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In: Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, ed. by Svein Ege, Harald Aspen, Birhanu Teferra and Shiferaw Bekele, Trondheim 2009

Amharic Praise Poems Related to Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannes IV

Getie Gelaye 1

This paper presents an edition, translation and analysis of Amharic poems, which were preserved at the Bibliotheca Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome. The poems are composed in a style widely known in the Ethiopian poetic tradition as fukkära (heroic recitals or warrior's songs) and they glorify the two great Ethiopian sovereigns, Tewodros II and Yohannes IV, referring to their horse-names, reigns, their bravery, personality, the wars they fought, their followers, their achievements and their dramatic death.

Introduction Scholarly studies on the texts of the earliest Amharic poems and songs began in the last quarter of the 19th century by European writers who edited and published them with the assistance of Ethiopian church scholars. These texts contain different praise poems and songs composed in honour of Ethiopian emperors, who ruled the country between 14th-16th century, namely Amdä Ìéyon (1314-1344), Yéshaq (1414-1429), Zär`a Ya`éqob (1434-1468), and Gälawdewos (1540-1559). Over the past several years, scholars of Ethiopian studies have studied these texts and other similar ones, such as the poems of zämänä mäsafént from various perspectives. 2 This paper presents an edition, translation and analysis of hitherto unpublished praise poems related to Emperor Tewodros II and Yohannes IV based on a text found in the collection of Conti Rossini in Rome. 3 The text was written or copied ca. 1900 but the author is unknown. I prepared a list of words, expressions and names used in the poems and tried to find the meanings of the unfamiliar or [old] words and expressions which are in Amharic, Oromifa and Tégréñña from the available dictionaries.4 However, it was not easy to correctly identify the names or horse-names mentioned in the praise poems. I consulted additional references and sources about the historical, cultural and political aspects of the two Emperors. Then I wrote down the poems with correct orthography on a computer and gave them consecutive and similar numbers for each couplet. This also applies to sample couplets selected for analysis and translation. Finally, an attempt has been made to translate 32 couplets out of a total of 55 and

1 2



Department of African and Ethiopian Studies, Asia-Africa-Institute, Hamburg University, EdmundSiemers-Allee 1 (Ost), D-20146 Hamburg, Germany, E-mail: [email protected] These include Guidi (1889), Cerulli (1916), Conti Rossini (1925), Littmann (1914), Cohen (1924), Huntingford (1965), Berhanou (1979, 1985, 1987), Pankhurst and Girma-Selassie (1985), Richter (1997), Yonas (2005), Gezahegn (2005), among others. I am very grateful to the Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente (IsIAO) for awarding me a Research Fellowship (February ­ April 2003) to carry out research on historical sources in Rome. I thank the staff of IsIAO and the staff of the Ethiopian Embassy in Rome for their assistance during my stay in Rome. I acknowledge with gratitude the kind assistance of Poet and Folklorist Seifu Metaferia and Professerors Bairu Tafla, Alessandro Triulzi and Giorgio Banti for their scholarly advice. Finally, I am grateful to the German Research Association (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) for its financial support to participate at the 16th ICES in Trondheim, Norway. I have used extensively Kane (1990) and others, such as Antoine d'Abbadie (1881), Abba Yohannes (1948/9), Guidi (1902) and Dästa (1962). 1349

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provide commentary and a sample analysis. The translation of the texts is as close to the original as possible, especially for non-Amharic readers. 1. Text, Orthography and Language of the Poems The Amharic text was written in four-folios on very thin paper. The poems are written on the left column and the copyist marked a few short notes on the right side in Italian. The header of the paper has a signal, which reads as: "R. RESIDENZA DI ACACHI-IL RESIDENTE". 5 The size of the Amharic text is 285x230mm and it is mentioned that Conti Rossini 6 copied it. However, part of the text on the third folio differs (in calligraphy) from the remaining text. Folio one contains the poems related to Emperor Tewodros II and folios 2-4 contain poems related to Emperor Yohannes IV. The text about Yohannes has a title which reads as: (2nd about 7 Emperor Yohannes) but the text about Tewodros is without title. The author of the two texts related to Tewodros and Yohannes is not mentioned. However, it is probable that priests or Däbtära wrote down the texts. 8 There are about four other texts, which are not presented in the current study. There are orthographic errors that Conti Rossini made when copying the poems (that is, if he really copied the text as mentioned by Strelcyn, although one believes that he was a scholar of Ge`ez and Amharic and he edited and published several texts and royal chronicles. 9 ) For instance, one can mention such examples as: A[] [] [] [][] from the text about Tewodros; and the following examples from the poems related to Yohannes: A [] A[A] [] A[] [] A[] etc. The number of couplets related to Emperor Tewodros is 14, whereas couplets related to Yohannes are 41. Out of these, 8 couplets were published by Maòétämä Séllase 10 (1948:878-79), while the remaining 45 poems are unknown and have not been translated and published. In these texts, several Oromo words and names are mentioned or employed in the poems, which might be a feature of Amharic in the 19th century. These include: A [] [I] from poems related to Tewodros, and the following examples from Yohannes: ; and Tégrénñña words such as A [for comments and explanations on these words, see pp. 9-13 below]. Unlike the widely known, edited and translated old Amharic royal songs 11 , one can read and understand the text of the poems presented here without much difficulty. However, there are some words and expressions that might be regional dialects or archaic forms of the Amharic of the time 12 when the poems were composed. The poems are written in a style widely known in the Ethiopian poetic tradition as fukkära: heroic recitals or warrior's songs/chants.

