AN AMHARIC WAR-SONG OF EMPEROR TÈWODRO'S SOLIDERS

ዋና ገጽ | የኢትዮጵያ ታሪክና ሥነጽሑፍ የምርምር ሥራዎች /Researches on Ethiopian History and Literature/
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AN AMHARIC WAR-SONG OF EMPEROR TÈWODRO'S SOLIDERS


R. Pankhurst - Institute of Ethiopian Studies
  


in collaboration with Girma-Selassie Asfaw*

 Captain Tristam Speedy, a sometime British officer in India, visited Ethiopia on four separate occasions. The first was in 1861 when he attended the court of Emperor Tewodrs II who asked him to assist in the training of his soldiers. (1) Speedy, who had something of a flair for languages, acquired a modest understanding of Amharic as was 
recognized by the anonymous chronicle of Emperor Tewodros which states that he "spoke it and spoke it well." (2) He later drew up an Amharic- English and English- Amharic vocabulary in three volumes which was prepared for the 1867-8 Anglo-Indian expedition against Tewodros, in which he participated - but was never published.

 During his first, and perhaps most interesting, residence in the coun-try, in 1861-2, Speedy had the opportunity of hearing several soldiers' songs which were sung after victories. On such occasions, he explains, the men would utter war cries, calling them selves Ya Tewodros bareya, or "slave of Tewodros," and would boast of the numbers they had slain. Horsemen who had distinguished themselves in battle would" dash up at full gallop before the King's tent, suddenly reining in their horses," while foot-soldiers, "brandishing their swords or quivering their lances", would" go through a war dance, and as each in turn recounts his deeds of prowess,h is comrades confirm his boasts by crying out wunat wunat 1(4) it is true etc. while the women raise the elelta or cry of victory.( 5) 

One of these songs was composed in honour of the mightly Emperor Tewod-ros, but seems on occasion to have been embroidered in praise of other soldiers. One version, which referred to Speedy himself, so caught his attention that he memoris edit , and sung it in a series of public lectures on Ethiopia which he gave in Britain on returning from h is third visit to the country in 1884.(6) The texts of these lectures are preserved in two of Speedy's by no means always easily decypherable note books( 7) which cite two slightly different versions of the song in an unfortunately far from accurate transliteration, and also contain a rough translation of one of them. Varia-tions in the text are scarcely surprising, for the song would not have been written down, and was doubtless subject to considerable impromptu adaptation and variation. 

Speedy's texts, though by no means scientific, are of interest in that they constitute the only known record of the song, one of few such composi-tions for the period prior to the time of Menilek for which even an approxi-mate record has been preserved. (8) The present authors are most grateful to Captain Speedy's grand-niece, Jean South an, for making the English man's papers available to them, and thus enabling them to attempt a reconstruction of this historically and culturally most interesting composition. *The Editors of JES would like to record here their shock at the sudden and tragic death of Ato Girma Selassie Asfaw in a plane crash on January 13,1987 and to express their condolences to his family and friends.


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R. Pankhurst - Institute of Ethiopian Studies
 
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