- Zamana Masafint: 1769-1855 [21]

21. The walled city of Gondar attracted the politically powerful families from all sectors of Ethiopia including the Oromo and the Tigrey. The Solomonic dynasty intermarried with all Ethiopians. The ruthless murder of emperors by Ras Mikael Sehul of Tigrey as viceroy (enderase) of the emperors of Gondar had resulted in a change of the system of government. Becoming an appointee of an emperor or his viceroy was no longer sufficient to satisfy the political aspirations of strong Ethiopian families, and the era of princes (Zamana Masafint) began.

Between 1769 and 1855, the genealogy of the princes includes the following (Christopher Buyers:URL 1). Viceroys in Gondar and governors of Begemider included the children of Seru Guangual, a Yeju Oromo. His children converted from the Moslem faith to the Christian and became viceroys at Gondara. They were Ras Ali (tiliku) Guangul, Ras Aligaz Guangul, ( and the children of their brother-in-law, Dej. Merso - Abba Geteyye Worresek), Ras Gugsa Merso, Ras Yimam Merso, Ras Maryam Merso, Ras Dori Merso, and Ras Ali (tinishu). Ras Woldegebrael Mikael had defeated Ras Aligaz and was a viceroy after Aligaz and before Gugsa. In Gojam, Ras Hailu (the grandson of an Oromo prince, Dej.Wolde Habib), was succeeded by his children and grandchildren Ras Merid, Dej. Gualu, and Ras Goshu. In Tigrey, succeeding Ras Mikael were Ras Woldegebrael Mikael, Ras Woldesellassie Kefle Yesu, Dej. Sabagadis, and Ras Wube Hailemariam. The case of Shewa is slightly different. While Minas Lebna Dengel, and the children of Gelawdewos Lebna Dengel relocated to Lake Tana and then to Gondar, another, Yaqub Lebna Dengel had stayed in Shewa giving the sequence Lebna Dengel, Yaqub, Segew Qal, Negassi Kristos, Merid Azmatch (MA) Sebeste, MA Abboye, MA Amha Iyasu, MA Asfaw Wosen, Ras Wosen Seged, Negus Sahala Selassie, and Negus Haile Melekot. The princes of Shewa during Zamana Masafint began with Merid Azmatch (MA) Amha Iyasu. During the Zamana Masafint, the Gondar castle was partly burned down, unkempt, and the emperors became progressively poorer. They were puppets of the viceroys. The princes and emperors were intermarried, though this bond did not inhibit them from fighting against each other. The bulk of the fight centered about becoming a viceroy and protecting the central regime from Moslem influence.

Of the numerous battles among feuding princes three of them have striking consequences. A fourth incident involves a curious excommunication of Ethiopian princes by Abuna Selama.

1. The 1769 battles at Sarbakusa is the first and significant struggle of Zamana Masafinit. At these battles Ras Gusho of Amhara defeated Ras Mikael Sehul, until Mikael surrendered to his son-in-law, Dej. Wond Bewosen in Gondar . Mikael was imprisoned for a year in Gondar , and after 1771 he was let go. He died in Tigrey in 1779.

2. The second is the battle of 14 February 1831 . The Viceroy of Gondar, Ras Mariya, was killed in a battle against Dej. Sabagadis, Governor of Tigrey and Hamasen. The next day, Dej. Sabagadis was captured and was executed by Ras Dori, the brother of Viceroy Mariya. Dori became viceroy for a few months and died of natural causes. However, after the death of Dej. Sabagadis, Dej. Wube Hailemariam, governor of Semien, was promoted to the rank of Ras. He was also made Dejazmatch and governor of Tigrey and Hamasen and coastal territories.

