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PART 3: MENILEK, MILITARY CAMPS AND CAPITALS
Hiob Ludolf, the German founder of Ethiopian studies in Europe, observed in the 17th century that the kings of Ethiopia lived “continually in tents”,and gave it as his opinion that this was either because they were “not accustomed to Houses” or because their “frequent Wars and tedious marches” would not admit of long rest”.
According to an 18th century English translation, the Ethiopian royal camp, Ludolf continues, was always methodically arranged. It was the Camp Master’s Duty, he explains, to search out convenient land well supplied with wood, grass and water. This done “he fixes a Pole in the Earth with the Royal Banner at the Topp; upon the sight whereof, they that measure for the Nobility, set up their Masters Lodgings. After them the Common Soldiery, and others that follow the Camp either for victuals or else upon business. And thus in a few hours’ time the whole Camp appears in the same Order as it was before. For everyone knows his place and his proportion, there being never any alteration of the Order, but the same Streets and Lanes, the same distance of Tents, so that were it not for the variation of the Prospect, other Mountains, other Rivers, and another Face of the Country, you would think your self still in the same place. When the Cryer has once proclaimed the day of Removal, they presently know how to pack up their Baggage, and in what order to march without more ado; who are to march in the Front, who in the Rear, who on the Right, who on the Left; so that all things are done without Noise or Tumult”.
The above, we should emphasise, was an on-going feature of the Ethiopian social scene. Observers of later times are thus virtually unanimous in their admiration of the organisation and speed of mobilisation of Ethiopian military camps.
Let us, dear readers, take a few glimpses at some old-time Ethiopian camps as described in the travel literature.
The Englishman Nathaniel Pearce, writing of the Northern Ethiopian highlands early in the 19th century, recalls that “the Fit-awrari, with the advance guard, always encamps three or four miles in front of the main camp, their tents being pitched with their front facing the way they have to march. The King or Ras is always stationed in the centre of the camp, in general on the highest spot, the Buggerund and the Blattingore, his head secretary and treasurer, are in front of his tent at a short distance, his own household and horses in the rear, and on the sides of the tent and round the whole of the soldiers’ gojos, or huts, are built in a circle from the hinder part of the Blattingore‘s camp, where there is left a small entrance. All the other chiefs nearly join each other…”
Cornwallis Harris, the early 19th century British envoy to Shawa, , reports that the king’s camp “could have measured less than five miles in diameter”, and was “occupied by the royal suite of tents, consisting of a gay parti-coloured marquee of Turkish manufacture surrounded by twelve ample awnings of black surge, over which floated five crimson pennons surmounted by a silver globe”.
Mansfield Parkyns, a British resident of Adwa, describing Dejazmach Webe’s camp in Tegray at about the same time, declares that “the appearance of an Abyssinian permanent camp was singular but by no means displeasing”, for “the diversity of tents – some bell-shaped, some square, like an English marquee; some white, and others of black woollen stuff made principally in the southern provinces of Tigre; huts of all sizes and colours, their inmates scattered about in groups, with their horses, mules, etc. form altogether a picturesque and very lively scene.
‘’In the centre is the dwelling of Oubi which consists of three or four large thatched wigwams and a tent, enclosed by a double fence of thorn, at the entrances of which guards would be stationed, the space between them being divided into courts, in which the soldiers or other persons craving an audience of the King await his pleasure. Close around this is the encampment of the Ikkabyt, or steward, and his Chiffra, or followers of whom he has a large body, used as porters when changing quarters, and as soldiers in time of war. Around these in turn encamp the Zeveynia, or bearers of fire-arms, with the Negarit, or great drums, while Fitawraris, or generals of the advance guard, occupy the front position…
“Behind the Prince’s tent is the camp of the ShefZagry, or sword-bearers, while the Dejjin, or rearguard, occupies the hindmost position. On each side of the royal abode are the great men, or chiefs of provinces, who may have joined their master with their forces. Every corps of about fifty soldiers has an officer called [S]Hallika. His hut, rather larger than those of his followers, is built in the centre, with their encampments in a circle around him”.
