Statesman's Year-Book 1913/Abyssinia

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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 territories and dependencies as far as Kaffa in the south and Harar in the south-east, with considerable portions of the Galla and Somali Lands. The whole area is 432,432 sq. miles, with an estimated population of 8 millions. For treaties relating to the boundaries of Abyssinia see Statesman's Year Book for 1907, p. 667. An agreement was reached in December, 1907, for the delimitation of the frontier towards British East Africa. The frontier follows the Dawa up to Ursulli, whence it runs mainly westwards, passing the south end of Lake Stephanie, and after crossing the north-eastern branch of Lake Rudolf, runs mainly northwards and terminates at 6° N. 35° E. This frontier, however, is not yet finally delimitated and accepted by the Abyssinians.

Under an Agreement signed December 13, 1906, on behalf of Great Britain, France, and Italy, the three Powers undertake to respect and endeavour to preserve the integrity of Abyssinia; to act so that industrial concessions granted in the interest of one of them may not injure the others; to abstain from intervention in Abyssinian internal affairs; to concert together for the safe-guarding of their respective interests in territories bordering on Abyssinia; and they make agreements concerning railway construction in Abyssinia and equal treatment in trade and transit for their nationals. Another convention of the same date provides for the prohibition or regulation of the importation of arms and ammunition into Abyssinia.

After the overthrow of Theodore, King of Amhara, by the British 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, Menelik II., King of Shoa (born 1842), G.C.B., G.C.M.G., became the supreme ruler of Abyssinia. Menelik has no direct heir, but he has proclaimed as his successor Lij Yasu (or Lidj Eyassu), G.C.V.O., son of Menelik's daughter, Waizaro Shoa Rögga and Ras Mikael, now (1913) about 16 years old. Lij Yasu, owing to the illness of the Emperor Menelik (since 1909) fulfils the functions generally performed by his grandfather. The political institutions are essentially of a feudal character, analogous to those of mediæval Europe. There is a vague State Council consisting of the most important rases, under whom, for administrative purposes, are governors of districts and provinces and chiefs of villages. A Council of Ministers has been constituted by the Emperor, Ministers being appointed for Justice, Finance, Commerce, War, Foreign Affairs, Posts and Telegraphs, Interior, and a sort of Lord Privy Seal. The most important Minister is the Minister of War. The Council met for the first time in July, 1908, and was employed chiefly in defining the duties and powers of the various departments. The legal system is said to be based on the Justinian Code. The regular army, consisting of contingents from the various provinces, numbers about 150,000 men, and is supplemented by irregulars and a territorial army. Theoretically, but not in fact, every man in the regular army is mounted. The forces are stationed in garrisons over the country. At Adis Ababa are 7 batteries of artillery and mitrailleuses taken at the battle of Adua.

Besides the chiefs and their retainers summoned in time of war, the King maintains a permanent army of wottader or mercenaries, all of whom are now armed with rifles instead of the national weapons, shield and lance.


The population consists of Semitic Abyssinians, Gallas and Somalis, Negroes (in the South-West), and Falashas (of Jewish religion); with a considerable number of non-natives (Indians, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, and a few Europeans). Except Harrar, and perhaps in the north, there are no towns in Abyssinia in our sense of the word—not even Adis Ababa, which consists of villages and suburbs scattered round the Palace. It would be about three miles in diameter. The most important towns, politically and commercially, are: Gondar, capital of Amhara, 3,000; Adua, capital of Tigré, 3,000; Aksum, ancient capital of Ethiopia, and still the seat of an Abuna, 5,000; Antalo, former capital of Tigré, 1,000; Ankober, former capital of Shoa, 2,000; Adis Ababa, present capital of Abyssinia and Shoa, 40,000–50,000; Debra-Tabor (Mount Tabor), Magdala, and Makallé; Gore, Saiyu, Nekempti, Sameré, 3,000–4,000, and Sokoto, 1,500, important trading centres; Mahdera-Mariam (Mary's Rest), 4,000. The population of Harrar is estimated at 50,000, at Deré Dawa there are a considerable number of Europeans. Gambela in Western Abyssinia is a trading station leased to the Sudan Government. It is an important outlet for the trade in the West. A service of steamers are maintained from June to November with Khartoum.

Religion and Instruction.

