By H. M. Alden
|King Theodore of Abyssinia|
The English have been "carrying the war into Africa" with a vengeance. That this vengeance has been so fully accomplished is a precious consolation to the national pride of Englishmen; and there is something sublime in the very undertaking of an expedition for the release of a score of captives who had no other claim upon the British Government than their citizenship. We are reminded of the inviolable sanctity of the Roman citizen under the Caesars. Indeed, this Abyssinian expedition carries those readers who are disposed to be romantic back beyond Rome to the siege of Troy, undertaken by the Greeks for the rescue of the stolen Helen.
Abyssinia, if we are not critical as to boundary lines, is the ancient Ethiopia. It was the queen of this country who figures in the Bible as the Queen of Sheba, who, crossing the Red Sea, visited the court of Solomon, and from whom as one of the wives of that illustrious king, is descended the royal line of Abyssinian princes. So the Abyssinians believe, and the claim is not worth disputing. Titles thus ancient are as difficult to disprove as they are to establish. In the earliest human literature Ethiopia occupies an exalted position. In Homer's Odyssey it is Jove's summer residence, whither he flies to escape the whimsical tyranny of jealous Juno, or to forget the cares of universal empire. But, though mentioned in Homer and Hebrew Scripture, it is a region whose ancient history is almost entirely unknown. During the first or second century of the Christian era flourished the Auxumitic Dynasty, and the site of the principal town of this kingdom is occupied by the modern Axum in Tigre, where are to be found many vestiges of its former greatness. The arts of the Greeks and the Egyptians had at this time penetrated into the country; and we find the Greek language used in monumental inscriptions, as in the famous monument at Axum, executed before the introduction of Christianity, in which the king calls himself "son of the invincible Mars." About 1268 A.D. we find the seat of power transferred from Tigre to Shoa, in Southern Abyssinia. Christianity was introduced into the country early in the fourth century by Frumentius, of Tyre, who was appointed by Athanasius, patriarch of Alexandria, to be the first bishop, or Abuna, of Abyssinia. This connection with the Coptic Church has never since that time been interrupted, and to this day the Church of Abyssinia receives its Abuna from Egypt. In the year 638 the Saracens invaded Egypt, and by extending their conquests along the northern coast of Africa cut off Abyssinia from all communication with Christian nations. If this severance from the rest of Christendom is to be considered a misfortune, the manner in which communications were reopened toward the close of the fifteenth century was still more unfortunate. The Portuguese then penetrated the country, and with them came the Jesuits, who attempted to force the Abyssinian Church to submit to Papal authority. Notwithstanding the resistance of the great mass of the people the Jesuits continued to push their designs through unprincipled intrigues which had no other result than to involve the unhappy kingdom in rebellion and civil war. While the country was thus torn by internal dissensions it was at the same time invaded by the Galla tribes on the southwest, and by the Mohammedans from the east. Thus, when the Jesuits were finally expelled, about the middle of the seventeenth century, the unity of the kingdom was at an end. The subsequent history of the country is a record of bloody conflicts between rival chieftains. At the close of the eighteenth century Ras Michael openly usurped the royal power, but he failed in his efforts to reunite the dismembered kingdom. When the French Commission visited Abyssinia, in 1840, they found the country in this distracted condition. The northern provinces of Tigre and Semien, with Adowa as capital, were under the dominion of Ras Oubie. At Gondar Ras Ali reigned over the province of Amhara. Shoa, in the south, had long been an independent kingdom, with Angolola and Angobar for its chief towns. This is the sum of what is known of the history of Abyssinia down to the rise of King Theodore, who becomes the central figure in that history from 1850 to the close of the British Expedition.
|Gondar, the former capital of Abyssinia|
In regard to this singular country and its people there are many sources of information. Among these the most important are the narrative of Mr. James Bruce, a Scotch traveler, who visited that country in 1739; the interesting volumes of Mr. Mansfield Parkyns, who lived there from 1844 to 1847, adopting the customs of the natives; the reports transmitted to the British Foreign Office by Mr. Walter Plowden, formerly British Consul at Massowah, from 1852 to 1855; some articles contributed to the Revue des Deux Mondes by M. Lejean, French Consul at Gondar, from 1860 to 1862; several publications of Dr. C. T. Beke, a well-known African traveler; the narratives and letters of Rev. H. A. Stern, the German missionary, and of his companions, held in captivity by Theodore; and Mr. Henry Dufton's recently published account of his journey through the country in 1862 and 1863.
