Ethiopia: Adwa: when Oromos fought Italy as Abyssinians


By Teshome M. Borago 

As we celebrate the 121st anniversary of Ethiopia’s victory against Italy at the Battle of Adwa, it is important to put our current polarized politics in perspective. We usually pointout Adwa’s pan-African symbolism and it’s role as an inspiration for black people worldwide. But we often overlook Adwa’s importance when it comes to our historic ethnic relations not only inside Ethiopia, but also inside the former Abyssinian kingdoms.


Decades before this battle happened in 1896, Ethiopia was a loose union of various competing parts and regional kingdoms that virtually took turns to rule the whole, from a revolving center. For example, when Emperor Menelik II rose to power, he had to win over northern friends and foes alike; and create alliance with his Shewan Oromo kins, in order to become King of Shewa and later King of Ethiopia. It is hard to imagine that Ethiopia would win the Adwa war if all these competing kingdoms did not collaborate and provide the necessary manpower. This is why, if we were to believe the false basis of the current poisonous ethnic-politics today, Ethiopia would have actually LOST the war in Adwa. How else can we explain what happened that year? One has to wonder, how could we win unless a multiethnic Ethiopian nation existed long before the so-called “Abyssinian colonization“? How can we defeat an European superpower without sharing a sense of common identity and destiny? How did our people who are supposed to hate each other today, managed to unite with one purpose as one people over a century ago, if there was nothing already tying them together pre-war?  Something does not add up.


History shows that several kingdoms volunteered and mobilized from every region in Ethiopia to fight at the Battle of Adwa. From Tigray down to Harar; from Wollo in the east to Gojjam in the West, every Ethiopian province joined the central army of Shewa ( which was then a kingdom of both Amharic and Oromo speakers.)


So when TPLF and some Oromo elites preach anti-Ethiopia propaganda today, let us not forget that many of the Ethiopian generals in Adwa were actually Oromos: including Dejazmach Balcha Safo, Ras Gugsa Welle of Yejju Oromo and Empress Taytu Betul who led the Gondar troops, Fitawurari Gebeyehu Gora who led the Raya Oromo forces and Ras Mohammed (Mikael) Ali who led the Wollo Oromo horsemen into Adwa.


Another symbol of the unity of our ancestors was that many of our leaders were already ethnically mixed for many generations: for example, the general (and future Defense minister) Fitawrari Habte Giorgis Dinagde, Ras Mekonnen and even Emperor Menelik (whose maternal side is Oromo). The fact that all these Adwa heroes were mixed to a small or large degree with an Oromo ancestry is proof that people already assimilated during previous generations of the Abyssinian kingdoms. Therefore today, it is hard to find a pure Oromo, pure Amara or any pure tribe. There is no such thing. All those Ethiopian patriots fought for our country as Ethiopians FIRST and foremost. Our heroic ancestors did not claim to be “Oromo-first”or “Amhara-first.” In fact, Oromigna speakers living in northern Ethiopian provinces of Gondar and Wollo fought Italy as Abyssinians, since Oromos were major players inside the Abyssinian Solomonic dynasty for centuries before. Which is why northern Oromos are Abyssinians.


During a discussion forum in 1997, Professor Donald Levine tried to teach Meles Zenawi that Ethiopia has already evolved into a multiethnic country. But the shameless Meles Zenawi defended his apartheid system and told the Professor;


“Axum means nothing for the Gurage. Lalibela means nothing for the Oromo.”


How ironic that Meles made such a horrible statement, because one of the major generals that went to Tigray to fight in Adwa was Fitawrari Habte Giorgis Dinagde. He was a famous warrior who was born from a mixed Gurage and Oromo family. How wrong Meles was about Ethiopian history!


Some European historians have tried to minimize the significance of our victory in Adwa by hiding the enormous military advantage the Italians had on Ethiopia; in regards to artillery, arms, ammunition and other equipments. But the fact was the Ethiopian army did not have enough weapons to match Italy; so we were considered weak by conventional warfare standards. Therefore, our soldiers’ morale and troops mobilization were the two key factors to our success.  In retrospect, we can truly say that the strength of our UNITY was the reason for our triumph in Adwa.