Since the conversion of the Abyssinians to Christianity in the fourth century they have remained members of the Alexandrian Church. The Abuna, or head bishop, is always a Copt, appointed and consecrated by the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, but his influence is controlled by the Echegheh, a native ecclesiastical dignitary, who presides over the spiritualty, numbering about 100,000 ecclesiastics. Both Copts and Abyssinians are monophysite, rejecting the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451).

Education has hitherto been restricted to the teaching of the secular and regular clergy, but in October, 1907, the Emperor issued an edict enjoining compulsory education on all male children over the age of 12. This is, however, a dead letter. There is one school in Adis Ababa, directed by a few Coptic teachers, introduced by the Abuna—this is the only Abyssinian school in the country. It has over 100 pupils, but the attendances are most irregular, and the institution unpopular as yet with the ignorant people. Justice is administered by the provincial governors, and shums, or petty chiefs, with the right of appeal to the Emperor.


The chief industries are pastoral and agricultural. Cattle, sheep, and goats are numerous. The cattle are fine, but there is much loss from cattle plague. The horses of the country are small but hardy; mules are bred everywhere, being used as pack animals; donkeys are also small and serve for baggage animals. The soil belongs theoretically to the Negus; the idea of landed property scarcely exists among the populace, and agriculture is therefore backward. Cotton, the sugar-cane, date-palm, coffee, and vine might thrive well in many districts, but are nowhere extensively cultivated. The production of Harari coffee (long berry Mocha) is on the increase. Besides this, which is cultivated, there grows more especially in southern and western Abyssinia a wild coffee plant, yielding a berry known as Abyssinian coffee, which may have commercial possibilities in the future. At present, owing principally to indifferent presentation, it does not command a good price, except in Khartoum, where it is preferred to Brazilian coffee. Besides hides and skins the native produce includes barley, millet (dhurra), wheat, gesho (which serves as a substitute for hops), and tobacco, but not in sufficient quantities for export. Manufacturing industries are in a similar state. The forests abound in valuable trees and rubber. Iron is abundant in some districts and is manufactured into spears, knives, hatchets, &c. Placer gold mining and washing are carried on in many districts; coal is known to exist in the country; silver, copper, and sulphur have been found.


The value of exports and imports through Jibuti in 1910 was about 950,147 £., and in 1911, 818,030 £., and through Garabela and Western Abyssinia to the Sudan in 1911, 116,432 £., besides British East Africa, Zeila, and the Italian Colonies trade. The exports by Jibuti were estimated at about 469,484 £., and through Gambela and Western Abyssinia, 75,509 £. The exports consisted mainly of hides and skins, coffee, wax, ivory, civet, and native butter. The imports comprised grey shirting (abujedid), cotton goods, arms and ammunition, provisions, liquors, railway material and petroleum. The imports are chiefly from England, France, India, Italy and the United States. The direct imports from Abyssinia into Great Britain in 1911 amounted to the value of 8,173 £.; the domestic exports from Great Britain to Abyssinia amounted in 1911 to 2,441 £.

Abyssinia has commercial treaties with Great Britain (1897) for 'most favoured nation' treatment; with Italy (1897), terminable on six months' notice; with the United States (1903) for 10 years, then subject to one year's notice; with Germany and Austria-Hungary (1905) for 10 years, then subject to one years notice; with France (1908) for 10 years, and then subject to a year's notice.


Roads in Abyssinia are mere tracks, and transport is effected by means of mules, pack-horses, donkeys, and, in some places, camels. In the capital and its vicinity a few miles of metalled road have been constructed. There is a railway of a metre gauge from the port of Jibuti in French Somaliland to Deré Dawa (about 25 miles from Harrar) in the south-east of Abyssinia, 187 miles. In January, 1909, a new company was formed to complete the line to Adis Ababa, taking over the portion completed on French territory. The survey for the new line has been made and the section to the Hawash River, 150 miles from Deré Dawa, and the same distance from Adis Ababa, is expected to be finished by the autumn of 1913. There are telegraph lines (1,056 miles) connecting Adis Ababa with Harrar, with Sidamo, with Jibuti in French Somaliland, and with Massawa in Eritrea. Telephone lines connect Adis Ababa with Harrar, also with Gore and Gambela (in the west), Jimma and Sharada (south-west), Dessie (north), and Debra Tabor and Gojam, and with Ankober, and Asmara with Adua and Barromeida.

