By T, Staffer of De Birhan Media
28 Feb. 2012
28 Feb. 2012
March 1st, we will celebrate the victory of Adwa. The Battle of Adwa was fought on 1 March 1896 between Ethiopiaand Italy near the town of Adwa, Ethiopia, in Tigray, was when a White, Northern colonising nation had for the first time gotten defeated by a black, African nation, Ethiopia. Last year, I had blogged this piece critiquing Sebhat Nega’s interview while commemorating the date.
This year, I will be travelling to another city to mark the day with a team of African students here. The battle of Adewa is really a pride. For more on Adwa read here and here. The latter website describes Emperor Menelik’s force as such,
Menelik’s force consisted of 82,000 rifle- and sword-armed infantry, 20,000 spearmen and 8,000 cavalry–the fierce Oromo horsemen roaring their war cry ‘Ebalgume! Ebalgume!’ (Reap! Reap!).
Historynet.com also states the Battle of Adwa cost the lives of 289 Italian officers, 2,918 European soldiers and about 2,000 askari. A further 954 European troops were missing, while 470 Italians and 958 askari were wounded. Some 700 Italians and 1,800 askari fell into the hands of the Ethiopian troops. About 70 Italians and 230 askari were tortured to death before Menelik discovered it and put a stop to it.
Amanda Kay McVety on her 2011 paper entitled “The 1903 Skinner Mission: Images of Ethiopia in the Progressive Era” critically analyses how the victory of Adwa was racially viewed in the US. She writes,
While pan-Africanist blacks within the United States argued that Adwa marked a critical moment in black history, white Americans who talked about it at all largely dismissed the idea that Adwa had anything to with black Africans, because they imagined Ethiopia not to be a black nation. It was, they insisted, a Semitic one that just happened, like Egypt to its north, to reside in Africa.
This obviously had some political implication in the early 20th century America. Politicians would have definitely used it to their interest. According to her, “The battle on the ground was a manifestation of the white race’s belief that it possessed a natural right to rule, and Ethiopia’s victory was the decisive rebuttal. Menelik stretched his hands out to God, he proclaimed, not to the European powers.”
In another section Amanda tells how radical the battle of Adwa was in race discourses
Long imagined in the West as a romantic land of adventure—an outpost of semi-civilization in the wilds of Africa—Ethiopia’s victory at the Battle of Adwa challenged the accepted paradigm of the inevitable triumph of Western civilization. Influenced by the pseudo-scientific race dogma and the environmental determinism of the day, many people found shocking Ethiopia’s ability to defeat the imperialists who wanted to claim it.
Ethiopia was polarised in thoughts. While one group got proud and depended on Ethiopia another continued giving theories that dissected it as “non African and black.” The congressmen in the US and F.D. Roosevelt kept on arguing that the war/fight was between two “same races” and that it was not surprising. This angered the African Americans. It was just four decades after the Battle of Adwa that these arguments found a resting place. Although, within months of the Battle of Adwa, European nations rushed to establish diplomatic representation with the Emperor Menelik and Menelik accepted all comers, including the envoys from Rome, Ethiopia’s name from racial, superiority, diplomatic, war and colonialism discourse was buried for good. Here is how Amanda puts it,
Black Americans found hope in Ethiopia’s resilience and independence, but the whites who controlled the United States felt more comfortable in a world in which Ethiopia was a Semitic nation, not a black one. In 1935, twenty-two years after Menelik’s death, when Benito Mussolini’s militarized Italy stole Ethiopia’s independence, many changed their minds. Under occupation, Ethiopia—now stretching out its hands to the League of Nations for promised protection—became black.
Kudos to Emperor Menelik II.