Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

a passionate and absorbing affection, such as is uncommon anywhere, and very rare in Abyssinia; and the wife, devoted only to her husband's interest, instead of acting as peacemaker between him and her father, gave the spur to his ambition when it flagged, and was ever encouraging in him the purpose of attaining to the supreme authority.

It would seem that Kassai, from his youth, believed himself born to great destinies—that he was early fired with the ambition of becoming supreme among his countrymen, rolling back the tide of Mohammedan invasion, and reviving the old greatness of the Ethiopian empire. But he had the prudence to conceal his design until it was ripe for execution. ‘On several occasions,' says Mr Plowden, 'when it was confidently reported that he had rebelled, he baffled his accusers by suddenly appearing in the Ras's camp, and following him to war in Gojam with about a third of his forces; thus quite winning his heart.' In Kuara, after his marriage, he occupied himself in disciplining his soldiers, now and then allowing them to breathe their valour in expeditions into the neighbouring Turkish territory. In one of these his army was badly beaten by a force of Turkish irregulars, and himself severely wounded. It is said that as he returned disheartened, he sought comfort from Queen Menin, and got back an insulting message ; and that then the daughter of Ras Ali vowed she would leave him if he did not run all hazards for revenge. When he recovered from his wound he proclaimed his independence. The dejajmatch Gosho of Gojam, the father of the rebel chief, was defeated by him and slain. A large army-far outnumbering his troops-sent against him by Ras Ali, under his ablest commanders, was also completely routed; most of the chiefs fell in the battle, and many of the soldiers went over to his service. Taking heart from his success, he formed the daring resolution of going to attack Ras Ali; by forced marches he arrived near the Ras's camp in Gojam, and although the Ras had a dangerous superiority in cavalry, he gave him battle in the plains. In the battle, fought at Djisella in 1853, Kassai was again victorious. Ras Ali, fleeing from the field with a handful of horsemen, took refuge among the Gallas; and the battle of Djisella left Kassai master of the kingdom of Amhara. There was no one even to dispute his authority except Gosho Birru, the chief of Gojam, and he was nearly at the last extremity, having for five years been besieged by Ras Ali in his mountain-fort of Soma. Oubié of Tigré, though he had long aspired to the sovereignty of Abyssinia, was timid, and was getting old; he was cowed by the military reputation of Kassai ; now he only wanted to be let alone.

A good many months elapsed before Kassai appeared disposed to try conclusions with Oubié; then he made some demands upon him, accompanied with menaces, and marched towards the frontier of Tigré. Oubié yielded everything; and his opponent, probably doubtful of his strength, made peace, and marched southward against Gosho Birru, who, released from his long confinement at Soma, was

1

[ocr errors]

now at the head of an army. He defeated Gosho Birru, and made
him prisoner. Returning from this campaign, with his army consider-
ably increased, he declared war against Oubié, charging him with
having encouraged Gosho Birru. Making forced marches, he came
suddenly upon his enemy, and at Deraskié, in February 1855, defeated
his army, making prisoners of his sons, himself, and many of his
chiefs. Resistance was at once at an end; Oubié's fortresses were
surrendered to him, the chiefs submitted to him, most of the soldiers
joined his standard. And forthwith, in a church at Adowa, which
Oubié had built for his own coronation, Kassai was by the Abouna
Salama crowned as Negus (king of the kings) of Ethiopia, under
the name of Theodoros. An old tradition, known to every one in
Abyssinia, had foretold that an emperor called Theodoros should
renew the ancient glories of Ethiopia. By the name he took, Kassai
proclaimed himself to his countrymen as the destined man. Delaying
scarce a week, the new-made emperor, with the combined forces of
Tigré and Amhara, marched southward against the Wollo Gallas;
he ravaged their country from one end to the other, reducing many
tribes to submission, making on all an impression of dread that
lasted as long as he lived. And now, when nearly at the height
of his fortunes, he gained possession of the Galla fortress of Magdala,
the place that was to be so closely associated with his fall. Marching
to Shoa, he met with scarcely any resistance there: and that won,
he was master of the whole of Abyssinia, ruling over a greater extent
of country, and wielding a more terrible power than a negus had
possessed for many centuries. This was the climax of his greatness.
A year or two before it was reached, his wife Tawavitch had died.