And today, more than ever, it is time to rekindle that Ethiopian spirit of unity and patriotism. It is time to come together; not just as Oromos, Welaytas, Amharas, Tigre’s etc, but to rise together as Ethiopians FIRST. We are not just a collection of tribes. We are one people, one Ethiopians under God. Sadly, due to TPLF’s assault on Ethiopiawinet the last 25 years, Ethiopiawinet has been forced to retreat to urban cities like Addis Ababa. As Neamin Zeleke said recently, Ethiopiawinet is alive and kicking in every cosmopolitan region of Ethiopia, where millions of people do not have one ethnic identity but multiple mixed ancestry. Even some people who blindly claim to be from one ethnic group actually do so because of imposed newfound political identity; not due to ancestral or biological identity. Ethiopiawinet supersedes all other identities and it should remain an umbrella concept that unites every Ethiopian. So Let us open our minds and hearts. Temporary identities based on politics only benefit the politicians of the day. Fake identities based on dialects are not permanent because language evolves. Many of us who speak Amharic or Oromigna today did not have ancestors who spoke Amharic or Oromigna many centuries ago. It is time to break all barriers and unite again as one people.


Until more Ethiopians accept that we have a shared history, shared land, interweaved identity and common destiny; it will be nearly impossible for us to unite again and establish a democratic country. As we witnessed the “Oromo protests” and “Amhara protests” last year, such ethnic-based enclaves may revolt one by one and alone against the TPLF dictatorship. But such isolated and fragmented revolts or protests are fruitless. They are useless. It is important to create a new inclusive movement that embraces both our diversity and our shared ancestral roots; values multilingualism, multiculturalism and democracy. It is important that all Ethiopians, ( including the urban, mixed and cosmopolitan Ethiopians) become part of a movement for fundamental transformation in Ethiopia. Otherwise, we will never have the consensus necessary for a lasting change. We can not build a real democracy based on tribal nationalism and a backward federalism land system that divides us into “natives” vs  “aliens” or  “guests” vs “hosts.” Ethiopia needs civic nationalism, not ethnic nationalism.


No matter which tribal group gains power in Addis Ababa, it will never have the mandate to govern. In TPLF, we already have seen the result of a tribal based movement. It does not work. It is too narrow and undemocratic. Some of us vilify TPLF as evil people but they are normal humans just like all of us. But their abnormal tribal system of governance has created a trust gap with other Ethiopians so TPLF may never giveup power peacefully. Similarly, an Oromo-led or Amhara-led regime will never work either, because we live in a country of minorities. In fact, the biggest ethnic group in our country is the mixed-Ethiopian. No group is superior and every group must own Ethiopiawinet in order to change Ethiopia.


As one of the larger community of Ethiopians, Oromos can play a special and constructive role in democratizing Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the new generation Oromos (both at home & Diaspora) are led by former OPDO elites, not by progressives. Instead of rejecting the status quo of tribalism under TPLF, Oromo activists are defending it. Some Oromo activists actually want to be more woyane than woyane. Instead of challenging the system on paper, they are hoping to implement it even more. Oromos need to change this mentality. It is time to restore their Ethiopiawinet. Today’s Ethnic politics is inherently incompatible with liberal democracy and individual rights. It is time for a paradigm shift in Ethiopian politics.


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  1. What a positive and educational article . You have injected a venom into these anti Ethiopia elements and drove them to madness. At the same time you gave us a fresh and new nurishement to our political infection that have been poising us by a few mad political shermutta who are now sleeping with shabia and shabias former jungle shermutta weyannes.

  2. Ethiopia First.
    Ethiopia the pride of black nationalism,
    the land of patriots.
    we have made world history that has shaken the foundation of white supermacy
    we have changed the established order,

    we have to restore our Ethiopian identity, that is being eroded daily by tplf fascists,
    when we deny our Ethiopian identity we deny our own existence, our history and our hope.
    Ethiopian idetity is cemented by blood, through inter marriage, in the battle field, and through centuries of common and shared goals.
    we have always moved together as one country, stood together against various foreign invading forces and defeated them all and maintained and made Ethiopia as unique country in africa and in the world.

