The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I


From the deposition of Ledj Iyasu on 17th Maskaram 1909 (= 27th September 1916) to the assumption of the crown by Queen Zawditu on 4th Yakatit 1909 (= 11th February 1917)

While Ledj Iyasu went to and fro between the towns of Dire Dawa, Harar, and Jijjiga, and while he assembled Adalites and Somalis giving them medals and arms, he stayed there declaring: 'I am on your side in respect of religion’; it was then heard that Muslims were mocking: ‘he is neither Christian nor Muslim'. On the 17th day of Maskaram 1909 (= 27th Sept. 1916), on the day of the great feast of Masqal, it was arranged that the nobles with the army, and the Archbishop Abuna Mattewos, and the Etchage Walda Giyorgis with the priests, should assemble at a prepared place within the precincts of the Palace; and when they had all arrived and taken their seat according to their rank, the following indictment against Ledj Iyasu, which had been secretly prepared, was read out:

‘The Christian faith, which our fathers had hitherto carefully retained by fighting for their faith with the Muslims and by shedding their blood, Ledj Iyasu exchanged for the Muslim religion and aroused commotion in our midst; in order to exterminate us by mutual fighting he has converted to Islam and, therefore, we shall henceforth not submit to him; we shall not place a Muslim king on the throne of a Christian king; we have ample proof of his conversion to Islam:

(1) He married four wives claiming: “the Qur’an permits it to me”. Of these wives one is the daughter of Abba Jiffar of the Jimma nobility; the second is the daughter of Hajj Abdullahi of the Harar nobility; the third is the daughter of Abu Bakr of the Adal nobility; the father of the fourth, Dejatch Djote, became a Christian and baptized his daughter; while she lived under her baptismal name Askala Maryam, it was to Dejatch Djote’s daughter that he (Ledj Iyasu) later on, after his con­version to Islam, gave the Muslim woman’s name of Momina.
(2) He built a mosque at Jijjiga with government funds and gave it to the Muslims.
(3) At that time he sent to Mahazar Bey, the foreign [Turkish] consul resident at Addis Ababa—as he was celebrating the Ramadan feast—our Ethiopian flag (on which there was written “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has prevailed” and adorned with the sign of the Cross) on which he had caused to be written the following words (in Arabic): “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”.
(4) He wore Somali Muslim clothes and the Muslim turban, held the Islamic rosary, and was seen to prostrate himself in the mosque.
(5) He was seen praying and reading the Qur’an having had it transcribed in Amharic characters.
(6) On the headgear of his special guards he had embroidered the legend “there is no god but Allah”.
(7) H.H. Ras Makonnen had built a church at Harar and had made the area adjoining the church into a dwelling for the clergy, giving the Muslims a place in exchange; then, 32 years later, he (Ledj Iyasu) expelled the clergy and restored it to the Muslims.
(8) When a girl was born to him he saw to it that she would grow up learning the Muslim religion, and he gave her to the Muslim Madame Hanafi and said: “Bring her up on my be­half”.
(9) He despised the descent of Menelik II, which comes direct from Menelik I, and claimed to be descended from the Prophet Muhammad; assembling the great Muslim sheikhs he spent the day convincing them of his genealogical calculations.
(10) The day on which our great king, Emperor Menelik, who had bequeathed him the throne, died, instead of mourning and of arranging lamentations he went out horse-riding to Jan-Meda and spent the day playing combat-games. He forbade Menelik’s body to be buried with dignity and thus it has remained up to now. We possess a great deal of further similar proof (against Ledj Iyasu).

Therefore, having deposed him (Ledj Iyasu), we have placed on the throne Wayzaro Zawditu, Emperor Menelik’s daughter. We have appointed Dejazmatch Tafari, the son of H.H. Ras Makonnen, Crown Prince, with the rank of Ras, and Regent of the Empire.'

When the reading of this proclamation was concluded, all those assembled said with one voice: ‘We accept gladly, hence let it be carried out with success.' The Archbishop, Abuna Mattewos, and the Etchage Walda Giyorgis spoke the following final words: ‘Ledj Iyasu has repudiated the Christian religion and, because he has been converted to the Islamic faith, we have excommunicated him; you will be excommunicated if henceforth you follow Ledj Iyasu and submit to him instead of living strong in the Orthodox faith and watchful of the freedom of your government’.

Afterwards the proclamation was issued by which the Throne and the Crown went to Queen Zawditu, while the succession to the Throne and the Regency Plenipotentiary went to me; the text of the proclamation was then transmitted by telephone to the princes and nobles and all the provincial governors in the whole of Ethiopia.