Abyssinia is situated in Eastern Africa, separated from Arabia by the Red Sea; it lies in the same latitude with Madras, and in about the same longitude with Moscow. A highland district of considerable extent, intersected by but a small number of great valleys and important rivers; its surface, however, diversified by vast upland plains, cultivated in parts, in others barren and waterless, and by mountainous and rocky ranges, with a great central upland lake, which gives birth to one of the chief tributaries of the Nile, constitute, with a few towns, villages, and mountain fastnesses, and some fragmentary relics of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia, all that really go to compose the modern Habesh or Abyssinia. Excluding the southern province of Shoal it is about 400 miles long from north to south, and 300 miles wide—being thus nearly of the same extent as France. It is separated from the shores of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean by a strip of level land, nowhere broader than seventy or one hundred miles, stretching along the foot of the mountain range which encloses Abyssinia like a wall on every side. This strip of land, to which both Annesley Bay and the islet and port of Massowah belong, is subject to the Turkish sovereignty, as a dependency of Arabia. To the north and west the Abyssinian frontier, there defended by still loftier mountains, adjoins the Egyptian territories of Soudan and Sennaar, through which most of the Abyssinian livers flow into the Nile. The Blue Nile, which unites with the White Nile (that is, the Nile of the Albert and Victoria Nyanza) at Khartoum, emerges from the southern part of Abyssinia, sweeping half round it, and turning boldly to the northwest. Beyond this river, farther south, a large extent of country is occupied by the wild tribes of the Gallas, who are continually at war with Abyssinia, and by whom it is divided from the kindred state of Shoa. Thus, having no access to the sea, and being shut up on every side within the circuit of its own Alpine barrier, surrounded by hostile Mohammedan powers, and by savage predatory races, the condition of Abyssinia has been more unfavorable to progressive civilization than that even of Persia or Japan.
|Group of Abyssinian native|
The northern and eastern portion of this territory, nearest the Red Sea, belongs to Tigre; and has never been for any long time subject to King Theodore. The river Takazze separates Tigre from Amhara. The people of Amhara have a distinct language of their own, and have been the dominant race of Abyssinia. They have apparently a higher civilization. "Their manners," according to Mr. Plowden's account, "are pleasing; they are remarkably quick and intelligent; but their standard of morality is low. Sensual pleasures, and that of intoxication, are gratified without scruple and without shame. In general, the interests and conveniences of the moment are their only rule of conduct; want of tact and ill-temper the only crimes in their code. The most curious point in their character is that no one is expected to feel ashamed of any crime or vice. I have never yet been able to discover what an Abyssinian could be ashamed of, except a solecism in what he considers good-manners, or the neglect of some superstitious form of social observance. They are peculiarly sensitive, however, to ridicule and abuse, whether true or untrue, and half the time of an Abyssinian master is passed in deciding disputes on such subjects. They care little for fidelity in marriage. Polygamy abounds—even the Abuna having seventy wives. They are described by travelers as conceited, frivolous, and insincere. They are inordinately fond of finery. Both the men and women wear loose cotton robes, and anoint their plaited hair with butter, which, under the heat of a tropical sun, runs down over their face, neck, and shoulders. They build no houses of solid masonry, but allow the old cities with their relics of a former civilization to fall into ruin. The dwellings of the modern Amharas bear the same relation to the works of their forefathers as those of the Fellaheen in Egypt to the mighty remnants of Karnak and Luxor. They are mostly built like a tower, two stories high, with a projecting conical roof, beneath which the stairs wind up outside as in a Swiss chalet. The ground-floor is generally used as a magazine—the second one being reserved for the family. Furniture is but scant, usually consisting of a few mats, some rugs, carpets, and three or four niches in the wall with ox horns to hang the owner's warlike accoutrements on. The most powerful class is that of the feudal military aristocracy, from the rank of Dejajmatch, or Duke, ruling one or two provinces, and leading 5000 armed men into the field, down to that of the simple officer on whom the Ras or Negus has bestowed a silk skirt. The soldiers, when left unpaid, are permitted to plunder at will, and only the great landlords and farmers are strong enough to defend their estates by force against these inroads.
|Village of Akoo|
The accounts given by travelers of this ancient Ethiopia are a strange mixture of truth and fable. Even many of Mr. Bruce's statements have been questioned or laughed at as ridiculous fictions. Dr. Walcot, an unscrupulous satirist of the last century, writing under the cognomen of "Peter Pindar," visited Bruce with unsparing ridicule. The latter speaks in his work of the custom of the natives to eat live oxen.
"Peter Pindar" lamented that in his travels he had seen no such wonders; he had
"not been where men—what loss, alas!
Kill half a cow, and turn the rest to grass."
But both Sir William Jones and Mr. Dufton vouch for the truth of Bruce's narrative. "In a country," says the latter, " where I have seen eaten, and often partaken of, flesh warm and quivering from the ox, actually moving in the hand, and where a native once told me that it was common for shepherds to cut a sheep's tail while alive and stick the fat out, filling the wound with salt for another occasion, I can readily believe what Bruce described."
