During the wars by Gragn (1529-1543), Emperor Lebna Dengel sent in 1535 a messenger to Portugal seeking their support against a jihad supported by the Ottoman Empire. Four hundred Portuguese arrived in 1542 to fight alongside Ethiopia and defeat Gragn. Catholic Portuguese missionaries evangelized in the north, and two catholic Ethiopians became emperors. That condition was opposed, when Emperor Fassilides ascended to power after his catholic father (Susneyos) abdicated the throne. Portuguese missionaries were no longer allowed to evangelize in Ethiopia. Some of the Portuguese were deported through Sawakin, though there is no report that would indicate that Sawakin paid tribute to Emperor Fassilides. In addition to dealing with the jihad and the northward migration of the Oromo, Ethiopia focused on fighting for the primacy of the Orthodox religion. The focus of the rulers was more on the power of the central regime and less on the territories and inhabitants on the coast and the islands.


The situation got worse for Ethiopia as Ras Mikael Sehul, governor of Tigrey and Hamasen, relocated to Gondar as viceroy of the emperors. He killed two emperors in succession within six months, and the era of the princes began in 1769. Mikael was forcibly removed from his role as viceroy. However, important Oromo, Tigrey, Amhara, Shewa, etc., families in Ethiopia no longer became subservient to the emperors or their viceroys and a series of wars were waged among the princes. 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 whose children converted from the Moslem faith to the Christianity, Ras Ali (tiliku), Ras Aligaz, and the children and grand children of their brother-in-law, 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 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 Gonder, 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. From these, 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 they fought against each other. The bulk of the fight centered about becoming a viceroy and protecting the central regime from Moslem influence.



Questions. 1. What was the contribution of the Portuguese during the jihad? 2. Why were the Portuguese deported from Ethiopia? 3. List the successions of viceroys of Begemider (or Tigrey, Shewa, Gojam) during the Zamana Masafint? 4. Name the provinces of northern Ethiopia that were governed by children of strong Oromo princes during the Zamana Masafint? 5. What event began the Era of Princes?


Critical thinking question: 6. What does the phrase ‘be Sebeste Gize” mean? 7. Compare and contrast the welfare of the peasant between “be Sebeste Gize” and “ be Zamana Mesafint”? 8. Did the princes of Zamana Masafint attempt to divide Ethiopia along linguistic lines?





Gene Sharp for nonviolent movement

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Joint UEDF-CUD press release of July 2005