One of the letters We received from Major Mesfin Seleshi:
Nehassie 18, 1930 [Aug. 24, 1938]
Haile Sellassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia,
Your Majesty: May The Savior of the World maintain your health, and with respect, I kiss the ground on which your respected shoes have trodden. I received your esteemed letter written on Nehassie 16 [25 August, 1938], at 6 o’clock. In the letter you said, ‘We have learned about the death of the nobility from newspapers, but We do not know the details of the circumstances under which they were killed; so, write Us in detail’. Here is the story of their deaths.
We learned of the death of His Excellency Ras Desta from an air-dropped paper which claimed that he was captured and killed… we tried to… confirm its authenticity, but could not find anyone who could tell us that he had seen his corpse, let alone that the Italians captured and killed him. Only because we did not find him alive, We gave up hope and decided to believe that he was dead.
The death of His Excellency Dejazmatch Gebre Mariam is sure. He is reported to have run into the center of the fighting, saying today is the day of my wedding, and was killed…
Dejazmatch Gebre Mariam
His Excellency Dejazmatch Beyene Merid died after a day-long battle. The fighting was not over, when he was inspecting his troops, and he was shot in the head and died instantly.
The enemy went as far as Gurage, where His Excellency Dejazmatch Balcha lived, and campaigned against him. The people betrayed him, and all his men were annihilated. He and two of his servants, three people all together, were surrounded. A white man came to him and asked; are you Dejazmatch Balcha? When he said yes I am, the white man said, surrender your arms, and untie your pistol. Dejazmatch Balcha said, ‘I am not here to surrender my arms’, and he killed the white man; then, he and his two servants died instantly without having much suffering.
His Excellency Fitawrari Shimelis also died after a day-long battle on the same front with Dejazmatch Beyene Merid.
Your Majesty… the noblemen whose names I mentioned above died honorably, planting respectable names on earth for their descendants, and in heaven they are entitled to their eternal estates. Your Majesty and their relatives should take comfort in this for their deaths should not be mourned.
I have sent the paper the enemy air-dropped, claiming the killing of Dejazmatch Hailu Kebbedde.
His Excellency Dejazmatch Wondwossen accomplished a number of heroic deeds, and finally his men were all killed in a battle and the rest were dispersed. At last the cave where he took refuge was besieged, and reportedly he was killed after having surrendered to the enemy.
Dejazmatch Habte Mariam Gebre Egzabieher became sick a few days after receiving a white man at his home. Then the governor ordered his presence, and Dejazmatch Habte Mariam replied that he was sick. The governor then came with a doctor and told him he needed to be examined. He refused… treatment but was given an injection against his will, complained of a high fever, and soon died.
Dejazmatch Wolde Amanuel, Kantiba Tenna Gashaw with his son named Desta, Kenyazmatch Wolde Yohannes Wolde Ab, LikeMekwas Haile Mariam Wolde Gabriel with his brother Kenyazmatch Tekle Mariam, Major [Kenyazmach] Belhu, Ato Beshah Wured, Kifle Nesibu, [Geraz] Mesfin Kelemework, and Mesfin, son of [Dej.] Mengesha Wube also were killed. They died after much suffering… while their ten fingers were bleeding. After stomping them in the head and giving them a drop of water when they were exhausted, the Italians interrogated them about who threw the bomb; who participated in the conspiracy; and who knew about the plot? When beaten and unimaginably tortured during private interrogation, Dejazmatch Wolde Amanuel admitted… that Abraha Deboch and Mogus Asgedom, interpreters and Chief spies for Graziani in Addis Abeba, came to his home and told him to stay there since they intended to throw grenades tomorrow during the gathering.
They left his home when he rebuked them and told them that the idea was childish and impossible to carry out. After Dejazmatch Wolde Amanuel admitted this, he the Italian asked the others if Dejazmatch Wolde Amanuel’s confessions were correct. They replied, saying, the young men did not tell us, but indeed Dejazmatch Wolde Amanuel did talk about it. When he asked them why they had not reported… this information, they replied that they did not deem it a crime. Then [the Italian] said, you should have communicated to us what you… heard… Your generation is responsible for the destruction of your country that had remained independent for 3000 years. You are the ones who overthrew your government. And now, as usual, you create troubles. Then he killed them.
It is also reported that Fekade Sellassie [Herui] was killed after a long speech [by the Italian, who asked]… is it not your father who is creating trouble abroad? And now, you have returned here to give us trouble? [This Italian later] singled out the young Ethiopians like him [Fekade Sellassie], who had learned foreign languages, and no one knows their whereabouts.
