Women and the Battle of Adwa


Fenet Hailu/ENA/-

Women marched alongside men to the battle at Adwa 123 years ago not as “comfort women”, but to fight against the Italian army that was humiliated by a black African power.

Adwa, the very first decisive victory of a black African power, is an important event in the shared memory of the entire African population. It demonstrated the spirit of unity, love and friendship among Ethiopians; but foremost, it showed the genuine role of women.

Just like their men-folk, Ethiopian women were ready to sacrifice themselves to prevent colonialists from sneaking into their country, thus forcing their children to live in servitude.

Empress Taytu Bitul is clearly a symbol of all the patriotic qualities of women, according to many historians. In his book “Battle of Adwa: Reflections on Ethiopia’s Historic Victory Against European Colonialism”, Paulos Milkias,  said that Empress Taytu was not only a diplomat and stateswoman with resolve, but also an ingenious commandant versed in the art of war, a tactician par excellence.

The first tactic she used is to instruct her 1,000 special guards to take control of water sources that the Italians were using before the actual day of the war. As Italians then ran shortage of water, they were repeatedly driven back by the empress’s forces, according to Paulos.  Many were trampled to death trying to return to the embankment. The Italians even appealed to her on the behalf of their commander as they started suffering from thirst.

This victory at the front was engineered by Ethiopia’s ingenious empress, as recognized by friends and foe.

Empress Taytu later went with her husband, Emperor Menelik II, to the outer limits of the camp and organized the defense perimeter with the 5,000 men of her personal army.

Culture and Tourism Minister Hirut Kassaw said the empress has shown the capability and personality of women in leadership role, particularly being cautious, skeptical, strategic, and tactful; and most importantly farsightedness.

Moreover, Adwa is a place that ascertained genuine gender equality, the minister stressed.

For Abel Chala, a history teacher at Kotebe Metropolitan University, women’s role at the battle of Adwa revealed the truth that nothing can be done without the participation of women and it would be an exemplary deed for today’s effort to recognize women’s participation all over the world.

“We generally hear that Ethiopia won the battle. But we ignore the fact that women played decisive role in the victory. There were ten-thousands of women who prepared their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons for the war in which they also took part”, he added.

A member of the Ancient Ethiopian Patriots Association (AEPA), Ms. Mamite Mehretu said women participated in the war in various ways and with many means. Mostly they were doctors, servants, psychologists and soldiers.

“Women were the leading force behind the victory of Adwa, they were preparing food and water, providing medical care for the wounded and they were following the solders with a slogan of  ‘ freedom or death, ” she pointed out.

Paulos endorses this by narrating that Empress Taytu collected ten to twelve thousand women in the camp and issued water jugs to all of them, the army of another kind filled their jugs at the river and were ready to carry water to those who fought, wherever they stood, and numbers of women remained in the camp to provide medical care for the wounded.

This is just to remind the reader about the role of Ethiopian women in the Battle of Adwa, which still awaits the narration of many historians and artist in order to preserve it for posterity.