As it was about 40 years since Negus Mika’el had been con­verted from Islam to Christianity, he had been mentioning to some of the nobles his sadness at his son's conversion to Islam; consequently, the text of the proclamation was transmitted to him in the thought that he was bound to be allied with us now as regards his son’s deposition.

When Ledj Iyasu, staying at Harar, heard about his own depo­sition, the enthronement of Queen Zawditu and my appointment as Crown Prince and Regent Plenipotentiary, he collected Somalis and Adalites and arranged for disturbances to be created in the city; as Christians and Muslims were now fighting on separate sides, some 500 men from both sides died. As Dejazmatch Baltcha and Qagnazmatch (now Ras) Emru were at the time at Harar, they were seized; but Ledj Iyasu released Dejazmatch Baltcha under oath that he would not get separated from him. Qagnaz­match Emru, however, he kept under detention.

All my officers and servants—with few exceptions—who were at Harar deserted Ledj Iyasu, departed for a district called Qarsa, and began to wait there in proper battle formation. Qagnazmatch Emru escaped from the place at which he had been detained and went out [there].

This is what happened to Ledj Iyasu subsequently: Having collected a regular body of troops, he appointed Dejazmatch Gugsa Alyo as army commander; since it was reported that Ledj Iyasu had despatched him to Awash, we made Dejazmatch Ayalew Berru army commander and sent Dejatch Hayla Maryam Lamma, Dejatch Admasu Berru, Ledj Ababa Damtaw, Ledj Dasta Damtaw, Fitawrari Makuriya Garmame, and added other regular troops. They encountered each other at a railway station called Me’eso (Miesso), and on the 25th of Maskaram (= 6th October) they defeated Dejazmatch Gugsa Alyo. He himself, however, escaped by train and entered Dire Dawa.

When Ledj Iyasu saw that the Christians at Harar and its entire province as well as the Muslims were deserting him, he went down to Dire Dawa and seized about all he could of the money in the treasury; what he could not (take), he sent to Jibuti by the hands of M. Ydlibi and then travelled by way of the Adal desert to reach his father’s governorate of Wallo.

But a telephone message had been transmitted to Negus Mika’el to the effect: ‘As your son has gone over to Islam, we have deposed him, have enthroned Queen Zawditu, and have appointed H.H. Tafari Makonnen Crown Prince and Regent Plenipotentiary.' When Negus Mika’el realized this, he said: ‘I had been striving to make my son firm in the Christian faith even to the point of angrily counselling him, but nevertheless I cannot silently look on while they take away from him the throne which his grandfather, Emperor Menelik, had given him.' It was reported then that Negus Mika’el had mobilized his army by proclamation and was marching towards Shoa; therefore, the princes, nobles, and ministers jointly sent him the following message in writing:

'May it reach Negus Mika’el whose authority is written upon his shoulder, King of Zion.

You, the King, know that all the work which your son, Ledj Iyasu, has accomplished from the time he became Crown Prince up to the present was childish behaviour. When we meant to train him with reproachful counsel, we did not find the occasion because, to our chagrin, he never stayed long enough in one place. When at times we managed to find him and tendered advice, he would not accept our view. When we watched him patiently, lest his personality should feel offended, thinking that perhaps one day soon he would become aware of his government’s need and of his own rank and honour and perhaps abandon his youthful pursuits, yet he had still not had enough of these puerilia and began striving to establish Islam in our country Ethiopia which had lived stead­fast in her Christianity for some 1600 years since Abreha and Asbeha and Salama, the revealer of the light.

When in the previous year he came to Wallo, you, oh King, know yourself all the things he did together with the Muslims during the rainy season. Again, we have heard of your angry counsel to Ledj Iyasu, when you recognized that his heart had been alienated from the Christian faith, and said to him: “I beg you, my son, abandon this plan of yours!”, yet even you, oh King, did not prevail. And now we are sending you, together with this letter, photographs of him which prove all the things he has been doing jointly with the Muslims when he went down to Harar secretly without informing us.

We had suffered all this patiently, but when all of us together, including the Archbishop and the Etchage, sent him a letter requesting him to come to Addis Ababa, at any rate for the New Year celebrations, he persisted in not coming. Our anxiety in acting in this manner arises from the thought lest the Christian faith be extinguished and, for this reason, the blood of Christians be shed in vain and our country pass into the hands of foreigners; may the king thus be very mindful of this matter! It is known that the people would not have risen up, unless they had been certain of this. Moreover, we would remind you of the extinction of your name as well, for it is bound to remain recorded in history for future generations: Because of Ledj Iyasu, Negus Mikael’s son, the Christian religion was eclipsed in Ethiopia, and the Islamic faith expanded.

