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HAILU: The Battle of Adwa Changed Ethiopia and the World

Abebe Hailu, Special to The Informer | 2/28/2014, 5 p.m.
"The Battle of Adwa" (Courtesy of A. Davey via Wikipedia)

Ethiopia, Yesterday and Today

Ethiopia has a significant history reaching over 3,000 years into the past. The word "Ethiopia" has become a term for the idea of African solidarity and freedom, not just the name of a nation or a region. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus noted the region of Ethiopia as home to "people with burnt faces." During the Greek and Roman eras, everything south of the Sahara Desert in Africa was generally referred to as Ethiopia or Abysinnia.

Biblical references also label Ethiopia as Cush, Kesh, Ekosh and Shewa (Sheba) in the Hebrew language. These were the names used in Solomon's courts when he received a visit from the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba. The biblical "Song of Solomon" praises her physical beauty. In modern times, especially since the battle of Adwa, Ethiopia has been seen as a de facto model of freedom for all black cultures sand societies world-wide.

This held true up until the time the current political regime came to power. At least this is a homegrown terror and not a conquering white European army. This renegade regime has been busy throwing fellow citizens off of their ancestral lands and leasing them to international corporations. Freedom of the press is nonexistent and journalists are jailed regularly. The current corrupt politicians have even set about the process of changing history by denying the importance of the Battle of Adwa, and mocking the reign of Menelik and Taytu.

Commemorating the Victory at Adwa

In an effort to head off the rewriting of history, Ethiopian-Americans and other members of the African diaspora will commemorate the Victory at Adwa at Veterans Plaza in the Silver Spring Civic Building in Maryland. Historians will be on hand to offer their take on the importance of the battle – and its global impact – at the gathering that will take place on Sunday, March 2, 2014. All citizens of the D.C. Metro area are encouraged to attend.

European Might is Turned Back at Adwa

King Menelik exposed the treachery and would have none of the treaty. The Italians, claiming that Menelik knew what he was signing, decided to use military power to force compliance. The Italians had about 18,000 men armed with around 56 pieces of artillery. King Menelik II was able to organize and structure an army within a very short period of time. Though the Ethiopian forces out-numbered the invaders, they lacked the technological advantage held by the Italians.

Command of the Ethiopian forces was split between Menelik, the Empress Taytu, and a number of other leaders. These forces positioned themselves on the hills overlooking the Italian-occupied Adwa Valley. By noon on March 1, 1896, the Italian army was in full retreat with a considerable number of casualties. The Italians left most of their military equipment while they fled and this allowed the forces of Menelik and Taytu to increase their armories considerably.

Taytu, an Empress at War and a Wily Politician

Before the battle, the Empress Taytu had held a hard line against the Italians at the Ethiopian Imperial Court. When talks over the spurious treaty broke down, Italy assembled a force to invade Ethiopia. Empress Taytu joined her husband.