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Book Reviews 129 Prowess, Piety and Politics: the Chronicle ofAbeto Iyasu and Empress Zewditu ofEthiopia (1909-1930) Gebre-Igziabiher Elyas (Edited and translated by Reidulf K. Molvaer) Köln: Koppe, 1994. Pp. xxv, 596. Amharic text and English translation; annotations, index. Reidulf Molvaer's translation of Gebre-Igziabher Elyas's chronicle of the reigns of Abeto Iyasu and Empress Zewditu covers a formative period in Ethiopian history, a period characterized by extraordinary events that had decisively changed the course of the country's political and economic developments. For some time, the period remained ignored by Ethiopia's reputable chronicle tradition, perhaps due to the absence of a dominant political figure or its interposition between the reigns of the two architects of modern Ethiopia—Menilek and Haile Sellassie. The task of documenting the political events and historical processes of the time fell to Gebre-Igziabiher Elyas. Educated in the best of Orthodox church schools in Shewa and Gojjam, the author excelled in the art of writing. Because of his skill, he was chosen to serve Zewditu as private secretary, a position he used to acquire the empress's papers and keep notes of interviews with her. What emerged from these records and his memories is a magnificent narrative of an important period in Ethiopia's political history. Contrary to what the title of the translation suggests, the chronicle is not a comprehensive account of Iyasu's political prowess or Empress Zewditu's piety. The main story running through the volume is the politics of the ascendancy of Haile Sellassie, who was portrayed as a courageous military hero, a wise administrator, a visionary (modernizing) leader and a fair-minded administrator of justice. The original chronicle, written during Iyasu's and Zewditu's lifetime and ready for publication when the Italians invaded Ethiopia in 1935, was destroyed during the fascist occupation. The author managed to retain the manuscript, but not Zewditu's papers and his interview notes, since he had destroyed them when the empress died in 1930, allegedly to prevent Haile Sellassie from defaming her posthumously. For this, Haile Sellassie condemned, demoted and banished Gebre-Igziabiher to Wollega, where he lived until 1944 when the emperor summoned and ordered him to re-write the chronicle. Gebre-Igziabiher had a copy of the original manuscript to work from, but it took him eight months to complete the new assignment. Apparently, the chronicle which 130 Book Reviews we now have was written from scratch, perhaps to comply with Haile Sellassie's instructions. Although much space was allotted to Haile Sellassie, substantively, the chronicle manages to cast Iyasu and his policies in a positive light. Iyasu comes across as a self-assured, far-sighted and reform-minded statesman who was wrongly accused and toppled from power. Gebre-Igziabiher demonstrates that even Iyasu's prolific dynastic marriages were consummated to create a "national" monarchy in which the various royal houses have a stake, not simply to satiate his legendary sexual appetite. Specifically, Iyasu married the daughters of Abba Jiffar of Jimma, Jote Tullu of Wollega, Abdullah of Harer and the Afar chieftain expressly to integrate the Moslem Oromo, Afar and Somali into Ethiopian national political life (pp. 560-561). Besides the goal of ensuring the unity of the heterogenous empire he inherited, Iyasu wanted to improve the life of all its citizens. To that effect, he attempted to carry out important reforms, which included his attempts to abolish the gabbar system, separate educational matters from the church, institute a system of audit and inspection, and reform the system of justice. However well-intentioned, Iyasu's endeavors to root out oppression, corruption and gross abuse of power did not sit well with the Shewan establishment. Their worst nightmare came true with the coronation of Iyasu's father Ras Michael, an Oromo and a former Moslem, as Negus of the entire northern provinces. From the Shewan's vantage point, Iyasu's reign represented a mortal danger not just to their own authority but to the very survival of Menilek's Semitic-Christian empire. Thus, the Shewan establishment decided to overthrow him, not so much for what he did as a ruler but because of his religious and ethnic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-6574
Print ISSN
0740-9133
Pages
pp. 129-131
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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