The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Sellassie I
About the instigation by the Italians of Ras Gugsa Wale’s rebellion
It is very surprising to observe how the Italians, who were constantly accusing Ethiopia before the League of Nations of being a country without unity, were themselves engaged in propaganda activities with the object of dividing the Ethiopian Empire. It really is astonishing what diligence We had to employ to counteract their propaganda. Yet try as they might, they were unable to bring about internal splits.
Things that have occurred quite recently testify to the fact that Italy’s idea of waging a war of oppression against Ethiopia goes back a long time.
They were disseminating propaganda that caused great damage among our people, yet spreading it about—plausibly so to outsiders—that Italy was Ethiopia’s friend. We do not doubt that all the diplomats residing in Ethiopia are aware of this, and if We were to write about all the propaganda ruses which the Italians have employed against Ethiopia, many pages would be used up—but We would rather leave it. Nevertheless, the work of deceit and propaganda they carried out with the connivance of Ras Gugsa Wale and Ras Haylu is known all over Ethiopia, and it would therefore be improper for Us to leave it unrecorded.
Ras Gugsa was the son of Ras Wale, Empress Taitu’s brother. His father, Ras Wale, nominated him Dejazmatch over a part of his governorate and later on came to Shoa.
Ever since Empress Taitu had got married to Emperor Menelik she had been striving to bring about a rapprochement and much closer relationship of the people of Bagemeder, Semien, and Yajju, who were her family, with the people of Shoa, and she made it her principal purpose to arrange marriages of her female relations with Shoan nobles and of her male relations with Shoan ladies. She therefore arranged, in 1892 (= 1899/1900), that Dejazmatch Gugsa, the son of her brother Ras Wale, should marry Emperor Menelik’s daughter Wayzaro Zawditu, subsequently Empress of Ethiopia. On those grounds he attained the rank of Ras in 1893 (= 1900-1); and when he served as governor of Bagemeder, Ras Bitwaddad Tasamma, who became Regent Plenipotentiary of the Ethiopian realm after Emperor Menelik’s confinement to the palace because of illness, gave the governorship of Bagemeder to Ras Walda Giyorgis and directed Ras Gugsa to live in confinement. When Ras Gugsa had remained under restriction for about seven years, Wayzaro Zawditu was chosen, on 17th Maskaram 1909 (= 27th September 1916), to succeed to the crown and throne of Ethiopia. When Her Majesty reigned as Empress she declared: ‘I shall not live with a husband, but I make a vow to live on my own, for God has selected me, a woman, and has let me live for this great crown and throne.’ Since she had chosen to live on her own and as Ras Gugsa became aware of the Queen’s firm resolve, the instrument of their separation was completed by mutual consent, and We assigned to Ras Gugsa the governorship of Embabo, in Wallaga, and Sayent. But a year later, when the governor of Bagemeder, King Walda Giyorgis, died, We restored to Ras Gugsa the governorship of Bagemeder, and for the time being he was pleased to get his former province back. But the Italians have always been the bane of the Ethiopian people, and some of them, pretending to come for trade or to see the country, went to and fro from Bagemeder to Asmara, met Ras Gugsa and went on sowing dissension in his heart, so that in the end they managed to turn his joy into sadness.
Worst of all was the fact that the Italian commercial agent resident at Gondar made propaganda his main occupation.
The residence of the Governor of Bagemeder is in the town of Dabra Tabor. But the Italians had received permission from Emperor Menelik and from Ledj Iyasu, before Our time, to establish a commercial agency at Gondar where priests and traders lived and which appeared suitable to them as a base to carry out their propaganda. Afterwards, as Ras Gugsa Wale possessed a hereditament at a place near Gondar, they presented to him the following proposal in writing: ‘If you lease to us this hereditament of yours, we shall develop your place for you; afterwards, at the time we leave it, we shall make over to you free of charge any houses we have built there and absolutely everything else.’ He gave them permission, as it appeared to him a genuine proposal.
It was a man called Signor Pollera whom they established as commercial agent at this place. Signor Pollera, in order to equip himself for this work of deceit and propaganda, employed an Ethiopian woman for money and, declaring her his wife, had children by her.
Moreover, he was advanced in age, and as it is the custom of Ethiopians to show respect for the elderly, all the people of Gondar honoured him and did not look upon him as a foreigner. He on his part would offer money when a woman had given birth, or at the commemoration for the deceased. Although he was a Catholic, he would enter orthodox churches and pray as the priests were watching him. On the festival days of the year he would extend invitations to priests and traders, according to the custom of Ethiopian noblemen, and have beer brewed, honeymead prepared, and oxen slaughtered. For all these reasons he cultivated excellent relations with the local population.
