YEARS and years ago — for even to the youngest of us school days always seem terribly remote — the writer was in an upper third class ‘doing’ South America. None of us could ever remember the respective positions of Uruguay and Paraguay. One day a little boy, who is now appropriately in the Secretariat of the League of Nations, evolved a formula. ‘Take the initials of the two states, U. and P.,’ he explained, ‘and look upstream. It will be U. P.’
But there is no such convenient formula for the location of Abyssinia on the map; and the young hopeful who replied that it was in ihe top right-hand corner of Africa did not get any marks, nor is he to-day at Geneva.
Abyssinia is the only independent Christian nation in Africa; it is surrounded by Moslem and pagan peoples, and that is perhaps why, both geographically and historically, it is so elusive. ‘The Ethiopians,’ wrote Gibbon in his day, ‘are forgetful of the world, by whom they are forgotten.’ In another comment he has ventured the statement that had mediaeval Christendom joined forces against the Mohammedans with the Christian nucleus in Arabia, — for Abyssinia was once powerful in the Yemen, — instead of wasting money and effort in amateur Crusades, Islam might still be a sect and not the numerically greatest religion in the world.
But Abyssinia and her religious struggles remained unnoticed throughout the Middle Ages and it was only with the Renaissance that Europe discovered her. Even then the discovery was fortuitous. Toward the end of the fifteenth century a prince of Portugal conceived a wish to find the mythical Christian kingdom of the legendary Prester John. An intrepid courtier undertook the mission and, following the vaguest clues, eventually did find a Christian kingdom in the highlands of Abyssinia. But it was to the then Negus Negusti (Emperor) and not to Prester John that he presented his letters of credence. Luckily for him the Abyssinian potentate, taking the will for the deed, welcomed the gesture from his royal brother of Portugal, and friendly relations between the two countries were established, to last for nearly two centuries. Portugal sent priests and engineers to the court of the Negus, who planned and built roads and bridges, churches and palaces, some of which survive to-day; and a Portuguese fleet under Christopher da Gama, a brother of the famous discoverer of the Cape of Good Hope route, coöperated with the Abyssinians against a Moslem invasion from Arabia. But in the end Oriental suspicion and distrust of all things Western, fanned in particular by constant Jesuit intrigue, asserted themselves. For the Abyssinian is Oriental before he is Christian. The Portuguese, by then decadent in Europe, were expelled bag and baggage, cleric and layman; and the little Christian nation buried itself in its mountains as thoroughly as ever did the poor law-writer of Dickens’s Bleak House in the squalor of Tom-all-alone’s.
The Abyssinian dynasty of to-day claims direct descent from the romantic but unauthenticated union of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. ‘And when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart. And Solomon told her all her questions: and there was nothing hid from Solomon which he told her not.’ To the Western reader the terse but picturesque Bible narrative is only vaguely suggestive, but the Abyssinian historians have read between the lines. To them there is a sigh of feminine surrender in the chronicler’s bald comment: ‘ There was no more spirit in her.’ They have crowned the strange union of two remarkable persons with a son, the legendary Menelik I, who founded the national dynasty and, as by right of birth, gave his country the emblem of the Lion of Judah, holding in his paw a sceptre surmounted by a cross. The cross was probably a later addition; but, though anachronistic, it is in keeping with the semidivine atmosphere which still surrounds the reigning house. For both the founder of Christianity and the founder of the Abyssinian dynasty trace their descent through David and Abraham back to Adam and the Creation.
