Statesman's Year-Book 1899/Abyssinia


The ancient empire of Abyssinia, or 'Ethiopia,' includes the Kingdoms of Tigré, with Lasta, in the north-east; Amhara, with Gojam, in the west and centre; Shoa in the south; besides outlying territories and dependencies of ill-defined boundaries, as far as Kafa in the south and Harar in the south-east, with considerable portions of the Galla and Somali Lands. The whole area is about 150,000 sq. miles, with an estimated population of 3,500,000.

By a treaty between Abyssinia and Great Britain in 1898, the latter ceded to the former about 8,000 miles of British Sonialiland. Abyssinia who claims the whole of non-British Somaliland on the North of British East Africa, except the strip of 180 miles broad on the coast, reserved to Italy by the treaty of Adis Abeba, This amounts to about 100,000 square miles.

After the overthrow of Theodore, King of Amhara, by the English in 1868, the suzerain power passed to Prince Kassai of Tigré, who assumed the old title of Negus Negust ('King of Kings'), and was crowned in 1872 as Johannes II., Emperor of Ethiopia. After the death of this potentate in 1889, Menelek II., King of Shoa (born 1842), became the supreme ruler of Abyssinia. The political institutions are essentially of a feudal character, analogous to those of mediæval Europe. The regular army consisting of contingents from the various provinces, numbers about 150,000 men, and is supplemented by irregulars and a territorial army.

By the treaty of Uchali, May 2, 1889, as interpreted by the Italians, Abyssinia became an Italian 'protectorate.' But King Menelek denounced this treaty in 1893, and by the convention of Adis Abeba, October 26, 1896, the independence of Abyssinia is unreservedly recognised.

Towns are numerous, but are all of small size, scarcely any with a population of over 5,000. The most important, politically and commercially, are: Gondar, capital of Amhara, 5,000; Adua, capital of Tigré, 3,000; Aksum, ancient capital of the Ethiopian Empire, 5,000; Antalo, former capital of Tigré, 1,000; Ankober, former capital of Shoa, 7,000; Adis Abeba, present capital of Shoa, 3,000; Debra-Tabor, Magdala, and Makallé, occasional royal residences; Besso and Sokoto, 1,500, important trading centres; Amba-Mariam, 4,000; Mahdera-Mariam, 4,000.

Since the conversion of the Abyssinians in the fourth century they have remained members of the Alexandrian Church. The Abuna, or head of the Church, is always a Copt, appointed and consecrated by the Patriarch of Alexandria, but his influence is controlled by the Echegheh, a native ecclesiastical dignitary, who presides over the religious orders, numbering about 12,000 monks. The Falashas appear to have been converted at a very early date by Jewish missionaries, and still practise many Jewish rites.

Education is restricted to the teaching of the secular and regular clergy, who instruct a limited number of children in grammar, choral singing, poetry, and the recitation of Bible texts. Justice being entirely administered by the provincial governors, landed proprietors, and shum, or petty chiefs. Besides the chiefs and their retainers summoned in time of war, the king maintains a permanent army of Wottoader or 'mercenaries,' most of whom are now armed with rifles instead of the national weapons, shield and lance.

There is comparatively little land under tillage, pasturage being the chief pursuit of the people, who raise large herds of cattle, as well as sheep and goats. Cotton, the sugar-cane, date-palm, and vine thrive well in many districts, but are nowhere extensively cultivated. Besides hides and skins the native produce includes eggs, barley, millet (dhurra) wheat, hops (gesho), but not in sufficient quantities for export. The forests abound in valuable trees. Civet, coftee, and wax are exported in considerable quantities; gold (found in the Wallega and Beni Shángul districts) and ivory (obtained in the Wallega and Galla country) are also exported, but the trade in these articles is controlled by the king, who receives tribute in these materials. The gold is shipped to India, and the ivory to India, Egypt and Europe. The imports consist chiefly of English, American, and Indian cottons; wool and woollen goods; Turkey red; French mirrors, razors, and cutlery; Italian and Swedish matches. The exports from Great Britain to Abyssinia in 1895 amounted to 10,416 £.; in 1896, 10,798 £.; in 1897, 16,583 £.

