The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I
About my appointment to the governorship of Harar and its province (1910)
After this, Dejazmatch Baltcha, who was Governor of Harar, was summoned to Addis Ababa in the month of Tahsas (December 1909/January 1910), and even before he entered Addis Ababa it again began to be rumoured by the mouth of the people that the Emperor was about to give the governorship of Harar to Dejazmatch Tafari. When Dejazmatch Baltcha, while still on his way, heard this, he began to make strenuous endeavours, immediately on arrival at Addis Ababa, to retain the governorship of Harar by means of intercessors as well as money. But I was biding my time, carrying out my other daily duties and thinking that I could not fail to obtain the governorship whenever it might be God’s will to show me favour.
Later, one day unexpectedly, Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma, Ras Bitwaddad Mangasha Atikam, Fitawrari Habta Giyorgis, and Tsahafe Te’ezaz Gabra Sellasse Walda Aragay, while assembled together, summoned me and said: ‘Although you are still a youth in age, but because your entire work in governing Sidamo had shown you to be knowledgeable, the Empress has now given you Hararge which used to be your father’s governorate.’ I bowed and said: ‘With your help I will take proper care of the government (of the province), for I know that a great responsibility rests upon me in being Governor of Harar.’ The proclamation in my favour was issued in the Great Square on the 24th day of Yakatit 1902 (= 3rd March 1910); and when I went to my home the people’s joy could be seen to exceed all bounds. As the Diplomatic Corps, who had resident consulates at Harar, came to my house informing me of their participation in my joy, they declared: ‘We trust that you will govern Harar in the same fine manner as your father.’
Until I could go down to my governorate of Harar, I transmitted orders that Fitawrari (later Dejazmatch) Gabre, who had been my father’s loyal follower, should stay there and protect the country as my deputy. While I was preparing for my journey to Harar, it was suddenly reported that Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma was once again secretly stirring up a plot against Empress Taitu. Although it was Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma who was the leader of the conspiracy, Dejazmatch Gabra Sellasse, Fitawrari (later Dejazmatch) Wassane, Dejazmatch Berqe, and Dejazmatch Mared were those who acted as principal supporters. It was said that Dejazmatch (later Ras) Dames, who was living there after removal from his governorship, was urging things on secretly rather than openly.
A few days after my appointment to the governorship of Harar, all the nobles assembled in the house of the Archbishop, Abuna Mattewos, made various seditious charges against Empress Taitu and proffered advice, expressing their thoughts as follows: ‘We do not want you to enter upon the affairs of government, but you should henceforth remain in the Palace looking after the sick [Emperor]'. But Empress Taitu had many partisans and consequently things remained in abeyance, because it caused difficulty to determine the matter. Empress Taitu was strong-willed and an expert in the art of ruling. At that time, I was an admirer of Empress Taitu’s regal qualities. Since it was with her help that I had been appointed to the governorship of Harar, the nobles did not dare talk to me about it and reveal the matter.
After things had remained in abeyance, without a decision having been reached, for about 15 days, a meeting was called in the house of Fitawrari Habta Giyorgis, and all of us were summoned on 11nth Magabit (= 20th March 1910) and went there. Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma also came, summoned like the (other) noblemen, in order to let it appear that he had not entered upon the matter. Afterwards Fitawrari Habta Giyorgis, being the spokesman of the meeting, declared: ‘We are not pleased about all the work which Empress Taitu is carrying out, and particularly about the appointments and dismissals. Only Dejazmatch Tafari’s appointment to his father’s governorship in Harar is fine and his alone may stand, but the remaining appointments and dismissals are to be cancelled. In future she is not to interfere with us in the business of government.' And the speech finished thus: ‘We all say with one voice “let Dejazmatch Tafari’s appointment be valid”, but it is proper to cancel the other appointments and dismissals.'
On the morrow, 12th Magabit (= 21st March), being all assembled together, they entered the Palace, approached Empress Taitu, and said: ‘It is our view that the Empress should reside in the Palace and look after the sick Emperor on our behalf, but the work of government she should leave to the regent, Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma.' When they had finished speaking, Empress Taitu turned her face towards Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma and said: ‘Why do you put the blame on someone else when you know that it is you who has planned and done this whole thing? I have heard everything for certain; what really saddens me is your operating by stealth. As for government business, when I told you some time ago that I would take care of the ailing Emperor and leave affairs of state alone, you sent Ras Mangasha Atikam as an intermediary, arguing: "While you have been carrying on the business of government, without initiating us, so what do we know about it? As for your statement that you will abandon state affairs, this is tantamount to saying: what do I care if things break down?" When you said to me: It is by the work you undertake from now on that you can best show gratitude to Menelik; did I not say to you in reply that I would help in every way possible if I can usefully do any work? And again, what is the work that I have done without consulting you? Come now, tell me frankly and say: “this I had not heard and that I had not known”.' After having spoken thus, she blamed him for three things: (1) for his stirring up secretly the conspiracy; (2) for his sending an intermediary demanding that she should carry on the work of government; (3) that she had not been doing anything without informing and consulting him.