Christianity came to the Abyssinians in the fourth century through evangelists from the Coptic Church in Egypt, on which the Abyssinian Church is still nominally dependent. But in practice, beyond the fact that the Coptic Patriarch in Cairo still appoints its Abuna or Archbishop, it is self-administering and independent and, having stubbornly rejected all doctrinal modifications and elaborations of early Christendom, may with justice be said to be, in the outward forms at any rate, the most primitive and therefore the closest to the original of all the Christian churches of the world. In spite of its insignificance and remoteness, it shares with the Latins, the Orthodox, the Armenians, and the Copts the honor of owning a tiny chapel within the precincts of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Here over the tawdry altar hangs a grimy but arresting painting of the Virgin and Child. It is arresting because it depicts the Christ as well as his mother with a black, swarthy face, full, flashing brown eyes, and the frizzy hair of the Negro. But it is a great object of veneration to every Abyssinian, to whom the pilgrimage to Jerusalem is as much a prime duty as that to Mecca is to the devout Mohammedan.
The creed of the Abyssinian Church is simple and, in its purest forms, severe, tolerating no worship of images or fantastic ritual. But in remoter parts of the country the inefficiency and ignorance of the bulk of local priesthood have led to amazing and even ludicrous laxity and irregularity. A story is told of the discovery by a European traveler of a church over the altar of which hung an ample likeness of the late Queen Victoria. Inquiry revealed that the portrait owed its position, not to the world renown of a famous lady, but to a mistaken notion in the minds of the villagers that they were adoring Our Lady herself.
The clergy are incredibly numerous and in the main parasitic. The Church actually owns by vested right and for its own benefit as much as one third of the whole country. Its influence is proportionately vast, both socially and politically. This influence, though free from religious fanaticism, is unfortunately reactionary and unenlightened, and a delaying force in a country which is anxious to develop. Signs are not wanting that a day will come, as it has come in other countries, when the State will no longer be content to see so much of the national treasure in the hands of so sterile a body.
The pure Abyssinian is a descendant of the family of Ham, and his olivebronze complexion is easily distinguished from the deep copper of the Bedouin and the black-brown of the Sudanese. He is brown-eyed, medium to tall in stature, and walks with all the swing of the warrior whose ancestors have for centuries lived by fighting. But, though physically well developed, mentally he is backward. With Europeans he has learned to conceal his ignorance under an Oriental cloak of shrewd stolidity; but underneath he is parochial, unreceptive, and unprogressive. He hates to be tied down to anything, be it the hire of a mule, a published railway time-table, or an international treaty; and when pressed he is excessively proud and touchy. When Abyssinia was introduced as a member into the League of Nations her French sponsor described her as libre et fière dans ses montagnes.
The only intimacy to which foreigners can aspire even with the highest in the land will be formal and ceremonial. They cannot hope to penetrate the real Abyssinian home life. In essence it is patriarchal like the Bedouin, but in the lower grades it is very primitive and unrefined; codes and standards have deteriorated with the ingress of civilization; morals are lax and drunkenness prevalent. The people eat quantities of raw meat, not because it is prescribed that they should eat it so, but because they prefer it uncooked. Raw meat, eaten in quantities, has unpleasant gastric reactions, to counteract which they load it with pepper to an extent impossible even to the most atrophied and depraved European palate. This prophylactic régime is supplemented by periodic courses of medicine of a severity and intensity such as would prostrate any civilized constitution.
The poorer classes dress in Arab style, carelessly and with small regard for cleanliness. Their headdress is as often as not cheap European and they do not wear fezzes. The upper and royal classes, however, dress elaborately. In their long, stiff, highcollared cloaks of heavy silk or closely woven stuff, they have a wooden, stilted appearance, reminiscent of Tenniel’s drawings of the Court in Alice in Wonderland. But this picturesqueness is ruined by their hats and boots. The former are of the wider sombrero type and their fashions in footwear favor the gaudiest kid and cloth. It is the East meeting the West.
The domestic administration of the country is elementary but adequate. Primary justice is based on the maxim, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ An Abyssinian asleep in a tree fell from his perch and in his fall killed another Abyssinian under the tree and also asleep. According to Abyssinian codes it was murder. A man had died. The judge, a modern Solomon, decreed that the murderer should lie under the tree and the nearest relative of the dead man fall on him from the branch above. Here Abyssinian common sense asserted itself and there was a compromise. Quarrels between debtor and creditor, husband and wife, landlord and tenant, are settled by properly constituted courts, which in deference to Abyssinian prejudice sit, behind barbed wire, in the public thoroughfares. The litigants plead in person and Abyssinia is thus one of the few countries of the world which do not groan under the curse of the professional lawyer.