It is reported that Dejazmatch Habte Michael, Dejazmatch Makonnen Wossenie, Dejazmatch Debebe [Andargatchew], Dejazmatch Seyoum Desta, Blata Sahle Tsedalu, Ato [later Blata] Ayele Gebre, Nagadras Desta [Mitikie] Gazeta, Fitawrari Atnaf Seged, Lij Banjaw, Yikum Abate, Taddesse Meshesha, Afanegus Atnafe have been imprisoned, and it is not known whether they are alive or dead. Dejazmatch Mengesha Wube has reportedly been wounded after being struck in the head three times with a shovel; and we also hear that he has been imprisoned or killed and his dignity has been stripped off. But we have not had a confirmed report of his death, only his imprisonment. Even the report of his imprisonment comes from the Italians. We are not certain of his whereabouts. After his death, Like Mekwas Haile Mariam’s wife died of illness. Bejirond Zelleke Agdew has not returned. He, too, reportedly died of illness. I wish I did not have to increase your sadness in addition to the worries and sufferings you are bearing already; I wrote all this only because Your Majesty wanted to know it. If necessary, I will write you what I hear and what I know depending on the circumstances.
Zewde Mulat was beaten in his eyes and has lost vision. However, he did not lose hope. He would be gratified to die for his country… but… I gave him some money and sent him to Egypt for for treatment, and he would feel better if Your Majesty contacted him through Ato Daba. It would be good also to send a letter about your well being to the noblemen who are with me. Kanyazmatch Letibelu escaped the havoc disguising himself as a poor person and, with one of his servants, joined me in Menz, where I was recuperating from my wounds. Upset by the futility of what he had done in the town and the death of those who had followed him, he asked me to give him weapons. I told him that he would not get any weapons if he was going just to store them somewhere; but if he would swear to work with us, I promised to give him some, and he swore. Thereafter, I said, God made you the beggar and me the giver, and I gave him a Czechoslovak machine-gun; Fitawrari Zewdu Aba Koran gave him one Lebel rifle….
Those who rebelled after Yekatit Mikail [February 19] were called “Rebels of Michael…”
Fitawrari Kassa Wolde Giorgis was slain with his servant, while Aleka Mersha of Yeka Michael was killed after shooting two white men. Zewde Meshesha has joined the bande; but his older step brother Kenyazmatch [later Dejazmatch] Demtew [Meshesha] said, I will avenge my father’s blood, and I will never submit to the Italians. He rebelled, killed a banda chief, and, with his several followers, he has caused serious problems in the area. By so doing, he has made life difficult for his brother.
All the noblemen who were imprisoned and those who submitted, perished for three reasons. One, they thought they would survive for the time being; second, they thought that it would be possible to live on the money they had saved and off the yield of their estates; third, they thought they would only be imprisoned and not be killed, believing that they would be released when His Majesty returned, as Italian soldiers were released by Emperor Menilek after the battle of Adwa. This way or that, in the coming year, Your Majesty should try hard to speak, in whatever way possible, to your people who feel proud of Your Majesty and your famous name and yearn to hear your voice. Abraha Deboch and Moges Asgedom, who threw grenades at Graziani, told us that they would go to the borderlands and left last year when we were in Gendeberet. We have not heard from them since.
It is rumored that the whereabouts is not known of 550 Italian officers and soldiers who were… searching for women and drinks in Addis Abeba.
It is also reported that bar musicians ridiculed them in their songs as follows:
The ark might go,
and the nickel might be finished,
The dress you are wearing might be sold for an alad,
Your earings might be sold for a quarter,
This day might pass, and tekel might return,
And on that day, all of us will have a score to settle.
They despised him [the Italians] as such, but some bootlicker reported that it was not praise but an insult. Then, he [the white man] started rounding them up and killing them. As a result, they [the musicians] were dispersed.
Major Mesfin Seleshi
[4.]From letters sent to Us by Blata Tekle [Wolde Hawariat]:
Nehassie 6, 1930 [Aug. 12, 1938]
Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia
On behalf of all Ethiopian people and on our behalf, we present our whole-hearted love, and we long to see you.
Your Majesty: even if we do not have sufficient arms and strength to withstand the enemy forces, given Your Majesty’s grace, we are filled with the spirit of boldness. To be worthy of our mission, we rose in our districts. Spilling our blood and sacrificing our bones, and most of the time being depressed, we spent two years in close combat with the enemy. We never backed off. The love of our country and the memory of our Sovereign also never departed from us.
In the third year, thanks to God’s kindness, we were able to imagine that our struggle might succeed throughout Ethiopia. In those months, after careful review, even the enemy concluded that its program was not showing any progress. For seven months, the enemy had been very inactive everywhere, and the propaganda that came out of its fortified positions seemed to be in search of some agreement. All these were visible signs of weakness.