Again, he knew that Ras Gugsa Wale, the governor of Bagemeder, was firm in the orthodox faith and an opponent of European religion and civilization; therefore he would go to him and argue thus: ‘It is best for Ethiopia to live according to ancient custom as of old and it would not profit her to follow European civilization. But it is said that it is the intention of the present Crown Prince and Regent Plenipotentiary to introduce European civilization into Ethiopia. Once European civilization has penetrated Ethiopia, it will inevitably mean freedom of religion. When freedom of religion exists, then the orthodox faith is bound to weaken and the Catholic faith to strengthen and gradually expand; thus it is rumoured that the Crown Prince himself is about to join the Catholic religion. Also, we have heard that from time to time he is issuing proclamations aimed at the eradication of slavery from Ethiopia. But now, once all the slaves are declared free, how are those lords and nobles of Bagemeder to live? Is it that the masters are to plough with their own hands and the ladies to grind with their own hands? Even in Europe, although slavery has ceased ever since all the work has come to be done by machines, yet in the past every man, like you, had several slaves. Now in this country a great calamity will befall you, unless you and the great nobles like you take heed of this.’ Pollera spoke to Ras Gugsa in those terms, inciting him to rise up himself on his part against Us with the might of his army, while persuading each of the great nobles to do likewise. He assembled his officers and let them into the secret: ‘A friend of mine has advised me in those terms; what had best be done?’ Some of the officers who were convinced that it was fraudulent advice sent word to me in secret.
But We had no doubt that Ras Gugsa Wale was planning evil things against Our government, as he had listened to the deceitful counsel of the Italians. We therefore bided our time in patience with the intention of clarifying matters. In this affair it was also thoughtfulness for Empress Zawditu that impelled Us towards patience.
Moreover, by sheer coincidence a contract was awarded at that period to a foreigner, on the part of the Addis Ababa Municipality, to establish a leather factory at Addis Ababa. Apart from the hides of oxen and goats, he would strip the skin off horses, mules, donkeys, and dogs and take them to the factory for tanning. When the Italians heard of this, they spread a rumour in every province, to the effect that at Addis Ababa donkeys and dogs were being slaughtered and a start had been made to feed them to officers and troops at official banquets; it did not seem impossible for a proclamation to be issued all over Ethiopia that the meat of donkeys and dogs was to be eaten in future. The people of Bagemeder got a heart-felt shock at this news.
In Ethiopia even people who have only very recently accepted Christianity—leaving aside the people of Bagemeder who are of ancient Christian adherence—are known to feel great revulsion when told that the skins of donkeys and dogs are being stripped off for the process of tanning, let alone for eating their meat! Perhaps in Europe, too, people are not lacking who feel disgust at things of this sort.
Ras Gugsa Wale, although it was with his consent that he was separated from Empress Zawditu, had begun to speak to some of his friends of his grief at being confined to reside in Bagemeder only, without being able to come to Addis Ababa at this great time of joy. When the Italians heard this, they realized that this was a suitable time to seduce Ras Gugsa. They told him things which entered deep into his heart, such as: ‘We are willing to give you the arms you require, and with the aid of the Italian government you may rebel and fight against the present government, and you may be proclaimed King and, together with Empress Zawditu, you may become the ruler of the whole of Ethiopia.’ Now, seizing this opportunity, he said that it would be better to die than to abandon our slaves and to live under a government which forces people to eat the meat of donkeys and dogs. He began to endeavour to bring the whole people of Bagemeder over to his party and to strengthen the might of his forces. He announced all this openly in form of a proclamation.
As those of Our soldiers who guard the border areas of Our Empire in the Dankali and Aussa provinces—being deserts and places of disease—suffer a great deal, they are permitted occasionally to come up to the highlands for a rest. When the Italians received information about this from their spies, they were watching for a moment when the number of troops was diminished and then sent in army engineers to map the mountains and rivers, valleys and escarpment. They supplied arms and money to the Wajjerat and the Raya and Azabo Galla and advised them by every possible ruse to rebel against Our government. But some of these Wajjerat came and spoke to Us. While We were in the process of causing it to be investigated whether Italy was doing things of this sort, oblivious of the treaty of friendship she had concluded with Us in 1920 (= 1928), We heard that the Wajjerat and Raya and Azabo Galla, flaunting the arms and the money they had received from Italy, were mounting the highlands killing people and plundering cattle. Therefore, since We knew that Yajju was the district in which Ras Gugsa Wale had grown up and because of its proximity to Bagemeder, We transmitted orders to him to go to Yajju making amicable appeals to the Wajjerat and Azabo Galla and offering them friendly advice as well as urging them to abandon their evil works; but if they refused, he was to fight them by military force. We thought, incidentally, that, if he now tarried with this mission to Yajju, it would thereby be revealed that everything of which he had been accused, i.e. being in consultation with the Italians, was true.