Up to recent times traffic in slaves, with all its horrors and ill-gotten gains, was rampant. But international convention and control have closed the great Arabian market, and when, in 1923, Abyssinia joined the League of Nations the traffic was forbidden by law; the milder form of domestic slaveowning is being gradually liquidated.
Though the present boundaries of Abyssinia are still vague in the undeveloped southwest, the country is now a geographical entity. But this has been the case only during the last thirty years. Before Moslem invasion drove them back into the interior, Abyssinians had ruled in Arabia and along that portion of the western shore of the Red Sea which is now in British, French, and Italian hands. But Abyssinia to-day is confined within her highlands and has no territorial outlet on the sea.
To the outside world and internationally Abyssinia is a Christian country. This impression comes from the fact that the present ruling house is Shoan; and Shoa, the central province, is, like Gojam and Amhara to the north and northwest, predominantly Christian. But on the western frontiers the provinces of Tigré, Danakil, and Harrar, and, to the southeast, Galla, are essentially Moslem; and to the south and southwest there is a large Negro and pagan element. In so far as it may be said that there is Abyssinian nationality, all are Abyssinians; but in fact at least fifty per cent of the population would best be designated by the term ‘hyphenated.’
In such a kaleidoscope it is little wonder that Abyssinian history before the accession of the Emperor Menelik, in 1889, was a history of fluctuating civil wars. Power was held by force of arms and lasted so long as this or that chieftain had the money, the personality, and the influence to keep his gains and to maintain his slave armies. Kings and kingdoms waxed and waned with bewildering rapidity, and in 1813 there were no less than six kings of Abyssinia reigning simultaneously while six ex-kings meditated simultaneously on the error of their ways in some dungeon or other. Well might the contemporary Abyssinian chronicler have echoed the Biblical lament: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.’
One of the six kings reigning in 1813 was Sahela Selassié of the Christian kingdom of Shoa, and he may be said with truth to have registered the first advance from mediaeval chaos toward Abyssinian unity. For national unity developed out of the growth of better conditions and better government in Shoa. Sahela Selassié was succeeded in 1847 by his son, Haile Melikot, and during their reigns, by dint of incessant fighting, they established a degree of stability sufficient to attract the attention of the outside world. They were visited by French and British missions and Haile Melikot went so far as to conclude commercial treaties with them in the name of Abyssinia. What he thought of the value of his own signature is summed up in his own comment that he had met some mad Europeans in his time, but none, he thought, so mad as to hope ever to trade seriously with Abyssinians.
He died in 1855 and bequeathed the throne to his eleven-year-old son, Menelik, who was quickly swamped by Lij Kassa, the powerful chief of the neighboring tribe of Galla. Lij Kassa stole Menelik’s thunder. In other words he gathered to his own standard the bulk of Menelik’s army. For in slave armies there is much of the philosophy of ‘off with the old love and on with the new.’ Kassa seized Menelik as a prisoner and, having secured himself from that quarter, had himself crowned as Negus with the sonorous title of Emperor Theodore. But Menelik was not finished with. On reaching man’s estate he succeeded fir escaping to his own people of Shoa, raised an army, and was soon so formidable an opponent that Theodore elected for compromise, recognized Menelik as king of Shoa, and in return received his nominal submission. And in due time and after much fighting Theodore obtained a degree of peace within his boundaries. But no sooner was he established than he foolishly, though it must be admitted unluckily, involved himself in a quarrel with a foreign Power — and that Great Britain.