5 6 7 8 9 10

11 12

See Strelcyn (1975:317) Ibid. According to Strelcyn (ibid) originally the text did not have a title. Conti Rossini also wrote "Senza Titolo" and gave the title [ ?] with a question mark. See folio I [in the original]. There can be no doubt that the texts of these praise poems were written down by the clergy mostly by the Däbtära, who were, for many centuries the sole custodians of the written word in Ethiopia. See Ricci (2003:792). Maòétämä Séllase published three of the praise poems related to Tewodros (couplets 1, 10 and 11) and five poems referring to Yohannes (couplets 1, 9, 11, 13, 14) with slight modifications of one of the couplets. He mentioned that the poems were [composed or recited] by a certain Hasän Amanu. For a recent study about the old Amharic royal songs, see Richter (1997:543-551), Yonas (2005: 6986) and Gezahegn (2005: 107-129). The dates for which the poems were composed or the place where they were found or collected are not specified in the texts.


Amharic Praise Poems Related to Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannes IV

Historically, fukkära 13 poems are composed, recited, improvised and performed at major victories, during battles, hunting expeditions, at weddings, at important royal banquets, and during the funerals of renowned figures. They were mainly recited by warriors, heroes, braves, horsemen and soldiers in front of kings, lords, chiefs and prominent figures, whose "heroic deeds" became legendary in the history of the Ethiopian people. Fukkära is a distinct genre employed to extol and evoke the imagery of warriors ambling astride, referring to their favourite horse-name or praise name, their action in galloping into the battle, attacking the enemy, and finally celebrating the victory. According to Levine (1965:272), "Perhaps the more prominent in Amhara life has been the glorification of brave men. The Abyssinian military ethic took the form of a cult hero.... The guabaz warrior was rewarded by his chief, praised by the minstrel, and esteemed by the populace. His bravery was ranked according to the fearfulness of the enemy vanquished." It was after victory or killing an enemy that the warriors and brave men performed fukkära and recited a variety of praise poems either by composing new ones or by improvising others' on the spot. 14 3. Historical and Literary Significance of the Poems Amharic praise poems play a significant role in the literary, historical and political study of Ethiopian emperors. Some Ethiopian authors such, as Täklä Ìadéq (1936, 1983, 1984), Paulos (1984), Maòétämä Íéllase (1942, 1969), Gärima (1961) and Héruy (1910) and chroniclers such as Aläqa Wäldä Maryam (1897), Däbtära Zännäb (1902), an anonymous author (1959), Aläqa Täkle and others have attempted to document a variety of Amharic poems, songs and recitals. These include dirges, lamentations, war songs, heroic recitals and a variety of poems composed and recited in honour of Ethiopian emperors, kings, nobles, warriors, etc. These poems and songs were mostly composed and recited by the Azmari, (minstrels) Alqas or Asläqqas (wailers or dirge singers); by warriors, soldiers, their followers, and the populace at large on various occasions. In the former days 15 fukkära was performed, recited and sung mainly by warriors, soldiers and sometimes by the Azmari. It has been a common tradition for the Ethiopian royalty and nobility to observe qärärto (warrior song) and fukkära performances (mainly by their soldiers, followers and admirers) after lavish banquets, during war campaigns and important religious, social and political gatherings whereby the performers would receive a variety of rewards. 16 At such occasions, the kings or nobles would perform fukkära recitals themselves or would give poems to their favorite singers; and the reciters of fukkära would praise the rulers referring to their horse-names 17 in the verses.