3. The third one is the 7 February 1842 battle of Debra Tabor that was waged by Ras Wube and others with the purpose of deposing Ras Ali of the Yeju lineage from his viceroyalty at Gondar . Ras Wube used the rumor that Viceroy Ras Ali was a Moslem as the reason for his campaign. He also campaigned to get Abuna Selama from Egypt, who later excommunicated Ras Ali. A battle was faught at Debre Tabor to depose Ras Ali on 7 February 1842. Ras Ali’s supporters had won the battle and had captured Ras Wube, while Ras Ali the victor had fled. It took days to retrieve Ras Ali and place him in Gondar. Ras Wube was released a year later, and his half-brother, Dej. Merso, who fought on the side of Ras Ali was deposed by Ras Ali and Ras Wube was made governor again. Ras Ali must have loved his wife, w/o Hirut, quite deeply for him to restore her father Ras Wube to governorship, despite his transgressions. [95]

Though the 1842 battle of Debra Tabor was promoted as a means of establishing Christianity as the religion of the kingdom, in reality the fight was to unseat or to maintain the Yeju family as viceroy. However, the battle had serious repercussions as it encouraged aliens, Egyptians, the British, and the French to work harder against the interest of Ethiopia and to lay claims on its territories.

4. The 1846-47excommunication for doctrinal matters of Ethiopian princes by Abuna Selama is intriguing. In 1846, Abuna Selama conveniently instigated unrest in Ethiopia by excommunicating Ethiopian princes such as Ras Ali the viceroy of Gondar , the Itchege, and Negus Sahle Sellassie of Shewa. Abuna Selama was deported from Gondar to Tigrey. Ras Wube was pleased to have the Abun and released prisoners including Biru Aligaz to spite the Viceroy at Gondar . But there were serious problems posed by Egypt at precisely the time that the Abun was waging his doctrinal war to occupy the attention of the Ethiopian princes. On 16 June 1847 an Egyptian force landed at Arqiqo (also called Dehono, and located next to the island of Massawa ), burnt the village and built a fort. Shor traids were made by the Egyptians to Hamasen. Europeans were engaged in obfuscating the magnitude of the act by advising Ras Wube not to take military actions, but to appeal to Egypt and to Europe . The Europeans showed letters to the princes of Ethiopia that they had composed to send to foreign authorities as though their pieces of papers had any values beyond defocusing the Ethiopian princes. Ras Wube had written to Britain asking that it help constrain Turkey, and that it also send skilled English workers. The reply Wube got was negative on both requests. The foreign office wrote Wube telling him that Turkey is a friend to the British Queen too, essentially indicating that Britain no longer considered Massawa as Ethiopian territory. They also told consul Plowden to discourage Wube from ever thinking about receiving skilled workers. Ras Wube had to send less than 3000 soldiers and drive away the Egyptian from the mainland. It is clear that serious foreign policy problems awaited, the next Ethiopian leader, Emperor Tewodros as he tried to unife Ethiopia and protect its interests.

Though none of the princes fought to divide Ethiopia into linguistic groups, the feud among the princes over central and northern Ethiopia diminished the attention that ought to have been placed on the maritime and coastal territories. Aliens, principally Britain found it easy to support the misappropriation of the Ethiopian territories from the port of Sawakin to Massawa and the hinterland up to Kassala by the viceroys in Egypt in the early 19th century. And the French supported by the British instigated the viceroys of Turkey (the Pasha, later khedive of Egypt) to take Ethiopian maritime and coastal territory south of Massawa in the middle and late 19th century. This aspect of Ethiopian history is discussed further in the section of the Turkish Fiction.


Questions. 1. List the successions of viceroys of Begemider (or Tigrey, Shewa, Gojam) during the Zamana Masafint? 2. Name the provinces of northern Ethiopia that were governed by children of strong Oromo princes during the Zamana Masafint? 3. What event began the Era of Princes?

Critical thinking question: 5. What does the phrase ‘be Sebeste Gize” mean? 6. Compare and contrast the welfare of the peasant between “be Sebeste Gize” and “ be Zamana Mesafint”? 7. Did the princes of Zamana Masafint attempt to divide Ethiopia along linguistic lines?





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