In writing all this to the king, it is not that we have acted thus with the intention that Ledj Iyasu be harmed or, in particular, that the king be antagonized, but it is with the thought that we should act jointly for what is of benefit to our religion and to our govern­ment; your plans do not diverge from ours, for we know that you love Emperor Menelik and all of us and are much concerned for the Christian faith.’

24th Maskaram 1909 (= 5th Oct. 1916).

After this letter had reached Negus Mika’el, he refused to return in any circumstances; and as our envoys informed us by telephone of his marching forward, we placed the army that was stationed at Addis Ababa at the time under the command of Ras Lul Sagad and sent him on in advance. When he reached a Shoan district called Tora Mask, he suddenly encountered Negus Mika’el’s advance troops, and on Tuesday, 7th Teqemt (= 17th Oct. 1916), we heard by telephone of the death in battle of Ras Lul Sagad, Dejatch Tasamma Gazmu, Liqa Makwas Ababa Atnaf Sagad, Fitawrari Zawde Gobana, Asalafi Abbe, Qagnazmatch Delnasahu, Asalafi Delnase, Ato Shawaye, and other army commanders.

Already earlier on our War Minister, Fitawrari Habta Giyorgis, had left Addis Ababa on 3rd Teqemt (= 13th October); and when he reached Koramash after a long march, we arranged that he should stay there distributing to each soldier arms from the war material at Koramash. And We Ourselves set out on 9th Teqemt (= 19th October). So that the armed forces from each district should arrive by as rapid a march as possible, We informed the army by the following proclamation:

The text of the Proclamation.

‘Listen, people of my country, Ethiopia!
Since Ledj Iyasu, digressing from Emperor Menelik’s wishes, had openly shown his adherence to Islam, prostrating himself in mosques together with Muslims and tracing back his Islamic genealogy, while setting aside Menelik’s curse against him designed to prevent him committing evil deeds, he was unable to carry on the administration, and we, therefore, had to depose him and placed Queen Zawditu on her father’s throne.
While we were thinking that Negus Mika’el was aware of his son’s conversion to Islam and that together with us he would be shedding his blood for the Christian faith, he came marching from Wallo to fight us and insisting that we should at once submit to a Muslim king. Therefore, those of you who are men, follow me!’

After We had issued this proclamation, We marched forward. But since bloodshed among Ethiopians themselves is extremely saddening, I arranged that monks and priors from the monasteries of Dabra Libanos and Zequala and from all the various churches should be selected and come with their crosses to request Negus Mika’el to go back to Wallo without making war. But word reached us by telephone that Negus Mikael, far from going back, had in fact seized and arrested the monks who had been sent to bring about peace; we thus became convinced that his decision to engage in battle was now plain and generally known.

On 15th Teqemt (= 25th October) we set out from Koramash and marched on; on 16th Teqemt (= 26th October) our camp and that of Negus Mika’el spent the night opposite each other at a plain of the Tarra district called Sagale.

On Friday, 17th Teqemt (= 27th October), starting at 7 o’clock at night (= 1 a.m.), he (Negus Mika’el) stationed his army officers on the right and left flanks, and positioned himself in the centre; and when the morning dawned, he began opening fire and launched a surprise attack against our gunners who had been spending the night on guard duty. Thereupon We placed Our War Minister, Fitawrari Habta Giyorgis, at the front, Ras Kassa at Negus Mikael’s rear, and the remaining Rases and Dejazmatches on the right and left flanks; when we had joined the entire army at the rear, we engaged the enemy in battle.

When we had fought from early morning for about five hours and when the Shoan army, leaping like a leopard seeing a goat, like a lion seeing a cow, entered in battle formation—swords drawn and fighting hand to hand—Negus Mika’el was defeated and captured. Of his army many died and many were captured, while those who remained fled and returned to Wallo.

When Ledj lyasu, having to travel by way of the Adal country and marching fast to reach the battle, arrived at Ankober, he heard of Negus Mika’el’s defeat; he retraced his steps and got to the Wallo region by the Adal detour.

Although it was generally known that Negus Mika’el had been captured, this was a formality only; in fact, We arranged everything befitting his dignity, so that no humiliation whatever should affect him. As for the other prisoners, since we have no other quarrel with Wallo and mindful of the fact that we are all natives of one Ethiopia, we allowed them, by proclamation, to go back to their country of Wallo after their release.

As we announced the story of the victory to Addis Ababa by telephone all the people of the capital, from Queen Zauditu downwards, were overjoyed. When we got back to Addis Ababa on Thursday, 23rd Teqemt (= 2nd Nov.), H.M. Queen Zauditu, seated in a vast tent at Jan-Meda, and the people of the capital being assembled in full, received us with a great parade, with ululating and with joy.

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