13 14 15

16 17

According to Mängéítu (1963:151) the syllabic structure of fukkära poem is known as sängo mägän" one of the three fundamental rhythmical patterns in Amharic versification. On the performance of fukkära see Getie (2006:588-89), Powne (1968:75-76). In the 20th century fukkära poems are colorfully recited and performed by the Ethiopian veterans at important National Holidays, such as the Victory of `Adwa (March 2) and Martyrs Day (May 5). Over the past years, government officials and authorities use qärärto songs and fukkära recitals on radio and television, during war times as an important medium of propaganda to inspire the people and rouse their courage or to recruit soldiers. See Getie (2004, 2005, 2006). Ibid. For a detail description of the tradition of Horse-names see Maòétämä Séllase (1969: 195-98). According to Bairu (1977:65), "It was fashionable for the kings, notables and lords of ninetieth century Ethiopia to give a high sounding name to their horses. The name was selected to connote or denote the wish, aspiration, and action of the owner." The horse-name usually begins with the noun: Abba "father", which means master of, or lord of [...]. Kings and notables used to be praised in their horse-names by their servants, followers, singers, etc. 1351

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Tristan Speedy, a British officer, who visited Ethiopia in 1861-62 and attended the court of Emperor Tewodros, had the opportunity to hear soldiers' songs, which were sung after victories. Speedy's description of the scene is worth mentioning: "On such occasions the men would utter war cries [qärärto] calling themselves yetewodros barya (`slave of Tewodros') and would boast of the numbers they had slain. Horsemen who had distinguished themselves in battle would dash up at full gallop before the king's tent, suddenly reigning in their horses, while foot-soldiers, brandishing their swords or quivering their lances go through a war dance and as each time in a turn recounts his deeds of prowess, his comrades confirm his boast by crying out ewnet, ewnet (it is true, it is true"). 18 Here are two songs that praise Emperor Tewodros: Téwodros's big horse [is called] Tatäq, the small one [is] Gullo Its tail is in Tegré, its forehead is in Wällo. E E A God knows [that] he [is] a [brave] man, His spear jumps [can fly] one thousand cubits. 19 Pankhurst and Girma-Selassie (1985) studied the war songs of Tewodros' soldiers based on Speedy's notebooks. The poems presented above and others were "composed at an important period of Ethiopia in honour of Emperor Tewodros, one of the country's most notable rulers". 20 Similarly, Berhanou (1970, 1985, 1987) made a major study and published three articles based on the collection of Antoine d'Abbadie, who travelled to Goggam and Bägemdér in 1845-48 and collected several Amharic poems and songs. Berhanou wrote down the poems in Amharic that d'Abbadie transcribed and translated into French with commentaries. Recently, Molvaer (2005) published an article on historical poems related to Ethiopian Emperors and notables based on Aläqa Täkle's chronicle. Molvaer mentions that he hired a certain Bä'édämaryam Dästa in the 1980s to collect Amharic poems. His study contains 9 poems related to Tewodros, 2 couplets about Yohannes and few short anecdotes about Lég Iyyasu, Empress Zäwditu and Emperor Òaylä Íéllase I. 21 4. A Sample Analysis 22 of Selected Praise Poems Couplets 1 and 2 and 9-13 directly relate to the deeds and valour of Tewodros, praising his personality, bravery, courage, determination, etc., as a distinguished warrior and military tactician. Particularly, the first and the last couplets depict the dramatic death of Kaía or Emperor Tewodros in Mäqdälla, which had a great symbolic impact in Ethiopia. It is this dramatic death that the poet-singer chose to honour and glorify the mighty king, whose life, career, dreams, images, achievements, etc., inspire many

18 19 20 21 22

Quoted in Pankhurst and Girma-Selassie (1985:51). Ibid, 60. See also Getie (2005:585). Ibid, 56. The authors attempted to reconstruct the texts of the songs and provide linguistic comments. Most of the poems that Molvaer presented criticize Emperor Tewodros and his reign. Due to space restriction, short commentaries of the praise poems are provided here. The reigns of Tewodros II and Yohannes IV are known in Ethiopian history as periods of political turmoil, regional wars, etc.. Most of the poems refer to war campaigns, battles and historical events, which require extensive consultation of historical sources. Using these poems as a historical source material, a detailed discussion and a thorough analysis of the historical events will follow in another study.


Amharic Praise Poems Related to Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannes IV