The story of his fall and death is tragic. Queen Victoria, for whom he had conceived a romantic regard, had established a consulate in Abyssinia. On the occasion of the consul’s departure on leave to England, the Emperor confided to his care a personal letter to the Queen. The letter was unfortunately mislaid in England, never reached Her Majesty, and was thus never answered. Theodore’s pride and dignity were piqued, and when the consul returned from his leave the Emperor summarily seized and imprisoned him and his staff. He followed up this breach of international convention and courtesy by ignoring the British Government’s demands for the release of the prisoners. Public opinion in England clamored for satisfaction and, none being forthcoming, a British military expedition made its way in the spring of 1868 into northeast Abyssinia. After a practically bloodless campaign they captured Theodore’s stronghold of Magdala, only to find the Emperor, deserted by his followers, dead, shot by his own hand, seated on his throne and wearing the crown and full regalia of the House of Judah. He had muddled himself to death. Vacillation between counsels of surrender and resistance broke the spirit of his army, and it had already dispersed when he took a desperate decision to fight. He was an Abyssinian, but there was much of the samurai tradition in the manner of his death. The expedition left one lasting and civilizing memory in the Abyssinian mind. Lord Napier commandeered much in local labor and material for his army and paid for everything. It was an enlightening demonstration of the conventions of modern warfare, and most telling on the Abyssinian mentality, which had hitherto looked on war as a delightful sport, free from undue risk and offering unique opportunity for unrestricted loot.
On Theodore’s death, Menelik once again found one mightier than himself to thwart him of his rights in the person of John, the chief of the province of Tigré. Their war of succession lasted for four years and ended in compromise. In 1872 John was crowned as Negus and copied Theodore’s example by confirming Menelik as King of Shoa. But he was not left long to enjoy the fruits of domestic peace. This time his troubles came from without Abyssinia, in the form of foreign invasion. The first aggressor, Egypt, then full of Ismail Pasha’s futile dreams of a great Egyptian empire in Africa, was soundly defeated; but only to be followed by a greater menace, the dervish expansion from the southern Sudan. The dervishes, flushed with easy victories over the Egyptian armies, turned on Christian Abyssinia; and, faced with a common danger, Egypt and Abyssinia, through the mediation of Charles Gordon, who was later to meet his end at Khartoum, made common cause against Mahdiism. But the combination of effort did not realize expectations. Khartoum fell in 1885, and the Anglo-Egyptian forces retired north and cast to Wadi Haifa and Suakin, leaving John, now in purely Abyssinian interests, to continue the struggle single-handed. It was protracted and in the end successful; but in the hour of his greatest victory John himself fell on the field of battle in 1889.
With his death the last obstacle between Menelik and the imperial heritage bequeathed to him by his father thirty-four years before was removed. He was crowned as Negus in 1889 and his accession inaugurated the final consolidation of modern Abyssinia.
During his eclipse Menelik had developed qualities of patience and perseverance which stood him in good stead through the first seven difficult years of his reign. In 1885 Italy had annexed Massawa on the Red Sea coast and had expanded its boundaries up to the French settlement, Djibuti, to the south, to the Sudan to the north, and to Abyssinia to the west. In 1889, however, the success of her enterprise was still in doubt. Like so many other Italian colonics in Africa, Eritrea, as the new settlement was called, resembled an Italian shawl. It was all fringe. It was poor, and its resources and scope for development meagre. But it could be made a success, were Massawa to become the commercial and Rome the political outlet of Abyssinian potentialities. Already before the Emperor John’s death a distinguished and astute Italian, Count Antonelli, had ingratiated himself with Menelik, as the coming ruler of the country, and after his accession this intimacy was quickly cultivated into the closer association which the Italians desired. Before the end of 1889 a treaty which virtually constituted an Italian protectorate over Abyssinia had been signed. It even went so far as to stipulate that all communications which Menelik might wish to address to any foreign Power must pass through Italian channels.
