The Battle of Adwa is a significant event in Ethiopian history. But it also had an effect on the entire world because of the message it sent regarding racial and gender equality at a time when those issues were being discussed in societies around the world, especially in post-slavery America. The battle, fought on the cusp of February and March of 1896, also marked the first time an African nation was able to repulse a powerful and white colonizer – European nation, Italy, bent on building an empire.
Adwa’s Effect on Gender Equality
In the late 1800’s, European nations were engaged in carving up Africa for their various empires. Impress Taitu and her husband, Emperor Menelik II, ruled much of Ethiopia when the Italians began their designs on making the nation a territorial part of their realm. With an invasion force ready in Eritrea, they had approached the sovereigns with a treaty to seal the deal. But the treaty was duplicitous in that it promised one thing and did another. While one version of the treaty promised the Ethiopian sovereigns suzerainty over Ethiopia, another version of it told the world that Ethiopia was a vassal territory of Italy.
Impress Taitu, a respected and powerful voice in the Ethiopian court, detected the two-faced nature of the treaty and averred that she would rather die than sign such a document. The court and the king took her statement to heart and walked away from the treaty negotiations. The Italians took that as reason to invade the country. Already colonized, Eritrea was used as a staging ground to launch their invasion south into Ethiopia.
Queen Taitu accompanied Emperor Menelik and marched north to meet the main Italian force at Adwa. She commanded about 16,000 troops and an artillery battery of her own that she had gathered from her homeland region. All this was before women even had the right to vote in most western, so-called civilized nations.
Prior to the Battle of Adwa, the Queen and her soldiers had raided and claimed the water supply of a subsidiary Italian garrison holed up near the town of Mekele. They held the water supply for 15 days, despite repeated attacks. The garrison was so parched, thanks to Queen Taitu and her troops that it surrendered when Emperor Menelik arrived in the area and threatened a direct assault.
Adwa’s Effect on Racial Equality
The western world was stunned when the armies of Emperor Menelik and Queen Taitu sent the Italians packing from the Horn of Africa. It was the first time an African nation had repelled the quest for empire by a powerful European nation. This was also the first time, in recent history, that a so-called “inferior race” had defeated a white force.
Emperor Menelik was a wise ruler and a wiser general. He had seen other African countries fall to imperial powers because they could not unite due to their ethnic infighting. King Menelik was determined not to let this happen to Ethiopia. With a grass-roots appeal to every corner of Ethiopia, he mobilized Ethiopians to unite against the foreign aggressor as a result of which he w raised an army of over 200,000. He armed his soldiers with 300,000 rifles, 5 million rounds of ammunition, 6 thousand revolvers and 25,000 blades for lances. Ample provisions for a formidable artillery force were secured as well.
The battle was a nasty and bloody affair. The Italians fought valiantly but they were out-numbered and out-smarted. One general’s brigade was decimated by Ethiopian lancers and the general’s body was never found. At the conclusion of the war, over 7,000 soldiers had vanished from each side of the force.
The battle was a crushing and humiliating defeat for Italy. The Ethiopians drove the retreating Italians to Eritrea and ultimately ran them out of the area altogether. The Treaty of Addis Abba was drawn on the 26th of October, 1896, which was forced Italy to recognize Ethiopia as an independent and sovereign nation.
Emperor Menelik and Empress Taitu Compelled the World to Notice
Because of their ability to unite the country, the King and Queen were later crowned as Emperor and Empress Consort of Ethiopia. Aside from their ability at unification of the nation and their ability to repel a powerful European force, they also caused much second-thinking around the world regarding gender and racial equality. This was especially true in the United States where Americans were just starting to adjust socially and culturally in its post-slavery era. And the equality and suffrage of American women was just starting to bubble up in the political cauldron of that time. Thus, by the victory of Adwa Emperor Menelik and Empress Taitu forced the world to consider, contemplate, and think the role of woman, racial inequality, and the capability of Africans in a way it was never been seen before in history.
EHSNA and Battle of Adwa
The victory of the battle of Adwa has a noteworthy factor in Ethiopian history as well as contributes a huge impact on Ethiopian heritage. As a result, the Ethiopian Heritage Society in North America (EHSNA) is ready of organizing an event for the second time to be held on Sunday the March 3rd, 2013 at George Town University Conference Center Washington DC (http://ehsna.org/?attachment_id=1562) to commemorate the 117th Anniversary Battle of Adwa and its influence on the concepts of racial and gender equality. Historians and scholars have been invited to speak about the battle and its significance as a turning point in the histories and heritages of Ethiopia, Africa, Europe and America.
Therefore, we invite and encourage all Ethiopians, Ethio-Americans and friends of Ethiopia to join us in celebrating the 117th Anniversary of Adwa Celebration in order to preserve our heritage.
EHSNA is also preparing to have the third annual Ethiopian Heritage Festival in Washington, D.C. to be held this summer of 2013. The festival was a great success for the last two years in a row and once again it will feature the music, arts and crafts, food and fun engendered by Ethiopian culture.
As in the past, EHSNA would like to see all Ethiopians, friends of Ethiopia, and others at this year’s celebration of the Victory of Adwa, a shining event that changed the course of human history for once and for all!
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