Ethiopian artists, such as novelists, poets, playwrights, sculptors, painters and singers. 23 Kaía or Tewodros died long ago, but for the poet-singer, Tewodros is still alive in Mäqdälla. 24 Therefore, rather than lamenting his pains, grief and sorrows in dirge (muso or léqso), the poet-singer chose to praise Tewodros 25 in fukkära also commonly recited during the death of a king, a warrior, a brave man, etc., and later at a series of memorial feasts or celebrations organized in honour of the dead. Here the poet refers to two major historical places: Qwara, where Kaía, the gifted warrior, originated, and Mäqdäla, where Tewodros, the visionary king ended his life. The second poem praises the bravery 26 of Emperor Tewodros referring to his horse-name, A (Abba Tatäq) ­ `father' or `lord of Tatäq', lit. "Girdle [yourself]", whose action, courage, violence and heroism is superior, and hence the poet could not find any other hero and any other horse, who could match with the king and his horse. In the following couplets, the poet uses carefully selected words such as: (manly, hero), (brave, valor), E (mad, hot tempered or angered), etc., to describe Tewodros' violence and bravery and metaphorical expressions to convey the most significant message. For example, in couplet 12, the poet metaphorically depicts Tewodros' bravery at war by describing: "he, who looks like a mad man when he throws a spear". The poet also depicts Tewodros' strength and bravery using a different praise name, A (Abba Mogäd) "lord of storm", which depicts best Tewodros' force, powerfulness and vigorousness. The poet also compares the king with a Vulture to extol his speed. This refers to Tewodros' military tactics of fast, unexpected and forced war campaigns, where he surprisingly marches to the most dangerous areas "where Vulture can not reach, let alone human being" to fight his enemies and subdue his rivals (couplet 13). Here the poet refers to one of Tewodros' successful military campaigns he made to Goggam, where he won a decisive victory in 1863 at the battle of Engébara 27 . Furthermore, Tewodros' bravery is glorified referring to his esteemed sword and his spear in couplet 9 and 11, respectively. In couplet 10, the poet-singer addresses [praises] directly the great warrior Kaía and tells about his fondness for weapons especially his favourite sword describing him: "you have no relation other than a sword". In couplet 11 the poet not only extols Tewodros' bravery at war but also describes the act of his violence and cruelty as he kills and chops off men's genitals. Couplets 3-7 mention six names 28 or horse-names of masters, who were probably th 19 century warriors, lords or local chiefs and their servants or soldiers. As their names indicate, they might be originated either from the Yäggu Dynasty, Bägemdér, Sémen or Tégre. These are: Íéyyum Bäqqahäñ and Ali Abba Bulla 29 , who are praised and

23 24 25


27 28 29

See Taye (1983: 115-116). Rubenson (1990:12, 15) writes, "a myth was born, ... a new hero is born." Tewodros himself was versed in several languages and skilled in composing and reciting fukkära poems. His favorites self praises and widely documented expressions are: "Oæd´ (O) õé, ôè çz%", etc. See Berhanou (1987:35). Taye, ibid writes, "In contrast to written historical fiction, oral literature takes as its focal point the dramatic personality of Tewodros rather than his struggle and reforms. Accordingly, violence and bravery are marked as the personal features that distinguish Tewodros most." See also Rubenson (1990:14-15). See Gärima (1961:161). Most of these names are Oromo origin, which might have relations to the lineages of Yäggu Dynasty, who are also referred as "Wärrä Seh". It is probable that Ali [Gwangul] Abba Bulla was one of the warring lords from the Muslim and Oromo family of the Yäggu Dynasty in Wällo. According to Berhanou (19770:101) Abba Bulla was the horse-name of Däggaó Amäde. Berhanou notes "Boula est le nom de cheval da dadajaó Amedé musulman très guerrier et hai en Bagemodr". See also Rubenson (1991:35). 1353

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portrayed in couplet 3 as masters; and Bäläw Gwangule and Täbäggä Buree as servants. The names Bäläw and Gwangul are mentioned in the chronicle of Tewodros (Fusella 1959:4-6) and in Rubenson (1991:100). In couplet 4 two additional names, Asfaw Maläfiya 30 and Wäreñña 31 [and] Bérru, are mentioned and praised as brave men. The first one might be a fighter about whom it was not possible to find information. The second one is Wäreñña, an Oromo name, to which at least few lords or chiefs are known by this name, such as Ras Wäreñña, who was a great warrior and governor of Sémen during the reign of Emperor Täklä Giyorgis.32 Couplets 5 and 6 praise [Fitawrari] Gäbréyye, who was Tewodros' most trusted war general and a capable military leader, and who was his right hand. In couplet 5, the poet metaphorically describes Gäbréyye as A "crocodile of a river" ­ comparing him with crocodile and praising him saying: "he, who comes up now brandishing a sword". In couplet 6 the poet again repeats the first line of the verse (see poem 1) that he used to praise the dramatic death of Tewodros and to assert that Gäbréyye is also alive and has not been forgotten. Further in the second line, the poet proudly praises Gäbréyye, using [his praise or horse-name] "déggén" 33 . Here, the poet addresses his audience using a second person masculine saying: "why don't you say Déggén Gäbréyye?" so that Gäbréyye will always be remembered. Perhaps it is necessary to comment here on the word "déggén" in Amharic 34 , which is derived from the verb `däggän' and means, "to point, to aim; to point a bow, a gun, a hose, to take aim, get ready to shoot; to fend off an attack with a sword or a cudgel". 35 Here the meanings "get ready, to aim, to shoot, to fend off an attack with a sword" could best fit in to describe the great warrior, Gäbréyye. Probably Conti Rossini copied the word wrongly as "gédén" [in couplet 5], and "gidén" [in couplet 8]. In the original text he put a short note on the right side, stating the origin of the word is Tégrénñña and adds probably the variant --&è is a dialect in Gondär. However, this is a beautiful praise poem, which honours both Tewodros and Gäbréyye, who were comrade-in-arms. 36 In couplet 14, the poet-singer laments the tragic death of Tewodros, directly addressing him. Emperor Tewodros died on Monday April 13, 1868 in Mäqdäla, committing suicide. Here, the poet directly asks the warrior King, saying: "what did the earth say, when you died?" and continues to tell about the natural phenomena that the earth devours or consumes human being [people] mornings and