    THERE IS NO COUNTRY IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD WHERE PEOPLE HAVE A MIXED ETHNIC BACKGROUND AS ETHIOPIA. the majority of the population in all the major cities and towns of Ethiopia have a mixed ethnic heritage. in the rural areas mixed ethnicity is equally as common .Ethiopiawinet will never be destroyed however hard the woyane gujile attack us,
    those ethno fascist groups attacking our Ethiopian identity are attacking our proud and heroic history built by and given to us by our forefathers. they are attacking our common shared destiny,
    Ethiopia shall prevail

  3. Dear Ato Teshome,
    Thank yu for this inspiring article in defense of ethiopiawinet and democracy. I always enjoyed your refreshing writings on ethiomedia and other sites. But you should add that all these anti-Ethiopia ethnofacsm started during the socalist andcommunist era in Ethiopia when our identity was being redefined by Marxists rebels created by tigrayan, somali and Oromo students. They got a lot of funding from Egypt, Sudan and Libya. So we have to blame the student movements and mengistu for all this nightmare. notice how Eritrea has outlawed tribalism even though they have around 10 different tribes we never hear about tribal secessionist groups because isayas is smart. Our people have been fooled for 50 years!

  4. Obbo Teshome,

    I commend you for inking this well prepared article about that glorious which remains the inspiration of justice and freedom seekers. The army commanders then did not throw the task of defending our forefathers and mothers on the shoulders of others. The army chief from, say Gondar, did not pass the buck on the Army chief from Gojjam. My own Barentu Oromos did not even hesitate to realize for a second that Baratriery was there to come in enslave them. They did not even wonder about contemplating of welcoming him into their house to make him their guardian(protectorate). But in stead they were hopping mad about his intrusion into the domiciles of their Tigrayan brothers and sisters. We can say they were gripped with this thing, Afro-centrism the same infection that has inflicted since childhood. We can say that Menelik was a reactionary, an oppressor of his own citizens. We can all say his did this bad thing and that. And some of them could be legit but what he and his commanders along the rank and file member of the army did that day was so historic and glorious we must all celebrate in pride. I tried to find one comparable victory before and after that when colored people beat the tar of a powerful invading non-colored army. Not only that, the invading aggressor was forced to ask for mercy and forgiveness. Name one. None, right!!! That part is the best of the best!!!!

    Who should not be proud of the achievement of our forefathers on that fateful day? To me that victory is the victory to all those who stood and are standing up to any outside aggressor. To me the strategy and the overall battle policy by the army leaders of our people then seems to be identical to the one used by the Japanese military during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 where the Japanese lured the much more armed Russian naval force into a narrow straight of the coast of the Sakhalin Island and wiped out the entire Russian expeditionary fleet in a single engagement. To me there is a strong indication that the Japanese had taken a lesson from the experience of our fathers. Our grandparents lured the European powerful tiger with a sight of a fattened goat into the ravines of Tigray and the rest was from the warfare tactic textbook – single and double envelopments. At that point we can all confidently say is that the earth and heavens became laminated on the left, right and all sides on the Italian army and their shameful Askaris, That is the perfect situation when you and I can use the cliché ‘Ain’t nowhere to hide’. After that 1905 engagement rout, the Russians rushed to the truce negotiation table. The Japanese waited and waited until the Russians came around the globe to that narrow straight and did not have a place to hide. That black man Menelik and his army leaders including my own Barentu Oromos waited and waited until Dabormida and his army chief colleagues came out of their fortified hideouts into the ravines and crevices of the Tigrayan very rough terrain. Then came cries for ‘Mama Mias’ but to no avail. That happened on March 1st. Then March 2nd brought the recognition of our people as a sovereign state at par with the European powers. March 3 and forthwith, every nation of the not-colored was rushing to open a legation at a small village called Addis(Finfine). Doesn’t that give you a rush of goose-bumps due to a sudden seizure of pride?!!! I am still having it all over my body. That is what I tell my friendly American(Caucasian) neighbors. First time they did not believe me because they heard of it in detail. I let them find out themselves and now they know all about it. That victory, that fateful day, that pride of the colored should be told just as it happened without any exaggeration. There is no need for gasconading and no need for amplifying it. The victory was not achieved by King Kong size ‘niggas’ but men/women of the colored with normal human heights and body weight. And with added unmatched valor I may add. Why not? A burglar was in their homes!! A vicious hoodlum was wreaking havoc in their countryside. They smoked him out into the open and dealt him a telling blow until he swore by the Virgin Mary that he will never do it again. He was taught not to be at the wrong house and at the wrong time. I am afraid this thing is going to send me into a trance now!!!!