Sir John Mandeville might fairly have come under "Peter Pindar's" satiric lash when he asserted that "merchants will not go into the land of Prester John (Abyssinia) by reason of the length of the journey and the great perils on sea; there are many places in the sea where are many rocks of stone that is called adamant, the which of his own kind draweth to him all manner of iron, and therefore there be no ships." Procopius notices the peculiar construction of the vessels navigating the Red Sea, and in particular the substitution of ropes for nails in fastening the planks. He suggests that the ignorant attributed the absence of metal to the existence on the coast of a magnetic mountain, which attracted the nails and destroyed the ships. He gives, as the real reason, the absence of iron in Ethiopia, and the fact that the Romans forbade the sale of it. As an instance of the baselessness of the tradition, he mentions that no accident befell Roman vessels laden with iron. Again Cosmas mentions having seen in Abyssinia the hippopotamus; and although he never encountered a living specimen of the unicorn, he saw figures of the animal in the palace of a native king. He says: "It is impossible to take the beast; all the strength of it lies in his horn. When pursued, and on the point of being captured, it throws itself from precipices, and turns a somersault with such dexterity that it receives all the shock on the horn and escapes safe and sound." What a god-send to this animal must the Alpine character of the Abyssinian country have been, for clearly he would not have had much chance for his life on a dead level! But to return again to Sir John. "There is a certain isle,"' he remarks, "where be people as great as giants, of eight feet long, and they gladlier eat men's flesh than other; and men tell us that beyond that Island is another, whereon are greater giants of forty-five or fifty feet long, but I saw them not; and among these giants are great sheep—as it were, young oxen. These sheep have I seen many times." He goes on to say that "the land is full of marvels, for that there is a goodly sea which is of sand and gravel and no drop of water, and it ebbeth and floweth with very great waves, as another sea doth, and it is never standing still, and never in rest, and no man can pass to the land beyond it."
These fictions remind us of a legend which the natives relate in regard to a cave on the coast of Calam, near Axum—namely, that if one take in a candle at night he may see distinctly the whole way to. Jerusalem, whither King Calam—whoever he may have been—went on a pilgrimage. Father Bermudez not only mentions "a kind of unicorn" and a race of Amazons, but also a Phoenix which lived among certain rough and desert mountains. Father Lobo, another Jesuit, narrowly escaped with his life from a species of serpents which he describes as having "a wide mouth, with which they draw in a great quantity of air, and having retained it sometime, eject it with such force that they kill at four yards' distance." Poncet, a French physician who visited the country in 1698, speaks of as many as 10,000 priests and 16,000 deacons having been sometimes consecrated at a single ordination. He does not inform us how many worshipers there were in the churches, nor how the convocations of the Abyssinian Church—if any were held—were conducted. He also mentions red hippopotami as seen by him on the Lake Tzana, and tells us about "a wonderful little animal, not much bigger than a cat, but with a head like a man's and a white beard. It remains always on those trees where it is born and there dies."
Abyssinia appears to be a most wonderful country, even if we reject these fables and depend solely upon the most trustworthy accounts. From Angobar (the capital of Shoa) Dr. Beke writes: "Fancy my being here, within ten degrees of the line—dog-roses; honeysuckles, jasmine, and blackberries in the hedges, stinging-nettles in the ditches, and butter-cups in the fields of grass, quite as fine as those of England. But there is every climate here within the extent of a few miles, and the country will produce anything." Dufton, on his first entrance into Theodore's country, says it would be best represented by picturing the high mountains of the Scotch highlands covered with the fertility of the Rhineland; but the vegetation is of a nature quite different from that of the Rhine, characterized as it is, by the luxuriance of the tropics. Close by is the deep valley of the Black Nile, with woods of baobab, sycamore, and cedar, abounding, as all these low valleys do in Abyssinia, with wild beasts, including elephants, lions, rhinoceros, hyenas, antelopes, gazelles, and wild boar. The shores of Lake Tzana, near Debra. Tabor — a fine inland sheet of water 70, miles long by 40 broad, situated 6000 feet above the sea, and containing several beautiful islands— are adorned with peach, grape-vine, and other fruit trees, and produce wheat, barley, and other cereals. In the southwest, toward Kuara, the coffee-plant also flourishes. Among minerals, coal and iron are found in considerable quantities. Abyssinia is indeed capable of producing anything, for there is every variety of climate between the high mountain land and the deep lowlands or valleys. It has been called the Switzerland of Africa, and in the hands of a civilized community would constitute one of the most delightful places of sojourn it is possible to conceive. One of the greatest drawbacks is the rainy season, which prevails one-half the year, and during which journeying among the hills is impossible. Almost instantaneously sudden floods descend from the mountains and overwhelm all that they find in their path.