30 31

32 33


35 36

This is mentioned as Assäfa Maläfiya in the poems of Zämänä Mäsafént that Berhanou (1985:20) published. The term may be Oromo by origin, but it was used in the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries to mean 'rebel'. According to Kane (II, 1990: 1499), the name Wäreñña is obsolete Amharic, which refers to a "rebel, pretender to the throne who rises against the monarch". Here, this name probably refers to Ras Wäldä Séllase, who was a great warrior and "a serious pretender to the throne after the fall of Emperor Täklä Giyorgis, who had made him ras [r'ésä mäkuwanént] and was governor of the Amhara Regions from Sémen to Bägemdér" (Rubenson 2000:103). See Rubenson, Ibid. I was unable to trace the origin of the word in the available dictionaries. However, I found the word in Gärima (1961: 143), in a different praise poem composed about Fitawrari Gäbréyye which reads: E Hence, the word might be used with slight change of the first two alphabets; or it can be a regional variant in Gondär and Tégray. Dästa Täklä Wäld (1962:340) defines as: " ". The last example can be translated as: `a loaded machine gun', which strengthens our assumption discussed here. See Kane (II, 1990:1834). According to Ethiopian historians and chroniclers Tewodros grieved deeply when he heard the death of Gäbréyye fighting against the British army.


Amharic Praise Poems Related to Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannes IV

evenings. In the third line, he describes the death of Tewodros defying [his enemy] faceto-face, using the Oromo word: (tumata). The word is defined as: "uproar, turmoil, combat with spears; spear used only for thrusting; slaughter; directly opposite, face-to-face". 37 This definition shows a vivid and dramatic description of fighting. Tewodros preferred death by his own hands rather than surrendering to the British army. The poet here prefers to honour the king's death not by throwing a spear, which could be thrown from far away but rather by combating face-to-face. The poems presented here begin and end with the death of Tewodros. The Amharic poems related to Emperor Yohannes are three times more numerous than the poems composed about Tewodros. They raise a number of important themes referring to the sovereign, his personality, character, and bravery his victory over regional lords and the major wars he fought against the Turks, Egyptians and Mahdists of Sudan and finally about his tragic death. An attempted has been made to translate 21 couplets and provide analysis and commentary on the major themes depicted in the poems. Here again we find Oromo words and names used in the poems. Emperor Yohannes' praise or horse-name itself is of Oromo origin. Linguistic evidence shows that the root verb of boressaw is boressa, 38 and the agent boressu, which means the disturber, rebel, violent, etc., and probably incorporated into Tégréñña. 39 Yohannes' official horse-name is Abba Bäzbéz, but in the couplets presented and analysed here, the Emperor is praised mostly by Boressaw, probably to emphasize Kaía's rebellious personality before his coronation and later his bravery in war. Emperor Yohannes IV has been described as: "a noble by birth, a cleric by education, a zealot by faith, a moralist by tendency, a monk by practice, a nationalist by policy, and a soldier and an emperor by profession". 40 Most poems presented here express that Emperor Yohannes was a great warrior who successfully defeated his internal rivals and foreign enemies. In the poems presented here, Yohannes is described as the most powerful man whose deeds, valour, bravery and skill of administration can be compared with biblical figures such as King David (poem 1), King Solomon (couplet 9) and even with Jesus Christ (couplet 4). The poet employs carefully selected imagery and metaphorical expressions to depict the military career and achievements of the Emperor and how he defeated the Turks [Egyptians] (see couplets 7, 9, 10). Particularly, couplet 7 praises Yohannes' victory over the Egyptians in Gura, saying: "he, who descends down to Gura and threshes the Turks". The poet also praises the Emperor saying: he, who is "killer of the English [probably here also Egyptians] with imported weapons", etc. Furthermore, Yohannes' strength, power and military superiority, as well as his weapons, such as his rifle, his sword, and his shield; his horses and mules; his officers and servants, are best depicted in metaphorical expressions in several poems. For example, Yohannes' grace, strength and force are praised in couplet 14. Here, the poet employs two figures of speech: simile and metaphor. In the first line Yohannes' majestic grace is described as: "he looks like fifty when going alone"; here the imagery "like fifty" is a simile. In the second line the poet compares the brave Kaía with A "lion", a major metaphor, which relates to an important action and historical event in Kaías' military career as a youth. Kaía killed a lion before he was crowned as Emperor, and he was welcomed