in the midst of his wars, he had shewn himself a reformer, a
character new in Abyssinia. He had declared against the slave-trade
carried on by the Mohammedan merchants between the interior
and the coast, while in other respects making arrangements favour-
able to their commerce; he had ordered murder to be treated as
an offence against the public, and capitally punished; he had done
his utmost to encourage sacramental marriages; he had even
introduced a decent costume among those about his person. He
had at once set about breaking up the power of the feudal chiefs,
using with them a simple but effective method; he chained almost
all who were dangerous, politely assuring them that they should be
set at liberty as soon as his power was consolidated. The chiefs
he replaced by the deserving among his followers, to whom, with
the old titles, he gave only military functions; and from the soldiers
he took away the liberty of plundering-paying them, and requiring
them to pay for their food. Thus he laid the foundations of a civil
government to replace the system of military rule.

Mr Plowden has left us graphic sketches, written before the fall of Ras Ali, of Kassai and the chiefs whom he overcame. Gosho Birru of Gojam, Mr Plowden deemed the most remarkable of all

-as proud as Lucifer, of surprising talent and penetration. The dejajmatch Kassai he described as vigorous and subtle, and perhaps more disposed to innovation than any of the others. Though proud, his manner was all humility; he was severe, liberal, and usually just, but broke out now and then into unaccountable acts of violence, which indicated a somewhat unsettled temperament; he commenced enterprises with more vigour than he pursued them, and was much under the influence of prophets and fortune-tellers. Of Kassai, become the Emperor Theodore, Mr Plowden wrote in 1855-upon better acquaintance—a much fuller sketch. He now described him as polite and engaging when pleased, and mostly displaying great tact and delicacy; as of untiring energy, both mental and bodily; his personal and moral daring boundless—as was shewn by his pressing reforms on a country so little used to any yoke, whilst engaged in unceasing hostilities. When aroused, his wrath was terrible; but he was generous to excess; would acknowledge a fault committed towards his poorest follower in a moment of passion with sincerity and grace; and shewed the utmost clemency towards the vanquished. Indefatigable in business, he took little repose night or day; his ideas and language were clear and precise; hesitation was not known to him. He was sincerely, though often mistakenly religious; he believed himself a divine instrument for the regeneration of his country; his faith was signal—'Without Christ,' he used to say, 'I am nothing ; if he has destined me to purify and reform this distracted country, who can stay me?' But he was peculiarly jealous of his sovereign rights, and of anything that appeared to trench on them. The most difficult trait in his character was the jealousy and pride that, fed by ignorance, made it impossible for him to believe that so great a monarch as himself existed in the world. When he had settled affairs at home, he meant to reclaim the sea-coast and the Nubian provinces which had once belonged to Abyssinia-nay, he dreamed of the conquest of Egypt and a triumphant march to the Holy Sepulchre. This was perhaps a pretty accurate picture, erring on the hopeful side, of Theodore as he was in 1855. But Mr Plowden's opinion was seriously changed before he died in 1860; and it was after that that Theodore's 'unsettled temperament, excited by the possession of arbitrary power, and latterly by the decay of his authority-probably aggravated by the progress of physical disease-led him into excesses which have placed him among the most savage and bloodthirsty tyrants that have afflicted human society,

Of the reforms so courageously begun, those conducive to Theodore's interest continued to be carried out; the others were not long persevered in.

The slave-trade was allowed to go on; at first, indeed, Theodore took many slaves from the traders, and had them baptised, but he appears to have kept them for himself

. Up to 1860, the emperor's power, in a large measure secured by the imprisonment of the chiefs, and the hostages he took from all who might

prove dangerous, remained unabated ; after that it steadily and at last rapidly declined, the army which he kept up to maintain it, and to realise his dreams of foreign conquest, being the principal cause of its decadence. Theodore hated towns, and was seldom out of his camp. It is said that at one period he had about a hundred thousand men under arms, so that, with camp-followers, he had to support nearly half-a-million souls. As long as he could, he lavished money on his soldiers, but to get it he had to levy exorbitant contributions; and at length the peasantry, wearied out, began to leave their homes, retiring to high plateaus or secluded valleys, and cultivating only so much as was necessary for their own support. Rebellions broke out in many of the provinces. To plunder now became a necessity for Theodore. He lived upon the rebellious provinces as long as he could; when they were exhausted, he was fain to prey upon districts the most friendly and peaceful

