Abyssinian Invasion and Occupation of Harrar

June 22, 2007 at 7:16 pm | Posted in New Book | Leave a comment

SOMALIA Past & Present Chapter 5: Abyssinian Invasion and Occupation of Harrar

The Acting Consul for the Somali Coast, Captain Sealy reported on 10 July 1883 to the British Consul General in Cairo, Sir E.B. Melet, that Menelek of Shoa “is about to march on Harrar with 60,000 men.” This information was given to him by Abubakr Pasha of Zaila. One of his sons was in Shoa. Sealy said that he was not sure whether there was any truth in the news and asked for information on the subject and the cause of the threatened attack. Later, in August, Melet informed the Government that there was no foundation for the earlier report that King Menelek of Shoa was about to march on Harrar.

But the rumours regarding Menelek’s march did not die. Four years later, on 22 January 1887, Major Hunter, who was the official who had made the Somalis sign the Protectorate Treaties a year earlier, reported that Menelek of Shoa “was within three days’ march of Harrar, and that the Emir had gone out with all his force to fight the Abyssinians, who were to be accompanied by several Italians.”

Jebril Marijou, interpreter of Menelek, who had been in Zeyla for some days past, informed M. Estemios Moussaya that at the instigation of the French, the King was about to attack Harrar. In fact, the rumour was a screen behind which the real action was going on. An army of 15,000 men of which 5,000 were cavalry and reminder infantry and artillery were on the move to invade Harrar.

After invading and occupying Harrar, on 8 January (20 January 1887) Menelek wrote the following letter to the British Consul at Aden:

“From Menelek, King of Shoa and of all the Galla, good and bad,
“To the English Consul at Aden,

“How are you”

“By the Grace of God, I am well. Amir Abdillahi would suffer no Christian in his country.

“He was another “Gragne” but by the help of God I fought him, destroyed him and he escaped alone on horseback.

“I hoisted my flag in his capital and my troops, &c., occupied his city, Gragne died: Abdillahi was in our days his successor.
“This is not a Mussalman country as every one knows”.

The British Consul Major Hunter wrote back 10 February, 1887:
“After compliments—We have received Your Majesty’s friendly letter informing us that you captured and occupied Harrar and hoisted your flag there.

“There can be no need to recall the terms of the treaty concluded with Her Majesty the Queen in 1841 by Your Majesty’s predecessor King Sahela Selassie, Negus of Shoa, Efat and Galla.

“Your Majesty may rest assured of the continued friendship of the British Government, and we hope that under Your Majesty’s protection may revive and the trade route be safe.
“On all the Somali Coast from Ghubbet Kharab, and especially at Zaila, Bulhar and Berbera, where our troops are now stationed, we shall always be glad to further Your Majesty’s interests”.

1. Rennell Rodd was appointed on 24 February 1897 as the British Special Envoy of Queen Victoria to King Menelek. In a letter to Marquess of Salisbury, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Rodd wrote about the Abyssinians:
“The Abyssinians themselves are a military race in a perpetual state of mobilization. They inhabit circular huts of mud and wattle roofed with thatch, even the great Chiefs contenting themselves with such a modest domicile, while their followers pitch their tents round about compound of their masters, and the suggestion of permanency is certainly absent from their habitations.”

Speaking about the Abyssinian soldiers, Rodd, wrote, “The soldier lives for the most part sparingly, and is satisfied with the rude (crude) sour bread manufactured in the country, which, seasoned with pepper and, more rarely, with meat, forms his only food. The desire of a better mode of existence appears to be entirely absent. At the same time, in order to secure the little that is necessary, as he doest work himself, it must be wrung from the subject races.”

He added: “Preserving their supremacy and extending their borders of recent years over the savage races by which they are surrounded, then have become a dominant military caste, for whom occupation in warlike enterprises must be found continually to compensate them for the extremely scanty pay and indifferent nourishment which they receive”.
He further described the Abyssinians as: “War waged, as a rule, upon weaker races who are without adequate arms to resist his incursion successfully, raiding, in other words, is his real occupation, and the prospect of plunder his incentive”.

2. Wilfred Thesiger, in his book “The Life of My Choice”, wrote:
“The Amharas and Tigreyans, as opposed to the Galla and the other tribes they had incorporated into their empire, resembled no other race in appearance or character. They regarded themselves, however fallaciously, as light-skinned; in their paintings they were invariably shown full face and almost white, whereas their enemies were always depicted in profile and black, unless they were Europeans. Before he was incapacitated, Menelik had won recognition for his conquests and acceptance of his new frontiers. He had incorporated into his empire, the Ogaden, the town of Harrar, the lands of the Galla tribes, the Gurage country, the ancient kingdom of Kaffa, and the Anuak and other tribes on the borders of the Sudan.” (London 1988, pp.43-44)

Major Polson Newman in his book “Ethiopian Realities”, narrates that when Emperor Theodore earlier in his life was at a monastery “he first heard of the prophecy that there would one day appear in Ethiopia a king called Theodore, who would rule justly and righteously, would wipe out Islam from the world, and would take Jerusalem and reign over a world that would be entirely Christian.”

Major Newman chronologically lists the Amhara territories and the territories conquered by Menelek as follows:
AMHARA TERRITORIES: Amhara, Tigre, Gojjam, and Shoa.
As King of Shoa:
1886. Guma. Gomma. Ghera. Limmu. Gimma (as protectorate).
1887. Harar. Gurage. Galla Tulama (conquest begun).
1889, Cambatta.
As Emperor of Ethiopia:
1890. Leca Galla. Jianjero.
1893. Wolamo. Sidamo. Galla Tulama (conquest completed).
1894. Ogaden (conquest begun). Imi.
1895. Arussi.
1897. Ogaden (conquest completed). Kaffa. Jambo. Gimira Conso. Burghi.
1899. Gubba. Gunza. Beni Shangul. Boran.
1900, Nilotic Tribes.
1909, Aussa, Beru, Teru.
Gimma was annexed by the Emperor Haile Selassie in 1935.3

1. NAI, Foreign Department, Somali Coast-Shoa and Harrar affairs, 1883, New Delhi, India.
2. NAI, Foreign Department, Red Sea and Somali Coast, Confidential, May 14, 1897, New Delhi.
3. Major Polson Newman, Ethiopian Realities, George and Unwin, London, 1936.


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