When Ras Gugsa received the order, he mobilized the Bagemeder army by proclamation and went to Yajju, so as to let it appear for the moment that he was carrying out orders. But when he had reached Yajju, We heard of his return to Bagemeder without accomplishing properly what he had been ordered to do about the Wajjerat and Raya and Azabo Gallas and that, after reaching agreement, they would, in fact, join him as his support troops; after he had returned he was chiefly occupied with collecting an army and preparing weapons of war. While We were meaning to be very careful lest the blood of brothers be shed in vain and the desire of the Italians thus be fulfilled, We sent word to Ras Gugsa suggesting that we should at any rate meet at Warrayelu and discuss in detail the reason why he had returned from the military expedition as well as every other matter; thereafter he might go back. While he wrote back merely words of deceit claiming to agree and to set out at once, We received information that, in fact, he was tarrying and preparing for war. We therefore despatched troops, under the command of Dejazmatch Mullugeta, who were to keep watch (being stationed at Wadla and Dalanta) in order to prevent Ras Gugsa slipping into Yajju and linking up with the Wajjerat and Raya—Azabo Gallas.
As Italy’s propaganda agents were seeking out some magicians and dreamers who are to be encountered in Bagemeder, they sent them to Ras Gugsa instigating them to speak to him encouragingly : ‘The time has come for you to be King, hence have courage and do not fear.’ Proof of all this was discovered in Ras Gugsa’s portfolio which was captured in the war.
Since some Ethiopians do not possess, apart from religious knowledge, any other education in secular politics, thus when monks or hermits tell them that at a certain time a certain thing will take place, they accept it as true, for it seems to them that such men were sent by God; to profit by this the Italians—since they are acquainted with this fact—make it their chief instrument.
Anxious to ascertain the Italians’ involvement or non-involvement in this affair, We spoke to the Italian Minister at Addis Ababa: ‘Sell us one aeroplane for the preservation of internal security and We shall appoint a pilot from among your people.’ He told Us that he would inform his government and convey the reply as soon as possible. But he delayed giving Us any answer, and when there was just one day left before Ras Gugsa’s attack upon Our army, the Minister let Us know that they had not succeeded in sending the aircraft from Asmara immediately. Since in Our heart We had known all along that the reply would be thus, it caused Us no surprise whatever.
Having been deceived by lies of this sort, Ras Gugsa decided to make war; he issued a proclamation of mobilization, marched along in a great hurry and, on 22nd Magabit 1922 (= 31st March 1930), launched an attack upon Dejazmatch Mullugeta at Qwana. When he had fought for about three hours he suffered a defeat.
Thus the deceitful counsel, over which the Italians had toiled for so many years, was demolished in three hours, and Ras Gugsa came to his end. The fact that the majority of the captured arms, found in the hands of Ras Gugsa’s troops in the course of this battle, were Vetterli rifles which had come from Asmara made it quite certain to Us that it was the Italians who had helped Ras Gugsa to rebel.
The Empress Zawditu died on 24th Magabit 1922 (= 2nd April 1930), two days after the death of Ras Gugsa.
Empress Zawditu had for a long time prior to this suffered from diabetes which had been diagnosed by the Swedish Dr. Hanner and the Swiss Dr. Mayberg. As this disease got progressively worse and more virulent every year, she had latterly been very ill. Therefore, she had not been informed of Ras Gugsa’s death, lest this news should aggravate her illness. This was because the physicians who were treating her, Dr. Hanner and Dr. Mayberg, had given instructions that she was not to hear the sad news. But the Italians, with the intention of completing the full measure of their deceitfulness, spread the rumour that she died of shock after hearing the news, while in fact there is no prince, noble, or minister at Addis Ababa who does not know that Empress Zawditu died without hearing of Ras Gugsa’s death in battle.
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January 7, 2017