Yet another British traveller, A.E. De Cosson, writing in the second half of the century, describes how the camp of Emperor Yohannes IV was established. “When the King halts”, he writes , “he first sticks his spear in the ground where he wishes the royal tents to be placed, and his chiefs make their camps near him, each taking up his position nearer or further from the king according to his rank. Every chief knows how much ground his people take up and what accommodation they require.
“Parties are sent out to cut branches and grass, and in an incredibly short time a little city of thatched huts, looking like ant hills rises from the plain, to be abandoned perhaps the following day, and built again at the next spring of good water”.
And so it went on, over the years and centuries: A camp made up largely of tents and temporary wooden structures, rapidly put up, and just as quickly dismantled, by soldiers who knew their rank, status as well as the geographical location and arrangement of their camp – with scarcely any need for the giving or receiving of orders.
The monarch In the centre, the chief of the advance-guard to the fore; that of the rear, behind. The soldiers of the right wing and left wings in their allotted positions.
The sticking of a spear into the ground to indicate the camp’s location.
Tents and structured buildings with entrances facing the direction of the expedition.
Perhaps a few flags.
And the camp’s reconstitution on occasion after occasion, often in identical fashion, though in many cases in entirely different parts of the country.
When Menilek established himself at Entoto, and later at Finfini, or Addis Ababa, he did so as we saw in a previous article, in virtually the same manner in which camps were established in Ethiopia since time immemorial. With the ruler’s camp, or palace, in the centre, the chief of the advance guard to the fore and of the rearguard to the rear. Tents and temporary structures have entrances facing the expected direction of the march expedition or campaign …
Entoto and Addis Ababa thus began their existence largely as assemblages of tents and temporary wooden structures, just like those of a camp.
But change was in the air.
There was evidence of this around 1895 when Menilek, apparently responding to pressure from his chiefs, agreed to have their Addis Ababa land holdings written down.
Subsequent Addis Ababa Municipal records list 31 early land-holders or groups of land-holders as follows:
1.Ras Makonnen; 2.Negus Mikael; 3. Ras Welde and Fitawrari HapteMariam; 4. Lij Entala; 5.Ras Darge; 6. Dejazmach Walda Gabriel; 7. EtegeTaytu, the Empress; 8. The Palace Guards; 9. The Butchers’ Quarter; 10. Ligeba and Dejazmach Tasaw; 11. Afanegus Nasibu; 12. Sahafe Taezaz Gabre Sellase, the chronicler; 13. Ras Nadew. 14. Echege Gabre Sellase; 15. Bajerond Fikre Sellase; 16.Ras Abate, later the Etege Hotel; 17. Dejazmach Germame; 18. Fitawrari Abba Koran; 19. Negadras Agedew; 20.the Workers’s Quarter; 21. Dejazmach Webe; 22. Dejazmach Beru HayleMariam; 22. Fitawrari Gebeyu;; 24, Golla area; 25. Negus Walda Geyorgis ; 26. Ajaz Gigew ; 27. Ras Bitweded Tesemma; 28.Dejazmach Basha Aboye; 29. Liqamaqwas Adenaw; 30. The Riflemen’s Quarter; 31. Ras Leulseged.
Most of the above, it will be perceived, comprised feudal chiefs, such as Ras Makonnen and Negus Mikael, high churchmen, such as Gebre Sellase, and Palace servants and staff, such as those in the workers’, butchers’ and riflemen’s quarters.
Land ownership was in fact highly concentrated. This was later indicated in a widely circulated report for 1961 which showed that 58% cent of the city’s area of 212 square kilometres belonged to large proprietors owning over 10,000 square metres, while small proprietors with less than 10,000 square metres held only 7.4% of the land. The Government and foreign embassies together held 12.7 % of the land and a further 12% to the church. The remainder, 9.9 % was said to be largely royal land.
Further evidence of modernisation can be seen, as we hope to show, in the manner in which Menilek turned his Addis Ababa Palace into a centre of innovation.
The capital’s first stone building, according to the French trader Leon Chefneux, was erected in 1891. On the diplomatic front, the British Legation built a stone structure in 1904 – and the Italians, abandoning their plan of moving to Addis Alem, referred to in a previous article, followed suit in 1908.