Menelik in 1889 was a novice in such matters and may not have understood what he was signing, but by 1893 he fully realized what he had signed away. Taking the excuse of conflicting interpretations between the two texts, he challenged the justice of certain Italian claims and, the replies being unpalatable, summarily denounced the treaty. Three years were passed in protest and parley, from which the Italians gained no satisfaction and Menelik invaluable time. In the result, an Italian military expedition from Eritrea was in 1896 encountered and annihilated at Adowa by an enormous Abyssinian army, whose task, it must be allowed, was greatly facilitated by lamentable Italian strategy. With her defeat, Italy lost three thousand prisoners, and the price of their release was Italian acquiescence in the cancellation of the offending treaty. Adowa assured Menelik’s position both in Abyssinia and in Europe. All the Great Powers recognized him and with almost indecent haste tumbled over one another to establish full-fledged legations at his court.
Menelik did not lose his head in the hour of his triumph. His motto was Festina lente, and like Agag he walked delicately. He gradually undermined the independence of the hitherto uncurbed provincial chieftains by insisting on their more constant attendance at his court. He reconquered the fertile and mainly Moslem province of Ilarrar and placed it under the governorship of his Christian nephew, Ras (Chief) Makonnen. He encouraged but did not support or commit himself to foreign schemes of development, and with Oriental shrewdness saw to it that he was the main, if not the only, beneficiary from the schemes of the legion of concession hunters who invaded the country. But telegraph communication with the outside world was installed, the Bank of Abyssinia was founded, and the building of the first railway in the country sanctioned.
While, however, these changes were taking place, Menelik himself remained outwardly unchanged. He sedulously maintained the atmosphere and tradition of his high office. To his people he was still the primitive Abyssinian of the warrior type, — for he was a man of great strength and stature, — and imperceptibly there grew around his person a myth of omniscience, which spread through the four corners of his kingdom. For the first time in her history Abyssinia enjoyed the fullness of a peace not founded on elaborate or Abdul-Hamidian intrigue, but the creation of a man who knew his Abyssinians and, to borrow the title of a recent play, ‘knew what they wanted.’
Menelik also knew what the foreigners on his borders wanted, but he had a wholesome belief in the truism that safety lies in numbers. He saw that the integrity of his country would be best guaranteed by an accord between himself, on the one hand, and his three neighbors, Great Britain, France, and Italy, acting jointly on the other. Mutual jealousy would assure him of the support of two, should the third attempt any liberty. So with Oriental patience he bided his time, and in 1906 the three Powers sent him a joint note, which he felt safe in accepting. In return for their absolute recognition of his sovereign independence, which assured him the last word in all projects of development, he acknowledged a geographical partition of his country into spheres of commercial and political influence particular to each, within which they undertook not to compete one with another. This agreement is the basis of modern Abyssinian independence, de facto as well as de jure.
Emperor Menelik had no direct male heir. His only son had died young, and his nephew, Ras Makonnen, whom he looked on as his successor, predeceased him in 1906. Thus Abyssinia was left with ‘Hobson’s choice,’ and that a mere boy, Menelik’s twelveyear-old grandson, Lij Yasu, who was proclaimed heir apparent in 1908. But, to the great detriment of his country, Menelik in the same year had a severe stroke, which removed him for all time from the conduct of national affairs.
The regency, which took over the control of the State in his name, was composed of the greatest chieftains in the land; but for the first three years of its existence it was entirely overshadowed by the activities of Menelik’s second wife, the Empress Taitu, a childless, mischievous old lady, who had learned in the Abyssinian school of matrimony — Menelik was her fifth husband — how to manage men. She claimed to speak in her stricken husband’s name, fostered discord among the members of the Council, and while they quarreled she governed. But eventually — as men will — they found her out; but not before, by sheer perversity of character, she had succeeded in holding up for three years the completion of the French railway to Addis Abeba. Menelik died in 1913. His reign has left a lasting impression in Abyssinia. To-day the most binding and sacred oath in the country is ‘By the death of Menelik,’ but it was many years before the people as a whole would believe that he was really dead; and it was only in 1919 that the country was deemed to be sufficiently resigned to warrant the risk of an outward manifestation of his death in the form of a mausoleum.
