abyssinia



abyssinia defined in 1939 year

abyssinia - ABYSSINIA (LAND OF THE ETHIOPIANS);
abyssinia - The country of Abyssinia, the official name of which is Ethiopia, is an inland independent empire in N.E. Africa, bounded on the N. by the former Italian colony of Eritrea, W. by the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. E. by French and British Somaliland, and S. by Kenya (British East Africa) and the former Italian Somaliland.

Abyssinia topography

Extending for 900 m. from W. to E. and for about 750 m. from N. to S., Abyssinia resembles a triangle in shape, with the apex towards the N. The area is about 350,000 sq. in. The Abyssinian region, including Abyssinia proper, may be divided into four distinct zones: (a) the narrow maritime plain occupied by the European Powers, extending through Eritrea and Erench Somaliland to Cape Guardafui, and thence turning S. and widening into the expanse of the former Italian Somaliland and Abyssinian Somaliland; (b] the maritime ranges, generally parallel with the coast; (c) the raised undulating plateaux which culminate in the Harar highlands, and are continued S. in the hilly country which forms the basins of the Webi-Shebeli (Wabi-Shevegli) and the Juba; and (d) the region bordering the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, which is mountainous, rising gradually from the W., and intersected by numerous deep valleys and remarkable ravines, some nearly 4,000 ft. in depth.

The mountains, which occasionally rise to 15,000 ft., are rugged and precipitous, particularly towards the E. The E. wall of the interior highlands runs due S. until it reaches the valley of the river Hawash. Here the main range bends to the S.W., while another chain continues in the original direction. From this a third range, the Harar, runs E. towards the Gulf of Aden. The loftiest peaks are found in the Simyen range, where the snowcapped summit of Ras Dashan, N.E. of Lake Tsana or Tana, rea?hes 15,160 ft. The principal riverj forming the head-streams of the Abbai., or Blue Nile, issue from Lake Tsana, near which the Atbara, also a tributary of the Nile, takes its rise. Other rivers are the Hawash, the Takkazye, an affluent of the Atbara, and the various tributaries of the Juba; but none is navigable, except for small craft. The torrential waters of the Blue Nile and the Atbara during the rainy season are largely responsible for the annual Nile flood. In the dry season these rivers almost cease to flow. In spite of its tropical situation, the climate of Abyssinia is usually salubrious and agreeable, owing to the general elevation of the country, although in the deep valleys and on the S. plains the heat is often oppressive. The rainy season proper begins about the middle of June and ends at the beginning of October.

Abyssinia, People and Language

The population of Abyssinia is estimated at about 8,000,000. The Abyssinians proper are a brown, well-formed people belonging to a Semitic stock, originally from the other side of the Red Sea, and speaking Ethiopic, a language closely allied to the old Sabaean. Ethiopic is the sacred language of the priests, but forms.the basis of the present Abyssinian. The modern language of Amhara f Am-haric) is the common tongue of the country. The Abyssinians may be divided into four groups: the Gallas in the S. and S.W., who entered Abyssinia early in the 16th century; the Amharas, or Abyssinians proper, in the central districts, who number about two millions and include the ruling class; the Somalis in Harar, the Somaliland plateau, and the S.E.; and the Danakil or Afars in the E. In addition there are numerous Jewish tribes, called Falashas, who retain man}' national customs, and also Arabs, Indians, Greeks, Armenians, etc.

Abyssinia, Religions

The Amharas are Christians, and so too are some of the Gallas. The rest of the Gallas, the Somalis, and the Danakil, are Mahomedans, with an admixture of pagans. The Palashas are Jews.

The Abyssinian Church, or Church of Ethiopia, is a branch of the Coptic Church of Egypt, and dates from the 4th century, when Athanasius of Alexandria consecrated Frumentius its first metropolitan or abuna. Since that time the abuna has been a Coptic monk chosen by the Coptic patriarch in Egypt, except when the ruler himself has taken the office. Frumentius found Jewish rites existing with traces of Christianity. The Christianity is still mixed with Judaic and pagan customs, though it approximates somewhat closely to the Greek form, the chief distinction being the profession of Mono-physitism - i.e. that in Christ was but one nature, the divine, a heresy adopted in the 5th century. There are many monasteries and convents under the control of native-born bishops. In the 16th and 17th centuries and later, unsuccessful attempts were made to introduce Roman Catholicism; Mahomedanism has been also kept back and Anglican missions have had little success.

Abyssinia, Constitution and Government

Abyssinia is an empire, ruled by an emperor, termed the Negus Negusti, or King of Kings, to whom the chiefs or governors-general of the twelve political provinces owe allegiance. Under the constitution granted by Haile Selassie in 1931 and restored in 1942, the autocracy of the Negus is modified by a Chamber of Nobles nominated by him, and a Lower Chamber nominated by nobles and local chiefs.