    • Very intriguing that one would agree with the writer and still support the Apartheid System imposed on Ethiopian Citizens by Tegaru.

  5. What you are trying to tell us is that we should all be amhara and forget our heritage culture and language.i am agazian.i do not trust adgi amhara

    • Shut your filthy mouth twisted heart like you have some kind of history? Traitors, looters, in your neck of the hood Banda breeds like a rats in abundant, terriorst, leeches, cancer cursed people leave Ethiopia with your pride history scum of the scums!

  6. Please read that as: ‘We can say they were gripped with this thing, Afro-centrism the same infection that has afflicted me since childhood.’.

  7. we need more balanced writers like this to teach the new generation about our proud history. most of us have oromo blood in us whether we like it or not! we are one people with many languages. please stop the ethnic division!! it is sad that 40 years ago our only problem was lack of democracy. today, we have 2 problems, lack of democracy PLUS tribalism. we are going backwards!


    please read how the oromos were killing those “ARBENOTCH ” fleeing the MAICHEW WAR (2nd aggression ) …………..READ BERIHUN’S BOOK ENTITLED

    No Ethiopian ever liked feudal lords .

    • Adwa, Adwa, the Ethiopian lion roars at Adwa.
      The sun shines at Adwa,
      The flame of freedom at Adwa
      Adwa, the start of black liberation
      All the black people will sing your praises
      Adwa, your day is yet coming
      For millrnnium
      Menelik, leader patriotic
      Ethiopia reigned,
      Adwa, honour restored.
      Adwa, forward
      War united Ethiopians
      For freedom is sacrifice
      You Ethiopians…
      God bless you
      We Africans bless you
      Let’s all March to Adwa

      • Yilma,
        You said everybody march to Adwa. If Adwa is invaded I wonder if any Ethiopian will march to Adwa to defend Tigray from foreign invaders like it was done before.

    • You think this is fake Professor Halfom from Dedebit university Tigray that is ? What do you call terriorst leeches cancer riffraff Tigrays history?

      Ethiopian history is well known heroes and heroic sacrifice their precious lives while your kind lice infested cursed leeches terriorst Tigrays used as donkey that’s why you are having a problem accepting it! Let it sink into your thick head! Tigray was with the enemy until the resent memory shabia and Sudan riding your cursed people!

      • ERETRIAN pretending to be Ethiopian BROOKYE ,

        You do not have to write a lengthy articles just to

    • Nana, You are right there were Oromos who were giving a hard time for the patriots but you can’t assume that was unanimous. The same thing happened in Tigray and Eritrea. Some were working with Italians as Askaris against their own people. That doesn’t mean all of Tigreans were against the patriots. Most were patriots like Ras Mengesha and his army who fought Italians till he end. The same thing was happening with the Oromos and other ethnics. If I were to guess your assessment comes from your pre existing tribal mentality that you mark a line on ethnic terms. To you Menelik is Amhara therefore all his soldiers who beat the Italians must be Amharas. Since some Oromos shot at patriots then all Oromos were against. Since some Tigreans were Askaris then all Tigreans must be fighting against Menelik! That is not how we should see our common history. It is a shared history. That’s why people don’t like the retardation of TPLF mentality!!

  9. Dear AtoTeshome M. Borago thank you very much for this highly articulated outstanding article.

    Almost all of my friends are white skin people. My wife is white skin woman. And when my friends travel to Africa, they say, I am going to visit my oldest African cousins.

    The reason is the original people in Europe were black people. Little by little the number of their chromosomes changed and become whiter and whiter.

    If you ask me why are you telling us all these stories, well because Oromos ( the word is a legend) and we Amaras are the same people, in other words “WE ARE ALL OROMOS “ Remember Dinknesh, she is the mother of humanity, so far.

    A man like AtoTeshome M. Borago thinks first about the individual, about what makes us human being the unity in diversity. He is above all an intelligent tolerating man who knows what differentiate people is not their origin rather their values.

    Ethnocentric individuals (Woyane Tigre murderers) judge other groups relative to their own ethnic groups, i.e., primitive, slave mentality, beggars and low thinking values.

