Tato Gaki Sherecho, the last King of the Sovereign State of the Kingdom of Kaffa, located in Southwestern part of today’s Ethiopia, was born in 1865 and died in exile in 1919. He assumed power as King of the Kaffa Kingdom in 1890. He was called “the Royal Lion” by his people because of his height and proud bearing (Erik Haberland). He refused to submit after his military defeat in 1897. After 9 months of fugitive, he was handed over by traitors and was brought in captivity to Addis Ababa. He was allowed his own house at the palace with his own people who came with him to Addis Ababa. (No mention was made to his wife and royal family members). He was made always to wear long chains to symbolize his status of a prisoner and was attached to one of his fellow Kaffecho (pls google and see his picture). In deference to his royal birth, his chains were made of gold. Gaki Sherecho or Tato Sherecho though was allowed his own house, he shuffled between Addis Ababa and Ankober, Menelik’s palaces under the custody and direct surveillance of Menelik for over 20 years until Lij Iyasu who assumed the throne after Menelik’s death, for a short period released him from wearing the chain in 1913. Tato Sherecho, the last King of the Kingdom of Kaffa, died in Ankober in 1919. Though the cause of his death was unknown, there is a rumor, perhaps he died from poisoning (Lange Warner). By the way, poising is one of the methods to get rid of war prisoners. Secondly, as mentioned above, he was accompanied by Kaffechos including his wife and other Royal family members to Addis Ababa, unfortunately the fate and whereabouts remained to date a mystery and what happened to them? Does anyone questioned? The amazing part is that, many Ethiopian and foreign historians except few foreign writers who had shown interest to find out about the oppression of the Kaffa people, the majority never tried to reveal the oppressions of these people to the world. One good example the world has been witnessing is that Kaffa contributed coffee to the world and conserved a vast land of forest to protect Global Warming. As a recognition, their history would have been documented to pass to the coming generation. The writer of this article observed that few Kaffecho historians tried to write on Kaffa recently and to distribute to the people within the Kaffa Zone. The distribution purposely banned and some books were burnt not to reach Kaffchos hands by the Kaffa Zone authorities till today. Why is that? What made authorities to take such action. Don’t Kaffechos deserve to know their own identity and history? The answer is left to the enthusiastic young Kaffecho elites who had all the opportunity to find out and share with the people and the authorities themselves. The Ruthless War: Struggle and sacrifices paid by the Kaffa People during and after the war and to date: The 1897 war had a cause. In 1881 before Menelik became Emperor, as the King of Shewa had gone about bringing the south kingdoms and principalities to heel and re-incorporate them into the Ethiopian Impire. For that reason, he sent one of his Nobles, Beshah Aboye to Galli Sherecho, the predecessor to Gaki Sherecho to recognize the Abyssinian sovereignty and pay tribute peacefully. The request didn’t work out. Menelik himself tried for the second time in 1883, though Galli Sherecho nominally submitted, but paid tribute only when the enemy was advancing against him. All negotiations that were attempted in between 1881-1883 failed and the attempts of peacefully submissions of the sovereignties took longer than expected. Between 1886 and 1890, the Gibe region with the rest of Southwestern Ethiopia were almost entirely annexed in a series of conquests by the generals of Emperor Menelik. In 1890 Gaki Sherecho, who succeeded Galli Sherecho also followed the same policy, delaying negotiations as his predecessor Galli Sherecho. By this time, the surrounding neighboring Kings all had recognized and paid tribute. They allied their clan’s army with the central Government. The people incorporated were Sidama, Gurage, Wolayta, Aba Jifar of Mendera now known as Jimma even Jimma was always part of Kaffa unitl recently, (except Arsi that resisted then later submitted), to name a few. After designating himself as Emperor of Shoa, Menelik began to expand his kingdom to the south and east, expanding into areas that had never been under his rule, resulting into the borders of today’s Ethiopia. He did this with the help of Ras Gobena, a Shoa Oromo militia. It is worth to note that many people believe that Menelik himself had Oromo blood. During the conquest, the Shewa army carried mass atrocities against the people including mass mutilation, mass killings and a large scale slavery. Most of the kingdoms such as King Tona of Wolaitta, King Joti of Wollega and Sultan Aba Jiffar of Jimma, submitted their power and agreed to pay tributes peacefully. Abba Jiffar of Jimma, after consulting his mother, paid tribute and even counseled his neighboring kings including the Kaffa King to do the same. In the handing over of Gaki Sherecho, Aba Jiffar had a hand and contributed to the defeat of Kaffa Kingdom. Those Kingdoms that handed over their sovereignty willingly and peacefully were treated lawfully and justly. Their totality was taken and replaced by the title of the Shewa nobles such as “Dejazmach” and so on. The appointed Shewa nobles preserved laws and orders. No interference in self-government and no violation to their religious beliefs. On the other hand, territories incorporated by military force like Kaffa and Dizi People paid huge prices after the war. Atrocities were carried out against civilians and combatants. Mass killing, torture, and large scale slavery. Menelik’s army dreadfully annihilated millions of people, subjugated, displaced. Some even run away to near and far places to different parts of today’s Ethiopia and even changed their identities including their names, beliefs and religion to save their lives. Their properties including precious jewels and their sacred Imperial Crown with gold triple phallus were looted, their Palace was completely diminished, their houses were put on fire, men, and women including children were taken as slaves and sold within and outside the country. Heroes were taken as hostages. The King was chained and imprisoned and brutally treated and tortured for over two decades. The atrocities that had been committed on Gaki Sherecho starting his capture be the Shewa nobles and Menelik himself remains in the minds of the Kaffa people though forgivable but hard to forget. The inhumanity both physical and psychological will be revealed on a separate chapter in the near future. The crime and revenge, the atrocities committed on Kaffa people after the war up to date is immense. Their fertile land turned into desert. Their palace at Anderacha totally demolished. Their houses were set on fire. Their fertile