Although by an edict issued in 1907 education was made compulsory for all male children above the age of twelve, there were few educational establishments in the country prior to Haile Selassie's accession.

Abyssinia, Products and Resources

Abyssinia is essentially a pastoral and agricultural country, although highly mineralized. The vegetation is governed by elevation. In the S. cotton does well, while farther N., in Kafa, coffee, which derives its name from this district, is indigenous. Coffee is also grown in Harar. Sugar can be grown in the S. zone, and indigo, oranges, and bananas are abundant. The forests produce ebony, mahogany, and other hard woods, as well as acacia and bamboo. The fauna is as varied as the flora. Wild animals are represented by the elephant, lion, wolf, zebra, leopard, and hippopotamus; and domestic animals include the horse, donkey, mule, camel, sheep, ox, and goat. The country is on the whole extremely fertile and suited for the most varied products. The minerals comprise coal, iron, gold, silver, copper, and sulphur, but, with the exception of gold, are almost unworked. In the S. and S.W. districts gold is found along the river courses and is worked by the Gallas, and in the Walega district there are veins of gold-bearing quartz. Most of the gold extracted is used in the country in the form of ornaments and trinkets. There is a considerable trade in rock salt.

The main avenue of trade is the French-Ethiopian Ely., which runs from the port of Jibuti in French Somaliland to the Abyssinian capital at Addis Ababa, a distance of 486J m., and was completed in 1917. During the Italian occupation (1936-41) the road system was greatly improved.

In the W. goods are conveyed from Gore to Gambela and thence to Khartum, and farther N. trade passes through Gallabat to Khartum. Normally the exports are approximately valued at £1,250,000 and the imports at £1,000,000 per year. The exports principally consist of coffee, skins and hides, beeswax, ivory, rubber, butter, and herbs.

Salt as Currency

The chief towns are Addis Ababa, the capital, Dire Dawa, Harar, and Gondar. The currency before the Italian conquest consisted of the Maria Theresa dollar and the Menelek or standard dollar, introduced in 1894 and worth about 2s. Bars of salt of a uniform size are a recognized means of exchange, and in most places a system of barter still prevails. The Bank of Abyssinia has its head offices at Addis Ababa. It was chartered in 1905, and is empowered to mint the coinage of the country and to make note issues.

Abyssinia, History

Long prior to the Christian era there was intercourse between Egypt and Ethiopia, and according to Abyssinian tradition the queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon, was a ruler of that country. From their son, Menelek, the kings of Abyssinia claim descent. Under the Ptolemys close relations existed with both the Jews and the Greeks. But the rise of the Mahomedan power cut off the Abyssinians from the rest of the world.

Land ol Prester John

For some centuries little was heard of the country, but vague rumours reached Western Europe of a Christian kingdom, ruled by a monarch called Prester John. At the end of the loth century, when Portuguese missionaries first penetrated into the country, it had become divided into several independent and warring states. Pedro de Covilham, who visited Abyssinia in 1490, announced that he had discovered the kingdom of Prester John, and was followed by other Portuguese travellers and missionaries. With the decline of Portugal, Abyssinia was again isolated from Europe, and between the visits of the French physician. C. J. Poncet, in 1698, and the British traveller, James Bruce, in 1769, no European appears to have entered the country. For 300 years a continuous struggle for supremacy was in progress between the three kingdoms of Tigre, Amhara, and Shoa, and the over-lordship was generally secured by the ruler of Amhara.

In 1805 Abyssinia was visited by a British mission. In 1830 Protestant missionaries, notably Dr. Ludwig Krapf, the discoverer of Mt. Kenya, and Bishop Samuel Gobat, were received at the court. In 1838 the missionaries were obliged to leave. In the middle of the 19th century Kassa, an adventurer of great ability, acquired power in Amhara, proclaimed himself emperor as Theodore III and conquered Shoa.

For a time Theodore ruled wisely, but owing to supposed slights received from the British government he turned against the British consul and other British officials and imprisoned them in chains. This action necessitated the sending of an expedition in 1868, under Sir Robert Napier, later Lord Napier of Magdala. Magdala was stormed and taken, April 13, 1868, when Theodore, deserted by his followers, committed suicide. After his death. Prince Kassai, the chief of Tigre, became Negus, and was crowned as Johannes II in 1872, while Menelek, the son of the former ruler of Shoa, became chief of that province. War with the Khalifa occurred in 1887, when Gondar was sacked and burned. On March 9, 1889, the emperor Johannes was killed- in battle by the dervishes, and Menelek II became ruler of all parts of the country.