Lij Yasu was seventeen when he succeeded Menelik. For three years he was to cut a dashing figure with his Indian rather than Abyssinian features, his wild, inquiring eyes, and his youthful vivacity and contrariness. But he was fundamentally decadent and intensely resentful of control or unpalatable advice. Already during the Regency he had betrayed ominous sympathy with Islam and, once on the throne, he quickly dispensed with his grandfather’s counselors and turned for sole guidance to his father, Ras Michael of Tigré, a man of primitive intelligence and great bravery, who, on his marriage to Menelik’s daughter, had summed up the value of Christianity in the same cynical spirit that Henri IV had estimated that of Paris. Within nine months of Lij Yasu’s accession, the Great War had broken out in Europe. He made no secret of his sympathies. He sent surreptitious help to the Moslem Mad Mullah who had come out in revolt against the British in Somaliland; he raised a huge army of half a million which he boasted he would lead against the infidels; and finally he chose his Empress from a professedly Mohammedan home and, in April 1916, made a public declaration of the religious dependence of Abyssinia on the Turkish Caliphate.
In his fanatic zeal and dreams of self-aggrandizement, Lij Yasu overlooked the fact that, although his subjects might be ignorant of and indifferent to European politics, a large section of them, carefully taught by the Church, loathed Islam; and all of them intensely resented the levying of greatly increased taxes for the upkeep of an army in interests which had no national appeal. Conditions in the country deteriorated rapidly and there soon was general indignation that the Pax Abyssiniana of Menelik’s benevolent régime was being prostituted to the ambitions of a notoriously dissolute youth who was siding with the agelong enemy of their national Church and dynasty. With his public declaration of their allegiance to Islam, they could stand it no longer. In September 1916, on the occasion of a national religious festival, he was solemnly declared deposed by the Abuna. The imperial crown was offered to his aunt, Zauditu (Judith), Menelik’s younger daughter, and Has Taffari, the son of Ras Makonnen and Menelik’s grandnephew, was declared heir apparent.
Lij Yasu’s reign has many points of resemblance with that of James II of England. Both lost their thrones in religious conflict with their own people; both flirted with a foreign sovereign who belonged to a hated faith; both married unwisely. The epitaph on James II’s lonely tomb at St. Germaxnsur-Seine describes him as Magnus in prosperis: in adversis major. No such tribute can be paid to Lij Yasu. He had feet of clay. He countered his deposition by an eleventh-hour recantation of his conversion to Islam, which deceived no one. He organized an army in Moslem Harrar and, on the approach of the government forces, left it to a bloody fate and fled for personal safety to the Mohammedan Northeast, where he joined his father. But Ras Michael was of tougher fibre. He collected a large army and marched on the capital, Addis Abeba. In a campaign which, though short, cost no less than 60,000 Abyssinian lives, he was defeated and captured, and ended, as it might have been in a Roman triumph, a prisoner, loaded with chains and paraded with the victorious army before the new Empress. Lij Yasu escaped and for three years led a Bonnie Prince Charlie existence in Moslem Abyssinia, now here, now there; always hunted, always a menace to the new régime, and avoiding capture only by a miracle. He was finally betrayed and taken early in 1920, and he is now mouldering, forgotten, in some unknown Abyssinian stronghold.
The Abyssinian imperial prerogative is normally personal and supreme. The Emperor Menelik was the State as much as ever was the fourteenth Louis in France; but, according to arrangements made at the time of her coronation, the prerogative in the case of the Empress Zauditu is limited and can be exercised by her only on the advice of the heir apparent, Ras Taffari. She is, in fact, a stopgap, but she has accepted the difficulties of such a state with rare discernment. Her boast is to model herself and her conduct on Queen Victoria. ‘I am like her,’ she said at the time of her coronation, ‘and I will strive to be as great in my country as she, a woman like me, was in hers.’