A railway from the port of Jiboutil in French Somaliland to Harrar in the south-east of Abyssinia, a distance of about 186 miles, is projected. About 70 miles of the route have been surveyed, and 12 miles of the line laid down. There is a telegraph line between Adis Abeba and Harrar.

The current coin of Abyssinia is the Maria Theresa dollar, but a new coinage has been resolved on, with the Menelik dollar for the standard coin. This new coin, by law equal to the Maria Theresa dollar, is said to have actually only four-fifths of its value.

The Abyssinian ounce weighs about 430 grains (the weight of the Maria Theresa dollar); a pound of ivory contains 12 ounces; of coffee, 18 ounces; the Abyssinian ferasla oontains 40 pounds (ivory). Grain measures are the kunna, 18 bushel; and the daula, 2+12 bushels. The mètre is largely used at Harrar; native measures are the sinze, about 8 inches, and the kend, 18 inches.

British Agent.—Lieut, J. J. Harrington.

Books of Reference concerning Abyssinia.

Foreign Office Reports, Annual Series, Nos. 1924 and 1978. London, 1897.

Bent (Theodore), The Sacred City of the Ethiopians; a visit to Aksum in Abyssinia in 1893. 8. London, 1893.

Blanford (W. T.), The Geology and Zoology of Abyssinia. 8. London, 1870.

Borelli (J.), Ethiopie Meridionale (1885-88). Fol. Paris, 1890.

Bruce (James), Travels to discover the Sources of the Nile, 1768-73. 5 vols. 4. Edinburgh, 1790.

Combes (P.), L'Abyssinie en 1896. Paris, 1896.

D'Abbadie (Antoine), Géodésie d'Ethiopie. Paris, 1860-73.— Geographie de l'Ethiopie. Paris, 1890.

Dufton (H.), A Journey through Abyssinia (1862-63). London, 1867.

Fumagalli (G.), Bibliografia Etiopica. Milan, 1893.

Gleichen (Count), With the Mission to Menelik. London, 1898.

Harris (Sir W. Corn wallis), The Highlands of Ethiopia. 3 vols. 8. London, 1844.

Hertslet (Sir E.), The Maj) of Africa by Treaty. 2nd ed. Vol. I. London, 1896.

Johnston (Sir Harry), History of the Colonisation of Africa. Cambridge i899.

Keltie (J. S.), The Partition of Africa. London, 1895.

Lauribar (P. de), Douze Ans en Abyssinie. Paris, 1898.

Lefebvre (Theophile), Voyage en Abyssinie 1839-43. 6 vols. Paris, 1845-54.

Massaja (G.), I miei Treutacinque anni di Missione nell' Alta Etiopia. 7 vols. Fol. Rome, 1885-89.

Orléans (Prince. H. d'), Une Visite a Ménélick. Paris, 1898.

Ortroz (F. Van). Conventions Internationales Concernant l'Afrique. Brussels, 1898.

Portal (Sir G. H.), My Mission to Abyssinia. 8. London, 1892.

Raffray (Achille), Afriqne Orientale, Abyssinie. 12. Paris, 1876.

Rassam (Hormuzd), Narrative of the British Mission to Abyssinia. 2 vols. 8. London, 1869.

Réclus, Universal Geography. Vol. X.

Rohlfs (G.), Meine Mission nach Abessinien, &c., 1880-81. 8 Leipzig, 1883.

Rüppell (W. P. E. S.), Reise in Abyssinien. 2 vols. Frankfurt-am-Main, 1832-40.

Stanley (H. M.), Magdala : Story of the Campaign, 1866-67. New ed. London 1896.

Stern (Henry A.), Wanderings among the Falashas of Abyssinia. 8. London, 1862.

Vanderheym (J. G.), Une Expédition avec le Négous Ménélik. Paris, 1896.

Vigneras (S.), Une Mission Française en Abyssinie. Paris, 1897.

Wilkins (H. St. Clair), Reconnoitring in Abyssinia. 8. London, 1870.