37 38 39 40

Kane (I, 1990:961). According to Gragg (1982:57) boressa (vt.) means "make muddy, stir up (water); disturb". See Abba Yohannes (1948/49:403). Abba Yohannes did not indicate its root in Oromo. See Bairu (1977:15). 1355

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home warmly by his sister and the neighbouring girls beating a drum and singing. 41 Soon, Kaía became a powerful man and defeated first his rivals among the notables of Tégre and later the chiefs and lords of other regions and the central provinces of Ethiopia. His military achievements over the peoples of Amhara and Galla 42 and how he subdued and ruled them all in unity are praised and depicted in couplets 12, 30, 32, 38. Yohannes is also praised as: "he, who fights, faces the Arabs" 43 "he, who is husband 44 of Abäsa", A A A A A etc., to show how he successfully defeated and ruled the Amharas the Oromos and other people as far as the sea (couplets 5, 18, 19, 28 and 37). Yohannes' dedication to the faith of Christianity is depicted in couplets 20 and 21. In couplet 20, his `sanctity' and devotion to religious life is described in the first line of the verse as: A "not even a day he slept with a woman", and the poet continues to tell about the Emperor's speech, which does not have a defect. Finally the poet mentions the departure of his soul saying: "what did his flesh say, when his soul departed? Yohannes' chronicles mention the monkish 45 life of the Emperor, who built several churches. Probably the most interesting description of Yohannes' bravery in warfare is how he faced Mahdists or Muslims in Mätämma with his officers and how he later died. Couplets 22-27 all describe this action. For example, in couplet 22 the poet expresses his sadness and deep grief, and laments about the poignant death of Emperor Yohannes, who died having "powder in his belly and sword at his neck" in the hands the Muslims, whom the poet refers to as A "merciless". It was at this tragic war that Yohannes' officers all perished; and the poet depicts them as those "who always looked down upon people" (couplet 23). In Couplet 25, the poet continues to lament the end of Yohannes' bravery and heroism referring to him as: "gone are the shield and power [heroism]" again using an important Oromo word, and his favourite horse-name, Boressaw. Finally couplets 15 and 41 [which have almost similar verses] raise an interesting relation in the last line of the verse, which says: "Kaía avenged the blood of Kaía". Perhaps the poet may refer here to the two Kaías 46 : Kaía, Tewodros II and Kaía, Yohannes IV, who were not only rivals, but who were also great warriors, were brave and heroes, who fought against foreign invaders, etc., and finally who both died fighting their enemies. To conclude, in this paper an attempt has been made to present an edition and sample translation of a text, which contains interesting Amharic praise poems. These are rich literary and historical sources, which give us insights into the reigns of Tewodros II and Yohannes IV and the history of Ethiopia in 19th century. The study opens possibilities for new approaches of scientific research to compare these poems with contemporary praises of fükkära and other genres of Amharic oral poetry. A study of such praise poems related to the lives, images, actions, courage, determination, bravery, achievements and the tragic death of Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannes IV, is an interesting historical and literary project, which will have high value for present and future generations.

41 42 43 44 45 46

This is mentioned in the chronicles of Emperor Yohannes. See Bairu (1977:41). This refers to the Oromo people as it was used in those days. This relates to how Yohannes counterchecked the Egyptian invasion in the north. See Zawde (1975), Bairu (1977), Taddese (et al eds 1990), among others. This is actually a similar expression that Tewodros used to utter while he was reciting fukkära or when boasting and bragging in fukkära. See Bairu (1977:15), Täklä Ìadéq (1984:548). See the article about the two Kaías in Shiferaw (1990:289-347).


Amharic Praise Poems Related to Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannes IV

5. Sample Poems with Translation [ ] I. Poems about Emperor Tewodros II 1. ? So soon is he dead; so soon forgotten? Kaía of Qwara, who is in Mäqdälla E E A Henceforth I shall not mention any one, Except Tatäq from among horses, and Kaía from braves. A ? A Won't man mention the master with the servant? Íéyyum Bäqqahäñ and Bäläw Gwangule, Ali Abba Bula [and] Täbäggä Buree. A Braves arise in every place, 47 Asfaw Maläfiya [and] Wäreñña 48 Bérru. A A Déggén Gäbréyye, crocodile of the rivers, He will now come up brandishing with [his] sword. ? A! So soon is he dead; so soon forgotten? Why do not you say: déggén Gäbréyye! E? A Shall I call you Kaía of Qwara? You have no relation other than a sword. A E A If you want to mention (someone), let's mention the brave Kaía from Qwara, Abba Mogäd [lord of storm].