. At first he merely took what he wanted for his army; by and by he treated the people as his enemies, killing all he met with, often by cruel deaths, using torture in the hope of finding where money and provisions were hidden, burning everything he could not carry away. In rich provinces, the lands went out of cultivation; the inhabitants disappeared. Famines followed, which at last made themselves felt in the imperial camp. Then the soldiers, no longer enjoying the raw-beef feast, often ill provided with bread, began to desert in multitudes. Theodore's character had begun to change long before his fortunes. After his throne was firmly established, his only enemies were rebels. He, formerly so clement, condemned them to cruel and lingering deaths, even when they had been induced to surrender by promises of pardon and favour. Nor did this spring out of his high views about his kingly right alone. He came to delight in savage punishments—to revel in human agonies. During his latter years, it was not uncommon for him to dispose of captives made in his forays—whose only offence was possessing property which he wanted-by shutting them up in some building, and burning them to death. In 1867, during the last month of his stay in the province of Begemdar, of his own followers and of the peasantry more than 3000 are said to have suffered death by flogging or burning. In early life abstemious, latterly he was seldom sober after midday; and in his fits of drunken madness he was capable of enacting any horror. Once he had been noted for continence. But his second marriage, which took place in 1860, was not a happy one. His wife, the Waizero Terunish, the daughter of old Oubié of Tigré, married him to secure good treatment for her father, and never pretended any warmth of affection for him. He soon sent her with her son, Alamayo, to Magdala; while with his camp there travelled an extensive harem which he guarded with the utmost jealousy. His changed temper, which struck alarm into all around him, did much to bring on his fall. Towards the end, religious horror seems to

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

have helped to thin his ranks. Gondar, Kurata, and other towns, which, by the Abyssinian custom, were inviolable sanctuaries, were sacked and burned by him, with all, or nearly all, the churches they contained; hundreds of priests and women being, in at least two cases, deliberately burned to death. As his power declined, rivals sprang up, of whom Gobbazé, the wakshum of Lasta, and Menilek, the prince of Shoa, were the chief. It is a sign of the terror which his name inspired, that, when at his lowest, none of his enemies dared to meet him in the field. Had he not brought upon himself the power of Great Britain, he might long have continued to afflict the country-master wherever he appeared; nay, had reason and moderation returned, he might have recovered his former predominance.

Dr Blanc, one of the English prisoners, has given his impressions of Theodore as he appeared in 1866 and later. "His complexion was darker than that of the majority of his countrymen, the nose slightly curved, the mouth large, the lips so small as hardly to be perceived. Of middle size, well knit, wiry rather than muscular, he excelled as a horseman in the use of the spear, and on foot would tire his hardiest followers. The expression of his dark eyes slightly depressed was strange : if he was in good-humour, they were soft, with a kind of gazelle-like timidity about them that made one love him; but when angry, the fierce and bloodshot eyes seemed to shed fire. In moments of violent passion, his whole aspect was frightful; his black visage acquired an ashy hue ; his thin, compressed lips left but a whitish margin about the mouth; his very hair stood erect, and his whole deportment was a terrible illustration of savage and ungovernable fury. Yet he excelled in the art of duping his fellow

Even a few days before his death, when we met him, he had still all the dignity of a sovereign, the amiability and good-breeding of the most accomplished gentleman. His smile was so attractive, his words so sweet and gracious, that one could hardly believe that the affable monarch was but a consummate dissembler. He was superstitious, Dr Blanc continues, to a degree almost incredible in one in other respects so superior to his countrymen ; the influence of astrologers over him was unbounded. Before daybreak, the same authority tells us, he was out of his tent to hear litigants and give judgment. Latterly, litigants kept out of his way; but he might be seen, in the gray morning, sitting solitary on a stone, in deep meditation or in silent prayer. His dress was generally very simple—the shama or belt, the tight and short trousers of the country, and a European shirt; no shoes, no covering on the head-his long hair, in three plaits, falling upon his neck. When his downfall became imminent, to impress his people, he occasionally clad himself in gorgeous costumes.

The British government had had a representative in Abyssinia from 1847, when Mr Plowden, a gentleman of remarkable talent and address, who had passed several years in the country, induced

men.

« ForrigeFortsæt »