The general features of the country lying along the route of General Napier's march have been portrayed by Mr. Markham, who accompanied the expedition as the representative of the Royal Geographical Society. A sandy plain, overlying a clayey soil, stretches from Annesley Bay to the mountains. It is intersected by dry beds of torrents, overgrown with such plants as salicornia, acacia, and calotropis, with patches of coarse grass. On a few mounds are found broken pieces of fluted columns, capitals, and fragments of a dark volcanic stone. From the anchorage at Zulla, on the bay, this plain appears green, aid in the distance appear the snow-clad tops of the Semien mountains, 15,000 feet high. The ridges of these Abyssinian Alps appear to rise one above another in a succession of waves, their snowy caps tantalizing the dwellers upon the torrid plains below toward Massowah. The Shohoes, a group of whom are represented in one of our illustrations, inhabit the region around Zulla. Their huts are scattered over the plain. Their burial-places are extensive, and appear to be used by the people for a considerable distance around them, there being only two between the coast and the entrance to the Senafe Pass. The moo of sepulture is peculiar. The graves are marked by oblong heaps of stone, with upright slabs at each end. A hole is dug about six feet in depth, and at the bottom a small cave is excavated for the reception of the body. The tomb is closed with stones, and the hole leading to it is filled up.
From Lower Ragolay, a great salt plain extends southward, white with a saline incrustation, and showing signs of volcanic action. This Ragolay River, in flowing to the sea, descends into a depression 193 feet below the sea level, caused probably by some violent volcanic action, and its waters are finally dissipated by evaporation under the intense heat of a scorching sun, and by absorption in the sand.
Through Komayli, at the entrance of the Senate Pass, and 433 feet above the sea, our course winds through the narrow pass among gneiss mountains which rise perpendicularly on either side, and after proceeding 12 miles, the pass again opens at Upper Sooroo, 2520 feet above the sea level. We then pass a plain where we find guinea-fowl, candelabra-trees, and aloes.
|Plateau at Senafe, looking toward the Adowa Peaks|
The cliffs rise higher, with peaked mountains towering up behind them, and the vegetation becomes richer and more varied. Here grow figs, and banyan, sycamore, tamarind, jujube, and solanum trees. In some places we encounter a perfect plague of locusts, which rise from the ground in myriads, their innumerable wings making a loud, crackling noise. Monkeys are numerous, and the carcasses of mules attract hosts of Abyssinian vultures. Senafe itself is a village 7464 feet above the sea, and occupied by Mohammedans. One remarkable feature of this region is the number of plateaus, whose summits form a straight level, terminating in scarped sandstone cliffs with underlying schist rocks, the plateaus being diversified with flat-topped peaks and separated by deep ravines and wide valleys.
From Senafe to Magdala—the goal of the British expedition—is a distance of 260 miles through a mountainous region very similar to that already described. One-third of this route lies within the province of Tigre.
Before we close this survey of Abyssinia and its people, let us for a moment glance at the religious condition of the country. For fifteen hundred years Abyssinia has been nominally a Christian nation. The slight bond which held the Abyssinian Church through its hierarchical form to the Coptic has been much loosened by dissensions about doctrines, and by the labors of modern missionaries. Among these missionaries the Protestants were first in the field, represented by M. Gobat, who arrived in 1830, followed by Moravian brethren. M. de Jacobis, the Roman Catholic Bishop, arrived in 1840. The Protestants, moreover, have had an advantage from the fact that they have prosecuted their missionary labors, not by political intrigues, but by introducing the arts of civilization. More recently they have been less discreet, and have imperiled the whole mission by proselytizing, and declaring war against the ignorant traditions of the Abyssinians; it was through them that, directly as concerned the captive missionaries, and indirectly as concerned Consul Cameron and his companions, the late difficulties arose. The Roman Catholic Christianity of the natives is a strange admixture of Romanism, Judaism, and Pagan superstition. Certainly this Christianity has done very little to elevate the people above those of the surrounding countries. Over two-thirds of the days of the year are fast-days. Religion among the people is purely formal, and has no power over the life. The monastic institution is a great burden upon the people. It is estimated that there are over twelve thousand monks and nuns, all living upon the country. Gondar, the former capital of Abyssinia, is the seat of the priesthood, the implacable enemies of the late King Theodore, and on this account it has been by him given up to plunder and rapine thrice since 1862. Deserted, barren places, blackened ruins, and heaps of debris everywhere meet the eye, and, with the uneven pavement, narrow winding streets, and herds of lazy priests, remind one forcibly of Jerusalem.
If the Christianity of Abyssinia planted by Frumentius had been a vital, operative power, the history of the world would have been materially changed. Christianity would then have advanced into Arabia, and, as Gibbon says, "Mohammed must have been crushed in his cradle." Abyssinia might thus have prevented a revolution which has changed the civil and religious state of the world.