land was distributed to the nobles and the army as a recognition of their victory. Women were forced by the military either taken as wives unwillingly or were made slaves to their wives. Children also were taken as slaves. Some of the nobles unofficially married secretly the Kaffa Royal families. There is a rumor that Ras Biru Wolde Gabriel was the son of Menelik, whose mother was a Kaffechi. The other rumor was that she was the wife of King Gaki Sherecho. The grandson of Ras Biru had in a number of occasions had mentions this issue, these secret had never been revealed publicly. Even the Emperor had not admitted that Ras Biru was his legitimate son. I am sure some Kaffechos are aware of this issue, though they are not bold enough to come forward to say so. The irony is that Menelik was born from a Wolayta mother who was a servant herself and it was believed that Menelik was bullied as the son of a servant. We need brave historians and media people to do research and share our undiscovered history and make us proud and prove to the world that we Kaffechos were and great people of Ethiopia. The atrocities didn’t end there. The farmers were enslaved on their own land, families were displaced and wives were snatched and given to the nobles as slaves. Menelik and his nobles did whatever they could to revenge the Kaffa people’s resistance and refusal to hand over their sovereignty and freedom easily. Menelik tortured the Kaffa people physically, economically and psychologically. The psychological damage done on Kaffa people couldn’t heal for a century. What is more, the subsequent central governed rulers continue the psychological damage. They find it difficult to mend the damage and still tell the people and the rest of the world that Kaffecos have a great history. They grab the fertile land and the natural resources. They use the forests and the spices that grow wild and the coffee and tea to amass wealth and, never one day even by mistake reveal that Kaffa until their distraction was a sovereign State that had its own political structure that was very modern. Though, they know the truth, they never ever say it out or let the young generation get awareness. What they do is, making all sorts of propaganda, and oppressing the people, and depriving them the modern education and technology, while they continue milking the natural resources and leave the Kaffechos to lag behind and die in poverty. Recently, few elites living out the country are struggling to voice for the people while the vast majority of the young generation, who are capable and better off are backing the oppression. Our forefathers, care for a single tree leave alone the people. They preferred a tree to a son. Given the choice between cutting a tree for no reason and giving their son, most of you Kaffechos know their preferences. The question to day is what happened to the moral of the young generation. What will be our answers if our forefathers by chance rise and see our people’s life? Owner of a very vast fertile land with abundant natural resources are victims of man-made poverty. The Kaffa people had done no crime. These brave heroes had paid a huge sacrifice to save their home land and protect their sovereignty and freedom. No more, no less. Till today, because of their heroic fight, they are under surveillance and oppression and are deprived privileges that others fellow citizens are enjoying. Their land is downsized and their territories were annexed to some other neighbors as a gift, their forests, which they preserved for centuries are being destroyed, no modern infrastructure, no accessible roads, their natural resources are being deployed. In general, the once sovereign State that was developed had been dragged to go backward and the people to live in extreme poverty and darkness. Going back to the point, after analyzing the strength of the Kingdom’s resistance, Menelik was forced to command one of his trustworthy generals to invade Kaffa and capture the King. Ras Wolde Giorgis is the cousin of Menelik, who played a great role on the invasion and destruction of the Kaffa Kingdom. This brutal general was selected to invade Kaffa Kingdom and given strict orders to invade Kaffa and capture King Gaki Sherecho. 31,000 soldiers, out of which 20,000 were well equipped with rifles that the Italians left behind at the wake of the Battle of Adewa, marched to invade Kaffa Kingdom on March 1897. On the other hand Gaki Sherecho marshaled about 3,000 obsolete fire arms and traditional weapons such as spears and shields. The enthusiastic young and brave King Gaki Sherecho called his people to join him to move into the fight and defeat the enemy that had come to defeat, submit, destroy and subjugate and take their land. Though he ordered all those eight years old and above to join him and those above 80 years to remain home, at a later stage, everybody including women, children and the elders over 80 years joined in the Guerrilla struggle to chase out the overwhelming outside forces. Although Menelik’s army out-numbered the Kaffechos and were equipped with modern rifles, the war took the enemy longer than they could have estimated to capture the young enthusiastic Gaki Sherecho, King of the sovereign State of the Kaffa Kingdom. The people fought bravely in the spirit of their forefathers to defend their homeland.
Gaki Sherecho paid a price for his belief of that all black people of Africa are brothers and sisters. Foreign colonialists from neighboring countries sent a message to help him (the Portuguese). Colonialist had ambition to colonize Ethiopia and thus tacticfully asked King Gaki Sherecho to have their help to defeat Menelik. Obviously their intention was not altruism or for free. It was a plan to use Kaffa as a spring board in order to invade the greater Ethiopia. But King Gaki Sherech replied to the colonialists “it is an honor to be defeated by a fellow black man who has the same skin as mine than getting a help from a white man to kill my own brothers”. That was King Gaki Sherecho’s response. He was a very confident and proud black African who deeply believed that all black Africans are one family. As the result he and the people of Kaffa paid a very heavy price. Menelik doesn’t know forgiveness, or at least never tried to recognize that King Gaki Sherecho was defeated actually for protecting Menelik himself. But Menelik chained him brutally for over 20 years without any sign of mercy. For sure Menelik was afraid of this brave man. If he would have chosen to get help from colonialists and had European rifles as Menelik had the history might have been different today. Africa eats its own sons and daughters. Any African who believes in Africa and being black has no place in Africa. That is what happened to King Gaki Sherecho. That’s a reason we Ethiopians and all Africans suffer and enslaved with our own governments. To be continued
By W/O Fantaye Meko