However, beginning from the end of March 1938, though the source of its courage is unknown, the enemy rose like a mad person, and launched infantry attacks accompanied by various kinds of poison gases which it sprinkled, like rain, over several villages and livestock, thereby succeeding in occupying the town of Bure. However, despite heavy fighting, it failed to penetrate the countryside. According to our spies, seemingly working for the enemy, the aim of all these efforts was to deceive the people so as to kill their morale. To that effect, the enemy pretended as though he had concluded an agreement with the governments opposed to its plans. The enemy wrote to Dejazmatch Negash of its agreement with neighboring governments and of its plan to appoint him ruler of his province.
Owing to the absence of communications, our version of the situation within Ethiopia appears to be misconceived by some governments. They receive all their information from the enemy. To counter this, we thought of making our voice heard through propaganda. Although communicating the true feeling of the people obviously requires sophisticated techniques and creative approaches, everything boils down to three issues. The first is the reputation of Your Majesty, which has captured the heart of the people. The second is the prophecy which has been told in every Ethiopian language throughout the whole country that the enemy will not rule our country for more than three years. The third is the fact that the enemy is unjustly abusing human beings.
Nevertheless, when the enemy increases its offensive capability and starts to coerce the people, all this reasoning becomes meaningless, and Your Majesty remains the only hope for the people. Otherwise the people would be disheartened. Therefore, we deemed it necessary to go to the borderlands in order to rethink our strategy and easily correspond with Your Majesty… Deciding on this… we left many of our armed people behind and set out at night with a few followers.
Unfortunately the enemy had been tracking our movement through its spies and unleashed a surprise attack on us on the outskirts of Agew Midir. Blata Tekle was particularly hard hit but survived through the goodness of Your God. Then, the enemy as usual returned to its fortifications. However, the house where some written evidence and seals as well as… documents collected from various provinces were stored was bombed and burned. We are extremely disappointed by the destruction of your Country’s history and for our failure to exhibit and explain the achievements of your patriots, who are struggling in all the provinces of Ethiopia.
Despite what had happened, we decided to continue our journey to the border. When we reached there, we found out that it was impossible to remain because the environment was inhospitable and food was completely unavailable. We met the Sudanese border guards and had conversations with them. They told us that there was no problem with the availability of weapons and simply directed us to their commander. Then, thinking that we would return after accomplishing our mission and concluding our business, we continued our journey.
On our way we first met with the Maimur chief of a town called Rosaires. He assured us the Sudanese government would satisfy all our needs and we entrusted our arms to him. He provided us with accommodation and asked us to wait until his British superior arrived. In the meantime, we took care of our people who had caught malaria.
When the British commander arrived, he asked us about our plans. We told him that we had left our arms in the custody of the local chief and assured him that we had no other desire but to return home after meeting with him. He registered our names, and then he asked us if it was possible to bring Dejazmatch Desta. In response we told him that we might be able to go back and bring him out if the British government satisfied our needs and wanted to maintain our friendship. Again he asked, would it be possible to summon him by a letter stating that the government would maintain you, your noblemen and the educated children in good condition here? We replied, indicating that it was uncertain; that we could not guarantee that… he would respond to such a call. Then, he brought us to the headquarters and detained us there for fifteen days.
Suddenly he instructed us to assemble in one place to tell us this. The whole world knows that His Majesty will never return to Ethiopia. And you, he added, cannot go beyond a town called Sinje, let alone get your weapons back and return to your country. Now, you, the leaders, should stay in Khartoum. Your men will be allowed to farm and live off the lands we will allot them.
After we entered Khartoum, the head of the section called Civil Secretariat called and informed us that about three hundred people among the refugees in Kenya had asked for reconciliation with the Italians and were negotiating with the government. And you, he asked, do you not think that it would better to reconcile? We replied in strong words that this was unacceptable to us. Realizing that we were embittered and that our mood was changing, he sent us back immediately to the place where we were staying.
At the time when Your country would have developed into a paradise on earth and we would have enjoyed the fruits of our hard work, we came here and, as they say, “entered into the trap of hell.” Be that as it may, we are particularly disturbed and daily haunted more by the displeasure and inconvenience we might have caused to Your Majesty than by the irritation resulting from what we see and hear. This being the case, each morning and each night, we read the testimony Your Majesty sent us which, as a matter of fact, is much beyond what we really deserve.