The new emperor was a man of great ability, who maintained the independence of his country. The advance of the Italians from Massawa was resisted by Johannes in 1887, and Menelek, at first favourable, refused to recognize an Italian protectorate. A large Italian force sent against Abyssinia in 1896 was decisively beaten at Adowa, March 1. From that time Menelek consolidated his position, introduced stability into his government, set up a Cabinet in 1907, and kept the empire out of debt. His wife, Taitou, was a woman of great force of character; and during a long illness of Menelek she virtually governed the country. She died Feb. 11, 1918. The death of Menelek, in Dec., 1913, when he was succeeded by Lij Yasu (Ladi Jesu), sou of his second daughter, opened a new era. In Sept., 1916, Lij Yasu was deposed, owing to his pro-Turkish sympathies. He died Nov., 193,5. Meanwhile his aunt Zauditu (Zeoditu), elder daughter of Menelek, was proclaimed empress, with Has Tafari as regent and heir to the throne. Abyssinia reverted to Cabinet Government in Aug., 1919, after over a year's personal administration by the regent.

The geographical position of Abyssinia, at the centre of the converging and conflicting interests of Great Britain, Italy, and France, was one of great political importance. The realization of this fact led France in 1923 to propose Abyssinia for membership of the League of Nations. The proposal encountered some opposition from Great Britain and Italy on the grounds that Abyssinia was still a feudal state and could not suppress the slave trade. Abyssinia was admitted on Sept. 28, 1923, subject to certain conditions as to the control of slavery and of the arms traffic. In 1924, Ras Tafari paid a five months' visit to the principal countries of Europe. In 1928 a treaty of perpetual friendship was signed by Abyssinia and Italy, providing that all disputes between the two countries should be settled by arbitration. In the same year Ras Tafari assumed the title of king (or Negus), and on the death of Zauditu in 1930 was proclaimed emperor under the name of Haile Selassie. His spectacular coronation was attended by representatives of all the great powers. The emperor signed a new constitution in 1931, instituting two chambers of representatives, and announced that slavery was to be abolished over a period of 15-20 years. A department was created (August, 1932) to carry abolition into effect.

Italo-Abyssinian War of 1935-1936

The frontiers between Abyssinia and British Soinaliland, and Abyssinia and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, had been settled by treaties. But the boundary between Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland had never been defined, and in spite of the treaty of 1928 and the exchange in October, 1934, of notes confirming Abyssinian-Italian friendship, continual frontier incidents occurred, culminating in a clash at Walwal, a watering-place used by the wandering herdsmen of the district, towards the end of November, 1934. An Anglo-Abyssinian commission, investigating pasture lauds, and escorted by Abyssinian troops, found 150 Italian native soldiers in possession of Walwal. Though Walwal was shown by every official map as beir.g at least 50 miles inside the Abyssinian border, the Italians claimed that it was in Italian Somaliland. The commission withdrew, but the Abyssinian troops remained. On Dec. 5 the Italians brought up two tanks and three aeroplanes and drove them away. Some 60 Italians and 200 Abyssinians were killed.

Abyssinia immediately protested to the League of Nations, and appealed against alleged aggression on her territory in districts bordering both Italian Soinaliland and Eritrea. Italy not only denied the allegations, but demanded compensation for her loss at Walwal and a virtual acknowledgment of Italian suzerainty. In March, 1935, Abjrssinia suggested the appointment of a commission of conciliation under the treaty of 1928. Italy agreed, and a commission met in July at Scheveningen in the Netherlands, but its deliberations came to nothing.

In the meantime frontier incidents in the same region continued,and on Oct. 3 Adigrat and Adowawere bombed from Eritrea. Adigrat was occupied on the 5th,Adowa on the 6th. The Councilof the League of Nations declaredunanimously on Oct. 7 that Italy had resorted to war in disregard of her covenants, and decided, with less unanimity, on coercion of the aggressor. The supply of arms to Abyssinia was sanctioned, and an embargo was placed on the supply to Italy of arms and certain key-imports (but not including petrol). A boycott of import from Italy was declared, and all credit facilities to the Italian government were prohibited. These decisions came into force on Nov. 18, 1935. Italy promptly retorted by banning trade with any nation that acted on the League embargo. Meanwhile she had pressed forward with the war, occupying the holy city of Aksum on Oct. 14. General de Bono, the Italian commander-in-chief, issued a proclamation on Oct. 19 abolishing slavery in occupied Abyssinia. Early in November General Graziani advanced from the S. across the Italian ' Somaliland frontier. At the end of the month de Bono was replaced by Badoglio. After some setbacks the Italians, with the help of aerial bombing and the use of poison gas from the air, swept on to the occupation of Neghelli (Jan. 22, 1936), Ambi Alagi (Feb. 28), Gondar (April 2), and Dessie (April 15). The emperor fled from Addis Ababa on May 1, reaching Haifa a week later in the British cruiser Enterprise, which had taken him off from Jibuti. Badoglio occupied the capital on May 5, the day on which Mussolini announced the end of the war and the annexation of Abyssinia. Graziani occupied Harar and Dire Dawa on May 9, the two Italian forces meeting at Dire Dawa the following day.