47 48

This could also mean `braves are praised in every village or area.' See footnote 31 above. 1357

Getie Gelaye


E E He looks like a mad man when he throws a spear, He, who kills with a cäre 49 and hacks a penis. E E 50 A A You make forced march to Engébara 51 , Vulture would not make it, let alone human being. ? E A[] 52 What did the earth say, the day you died? Which devours people mornings and evenings, Not by throwing at, but rather by tumata. 53 II. Poems about Emperor Yohannes IV A E Stir not Boressaw Kaía, Anointed he is like David. A? A E A Why not be proud, Boressaw Kaía? Not even the Turks can resist him, let alone the Amhara. 54 ? A A Who can challenge Bore 55 in a horse race? Except the Creator, except Christ. A A When Boressaw advanced on a single horse, He united all and advanced as far as the sea.








50 51

52 53 54 55

This is an Oromo term, which means "long, slender and straight spear" (Kane 1990:1690). The word is mentioned in one of Tewodros' chronicles written by an anonymous Ethiopian writer and published by Fusella (1959:16-22). It reads as: A A E E A ... [] A ... E A A A This is a variant of E. Probably, this refers to the battle of Engébara that took place in Agäw Médr (Goggam), where Tewodros defeated his main rival Däggazmaó Tädla Gwalu, who was governor of Mecca and Agäw (Rubinson 1991:232). This is a variant of A See Kane (II, 1990:1299). See note 37. This poem is probably composed and recited after Kaía became Emperor Yohannes, and after he defeated the Egyptians at the battles of Gura and Gundät. See couplet 7. This is a short form of endearment to address Boressaw [Kaía].


Amharic Praise Poems Related to Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannes IV


E E E E E No shield, no bravery after Kaía, The killer of the English 56 with overseas weapons He, who descends down to Gura and threshes the Turks. Tägg with a carafe, tälla with a téwwa (cup) He, who kills in Massawa, the son of Abba Fänqél. 57 A E His stirring 58 like storm, The fighter against Turks, husband of the Abäsa. A Unless his sword breaks and he lies his head on it, Kaía will never give his kingdom to others. E A A A A It looks like lightning when he spreads [...] Like Solomon, whom God granted [the wisdom of ...] 59 He made the people of Abäsa travel 60 in unity. A A The elephant of the plain, the lion 61 of the forest, Boressaw Kaía whose neck-thread is a bullet. 62 A A He looks like fifty when going alone, His person is human, his voice like a lion.







56 57

58 59 60 61 62

This refers to the Egyptians and the Mhadists and not necessarily the English. This is actually the horse-name of Yohannes' elder brother, Däggazmaó Gugsa Mérca. See Bairu (1977:41). According to Maòétämä Séllase (1969:215) Abba Fänqél used to be a common horse-name among the lords of Tégre. The root verb of is Tégréñña, which refers to a horseman and how he stirs with his hands and thighs while riding his horse or mule. See Abba Yohannes (1948/49:597). Here the poet compares Yohannes' knowledge and wisdom of administration with that of King Solomon, whom God granted, among others knowledge and wisdom of administration". This implies that the people of Abäsa accepted his rule and traveled to him, or subdued to him. See the analysis on pages 7-8. Written sources indicate that Kaía was wounded on his neck while fighting against his rivals before his coronation. 1359

Getie Gelaye


E A We did not know his brother until now, Kaía 63 avenged the blood of Kaía. A A ? Not even a day with a woman he slept, His speech without defect, What did his flesh say when his soul departed? ! A A Alas! Men die not together Powder in his belly and sword at his neck. 64 A E A

The officers of Bore, who always looked down upon people Went down to Mätämma and perished all.





E E E Just as the Muslims make pilgrimage to Medina So perished Boressaw in the hands of Pagans. 65 A E Gone are the shield and human 66 (power [heroism]), Boressaw Kaía is gone just like that. A A A A He, whose gelding 67 strides in the front Made the Amhara and Galla go forward in unity. E His thighs [are] stirrer and his hands throwers,

It is not clear here which Kaía (exactly avenged the blood of the other Kaía, since there were at lest four lords whose names were Kaía). However, it is probable that the poet may relate to the two Kaías; Kaía (Tewodros) whose army was defeated by the British army; and Kaía (Yohannes), who successfully defeated the Egyptians (foreign invaders/enemies) at two decisive battles in Gura and Gundät. The two Kaía were great warriors, who fought against foreign invaders and enemies. Emperor Yohannes was wounded first by a bullet while fighting in Mätämma and died later. Afterwards, the Mhadists cut his neck [head] by sword and they took it to Sudan. Òéruy (1917:16). In the Ethiopian tradition, Muslims are referred as pagans or heathens. This also means `force', `might', etc. See Gragg (1982:218). This is an Arabic origin, "cheval. Arabe de Dongola-jeune etalon". (d'Abbadie 1881:782).





