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Series: Preserving History
How to Remember Your History
Addis Ababa has many missing statues!
Such is our theme for our essay today.
Look, to start with, at Addis Ababa’s Tewodros Square. You drive up Churchill Road, past the Post Office, and the French school, both of them on the right; and you come to Tewodros “square”, or, if you like “circle”, and what do you see? Nothing!
The plan, never implemented, was to erect a statue there in memory of Emperor Tewodros II. A first drawing for the statue was produced by Ethiopian artist Ato Ale Felege Selam, and is still extant, in private posseesion. This drawing can be brought out whenever the Municipal authorities realise the need to beutify, and glorify, the capital.
Tewodros, who gave his life for Ethiopia, as he conceived it, surely deserves this long-awaited statue.
I am currently re-reading, for the ninth, time, Henry Dufton’s Narratuive of a Journey through Abyssinia (London, 1867), and what do I read?
Dufton writes (in 1867, mark you!) that was “the first and only patriot Abyssinia ever saw, as well as the last”.
A sweeping, and contentious, statement, no doubt, but one which points to the fact that Tewodros, on grounds of patriotism, surely qualifies for the statue he has so long been denied.
Tewodros Square without a Tewodros Statue is like enjerra without wot.
And, thinking in this essay of Tewodros and statues, one may note the paradoxical fact that in England there is a statue of Tewodros’s orphaned son Alamayehu in fact on the Isle of Wight), but that no such statue is to be found in Ethiopia.
It is, we may add, likewise paradoxical that there is a statue of Emperor Haile Sellassie in London (in Cannizaro Park), but not in Addis Ababa.
You all, dear readers, know the story of Addis Ababa’s Equestrian Statue of Emperor Menilek, during the Italian Fascist occupation: how Mussolini, immediately after the Fascist occupation of the city, demanded the statue’s dismantlement; how the Fascist Viceroy, Graziani, opposed this order; how Lessona, the Fascist Minister of the Colonies, went with the Fascist Minister of Public Works in the night to pull the statue down; and how many Addis Ababa citizens woke up in the morning, sadly crying “Menilek is no more!”
Well, Menilek of course is now not “no more!”. He rides again, on horseback, beside Giyorgis, St George’s Cathedral. This statue is one of the Ethiopian capital’s remarkably few statues. Their number, as our Municipal authorities must know, compares very unfavourably with those in other capitals: think for example of the many fine statues in Paris, Rome, Moscow, etc., etc,
With the erection of the Tewodros statue, here proposed, and the existence of the above-mentioned Menilek statue, the Municipality should be thinking of a statue to Emperor Yohannes IV. He it was who preserved Ethiopia’s independence throughought the 1870s and 1880s, and who fought off invasion from no less than three hostile, and invading, powers: the Egyptians, Dervishes, and Italians.
And, after all, he gave his life for Ethiopia at the battle of Metemma,!
Talking of Ethiopian patriots (and remembering Henry Dufton’s above quoted words) we cannot forget Ras Alula Abba Negga, his role in the battle of Dogali, in 1887, and in that of Adwa, in 1896.
And we may recall that, at the time of the Dogali Centenary Confernece, over ten years ago, the group of distinguished scholars, from all over the world, passed a resolution urging the erection of a Ras Alula statue.
Thus far this article, because it started with the missing statue in Tewodros Square, has concentrated on northern Ethiopia, with Tewodros, Yohannes, and Menilek. But we should also be thinking of personalities from the southern parts of the country. There should indeed be statues relating to all parts of Ethiopia, north, south, west, and east.
We need a statue, for example, to the noble Gaki Sheroko, the last Tati, of King, of Kafa, who Menilek imprisoned at Ankobar. Look at this Kafa leader’s photograph in Ethiopia Photographed, the book of photographs I published with Denis Gerard, on page 56, or in Professor Bahru Zewde’s Modern History of Ethiopia, and see what a fine statue such a photograph could inspire!
