Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Abyssinia

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ABYSSINIA, a country of eastern Africa, bounded by the Sudan and Nubia on the W. and N., and by the Italian territory on the E.; area, about 350,000 square miles; formerly called Ethiopia. At present it includes the kingdoms of Tigré (with Lasta), Amhara, Gajam, and Shoa, besides several outlying dependencies.

The country consists of a huge tableland with a mean elevation of 7,000 feet, and crossed by high mountain ranges.

Topography. — The declivity to the bordering tract on the Red Sea is abrupt; toward the Nile basin it is more gradual. The main mass has been cut into a number of island-like sections by the streams, which have worn their channels into ravines of vast depth — as much sometimes as 4,000 feet. The principal are the head-streams of the Blue Nile, issuing from the great Lake Tzana, Tana, or Dembea, and the Atbara, also a tributary of the Nile; less important are the Mareb and the Hawash. Isolated mountains, with naked, perpendicular sides, present the most singular forms. The Samen mountains have summits rising to the height of 15,000 feet. The climate, notwithstanding its tropical position, is on the whole moderate and pleasant owing to its elevation, though in the river valleys and swamps the heat and moisture are suffocating and pestilential. As a whole, the country is exceedingly fruitful; and its productions are of the most varied nature, from the pines, heaths, and lichens of north Europe to the choicest tropical plants. Two, and in some places three, crops can be raised in one year.

Government. — The political institutions are feudal, like those of mediæval Europe. Education is confined to teaching carried out by the secular and regular clergy. Justice is administered by governors, landed proprietors, and petty cbiefs. In addition to the local chiefs and their followers, the king maintains a permanent army called “Wotader,” consisting of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, armed with rifles and numbering about 110,000 men.

Peoples. — The population numbers some 8,000,000 and consists of various elements, the chief being the Abyssinians proper — a brown, well-formed people belonging to the Semitic stock. The Abyssinians are composed of Ethiopians, Falashas, Gallas, etc. There are a multitude of dialects, but the prevailing language, called Amharic or Amharigna, is Semitic, with a mixture of African words. Cattle, sheep, and goats are largely raised. Indigo, cotton, coffee, and the sugar-cane are cultivated to some extent.

Religion. — This is a debased Christianity; but the Gallas and other alien tribes are mostly Mohammedan, and partly also pagan. The head of the church is a Copt, appointed by the Patriarch of Alexandria, as are also the bishops.

History. — Abyssinia is a part of what was anciently called Ethiopia; Ityopya is still the Abyssinian name of the country. The first king, according to the native tradition, was Menilehek or Menelek, the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The kingdom of Axum, namea from the capital, was the nucleus of the state, and attained its greatest extent in the 6th century. The modern history of Abyssinia has been mainly struggles between the princes of various districts for supreme power. About 1850 an Amharic adventurer, Ras Ali, regent of Gondar, obtained dominion over successive provinces, and in 1855 had himself crowned, under the name of Theodore, as Negus. He conceived a violent hatred for Europeans, and, in November, 1864, he imprisoned the French and English political agents and several missionaries in the fortress of Magdala. Diplomatic efforts proving fruitless for their liberation, Lord Napier invaded the highlands and, in April, 1868, reached Magdala with 3,500 men. The king made a sortie, but was repulsed. Then, after a futile attempt to treat, he sent his prisoners to camp. On April 13, the British stormed the castle, but the king had meantime blown his brains out. In July, 1871, Kasa, King of Tigré, defeated his chief rival Gôbazê and was solemnly crowned as Negus, and took the name of Johannes II. He conquered Menelek and brought all the Abyssinian provinces under his scepter. In 1885 began the complications with Italy, owing to the murder of the traveler Bianchi. The Italian troops invaded the Abyssinian territory. In January, 1887, Ras Akula, supported by the Negus himself, fell upon the Italian outposts on the heights of Sahati, near Dogati. Only 82 wounded Italians escaped. Italy immediately sent a large force to regain the lost positions, and the Abyssinians withdrew. In the meantime the Mahdists invaded the country in the west, and Johannes, who went to resist them, was killed in the two days' battle near Metahemeh in Kalabat. King Menelek, of Shoa, who had been Johannes' secret ally, now seized the throne, and in the spring of 1890 was crowned Negus of Ethiopia, under the name of Menelek II., and concluded in the same year a treaty of mutual protection with Italy, which made Abyssinia to some extent an Italian protectorate. This, however, was repudiated by Menelek in 1893, and soon afterward difficulties with Italy arose which culminated in 1896 in a disastrous defeat of the Italian forces. By the convention of Adis Abeba, Oct. 26, 1896, the independence of Abyssinia was unreservedly recognized, and Abyssinia reserved to Italy the strip along the coast 180 miles broad. In 1898, Great Britain ceded to Abyssinia by treatv about 8,000 square miles of British Somaliland, and Menelek declared the Mahdists his enemies and pledged himself to do all he could to prevent arms and ammunition reaching them through his territory.

Menelek died in December, 1913, and was succeeded by his grandson, Lij Yassu. On Sept. 27, 1916, the Emperor was deposed during his absence from the capital by a faction headed by the Metropolitan Abuna Mathaeos. Waizeru Zauditu, daughter of Menelek, was chosen as ruler in his stead. During the World War, Abyssinian troops were allied with the British in the East African campaign. On July 14, 1919, an Abyssinian delegation arrived in Washington and was received by President Wilson. They brought gifts and letters from the Empress and the Heir Apparent, Ras Taffari, congratulating America on the victorious outcome of the war.

Source: Collier's New Encyclopedia 1. (1921) New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company. 13-15.