  10. እግዜር ይሥጥልን – ዶር ተሾመ! በእውነቱ ይህን 26 ዓምታት ኢትዮጵያዊያን እጅግ ተጎድተናል፣ የማንነት ቀውስ ውስጥ ተዘፍቀናል፣ የማያባራ እርሃብ አዙሪት፣እሥራት፣ታይቶ ተሰምቶ የማይታወቅ ስደት፣ ዘር ማጥፋት፣ወዘተ አጎሳቁሎናል። የዚህ ሁሉ የስቃይ ባለቤት ፈረሰኛው የትግሬ-ወያኔ የተጠቀመበት እኩይ ሥልት ጎጠኝነት እና መለያየት ነው። ወያኔ ኢትዮጵያዊን ምንም የጋራ ታሪክ እንደ ሌለን፣አብረን በጋራ ለአገራችን እንዳልተሰዋን እና ታሪክ የሚጀምረው በሻዕብያ አማካኝነት ቅብዐ-ነግሥት ከተቀበለው ከድህረ ወያኔ ጀምሮ እንደሆነ አድርጎ ነው። ከእረጅም ጊዜ በኋላ አንድነት እና ባለታሪክ ህዝብ እንደሆነ በሰፊው መሥማት እንዴት መልካም ነው።ዐድዋን አይደለንም እኛ ጃማይካዊያን በድምቀት ሲያከብሩት ማየታችን እጅግ ያስደስታል – ያኮራል። ኢትዮጵያዊያን በወያኔ ላይ መንቃት መጀመራችን ወደ ድል የመቃረባችን ዋና ምዕራፍ ነው።

  11. NANA

    U se! If u attended a formal high school u can at least able to write one coherent sentence where the reasoning is conspicuous. Ur problem is u learn nothing from ur parents about history, since growing up in Italian slave mentality, they have nothing to say much about Ethiopian history. Most of them are served in Italian army as a paid Bandas, Derbushes and Kehadis to fight against Ethiopians. Emye Menilik were greatly mistaken for freeing the problem child Eritrea and Tigray from Italian slavery.

  12. Citizens Of Tigrai have never taken in a feast of crime against their fellow Ethiopians. This is also the truth about Tigraian history. The Ethiopian government also should be telling the true history of the Ethiopian people. When a government supported by responsible and fair historians does tell the truth history, then the grumpy retired Ethiopian extremist get to tell their version of hateful history. At the mean time for anyone that is interested to know about the history of Tigrai and Tigraians, visit your nearest Tigraian, he will tell you the real history what it has been like to be born a Tigraian in the past century.
    If you are not sure visit your local museum, a Tigraian.
    All Tigraians are living museum of all the tragedies that have befallen Tigrai. All Tigraians, carry with them unimaginable scars, anger, sorrow, and family tragedies. For this reason, you can almost say that every Tigraian is a dormant volcano. When the extremist sections of Ethiopia hurt others through their writing and actions, the dormant volcano erupts and it becomes an active volcano.
    The latest extremist project on the cyber world has been to attack Tigraian character and to build hate and suffering on the Tigraian people. These kinds of projects activate the Tigraian dormant volcano, to that an active volcano. Any extremist, such as Professor Almarim and his likes must always be challenged for the hateful words they use against the Tigraian people. We can challenge him by analyzing his propaganda.
    Concluding Remarks
    In Ethiopian culture, it is absolutely embarrassing to fart or release gas in public. Anyone who let one go accidently feels a sense of shame and guilt. Society also does not forgive him. Well, in the western culture fart and releasing gas is natural. I feel that Ethiopians as a population have allowed extremist intellectuals to fart with their mouth, and nobody is brave enough to stand and tell them farting hate with your mouth is a taboo, it’s the worst than the natural fart that we Ethiopians consider taboo . Because of that they continue to fart with their mouth, and we are not shaming them for it. All Ethiopians regardless of their ethnic groups and political convictions must say no to hate politics. Tigraians should never be blamed for a country that has been mismanaged for centuries. Tigraians should never be blamed for an Ethiopian society that has never been investigated by renaissance like thinkers. Many Ethiopian intellectuals simplify Ethiopian problem by saying it’s a democracy issue. Ethiopia has a lot of backward believes that have never been properly examined, debated by philosophers. One of those ideas are the herd mentality that is commonly found in all Ethiopian tribes. Herd mentality allows few egotistical intellectuals to highjack peace, hope, of all Ethiopians. As the Tigrai and Tigraian story is concerned, all Ethiopians and Tigraians must stand and tell the truth. If Tigraians and honest Ethiopians don’t write the true history, the Ethiopian extremist will freely tell corrupted filled history, and lie to you by saying Ethiopia got “ apartheid ‘.