As a result, our innermost feelings have been comforted… and reinvigorated. We do not believe the people of Ethiopia will be demoralized by our being detained here… Rather, they will grow more courageous and strong. Since planning the future is much better than regretting the past, we would like to ask Your Majesty to look for ways for us to return. All our dreams and visions center exclusively on going home.
Tekle Wolde Hawariat
Azaj Bogale Gebre Wold
* * *
[5.]From those sent to Us from Shewa:
Meskerem 21, 1931 [Oct. 1, 1938]
An appeal to His Majesty, the Emperor of Ethiopia
Your Majesty: We stretch out our hands to heaven and pray to the sovereign God for Your Majesty’s long life and continued wellbeing, for our freedom from the yoke of the enemy, and for happiness and peace as well as a chance to see the shining face of Your Majesty.
Your Majesty, two and one-half years have elapsed since Italy broke her promise to respect Ethiopia’s independence, rejected the Covenant of the League of Nations, and began using her military power on us. We are aware that our enemy’s forces do not match those of ours, but with confidence in God, we will fight incessantly to protect our country’s borders from an enemy which has vowed to annex it.
We would like to express to Your Majesty that our agony was reduced and hope uplifted when we learned about Your Majesty’s appearance before the League of Nations holding the scepter of Solomon in your hands, to reveal that your defenseless people had been exposed to an unprecedented repression and wanton brutality unleashed by the Italians, and also, to seek justice as well as assistance for your people so as to extinguish the fire that has engulfed us.
Woe to those countries who do not give just judgment to the Emperor of Ethiopia who, in honor of and in loyalty to his duty, stood before them in quest of justice, because they are the ones who take on themselves the responsibility of invoking the wrath of God.
We will never cease to shed our blood for the independence of our country, and will not restrain ourselves from appealing for the restoration of justice. We hope the League of Nations will do this for us.
More likely than not, the people of the League of Nations and of the whole world may, at the very least, discuss occasionally that our blood flows continuously. If they do not give justice to Ethiopia, which is pathetically pleading, for assistance before she has totally lost her children and is completely destroyed, let us ask, after all, what is the use of the League of Nations?
Dejazmatch Mengesha Wossenie
Ras Abebe Aregai
Fitawrari Zewde Aba Koran
* * *
The following is the format of the correspondence We had been exchanging with the patriots and chiefs (balabbats):
The Conquering Lion of Judah,
Haile Sellassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia.
To the Ethiopian Nobility, chiefs (balabbats), and people, minors and adults alike. How are you? With the goodness of God, We are fine.
We have received your letter which asked us to notify the League of Nations, about the tragedy and the injustices done to our people by the atrocious enemy. Even though We have a sense of the weight of the travail you are undergoing, We were pleased to hear that you are doing well. Our fate forced Us to stay in Europe to explain to the League of Nations the kind of agony and travail that has befallen our beloved country and its kind people. We are here, while unceasingly praying to God, to seek the protection which, according to its charter, the League should have granted Ethiopia as well as to remind them seriously to consider setting up a system whereby the dignity of humanity is guaranteed.
The letters from the Ethiopian noblemen and chiefs helped Us greatly in Our discussions with friendly governments about the preservation of Ethiopia’s independence and to explain to the people and governments of the world that the Ethiopian people were determined to oppose the enemy and to continue to struggle until freedom was achieved. The efforts you make for your freedom and your loyalty to our beloved country and to Us, will never be forgotten by God and humanity; and it will be duly rewarded. Our wishes for Ethiopia and Our people are consistent with God’s will, and We hope he will fulfill Our aspirations.
London, Tahsas 27, 1931 [Jan. 5, 1939]
* * *
Hedar 9, 1931 [Nov. 18, 1938]
To His Majesty, Haile Sellassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia:
Let the Savior of the world maintain your health. We salute you. We learned from a newspaper that people have given up hope about our country and that Italian overlordship has been recognized.
Your Majesty, history and future generations will not have anything against you because, for your country’s independence, you have served as a military commander where force was applicable, without even caring for your life; and when that apparently failed, you litigated for the freedom of your people, in a foreign country, before world leaders. However, no matter how hard a person works and thinks, no one can accomplish whatever he plans unless it is consistent with God’s will. Accordingly, although Your Majesty has brought the matter to its present stage, there is nothing left that Your Majesty can do since the time of God’s forgiveness has not yet arrived. Please take care of yourself. Do not be worried and saddened too much.
Whatever the circumstance, we will not give up trusting in God. We beg Your Majesty not to become so aggrieved and so indignant that it may hurt you. Please remain calm and patient so that hope for Ethiopia will not vanish completely.
Jerusalem, Twelve Signatures
African Heritage Foundation (AHF)
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