RISE AND FALL OF THEODORE
The events of the past fifteen years of Abyssinian history group themselves about a single center—King Theodore, whose character and career are equally remarkable. He is represented as uniting in himself the most opposite and conflicting qualities—brutality and intelligence, benignity and tyranny, moderation and madness, savage prejudice and political sagacity. These inconsistencies are, however, easy of explanation if we separate his career into two periods, the first of which closes about 1861. It is in this early portion of the king's carder that his best qualities appear, while the later years of his reign disclose features from the contemplation of which the human mind shrinks in horror and disgust.
|General Napier’s march, water carriers and camp followers|
The original name of this monarch was Dedjatz Kassai. He was born in 1820. His father, Hailu Weleda Georgis, was an impoverished Abyssinian nobleman of royal descent. But he was a poor stick of a husband, and dying soon after the birth of this promising son Kassai, left his widow to support herself by peddling Kousso—a drug which the Abyssinians take to kill tape-worm. They incur the disease by the consumption of raw meat, and drink the tincture of Kousso to cure it. Upon his father's death Kassai was placed in a monastery to be educated as a priest. It was here that the boy4ecame versed in the legends and traditions of his country, all of which like Mohammed, he applied to himself. In particular there was an ancient prophecy, according to which a mighty man named Theodorus was to arise, rescue the Holy Sepulcher from the Turks, chase them out of Europe, destroy the whole Moslem race from the face of the earth, restore the holy city of Jerusalem to its ancient splendor, and re-establish the Abyssinian Church in all its pristine power and glory. Years passed on, while Kassai, who had assumed the happy name of Theodore, nourished in his heart these old legends, until finally the monastery was attacked and pillaged, and this aspiring youth, having narrowly escaped with his life, entered upon the accomplishment of his dreams.
At the time of Theodore's escape Ras Ali ruled Central Abyssinia, while the outlying provinces were governed by independent chiefs. The mother of Has Ali ruled the province of Dembea. Theodore had gathered about him a considerable following, and defeated the Queen Mother at the head of her troops. To pacify the ambitious fellow she gave him her daughter's hand in marriage. Ras Ali insisted upon the disarmament of his forces, and succeeded by an offer of amnesty in detaching his followers from their chief, whom he captured and carried to Debra Tabor in triumph. Theodore, by wily protestations of loyalty, gained an influence over his captor, convinced him that the Queen was an objectionable old lady, and was allowed to put himself again at the head of his troops and make war on the Arabs. It was not until the end of 1852 or beginning of 1853 that Theodore showed his true colors and openly proclaimed war against Ras Ali, whom, together with his ally the Chief of Tigre, he defeated in battle. Now completely master of the situation, he proceeded to carry out his design of subjecting the independent chiefs and establishing the Ethiopian empire. Oubie, Chief of Tigre, was his most formidable opponent. Theodore trifled with his rival, and affected to treat with him as to which should be the universal sovereign. In February, 1854, he agreed to submit the question to a council of Notables. And at this point we find the ecclesiastical element coming into play. Abba Salama, the Coptic Abuna, favored the claims of Oubie. Now this Abuna owed his patriarchate to the Romish bishop, Jacobis, a missionary who had gained a precarious footing in the country, and who, it seems, had suggested the elevation of Salama, hoping that afterward he might himself obtain the succession on account of his protégé’s dissipated character. But Salamis had "stuck" in spite of the fact that he was a bloated drunkard and a sensualist; and consequently Jacobis was a disappointed aspirant. Here was Theodore's opportunity. He promised to give Jacobis the patriarchate and to make the Roman Catholic faith the established religion of the empire, if he would crown him Emperor. This bait being eagerly snatched by the Jesuit, Theodore resumed the war against Oubie, and the Coptic Abuna retaliated by excommunicating him and his whole army. This dread punishment did not affect Theodore, who had now a bishop of his own. If one bishop could curse another could absolve—so he told the Abuna, and hinted that the latter had better look out for his own position. This brought the Abuna to his senses, and he promised to crown Theodore Emperor on condition that the rival bishop and his priests from the country would consent. Thus, by playing off one priest against another, Theodore made both of them his most humble servants. Early in 1855 he was crowned Emperor under the title of "Theodoros, King of Kings, of Ethiopia;" and the ceremony took place at the very time and place fixed upon for the coronation of his rival.
Successful in his ambitious schemes Theodore commenced to reform the administration of the country. He paid his soldiers regularly, and thus prevented them from plundering his subjects. He suppressed the slave-trade, and even purchased Christian slaves from Mohammedan dealers in order to set them free. He introduced decent habits of dress into Abyssinian society, and furnished an example of conjugal fidelity which might well have put to shame the Coptic Abuna. As far as possible he dispersed the banditti who had infested the country from time immemorial. He deprived the feudal chiefs of their despotic power, and placed the country under a responsible government. He also very much weakened the powers of the priesthood.
King Theodore's personal appearance is described by Mr. Dufton, who represents him as "of middling stature, and of a well-knit but not over-powerful frame, conveying more the idea of being tough and wiry than of strong physical development. His complexion is dark, approaching to black, but he has nothing of the negro about him; his features are altogether those of a European. His head is well-formed, and his hair is arranged in large plaits extending back from the forehead. The forehead is high, and tends to be prominent. His eye is black; full of fire, quick, and piercing. His nose has a little of the Roman about it, being slightly arched and pointed. His mouth is perfect; and the smile which during the conversation continually played upon it was exceedingly agreeable, I may say fascinating. He has very little mustache or beard. His manner was peculiarly pleasant, gracious, and even polite; and his general expression, even when his features were at rest, was one of intelligence and benevolence."