    • Dr. Engineer, Ember Tegadelay Samuel zemekayel!

      Your point is exactly in short? Can you condense your ideas and tell us? You are denying the obvious? Why are you Tigrays only die hard supporters? Is the Tplf stands for Tigray or Ethiopian? Do you guys won a lottery? Why are you flooded Addis Ababa, Gambela, Beneshangul, Afar, Amhara kilil, Oromo killi ? Why do you guys incoperating land that doesn’t belongs to you? Evicting people from their lands, homes, works?

      You are denying the obvious!

      A new form of Apartheid was imposed all over Ethiopia . TPLF members and their families controlled the transportation, manufacturing and several other industries in Ethiopia . Tigray region was also the single highest beneficiary of the massive aid and loan guarantees that was given to Ethiopia by international donors and partners. Schools, colleges, roads, airports, factories, and other infrastructure projects were carried out in the Tigray state while other regions were ignored and marginalized.

      an ethnic-based federation… dominated by the minority ethnic Tigrayans… the federal structure in effect divides and rules larger ethnic groups such as the Oromos and Amharas and bars non-members of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front…

      Where was Tigray maps pre 1991 ? Why is it Tigray over represented in the military Generals Except for B/General Akale Asaye (Amhara) and General Abebaw Tadesse (Agew), the rest of the TPLF ruled Ethiopian Generals are from Ethnic Tigray. When we look the Security that too was controlled by Tigray since 1991. Finance that too dominated by Tigray apartheid system to the core! You sir are delusional! Did you buy your engineer degree like most of Tplf members? If you earned it this stuff shouldn’t be complicated for you to grasped! Unless you’re in denial, self delusional, twisted heart? Let me know if you need more?

    • Dr. Engineer Samuel Zemichael, You are a trickling petit agamido,

      I don’t know if you are one of those petit agamidos with a PHD from a Walmart stationery shelf or one of those ልበ ልል or double minded Tigraian, but you are full of contradiction (ቅራኔ).

      • “Citizens of Tigrai have never taken in a feast of crime against their fellow Ethiopians.” ጻድቅነት?
      And then you wrote,

      • All Tigraians are living museum of all the tragedies that have befallen Tigrai,” ምክንያት?
      What you are saying is, you, the other Ethiopians must be responsible for the history of Tigran’s So, and we are doing all these atrocities because of our poor history. This is simply a cheap propaganda come out of your inferiority complex.

      ዘላባጅነት or ማስፈራራት ገለጸ ? You wrote again,
      • “you can almost say that every Tigraian is a dormant volcano—“what is your point petit agamido?

      Here comes your F grade phrase,
      “Any extremist, such as Professor Almarim and his likes must always be challenged for the hateful words they use against the Tigraian people. We can challenge him by analyzing his propaganda”
      Professor Al is simply presenting us the objective reality of Ethiopia. I have not seen a single phrase he wrote out of the blue.

      Are you one of those 98 % Tigraians who came to England with Scholarships? This is called an aparthied.

    • “…Ethiopia has a lot of backward believes that have never been properly examined, debated by philosophers. One of those ideas are the herd mentality that is commonly found in all Ethiopian tribes. Herd mentality allows few egotistical intellectuals to highjack peace, hope, of all Ethiopians….”
      When I read this I couldn’t help but laugh! What I see in all other tribes of Ethiopia is diverse and many different groups. You probably noticed I every groups supporters and opposing groups out in public voicing out their opinions. So how is it that you talk about Herd mentality unless you mean about Tigrean elite???
      I remember reading a recent article written to oppose the TPLF’s massacre of Oromos by Tigreans. They were only 16. What happened to the thousands who heard about this unjust killings? Couldn’t they say that they are sorry??? Now talk about herd mentality! !!

  13. History remember him for intrducing westephalia state system in Ethiopia and used to be called Aba mella.

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