Money and Credit.

The Bank of Abyssinia, with authorised capital of 500,000 £. and paid-up capital of 125,000 £., has its head office at Adis Ababa and agencies at Harrar, Deré Dawa, Gore, Saiyu, Gambela and Dessie. By its constitution the Governor of the National Bank of Egypt is its President, and its governing body sits at Cairo. The current coin of Abyssinia is the Maria Theresa dollar, but a new coinage (coined at Paris) has been put in circulation, with the Menelik dollar for the standard coin. This new coin, the talari, or dollar, worth about 2 s., weighs 28.075 grammes, .835 fine. It has nominally the same value as the Maria Theresa dollar, but in the capital is disliked, and in some places is not taken at all. The Bank of Abyssinia has introduced a large stock of Menelik piastres (16 to the dollar). Other silver coins are the half, quarter, and sixteenth (guerche or piastre) of a talari. Copper coins are the besa (= one-hundredth of a dollar) and the half and quarter guerche found only at Harrar. Various articles, however, are used as medium of exchange; bars of salt are regularly accepted as money all over the country, in two sizes, and at a fluctuating rate according to supply and cost of transport. Cartridges are also currency, although there is a dead letter edict against them; and in most places barter prevails.

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 contains 37+12 lbs. av., or 50 lbs. Abyssinian (ivory). Grain measures are the kunna, 18 bushel; and the daula, 2+12 bushels. The mètre is largely used at Harar; native measures are the sinzer, 9 inches, and the kend (cubit), 20 inches. A kalad contains in some places 60 acres, in others 96.

Envoy Extraordinary Minister Plenipotentiary and Consul-General.—Capt. the Hon. W. G. Thesiger, D.S.O.

Consul at Adis Ababa.—Major C. H. M. Doughty-Wylie, C.M.G.

Vice-Consul at Harrar.—J. H. H. Dodds.

Consul for Western Abyssinia.—C. H. Walker.

Books of Reference concerning Abyssinia.

Foreign Office Reports, Annual Series. London.

Die Handels- und Verkehrsverhältnisse Abessiniens. Berlin, 1905.

Agreement between the United Kingdom, France, and Italy respecting Abyssinia, signed December 13, 1906. London, 1907.

Agreement between the United Kingdom, France, and Italy respecting the Importation of Arms and Ammunition into Abyssinia, signed December 13, 1906. London, 1907.

Beccari (C.) (Editor), Rerum Æthiopicarum Scriptores Occidentales inediti a saeculo XVI ad XIX. 5 vols. Rome, 1903–07.

Berkeley (G. E. H.), The Campaign of Adowa and the Rise of Menelik. London, 1902.

Blundell (H. Weld), A Journey through Abyssinia. Geographical Journal, vol. xv, 1900.

Borelli (J.), Ethiopie Méridionale (1885–88). Fol. Paris, 1890.

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

Cufino (L.), La Via da Assab all'Etiopia Centrale pel Golima. Naples, 1904.

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

Dehérain (H.); Etudes sur L'Afrique. Paris, 1904.

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

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

Gilmour (T. L.), Abyssinia: The Ethiopian Railway and the Powers. London, 1905.

Hayes (A. J.), The Sources of the Blue Nile. London, 1905.

Henz (W.), Am Hofe des Kaisers Menelek II. Leipzig, 1906.

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

Holland (J. T.) and Hozier (H.), Record of the Exploration of Abyssinia. 2 vols. London, 1870.

Jennings (J. W.) and Addison (Ch.), With the Abyssinians in Somaliland. London, 1905.

Johnston (Sir Harry), History of the Colonisation of Africa. Cambridge, 1899.

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

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

Maasaja (Cardinal), I miei Trentacinque Anni di Missione nell' Alta Etiopia. 10 vols. Milan, 1886–93.

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

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

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

Reclus, Universal Geography. Vol. X.

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

Roux (Hugues le), Ménélik et Nous. Paris, 1901.

Skinner (R. P.), Abyssinia of To-Day. London, 1906.

Vannutelli (L.), and Citerni (C.), Seconda Spedizione Bòttego. Milan, 1899.

Vivian (H.), Abyssinia. London, 1001.

Wellby (M. S.), 'Twixt Sirdar and Menelik. London, 1901.

Wylde, Modern Abyssinia. London. 1900.