His method of administering justice was peculiar. He instituted himself as the highest authority in the land to whom all the discontented could appeal, appearing before him with the cry, "Dschan-hoi" (majesty). There was a wild sort of justice in his decisions, usually given in the morning before his tent. For instance:
|General Napier’s march – mules and mule-drivers|
He was sitting at the door of his tent, when an Arab approached with the cry "Dschan-hoi, Dschan-hoi! Justice, 0 King!" Being asked his complaint he replied:
"Three days ago I returned home from the bazar; ‘Fatmeh,’ I cried, ‘Fatmeh!’ but no answer. For know, 0 King, Fatmeh is my wife, my pearl. She has vanished. Allah akbar, God is great; I supposed she had visited her sick mother. The stars begin to pale, the sun returns, but Fatmeh comes not. I hasten to her mother; she has not been there! Dschan-hoi, I want my wife'!"
"Good," replies the king, "you shall have her; be ready in an hour's time to receive me in your house."
Promptly appearing the king asks to be shown the dresses of the missing wife. So all the faithless Fatmeh's pomps and vanities are exposed, and finally a pair of wide-flowing silken trousers are brought to light, and the astonished husband cannot recognize them as a part of his wife's wardrobe. All the tailors in Gondar were then summoned, one of whom identified the trousers as made by him for a rich young nobleman, Ras Michal. Then follows the seizure of the Ras and the discovery of Fatmeh. Both were brought before the king.
"There is your wife," said Theodore; "take her; I have kept my promise."
"Excuse me, Dschan-hoi," said Abdallah; "a woman who has slept three nights out of my house is no longer my wife."
“You have spoken well," said the king. "Take this purse and buy yourself another one. As for you two," he thundered, "you cannot marry here, as one woman cannot have two husbands, but you can be united in heaven if you like!" Thereupon he gave the order for their immediate execution, which was carried out the same day.
Here is another instance. A soldier has shot a peasant who tried to regain some tobacco stolen from him by the former. A judge, on hearing the case, fined the murderer ten dollars, which he handed to the widow, who indignantly refused and appealed to the king. Theodore heard the story through, and had the soldier brought before him. "What was your punishment?" inquired the king. "A fine of ten dollars," was the reply. "Oh!" said the king, "'tis cheap: I can afford that," and drawing his pistol, he shot the man dead, quietly laying down ten dollars before the astounded judge.
At the summit of his power King Theodore commanded an army of 150,000 men, though only about one-third of these were disciplined soldiers. The following is a description from the pen of H. A. Burette (who once fell into the clutches of King Theodore), of the order of march usually adopted by this immense army:
"First the king, with his likamanquas and body-guard, then a troop of cavalry for reconnoitering, followed by the bulk of the infantry, the rear being brought up by the train and rest of the cavalry. The train is a most picturesque sight. The most characteristic feature in it is the clerical party, which always accompanies the king like the high-priests of the Israelites. The native head of the clergy, the Tchege, with an enormous turban, and dressed in his long white robe, or which was white once upon a time, leads the van, surrounded by pious monks and holy men dressed in leather, and their heads covered with little yellow caps. Then follows a monk ringing a bell and preceding a number of priests carrying diverse gaudily-gilt and painted thrones, on which the tables of the laws repose. Very often there is quite a collection of these tables inscribed with the Ten Commandments, ‘tabots,’ as they are called, which are quite new, and have been brought into the camp to receive the Abuna's blessing. In addition to these gentlemen there are always a certain number of ‘debteras,’ who, with charms and amulets for protection against the evil chances of war, do make a very good business of it too. But the funniest sight of all is the cock of the church, a fat capon, kept to awaken the holy men to their devotions, and putting one in mind of
‘This is the cock that crew in the morn,
To waken the priest all shaven and shorn:’
only the Abyssinian priests don't shave, nor comb, nor wash. The number of women accompanying the army is very large, each of the officers taking his wife with him to the wars, and most of the men their sweet-hearts."
|Church at Goun-Gouna|
The Emperor did not find that his coronation in 1855 put his enemies at rest. The security of his kingdom was still menaced by rebellions headed by various chiefs, of whom the most powerful was a certain Negousie, and a man named Garet, who made himself notorious by the murder of Mr. Plowden—the British consul and a particular friend and supporter of Theodore. At the time of this murder Theodore was warring against Negousie, but on the news reaching him he immediately proceeded to avenge the murder of his friend, and forced the rebel chief to accept battle. Garet dashed at the king, and threw his lance at him, which would inevitably have pierced his breast had not Mr. Bell interposed his own body, thus sacrificing his life for the man to whose service he had devoted himself. This Mr. Bell—also an Englishman—after leading a hunter's life on the banks of the Blue Nile, had in the course of his adventures strayed into the wilds of Abyssinia, where, in 1854, he became acquainted with King Theodore. The king must have had a remarkable power of inspiring enthusiasm in the minds of other men. It would be difficult otherwise to account for the devotion of this ill-fated Englishman. At night, we are told, he lay down before the door of his royal master like a dog.