Though she appears but rarely in public, she represents to her people the blood and bone of Menelik with all that that implies. But behind the scenes she holds the balance between the powerful, reactionary, and superstitious priesthood and the progressive though cautious policy of development which inspires Ras Taffari. She has wielded her power wisely, for Abyssinia is not ripe for too rapid modernization, and as long as she lives the conflict between Church and State should be averted. She is of middle age; her features are dark and stolid, and hi her heavy, cumbersome, allenveloping robes of state she looks almost stunted. But she has intelligence and a certain innate dignity of speech and gesture, and she takes intense interest in the altered conditions of her life and capital. It was a red-letter day for her, as well as for those who were fortunate enough to be present, when she, the lineal descendant of the Queen of Sheba, graced the first racemeeting ever held in Addis Abeba and enjoyed it. The first winner was a magnificent Abyssinian pony, happily named Menelik.
Ras Taffari was only twenty-five when he was called to assume, in all but name, the supreme control of his country’s destinies. He has worthily perpetuated that patriarchal relationship between ruler and ruled which Abyssinians had learned to value and revere during Menelik’s reign. He is ever accessible to his people and moves about among them as a real, not a Romanoff, ‘ Little Father.’ And his manner is intensified by his appearance. There is a fleeting something in his deliberate and intense bearing which can best be described as Messianic. His bearded features are fine and devoid of negroid traits, and his look is steady and benevolent. He is charming to meet, courteous, alive, and at times amusing. He speaks French and Arabic in addition to his native tongue, Amharic. But behind all this are real character and a strong will, which have enabled him to enforce his personality and commands on the great nobles of his country, most of whom are old enough to be his father — nay, grandfather — and all of whom have in their blood the tradition of power unchecked by any central control. His character has prevented a Carlist movement in Abyssinia. Lij Yasu is forgotten. The nobility, as in Menelik’s day, are in constant attendance at the court; and when, in 1924, the Ras made an official tour of Europe, he took the precaution of taking with him ten of the most redoubtable in the land. In Abyssinia, as in less exalted domestic centres, mice are prone to play when the cat is away.
The structure of the Abyssinian government machine is simple and, in a primitive way, fashioned on the lines of a most up-to-date business house. Ras Taffari is Chairman and Managing Director. The central government at Addis Abeba is his Board, and the provinces, the various foreign branches of the firm, are managed by selected delegates of the Board, all of them chieftains in their own right, who govern, collect taxes, and generally keep the peace, independent of but directly responsible to the Managing Director. Abyssinia has no organized civil service such as we in the West know; nor has she the good roads, the communications, and the administrative machinery which make for a closely centralized control on Western lines. But the loosely organized feudalism of Ras Taffari’s government is adequate for the needs of his country. At the moment there is a king in Israel.
The writer of this sketch has in his possession a monumental atlas published no more than forty-five years ago. It shows Abyssinia (colored red) as distinct from Shoa (colored yellow). The neighbors of the two countries are indicated by broadly written tribal names, sprawling across virgin paper, which represents desert. An apologetic footnote states that the location of the main tracks and caravan routes is conjectural. The comparison of this atlas with the latest maps tells the story of Abyssinia during the last half century more pointedly than any pen could do it. The Abyssinia of 1926 is a single kingdom, treble the size of its cartographical counterpart of 1881. It is ringed by British, French, and Italian colonies, teeming with names of villages, lakes, and mountains; and there are no apologetic footnotes.
