiopia’s triumph at the Battle of Adwa was echoed throughout Africa and reverberated around the world. Nowhere else was the stunning achievement of our ancestors felt more than in America. Men and women who had just emerged from the bondage of slavery were given a boost of confidence once they realized that maltreatment could be overcome through a solidarity that transcends our differences. Giants like Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X were fundamentally transformed once they realized that a soul on fire can vanquish spirits intent on conquest.
Six thousand Italians perished and 1,500 were mauled at the hands of an Ethiopian army that believed in oneness over pettiness. This victory came at a tremendous cost for Ethiopians; close to 5,000 died on the battlefield and over 8,000 were wounded—many of them women. The blood of martyrs ensured Ethiopia’s continued independence in an era that witnessed the total occupation of Africa at the hands of monstrous European imperialists. To this day, Ethiopia stands as a symbol of defiance for exploited people around the world. Adwa is the reason why dozens of countries switched their flags to green, yellow and red to honor the bravery of Ethiopian men and women in the face of tyranny.
Ethiopia is not just a symbol for Africa but for all marginalized people around the world. Against impossible odds, a united community can overcome a malignant company. Adwa is a beacon for a world that is being decimated by the invisible hands of globalism and the bloody fingers of capitalism. They might have superiority of the gun but people who of have the advantage of unity can defeat the most powerful armies. This is a lesson that the Brits learned in 1776, the French came to understood after their encounter with Toussaint and Haitian insurrectionists and an education that America will receive once enough of us have had enough of being treated like second class citizens in our own country.
Sadly, Ethiopia’s legacy of defiance has given way to a paradigm of division. In the same battlefield where our forefathers took on Italian invaders, there is strife and rancor that is threatening the very fabric of our nation. What we need more than ever is the deft and compassion of women instead of turning to the pride and arrogance of men. We risk turning Ethiopia into a failed state and subverting the bedrock of Adwa into a quicksand of animosity. If we are to preserve the sacrifice of our ancestors, it falls upon us to believe in humanity above ethnicity.
Together we are stronger and unconquerable; apart we are feeble and susceptible. As the great humanitarian Obang Metho frequently notes, we must turn away from the failed pursuits of tribalism and hold dear to the notion of “andinet“.
A primary factor leading to the victory at #Adwa was the fact that greater unity among #Ethiopians was achieved as Emperor Menelik and the people of Ethiopia came together NOT as “nations, nationalities and peoples” to face a foreign enemy intent on the colonization of #Ethiopia. pic.twitter.com/RIzW30o52P
— Obang Metho (@ObangMetho) February 24, 2021
Irrespective of the morass we found ourselves in, I am comforted by this one understanding, we have been through worse and we will emerge on the other side of this ordeal more united and with a greater appreciation of our commonalities. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we will have to endure the fire before we are saved from the flames by a greater power than our egos. On this day we celebrate war, I pray for forbearance and forgiveness among Ethiopians. Let us not be blinded by hatred and instead rise above our passions, may we honor #Adwa by remembering the sacrifices of our ancestors who died to keep #Ethiopia free from colonization. #WomenOfADWA Click To Tweet
The loud hubris of men is nothing compared to the quite power of women::
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