Reestablishing the King of Kings - Negus Negusti
|60||Takla Giyorgis II||1868|
The major peoples who made up the Ethiopian state were the Amhara and the Tigray, both Semitic speakers, and Cushitic-speaking peoples such as the Oromo and those groups speaking Agew languages, many of whom were Christian by the early 1800s. In some cases, their conversion had been accompanied by their assimilation into Amhara culture or, less often, Tigray culture; in other cases, they had become Christian but had retained their languages. The state's largest ethnic group was the Oromo, but the Oromo were neither politically nor culturally unified. Some were Christian, spoke Amharic, and had intermarried with the Amhara. Other Christian Oromo retained their language, although their modes of life and social structure had changed extensively from those of their pastoral kin. At the eastern edge of the highlands, many had converted to Islam, especially in the area of the former sultanates of Ifat and Adal. The Oromo people, whether or not Christian and Amhara in culture, played important political roles in the Zemene Mesafint--often as allies of Amhara aspirants to power but sometimes as rases and kingmakers in their own right.
Meanwhile, to the south of the kingdom, segments of the Oromo population -- cultivators and suppliers of goods exportable to the Red Sea coast and beyond -- had developed kingdoms of their own, no doubt stimulated in part by the examples of the Amhara to the north and the Sidama kingdoms to the south. The seventeenth through nineteenth century was a period not only of migration but also of integration, as groups borrowed usable techniques and institutions from each other. In the south, too, Islam had made substantial inroads. Many Oromo chieftains found Islam a useful tool in the process of centralization as well as in the building of trade networks.
By the second quarter of the nineteenth century, external factors once more affected the highlands and adjacent areas, at least in part because trade among the Red Sea states was being revived. Egypt made incursions along the coast and sought at various times to control the Red Sea ports. Europeans, chiefly British and French, showed interest in the Horn of Africa. The competition for trade, differences over how to respond to Egypt's activities, and the readier availability of modern arms were important factors in the conflicts of the period.
The whole history of the country was in fact one gloomy record of internecine wars, barbaric deeds and unstable governments, of adventurers usurping thrones, only to be themselves unseated, and of raids, rapine and pillage. Into this chaos entered from time to time broad rays of sunshine, the efforts of a few enlightened monarchs to evolve order from disorder, and to supply to their people the blessings of peace and civilization.
Bearing these matters in mind, during the 18th century the most prominent and beneficent rulers were the emperor Yesu of Gondar, who died about 1720, Sebastie, negus of Shoa (1703-1718), Amada Yesus of Shoa, who extended his kingdom and founded Ankober (1743-1774), Tekla Giorgis of Amhara (1770-1798?) and Asia Nassen of Shoa (1774-1807), the latter being especially renowned as a wise and benevolent monarch. The first years of the 19th century were disturbed by fierce campaigns between Guxa, ras of Gondar, and Wolda Selassie, ras of Tigré, who were both striving for the crown of Guxa's master, the emperor Eguala Izeion. Wolda Selassie was eventually the victor, and practically ruled the whole country till his death in 1816 at the age of eighty.
The form of placing a puppet Emperor on the throne was continued till Ras Ali, Guksa's grandson, was conquered by his son-in-law, Dedjatz Kassai, of Kwara, who having subjugated all his rivals, and scorning the secondary title of Ras, caused himself to be crowned Emperor, by the name of Theodore the Second. After the mid-nineteenth century, the different regions of the Gonder state were gradually reintegrated to form the nucleus of a modern state by strong monarchs such as Tewodros II, Yohannis IV, and Menelik II, who resisted the gradual expansion of European control in the Red Sea area and at the same time staved off a number of other challenges to the integrity of the reunited kingdom.
In 1862, after a snub by the British Government, Emperor Tewodros II of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) took the British Consul and other Europeans hostage to pressure the Crown to meet his request for equipment and training support. Being a somewhat impatient ruler, he also detained the British delegation sent to negotiate the initial hostages’ release. Because Britain’s ruling Liberal Party was reluctant to engage in “imperial adventures,” the hostages were still in loco Abyssinia into 1867. What Emperor Tewodros was unaware of was that the hostages’ situation was being played out in the British Press, becoming a factor in the Conservative victory in the 1867 general election.
With a sense of obligation to settle the Abyssinia matter, in August 1867, on the Government’s recommendation, Queen Victoria directed a punitive expedition to free the hostages. After overcoming major logistical and transportation challenges, the issue was settled with a British victory at Arogi, the successful storming of the Emperor’s Citadel at Magdala, and Tewodros’ suicide in August 1868.
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