Ras Taffari might almost take the words of the gartered Malvolio and, substituting ‘progress’ for ‘greatness,’ exclaim, ‘Some achieve progress, and some have progress thrust upon ’em.’ He has had to frame a policy to embrace an adequate appreciation of the legitimate interests of his three colonizing neighbors, Great Britain, France, and Italy, in his country; and at the same time to safeguard its integrity and independence. The three Powers, in 1906, gave Menclik certain solemn assurances which they have observed. These guaranties have lately been fortihed by Abyssinia’s membership of the League of Nations. But, in spite of all this, Ras Taffari at times, and because he is Oriental and unversed in Western methods and progress, seems to suspect hidden motives behind legitimate requests. Such is his present mood, and it is intelligible and does not imply hostility or a determination on a dog-in-themanger policy. He is just taking no risks, although he knows that this progress which is thrust upon him is the normal reaction of the inevitable progress planned by his more enlightened neighbors, and that the prosperity and development of his own country depend on his ability — priests or no priests — to keep his policy abreast of theirs, in so far as it does not impinge in any way on Abyssinian independence.
French and Italian interests in Abyssinia are similar. The French have a railway from Addis Abeba to their well-equipped Red Sea port of Djibuti. The Italians now want to link their equally well-equipped port of Massawa with the Abyssinian capital. The two railways would tap different commercial areas; there is room for both; the Abyssinians have neither the genius nor the money to build railways themselves; the French railway has in n6 way impaired their independence; Abyssinia needs railway development if it is to profit from its natural resources, and Eritrea and Djibuti are handicapped in their normal progress if they have not interior communications with the hinterland.
British, or rather Anglo-Egyptian, interests are centred on the waters of the Nile. The eastern branch of this river, the Blue Nile, rises in northwest Abyssinia in the great lake of Tsana. Nile water is the life of the Sudan and Egypt; and the more water they get, the more prosperous will that life be. But water obeys nature’s law of gravity, and in the case of the Blue Nile obedience to nat ure involves avoidable and, from the Sudanese and Egyptian standpoint, serious waste. AngloEgyptian irrigation schemes for the redemption of desert tracts for agriculture call for a control of nature in the form of a regulator dam at Lake Tsana. Such control would assure the storage of surplus and hitherto wasted water for the reclamation of millions of arid acres of desert, whose cultivation would bring prosperity and better conditions of life to thousands in the Sudan and Egypt. England is now asking Ras Taffari for permission to erect the necessary works at Lake Tsana. The request is not without precedent. Portugal and the Union of South Africa have made analogous arrangements over the waters of a boundary river, essential to irrigation development within the Union. Spain and Portugal have been mutually accommodating over the partition of the waters of the Tagus and Douro.
The Italian request for a railway concession and the British case for the Lake Tsana dam were presented simultaneously to the Abyssinian Government. But they did not descend on Ras Taffari out of the clouds. They followed on long negotiations; the Ras was previously aware of their contents; he knew that the gesture would be synchronous and that France was a consenting party.
Picture a railway carriage on the wall of which is a prominent notice, ‘Beware of card sharpers and pickpockets.’ A very young and inexperienced traveler takes his seat in a corner and, just as the train is starting, is joined by three burly elderly men, whom he knows in his village, but only slightly. Disparity of age makes him shy and he gazes obstinately out of the window. The three men discuss racing and cards and start a game of nap. The young man watches them with nervous interest, his eye from time to time straying from the game to the warning notice on the wall. Eventually the three players, noting his interest, politely suggest that he should not stay out in the cold and ask him to make a fourth. For all that he knows them, he is suddenly overcome by uncontrollable panic. He casts an hysterical glance at the warning and pulls the communication cord. He will not be victimized by these elderly ruffians. The train conductor arrives and greets the three players as old friends, constant and respectable travelers on his train. And he is the father of a large family of highly strung children and has dealt with sudden panics before. The explanation is short and sympathetic, and before he leaves the carriage the bogey is buried and the young man, now feeling rather grown up, is taking a hand in the game. It proves to be for only dime points and the newcomer wins, with the habitual success of the beginner, and wishes the stakes had been higher.
Ras Taffari has appealed to the League of Nations in a panic. But when this is past he will end by joining the game of progress with his neighbors and enjoying it.