64 65 66 67


Amharic Praise Poems Related to Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannes IV

His sword [is] a splinter, his shield awesome. 38. A ? When one assumes he is in Asmara, he appeared in Adwa, When one assumes he is in Adwa, he appeared in Boru, Who can face Boressaw Kaía? E E A What astonishes me is the mother of Kaía, Having conceived Säwa she keeps quiet


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--§î --+{Ä´ 2005. ""Ø zÈõê vO O]¨Ä% ôR`ì "ÿUÇ Iæ" In: Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Ethiopian Philology. Addis Ababa, Addis Ababa University Printing Press, pp. 107-129. Gragg, Gene B. 1982. Oromo Dictionary. East Lansing: Michigan State University. Guidi, Ignazio. 1889. " Le canzoni geez-amariña in onore di Re Abissini". Rendiconti della R. Accademia dei Lincei, Estratto dal vol. V, fasc.2, 53-66. ---- 1902. Vocabulario Italiano Amarico. Roma. 1910 .. I A A A I Huntingford, G.W.B. 1965. The Glorious Victories of `Amda Seyon, King of Ethiopia. London: Cambridge University Press. Kane, Thomas L. 1990. English-Amharic Dictionary. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. Levine, Donald. 1965. Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Litmann, Enno (editor and publisher). 1904. Leipzig ---- 1914. Die Altamharischen Kaiserlieder. Straßburg. 1942 .. A A ---- 1969. "I " Journal of Ethiopian Studies. VII, 2, 195-303. 1963. "A " (The Principles and Technical Aspects of Amharic Versification"). Journal of Ethiopian Studies. I (2), pp. 133-51. Molvaer, R. K. "Some Ethiopian Historical Poems". Aethiopica. International Journal of Ethiopian and Eritrean Studies. 9, 147-163. Pankhurst, Richard and Girma-Selassie Asfaw. 1985. "An Amharic War-Song of Emperor Tewedros's Soldiers." Journal of Ethiopian Studies. XVII, 51-62. 1984 .. A A A Powne, Michael. 1968. Ethiopian Music An Introduction: A Survey of Ecclesiastical and Secular Music and Instruments. London: Oxford University Press. Ricci, Lanfranco. "Conti Rossini, Carlo". In: Siegbert Uhlig (ed.). Encyclopedia Aethiopica. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, Vol. I, pp. 791-792. Richter, Renate. 1997. "Some Linguistic Peculiarities of Old Amharic Texts". In: K. Fukui (et al eds.). Ethiopia in Broader Perspective: Papers of the XIIIth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies. Shoko Book Sellers. Kyoto. Vol. I, pp. 543-551 Rubenson, Sven. 1991. The Survival of Ethiopian Independence. Addis Ababa: Kuraz Publishing Agency. ---- 1990. "Meqdela Revisited". In: Taddese Beyene, (et al eds). Kasa and Kasa: Papers on the Lives, Times and Images of Tewodros II and Yohannes IV (18551889). Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies. pp. 11-21. ---- 2000. (ed.). Internal Rivalries and Foreign Threats 1869-1879. Acta Aethiopica. Vol. III. Addis Ababa: AAU Press. Shiferaw Bekele. 1990. "Kasa and Kasa: The State of Their Historiography". In: Taddese Beyene, (et al eds.). Kasa and Kasa: Papers on the Lives, Times and Images of Tewodros II and Yohannes IV (1855-1889). Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies. pp. 289-347.


Amharic Praise Poems Related to Emperors Tewodros II and Yohannes IV

Strelcyn, Stefan. 1976. Catalogue des manuscrits éthiopiens de l'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Fonds Conti Rossini et Fonds Caetani , Roma: Indici e sussidi bibliografici della biblioteca. Taddese Beyene (et al eds). Kasa and Kasa: Papers on the Lives, Times and Images of Tewodros II and Yohannes IV (1855-1889). Addis Ababa: Institute of Ethiopian Studies. Taye Assefa. 1983. "Tewodros in Ethiopian Historical Fiction". Journal of Ethiopian Studies. 16, pp. 115-128. Yonas Admassu. 2005. "The Image of the Hero in an Early Amharic Panegyric: Towards a Discourse of Empire". In: Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Ethiopian Philology. Addis Ababa: AAU Press, pp. 69-86. 1936 .. I A E A A ---- 1983 .. A I A A A A ---- 1984 .. A I A A A A EA (A) 1948/49 A A A Zawde Gabre-Selassie, 1975. Yohannes IV of Ethiopia: A Political Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



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