After this, as Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma and the other noblemen were ashamed about the matter, they bowed and said ‘forgive us’. But since Empress Taitu was very distressed about it, she gave no answer whatever as regards (the request for) forgiveness—except to weep silently. Nevertheless the business of government—in accordance with the decision taken in the house of Fitawrari Habta Giyorgis—was transferred in full into the hands of Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma and began to be carried out by him.
It had appeared to me proper for this reason that I should wait before going down to my governorate of Harar, but when things were settled I asked Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma’s permission to depart but was told to wait. The reason why I was told to wait was that rumours began to circulate outside to the effect that some monks, who claimed to have seen a dream-vision, told him ‘If Dejazmatch Tafari goes down to Harar, it may become very dangerous to the government of Ledj Iyasu.’ On the fourth day after Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma had become regent plenipotentiary, he immediately arrested Fitawrari Tayye Gullelate claiming that he was an adversary of Ledj Iyasu; and consequently there was for a time a good deal of anxiety on my part. But since man cannot avert what God has willed, it was Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma’s plan to cause Ledj Iyasu and me to enter into a covenant and thus to prevent anything from happening that might be an obstacle in his work. Thus he took me and my father’s senior officers to the house of the Archbishop, Abuna Mattewos, and all of us entered upon the following covenant with oaths and invocations:
Since I was subsequently permitted to go down to Harar, I took leave of the great men of rank to whom it is proper to say goodbye by going to each of their houses. Although it was a very delicate time for taking leave of Empress Taitu, I felt that my conscience would reproach me if I went without saying good-bye; hence I went to the Palace, took my leave, and set out on my journey.
At that time the railway from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa had not yet been built, and the journey was extremely tiring for me. We reached Harar towards the end of Miyazya (early May). While my deputy at Harar had been awaiting the day of our entry into the city, having prepared a big banquet, it so happened by coincidence that on the day on which I reached Harar it was reported that the English king H.M. Edward VII had died on 28th Miyazya 1902 (= 6th May 1910). Consequently we gave orders that the planned reception in our honour be cancelled and that the flag be flown at half-mast; we then informed the English Consul at Harar of our participation in the grief. That we felt a special grief was because, at the time of King Edward VII’s coronation as King of England and Emperor of India, my father H.H. Ras Makonnen had gone there as principal envoy of Emperor Menelik and used to tell me, at that time, of the honour with which he had been received by the English royal house. As my father reached London for the coronation and heard of the postponement of coronation day on account of King Edward’s sudden illness, he went to Westminster Abbey and gave—according to the custom observed in our country Ethiopia—to the church, as a votive offering, a large golden cross and said: ‘Coming to London and finding the King in great danger, if I were to return to my country with the celebration of the coronation not taking place I would be considered the harbinger of bad luck; therefore, my God, let your trust [King Edward] recover for my sake.' My father had told me about this and I also know of the existence there of the cross from a similar encounter: When I came to visit London in 1916 (= 1924)—King George V having done me the honour of inviting me—the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt. Hon. Randall Thomas Davidson, when showing me Westminster Abbey, pointed out to me this golden cross and said: ‘It is the one which your father, H.H. Ras Makonnen, had given as a votive offering for the illness of King Edward.’
Seven days later the entire ceremony of festive welcome was happily completed, and we set out on the task of administering the country. What it means to administer a large province can only be appreciated by men who have carried the responsibility of governorship. Even when setting down in writing the affairs of administration, the burdens of the task can scarcely be felt by those who just read about it. It may thus seem a commonplace matter to them. However, I had a heavy and very wearisome burden which was different from that of other provincial governors. The reasons are as follows:
(1) In my father's time the peasants and soldiers had not known another governor and they lived in concord recognizing him alone as master and as father. But since my father’s death, because of the gubernatorial tenure of Dejazmatch Yelma and Dejazmatch Baltcha, this state of affairs had changed, and it now fell to me to devise a method by which it was possible to govern by reconciling peasants and soldiers and to please them as in my father’s time.
The great among the noblemen, soldiers, and peasants in each district had assembled and come to participate in my joy at my appointment to the governorship of Harar. We told them that in future we would inform them of everything we were going to do about the administration of the country; and then we dismissed them. We were resolved to set out on the task of administering the province.
At that time we became convinced that the administrative regulations were at present unwelcome to the army. Nevertheless, these regulations will undoubtedly become familiar in the course of time, and so we carried on with our ideas, conscious that it was necessary to do what is to the benefit of good government. While we were seeking to find all the records with which the governors preceding me had been working (thinking that they would assist us in the task), it turned out to be impossible to find them in full, and only a few of the records of my father, H.H. Ras Makonnen, and of my brother, Dejazmatch Yelma, were in fact discovered. It therefore became necessary for us to make enquiries and to ask the elders among those noblemen and peasants who had for long been living in Harar.