And Tona, of Walayta! There was a man, indeed, who deserves a statue. You have a picture of him also, in Ethiopia Engraved, from which a statue, very true to life, could be designed.
Abba Jifar II, of what we now call Jimma, was likewise a notable figure in Ethiopian history, and a leader for whom there are good photographs that could be used by a sculptor designing a statue.
Abdulahi of Harar
Abdulahi of Harar was likewise photographed, and could similarly be the subject of a fine statue.
The above short list of nineteenth century rulers is of course by no means complete. It is presented here merely to teeze readers, and to provoke them into thinking of other candidates for statues. And, though I have mentioned only Ethiopian leaders for whom photographic likenesses are available, there are many other personalities, who lived, ruled and died, before the advent of photographs, but nevertheless deserve statues.
Abuna Petros, and the Patriots
Let us now drive, so to speak, to the west of Addis Ababa, to the Abuna Petros statue. This statue was erected to comemorate the Ethiopian bishop, who was with the Ethiopian Patriots, during the Italian occupation, and was later murdered by the Italian Fascists, after the briefest of staged trials: on this see Tsegaye Gabre-Medhen’s remarkable play Tewodros at the Hour.
The statue is of course well deserved, but why not have it supplemented, and supported, by statues of the Patriot leaders themselves? Men and women such as Ababa Aragay, Belay Zalaqa, Wayzaro Shawa Raggad, Geresu Dukie, and others. The Patriots’ Association in Addis Ababa has sufficient archival material to provide as long a list of Patriots as anyone may require.
Flying from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa, and driving up to Harar, we see the fine statue of Ras Makonnen, designed by HMAL Afewerk Tekle: evidence that it was once possible to erect statues to Ethiopian provincial rulers, and that sculptors should be busily at work in other towns, besides Addis Ababa.
Bahr Dar is alreay setting an example with its statues.
Yared the Deacon, and Onesimus Nesib
A city cannot of course be adorned only with statues of rulers. warriors, and heroes. We need in this essay to raise the issue of statues to Ethiopia’s innumerable figures of cultural importance: artists, authors, poets, philosophers (ask Professor Claude Sumner about the latter!), and others.
We have to think, dear reader, of peronalities such as (and the list is deliberately absurdly incomplete!) Yared the Deacon, and Onesimus Nesib.
Yared, who lived in ancient Aksumite times, was the reputed Father of Ethiopian Music (whether truly so or not has been debated).
Onesimus, who lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has the distinction of translating the Bible into the Afan Oromo language, also known as Oromefa.
Then there are the religious, or Saintly, figures, who played such an important role in Ethiopian medieval histoty, and are remembered in innumerable Church paintings: Saint Takla Haymanot (he of the wings and the one leg), Abuna Aragawi (he of the serpent kindly taking up to the summit of Dabra Damo), Gabra Manfus Qeddus (he with lions and leopards on either side of him, and birds pecking at his eyes), Samuel of Weldebba (he riding a docile lion), etc., etc.
Do they qualify for statues, or are their artistic representations to be limited only to paintings?
The Star of the Trinity
While on the subject of “missing statues” there is the mystery of the Star of the Trinity, reproduced on this page. It was taken to Italy, during the Fascist occupation, and then disappeared. Where is it ?
And the Mule
And some readers may recall that I have earlier given it as my pet belief that there should also be a statue to the mule so important in Ethiopian history: Remember, in this connection, the words of Hiob Ludolf, the celebrated seventeenth century German scholar of Ethiopian affairs. In his New History of Ethiopia, translated into English in 1682, he says, of Ethiopia’s mules, that no “other creature” could “perform that kindness to Man as they do, over so many craggie Rocks and Mountains, where it is impossible for Waggons, Carts, or Coaches to pass”.
Why not then honour them (or, if you prefer, the donkey, or the camel) with a statue too?