During the period with which we have been dealing King Theodore was sober. The extravagances of his subsequent career we can only account for by his excessive indulgence in the use of some vile Abyssinian liquor of an unpronounceable name, but the importation of which, for the benefit of the other potentates of Christendom, we certainly cannot recommend. The period of sobriety, according to our-theory, terminated just after his last great victory in 1861, when be announced to the assembled clergy at Axum that he had made a bargain with God. The terms of this equitable arrangement, as stated by him, were that God on His part had promised not to descend on earth to strike him; while Theodore, not to be behindhand, had promised not to ascend into heaven to fight with Him. From this time madness seems to have possessed the mind of poor Theodore. Those who assert that the letter to Queen Victoria, written shortly after this, contained a proposal of marriage, the king's wife having recently died, will probably attribute this madness to the pangs of disappointed love. Disappointed pride certainly did have much to do with the closing period of the king's reign.
For Theodore was not satisfied with the conquest of Abyssinia. He sought an alliance with the British nation, possibly as a means of carrying out his schemes for the conquest of the Moslems in the East. His letter to the Queen—whatever it contained—was not answered. Captain Cameron, who had succeeded Mr. Plowden as British consul at Massowah, became an object of suspicion. His correspondence was seized, and some offensive remarks being found, the consul was arrested, and, together with all other Europeans upon whom the king could lay his hands, was cast into prison. Mr. Stern, the missionary, in addition to incarceration, was also flogged. In his correspondence King Theodore found himself mentioned as the "wild beast of Abyssinia," and frequently alluded to in like complimentary phrases.
|Map of Abyssinia|
In August, 1864, Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, an Arab Christian of English education, and assistant to Colonel Merewether, the British Political Resident at Aden, was instructed by Her Majesty's Government to go to Abyssinia, and to demand the release of her subjects. Mr. Rassarn, detained on various pretexts at Massowah, was not allowed to enter the kingdom till the autumn of 1865. Accompanied by Lieutenant Prideaux and Dr. Henri Blanc, who were attached to his special embassy, Mr. Rassam, in the early part of the year 1866, visited the king at Debra Tabor, and, by his diplomatic expostulations, with the promise of valuable gifts, persuaded Theodore to release all the prisoners. It seemed as though their safety was secured. Theodore, however, insisted that the promised gifts, which lay at Massowah, consisting of tools and machines, besides some European workmen for whom he had asked, should be sent up to him, at Debra Tabor, before Mr. Stern and his companions should go. This was, of course, declined. A series of alternate disputes and reconciliations followed; but the result was that on April 13, the very day appointed for the English captives to depart, Mr. Rassam himself and the other members of the embassy were imprisoned in the same manner. Dr. Beke was at Massowah, and interceded for them in vain. Mr. Flad alone, being a favorite, was permitted to leave and to go to Europe with letters from Theodore to Queen Victoria and other sovereigns, and with directions to procure him various things he wanted. His wife and three children being kept in Abyssinia, he was sure to return, and did so.
Thus the matter rested until October 4, 1866, when the British Foreign Secretary demanded the release of the prisoners, to which demand King, Theodore seems to have paid no attention. In April, 1867, the demand was repeated, with a distinct intimation that if compliance was delayed for three months all peaceful negotiations would be concluded.
Meanwhile the captives—whose wives and servants were also imprisoned—were treated kindly or with indignity, as the caprices of King Theodore prompted. From Gondar they had been transferred to a more inaccessible position in the fortress of Magdala. This Magdala, says Mr. Burette, is situated on a high plateau on the south side of the River Bashilo, which forms the boundary between the Gallas territory and Abyssinia, the entrance to the valley on the east being guarded by the strong, precipitous fortresses of Amba Gahit and Amba Geshen. On the west the descent from it is down a rugged and precipitous ridge, and on the east into a deep and narrow defile. The natural approach to it is from the south through the defiles and passes of Kollo Mountain, whose glittering glaciers flash in the bright sunlight with all the sublime beauty of Alpine scenery. The height of the fortress above the valley of the Bashilo is about 3500 feet, and it is protected by, the perpendicular rocks and chasms that surround it on all sides, especially on the east and west, where the natural and artificial bastions fall some hundreds of feet into the chasms below.
As embassies and dispatches had no effect on King Theodore, the British Government determined to send an army. Parliament met on the 19th of November, 1867. The Queen announced that she had directed an expedition to be sent for the rescue of her subjects, and "for that purpose alone." In some quarters there was great opposition to the undertaking, but the House promptly voted supplies—the consequence of which vote is a tax of two pence on the pound, to be levied on the incomes of British subjects. Those who anticipated from this expedition is new accession to that empire upon which the sun never sets indulged in many vague and dreamy speculations, one of which was, that probably the course of the Nile might be turned into another channel so as to empty into the Red Sea, and leave the French Emperor's Suez Canal nowhere. What will come of the expedition viewed in this light remains yet to be seen. Its proposed design involved simply the rescue of Consul Cameron and his fellow-prisoners.