Moreover, the problem of accommodation of the army officers and men had become very troublesome for us. The officers’ quarters being in one district, while the men’s were in another, they met only during military expeditions, but did not always know each other either by sight or in the chain of command. We were convinced that, unless officers and men lived together in one district (uprooting them from their present quarters) and got accustomed to each other by sight and command, it would be very damaging to good discipline for them to meet at the time of military operations only. Consequently, it was necessary for us to know, first of all, the number of the troops and the extent of their quarters, in order to enable us to make proper provisions. We therefore gave orders that men should tour the districts of Harar province, counting the peasants able to pay taxes, and provide this information speedily by going to each district. When the men who had been ordered to count these peasants returned after completing their work within three months, they presented us with written records showing that there were 70,000 inhabitants able to pay taxes.
After this we arranged for the governorate of Harar to be divided into twelve large districts—as follows: Tchartchar, Qori, Wabbara, Mietta, Anya, surroundings of Harar, Gara Mullata, Afran Qalo, Djarso, Jijjiga, Ogaden, Issa and Gorgora.
Over these large districts we appointed several principal chiefs and arranged that in each district officers and men, according to their ranks, be properly organized. Landowners, soldiers, and officers had their names entered in the register, and it was arranged that officers and men should stay together instead of being separated from each other, so that they would be found together at a time when they were called up for any reason. It was also arranged to have courts of justice set up in each district to be responsible for each administrative division. Only as far as the administration of the Church is concerned, was the time not granted to us to complete matters according to our plan; and for the time being we left it as of old.
After my father, H.H. Ras Makonnen, had died, much of the governmental framework which he had established had been destroyed on account of the frequent change of governors of Harar; I therefore felt sure in my heart that the yoke of government was heavy upon the inhabitants, for the provincial governors (Abagaz), the district chiefs (Damina), and the local headmen (Garada) did not protect the population with impartiality; consequently, we began to seek an improvement of the situation. The Abagaz is in effect the provincial regent. The Damina stands between the people in the district and the tax collector, so that the inhabitants pay their taxes on time; he functions as a controller, lest the tax collector should harm the people either by taxes or in other ways. Some Daminas have charge of perhaps from 20 to 300 peasants. The Garada is a chief who issues orders and acts under the authority of the Damina. This system is the one which has remained in force up to now, it having become customary at the time when the Turks (i.e. Egyptians) had seized Harar for a short time, for about ten years.
After my father’s death, when the administrative framework which he had established was progressively disintegrating, some tax collectors were receiving up to 12 dollars in cash, when it was difficult for the peasant to produce the honey tax payable on his land. We therefore commanded the governors and tax collectors not to harm the peasants by their rule, for they had begun to do other similar things which were harmful to the inhabitants. But unless the people heard of this command in form of a proclamation, we were convinced that they were not able to dispute impositions of this sort by refusing to pay; and we therefore promulgated the following proclamation:
You who are Abagaz, look out for thieves and brigands in the country which you govern as deputy. If I hear it being said that in a certain province people have been robbed, it is the Abagaz who will pay them. You who have no master and are unemployed, enter the town which I have given to the Abagaz and stay there; but do not disturb the peasants by being in the villages. If the roads in your respective governorates fall into disrepair, build roads in order not to make things difficult for the traders going up and down the country. Hitherto work on the Sabbath was forbidden; now you will, in fact, be punished when found working on the Sabbath. As for you who are liable to honey tax and possess honey, I have indicated to your Abagaz the proper measure; hence render your honey in that measure. But if you do not have honey, then give in lieu of the honey four dollars if you are a Garada, three dollars as a Shebata, two as a tenant and one as a shepherd. If, however, you possess honey and say, "I would rather give cash" then you have to pay double the quantity of honey if you are found selling your honey. You being a Garada paying the same amount of tax as a Shebata, spend three dollars, like a Shebata, for your honey. Garada, Shebata, tenant, and shepherd, except if it is difficult for you, your tax is honey; hence hang up your bee hives. And you, Malkanna (district collector), do not touch the honey before it is ready; in future, as in the past, work with your Damina in all the work that is to be done. Previously I told you by proclamation as follows ‘having wandered from province to province, yet you have not acquired a new country; hence do not eat up the kobe basa.' Now I have heard it being said that you are receiving it from the peasants; therefore return to the peasants this money which you have received beyond the terms of this proclamation. And for the future, you, the Abagaz and Damina, watch lest the Malkanna (district collector), going beyond what has been assigned to them, take away the peasants' money. If the peasants tell you about the money which has been extorted in excess and if you persist in not returning it to them, and if then the peasants do no work and come to me to complain, then the loss is yours and you will have to pay the money and will then have to get it back from the person who had taken it from the peasants. And as for you, peasants, do not come to me before you have spoken to the Abagaz and the Damina. For the three annual festivals, i.e. for Masqal, Christmas, and Easter, receive two dollars each in lieu of castrated goats, but beyond this you will not receive anything.
Harar, 13th Hamle 1905 (= 21st July 1913).
When the proclamation had been issued, although the Abagaz and district collectors were for a time not at all pleased, after a few months they got used to the new administrative rules and discovered their usefulness. As for the peasants, since the yoke of government and taxes was lightened for them, they all set out to do their work with a calm heart.
Electronic edition created and published online by members of the
August 13, 2016