Mussolini announced that Abyssinia was now under the rule of king Victor Emmanuel III, who assumed the title of emperor of Ethiopia. Badoglio was appointed viceroy and governor-general. A decree of June 1 constituted the new colony of Italian East Africa by the joining together of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Italian Somaliland. Haile Selassie made a moving address in person to the AssembTy of the League of Nations on June 30, but the League took no further action on his behalf. The arms embargo against Italy was raised on July 14.

Graziani succeeded Badoglio (created duke of Addis Ababa) as viceroy on June 11, 1936, and was himself succeeded by the duke of Aosta on Nov. 21, 1937. Germany recognized the Italian conquest of Abyssinia on Oct. 25, 1936, and her recognition was followed at intervals by that of most of the other governments, including that of Great Britain (Nov. 16, 1938). But Italy never completely subjugated the province of Gojjam, bordering on the Sudan.

During the occupation Italy amply provided for defensive and offensive operations. A force of at least 300,000 men, with 400 guns and 200 aircraft, was on the spot, and of these some 100,000 were stationed near the Sudan borders. Her position, therefore, in view of the general weakness of the British in East Africa, seemed assured.

The Liberation of 1941

In June, 1940, shortly after Italy's declaration of war against Great Britain, Italian troops invaded the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, British Somaliland, and Kenya. Italy also used Eritrea as the base for naval operations on the vital Red Sea communications. These contingencies had", however, been foreseen. In the Sudan, Abyssinian refugees had been trained to be the first modern Abyssinian field force, under able British officers. In Kenya a similar but smaller force had been prepared. To aid the local contingents South African and Indian forces were landed in Kenya and Indian, forces were massed around Kassala, at Gedaref, and on the Red Sea coast, in the Sudan. There were thus two main bases.for British operations against Italian East Africa. From Khartum came the forces operating against Eritrea and Northern Abyssinia. From Nairobi came those which conquered the coastal territories of Italian Somaliland and advanced north-west to Addis Ababa.

Early in July, 1940, a handful of British officers and N.C.O.s had crossed the borders of Abyssinia with an important convoy of arms. After trekking for many weeks through mountainous country and jungle they reached their headquarters some 500 miles within the borders of Ethiopia, where they undertook to train Abyssinian patriots in the use of modern firearms and to raise the standard of revolt. The Italians failed to locate the groups of patriots either on the ground or from the air, and never foresaw the growth of a hostile army.

After six months the British officer in charge of the mission was able to report to Haile Selassie that an army was trained, equipped, and ready to attack, and that the men were awaiting the presence of their emperor.

On Jan. 24, 1941, Haile Selassie crossed the border, and unfurled the standard with ceremonial and religious ritual. Drum telegraph carried the news throughout the land, and the revolt of the patriots began. Besides the two armies of the N. (patriots and Imperial troops) and south (patriots and South African troops) two other forces attacked, one from the E. and one from the S.E. The operations in Abyssinia took the form of a great pincer movement aimed at the capture of Addis Ababa and the reduction of Amba Alagi, where the duke of Aosta was finally trapped.

The Abyssinian campaign was marked by continuous fighting and some considerable battles, particularly the great fight at Keren to secure the domination of Asmara and the coasts of Eritrea. In the final stages of the war, towns and villages were kept perpetually under artillery fire, the R.A.F. co-operating.

The duke of Aosta, as Italian C.-in-C., decided to make his last stand by withdrawing to the Abyssinian highlands in the hope that the spring rains would paralyse any advance. On April 5, 1941, the British entered Addis Ababa, a handful of men taking over a capital in which were 10,000 Italian troops and police. This was the virtual end - although Gfondar held out until Nov. 27, 1941 - of the Italian adventure.

An agreement was signed by the British and Ethiopian governments restoring diplomatic relations between the two countries, and providing for the services of British finance and personnel in the restoration of the emperor's administration. The agreement was confirmed, with modifications due to progress, by the signing of a further two-year pact in Dec., 1941. The Italian decrees abolishing slavery and forced labour were maintained, and, pending the restoration in 1942 of the 1931 constitution, the emperor governed by decrees having the force of law. On Oct. 9, 1942, Abyssinia adhered to the pact of the United Nations, and,pn Dec. 4 of the same year she declared war on Germany, Italy, and Japan. See East African Campaign.

At the present time Abyssinia, quite apart from its economic value as a country of great potential wealth, still largely undeveloped, occupies a position of great political and strategic importance as the guardian of the head-waters of the Nile upon which the prosperity of Egypt so intimately depends.

Bibliography. History of Abyssinia, A. H. M. Jones and E. Munroe, 1935; Abyssinian Campaigns; Official story of the conquest of Italian E. Africa, 1942.

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