General Sir Robert Napier, Commander-in-Chief of the Expedition, arrived in Abyssinia on the second day of 1868. A reconnoitering party under Colonel Merewether had preceded him, occupying three months in explorations of the country. But this reconnaissance, so far as the removal of difficulties was concerned, was nothing when compared to operations which had for a long time been going on in Theodore's kingdom.
Even as late as 1863 King Theodore's army had numbered 150,000 men. When General Napier came it had dwindled down to a handful, and it was doubted whether 5000 men could be mustered under the old banner. By Theodore's own fault his kingdom had become a shadow. His whole character had changed, and he was a scourge to the land which he had once believed it his mission to redeem. He instilled into his soldiers the love of rapine and plunder. Whole provinces were desolated at his whim. The confidence of the people was lost, and the standard of rebellion was again raised, at first in Shoa and the Gallas country, then in Tigre, until from the outskirts of the empire menacing hosts advanced upon the center from every direction. Numerous were the defections in the king's own army; and to these were added the ravages of the small-pox, cholera, and famine. Whatever may have been the sufferings of the European captives, they were insignificant as compared with the horrible tortures inflicted by Theodore upon such of his enemies as came into his hands. As the situation of the king became more desperate he became more suspicious, and by his galling tyranny alienated from him his most trusty friends. The most frightful stories are related of this monster's cruelties—of women whipped to death, of chiefs chopped in pieces, of whole communities driven into their dwellings and there burned to death. By the steady pressure of the insurrectionists the king was finally hemmed in within the limits of a narrow region around Debra Tabor. He was even cut off from Magdala, only sixty miles distant; and probably to this circumstance alone did the captives owe their escape from the murderous rage of this despot.
This was the situation when the British Expedition landed at Zulla, south of Massowah, on Annesley Bay. It was not until the 29th of January that General Napier reached Senafe, having in his command 12,000 men, of whom a considerable portion were drawn from India. The entire distance from Zulla to Magdala, is upward of 400 miles. The British journals compare this march of General Napier to that of General Sherman from Atlanta to the sea. "We are all apt," says the Spectator, "to think Sherman's march into space a rather wonderful thing. Plant three Alleghanies straight across his path; destroy all roads; dry up most springs; change his compact army of educated soldiers into a collection of men of three colors, five creeds, and four languages; strip the country till every loaf has to be carried from his base; falsify all his maps, and make his cavalry useless as pioneers, and Sherman will have the work to do which Sir Robert Napier has so far successfully accomplished." But then, it must be remembered that Sherman's march was through the enemy's country in its entire route, while that of Sir Robert Napier, until he came to the fortress of Magdala, was not only through a region occupied by the enemies of Theodore, but was entirely dependent for its success upon that fact. The same expedition, undertaken with ten times the force, would in 1860 have terminated in disaster. Kassa, the King of Tigre, was especially the friend of the invaders. The illustration which we give of the embassy sent by this king to General Napier tells its own story, and is a faithful representation of the elaborate processions which the Abyssinians can get up on occasion.
|Arrival at Adigerat of an Ambassador|
from Kassa, King Tigre
It was a picturesque campaign—this of General Napier in Abyssinia — "in which," said the Spectator, "a passage of the Alps” is a daily incident; in which the organization of the army, though not its courage, has been tested to the utmost; in which they are employing and harmonizing the military systems of two empires and two ages, of the East and the West, of Count von Moltke and of Pyrrhus, laying down railways with the help of camels, carrying the newest devices in scientific gunnery upon elephants, using theodolites to clear the way for bearded old Mussulman sabreurs, and compelling a lofty African desert to yield water by an American device not yet a twelvemonth old. Three regiments, two white, one dusky, with miles of artillery, baggage wagons, mules, and followers crawling after them, have passed mountains as high as Mount Cenis, to halt at a point 7500 feet above the sea, three hundred miles in the interior of Africa, with mountains before, behind, and around, mountains all conical, looking as if they belonged to another world."
It was a race between Napier and Theodore, to see which should first reach Magdala, and the Abyssinian king came out ahead, notwithstanding the obstacles in his way which prevented him from marching more than two or three miles a day. On the 10th of April he encountered the British army, and, although his fortress was deemed by General Napier to be almost impregnable, he was almost deserted by his troops, and the advancing enemy gained an easy victory. Driven within his strong-hold, King Theodore, it is said, finding resistance hopeless, committed suicide, leaving the ancient prophecy, in which he had trusted, to be fulfilled by some more fortunate successor. Poor Theodore!
from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, August 1868