The 118th anniversary of the Victory of Adwa

By: Ato Mulugeta Haile

Today March 2, 2014 is the 118th anniversary of the victory of the battle of Adwa. It is celebrated in Addis Ababa and others city of the country. This morning at Menelik II square in Addis Ababa, Lij Daniel Mesfin, the president of the Ethiopian Patriot Association addressed the crowd about the significant of the victory of Adwa while His Holiness Abun Mathias a few distances from Menelik II square in St. Georges Church talked on the same subject. It is to be noted that The Tabot (Ark) of the St. Georges accompanied Emperor Menelik to the battle of Adwa.

On this great occasion, we would like to introduce you to the battle with Emperor Menelik’s fatherly declaration of the war and the battle of Amba Lage(Fort Lage), which is prelude to the battle of Adwa as eloquently described by His Excellency Belatten-Geta Hiruyi W/Selassie, famous diplomat, philosopher, and author, in his book, ‘The History of Ethiopia from Queen Saba to the Victory of the battle of Adwa,’

“People of my country!

Up until now, God by his grace has allowed me to remain without enemy and to expand our territory. I have ruled up to now, if I die, I will not regret, as death is for all. So far, God has not let me down before my enemy, and he will not fail me in future as well. 

Now, an oversea enemy has come from the North to destroy the nation which God has given us bounded by an ocean and to retain our identity and religion. I will march to fight so prepare with your provisions to follow me.

In my rule, I have not harmed you knowingly, hence for the sake of your country, your wife, your children, and your religion, I ask for your help: those of you who are able bodied with your force, and those of you who has wealth with your wealth. Even if you do not have strength, wealth or anything please help me with your prayers, however if you do not follow this command, I swear in the name of ‘St. Mariam’, I will punish you severely on my return.

I will leave Addis Ababa in Tekemet (October); People of Showa meet me in Werilu by the middle of Tekemte. Those from Gojam, Begemedir, Dembia, Quara and above Checheho, meet me in Ashengai. People from the North, Welkiat and Tegedai meet me in Mekele……..   :”

                   Amba Lage(Fort Lage)

 “The battle of Ambalage was led by Ras Makonnen as a commander in chief. Ras Makonne and Ras Mikayel on the rear side, Ras Mangesha and Ras Alula on the right flank, Ras Wolay on the left, and Fetwarari Gebeyehu on front headed on horses back each led their army towards to the Italian trench.

To avoid bloodshed, Ras Makonnen wrote the following message to the Italian Major Pietro Toselli, ‘Though I am here to fight, I still don’t want bloodshed so I would advise you to lead your camp and retreat. Emperor Menelik with his army is advancing swiftly please let us avoid this preventable war. I have also unanswered letter which I wrote to your boss, General Oreste Baratieri, I hope your help to get the answer to my letter.’ 

Major Toselli’s answer was ‘The letter has reached to Geneal Baratieri and his response would come in due course. However, if your intention is peaceful, you should have waited in your camp fro the answer.’

Ras Makonnen concluded that peaceful settlement was not attainable and decided to proceed. Fetawrari Gebyhu’s army advance throughout the night and at day break it reached at the Italian ditch and the Italian started to shoot, and then the long awaited war broke out.

When the heavy sound of guns exchanged between Fetawrari Gebyhu’s army and the Italian, the rest of the Ethiopian army advanced quickly from all sides to join Fetawrari Gebeyhu. In a few minutes, the Italian trench was encircled. From the left, as the Ras Wolay’s army pushed forcefully, the Italian army started retreating to the hill and began to fire the mortar from the distance. From the center, the Ras Makonnen’s and Ras Michael’s armies jumped over the trench and dashed to the hill and mixed themselves with the Italian army and fought fiercely hand in hand with sword and shield.  From the right side, Ras Mangesha’s and Ras Alula’s armies ran into the rear side and began a surprise attack. Within one hour, the Italian army was completely defeated, and tried to escape, however, the passage was too narrow so they decided to throw themselves from 400 meters high cliff while only a few succeeded in escaping and most of them were forced to surrender.

Major Toselli was courageous solder and refused to surrender and fought until he was killed. The casualty from both sides were big, the Italian lost about 3 thousands when the Ethiopian was about thousand with many injured.

After victory, the Ethiopian solders assembled themselves in various group and began to weep and cry to morn their dead. When Ras Mekonnen heard the weeping and crying, he chided standing in the middle of his army and saying, ‘My friends, this is not a time to weep but to rejoice. It is a great honor to die for our country and for our Emperor, instead you should address now your heroic deeds,’ upon which the mood changed into war song and describing by exhibiting the captives and captured weapons.

After this, Ras Makonen ordered that all dead bodies should be buried, irrespective of the fact whether they are Ethiopians or Italians. He personally attained the burial ceremony of Major Toselli and he ensured that it was done honorably.

After he wrote a report to Emperor Menelik, he marched to the next battle ground, Mekele. In his report, he mentioned that Fetawrari Gebeyhu and Kengazmach Taffese have been detained for they had breached the principle of the war; they laid their army into battle with out informing to the Command Center.”

What continued in Mekele and Adwa are the history of triumph of the united people of Ethiopia which sent a message to the Berlin conference that divided the rest of Africa among fifty European countries.  

The Victory of Adwa could remain as an inspiring example for future generation of Africa and peace loving people at large, that gallant Menelik’s army and generals and soldiers stood firmly in safeguarding their beloved country freedom as the cost of their precious lives as the same time showed generosity to the enemy after attaining the victory. When we celebrate such event in such manor we should also remember Empress Taitu’s contribution, which resulted in the defeat of the enemy.

The torch of Adowa is still burning in the heart of every Ethiopian and the commemoration of this year celebration is highlighted by the youth taking the route Emperor Menelik took to face the menacing fascist. A month ago today, five courageous young people travelled the 1000km to Adwa and were able to hoist the Ethiopian Flag one more time as Menelik II did 118 years ago. 

Happy 118th anniversary!

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