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The form that they took was, practically speaking, that of a gigantic national picnic in the country of the unfortunate enemy...

Early Abyssinian Army

As late as the end of the 19th Century, the army that a considerable resemblance to the English in the time of Edward the First - the more so as the great military leaders became governors of provinces in time of peace. Military service and the possession of land were closely allied in Abyssinia, as they once were in England. One might even in the sheriff of the Middle Ages find some slight likeness to the Abyssinian Shum, who was a civil and military official. He was responsible for the administration of the province, town, or village to which he happens to be appointed, and it is his duty to call out the levies in time of war.

The ceremony of calling out the levies for war was one of some solemnity. In the camps, and in the market places of towns the big wardrum, or negarit, is brought out; the flags are flying and every man wears his mantle, as if in presence of the King. The roll is beaten forty-five times at long intervals (the whole auage as it is called, lasting about two hours), and the King's officer reads a proclamation aloud.

The following is one issued by Menelik before proceeding on one of his zemetshas, or marauding expeditions. "Feed and fatten well your horses and mules, prepare the red pepper, salt and other provisions, and be at Entotto, all of you on the day of Abb after Easter week. He who does not hearken to these words of mine will be punished by the confiscation of his goods."

These zemetshas were not so serious as real war ; they were merely extensive plundering expeditions common enough in all Abyssinia, but which in Shoa took place only twice a year, usually in March and October, and were generally directed against some miserable unoffending Galla tribe from whom the Shoans claimed tribute. The form that they took was, practically speaking, that of a gigantic national picnic in the country of the unfortunate enemy, twenty or thirty thousand women and children accompanying the warriors.

A clean sweep was made of the inhabitants who, not powerful enough to resist, only tried to make their escape. The Shoans often returned home with from sixty to a hundred thousand head of cattle and countless prisoners, many of whom perished of exhaustion on the road without anyone caring.

This method of warfare, however unusual it may sound, was almost identical with that employed by the army which defeated the Italians. During the campaign of Adowa it is estimated that Menelik's troops were accompanied by thirty or forty thousand non-combatants. It was only the extraordinary activity of both men and women that enabled his force to retain its mobility.




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Page last modified: 23-11-2015 19:35:22 ZULU