Marriage & Politics in 19th & 20th Century Ethiopia

>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington D.C.>>Mary-Jane Deeb: Good
afternoon everybody. And welcome, welcome to the
African Middle East reading room and to our division. I’m Mary-Jane Deeb, Chief of
the division and I’m delighted to see you all her for what is
going to be; I know is going to be a great, great program today. So, I’m going to say a few
things about our division. It is a division, which is
responsible for collections from 78 different countries. We’re responsible for collections
for the whole continent of Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa. The whole Middle East, which
includes the Arab world, Turkey, Iran and also the whole of
Central Asia and the caucuses. Now — and the third section of the
division is the Hebraic section, and we collect worldwide
for the Hebraic section; so that’s quite a responsibility. We are 21 members of this division. And each of us has scholarly
publications, have written, have presented at conferences. Many have — know several
languages and so the materials that we collect are not simply
collected and held for safekeeping. We share them and we share
them with our readers, our patrons for their
research, for their work. We are public servants, so we serve
people, we serve those collections. We make them available and we
help people do their research by not only collecting relevant
materials, but also indicating to people where those
materials are to be found. We feel that this is
part of our work. We feel very responsible for
these materials and we want to share them in every possible way. So we have this place, the
exhibits, we have conferences, we have briefings, we work
with other institutions to bring professors
and their students, state department brings visitors from the various countries
for us, brief them. And then it is in a
way quid pro quo. We ask these wonderful researchers
who have used our collections, who are specialists, who are
experts to come and share with us their expertise and their
knowledge of the various countries. And this is what those
talks are all about. They’re about bringing experts,
bringing patrons to our reading room to share with us and the way
they’ve done the research, what they have done,
what they have written. And in a way we’ve all done,
we’ve all become better informed. When we come out of these lectures and certainly today we have an
absolutely wonderful speaker who was with us before. And she is a scholar and
also a government official. She is Dr. Heran-Sereke-Brhan,
originally from Ethiopia. She’s here with her mother
as well, which is wonderful, so I want to welcome her mother
this morning and we are also happy to have special events
representative with us today. She is here for the first time to
see how we organize our programs and I want to welcome everyone who has taken time off their
lunch period to be with us and to hear what we are doing. To introduce this speaker we
have our own Fentahun Tiruneh who is here. And some of you may know
and many of you don’t know that he has received the highest
order of the Ethiopian Crown and we now have to bow to
Fentahun Tiruneh when we see him. He has a big medal and but it is,
it is an award that he received for the work that he has done. He has been exceptional
in his devoted attention to the Ethiopian collections. Not only has he brought
some wonderful speakers as today’s speaker but he
has expanded the collection. He has gone out of his way to bring
these materials to the attention of readers and to collect,
and to collect materials. And so we have an exceptional
collection. So he’s really, we should
be giving him a medal for the work he has done. So Fentahun Tiruneh will be
introducing the speaker now. [ Applause ]>>Fentahun Tiruneh: Good
afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. I think you have heard
enough about me. I don’t have to repeat
and introduce myself. But today I’m happy to present Dr.
Heran Sereke-Brhan, Deputy Director of the Office of the African Affairs
in the Washington D.C. government. And she’s familiar to I think
many of you because she was here at this forum and she spoke
once before on Coffee, Culture and Intellectual Property. But today she will be
speaking on Marriage, Politics and Social History for 19th
and 20th century to Ethiopia. Before I proceed with the
program I would like to remind you that this event is being
videotaped for future webcasting on the Libraries webpage. By asking questions and making
comments you are consenting that your voice may be recorded and later broadcast
as part of the event. And the possible reproduction
and transmission of your remarks. Now I will introduce
Dr. Heran Sereke-Brhan. Der. Heran Sereke-Brhan has
been over two decades studying and conducting research on
African histories and cultures. As an academic she has explored
social and political history and the role of women in 19th
and 20th century Ethiopia as well as topics in art history and intellectual property
issues for Africa. Heran’s passion for the arts
presented in her involvement in notable exhibitions at the
University of Florida Harn Museum and the National Museum of the
African Art Smithsonian Institution. Her contributions to community life
include projects and publications in literary and performance
arts, with commitment to honor a generation of
Ethiopian artists and preserve and transmit their works
for future generations. In her current role as
deputy director of the Office of African Affairs Heran advocates
on behalf of the African community within the government structure by
addressing a wide range of staffing, funding and policy issues that
affect the availability and quality of services to the
African community. Heran holds a PhD and Master’s
in African History with minors in African Art History and African
American and Caribbean history. Please help me to welcome
Dr. Heran Sereke-Brhan. [ Applause ]>>Dr. Heran Sereke-Brhan: Good
afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Give me one second to get settled. Thank you so much Ms. Mary-Jane
Deeb and Fentahun Tiruneh for this repeat invitation
and for the warm and gracious kind welcome that’s
always extended to me here. And thank all of you for making
time in your very busy days to make your way here to be
a part of this presentation. I must actually – because
I also need to know, I need to know the actual name,
title that Fentahun has gotten, Order of the Star of
Honor of Ethiopia. I think it translates
into [Inaudible], so you can now officially call
him [Inaudible] Fentahun probably. Thank you so much. My topic for today is
Marriage and Politics in 19th and 20th Century Ethiopia. Before I begin, I should say
as mirrors and cars usually say “Objects in the mirror appear closer
than actually their distance”. This material is extremely
dense material. And at one point or another your
eyes are going to glaze over and your mind is going to go blank
and I won’t take it personally because this was my life for 10
years, and it’s pretty dense stuff. But I’ll try – what I’ll try to
do is go into some details for – to show or illustrate examples
and kind of move back out to kind of talk about the larger
significance of things. The universality of the topic
of marriage as a political and diplomatic instrument, a
symbolic show of solidarity and socially accepted way to
cement relations across kingdoms and countries is one that we can
attest to here, anywhere really around the world at any
time of any time period. You may remember those of you who
have followed Pan African history for example, the marriage
of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah to a woman named Helena Ritz Fathia. The woman was a close relative of President Gamal
Abdel Nasser of Egypt. And they got married in 1958. And the time Ghanian kente cloth
weavers commemorated the occasion by designing patterns such
as Fathia, Fata and Nkrumaha, which means it is befitting to
have Fathia as in Nkrumah’s wife and Oba Kofu Muman, one
person does not rule a nation. They had three children
together and up until recently they
maintained residents in Ghana. We may also think about Jomo
Kenyatta’s marriages, the third and fourth marriages were to
daughters of influential chiefs, which helped him gain legitimacy
for leadership among the Kikuyu. In Europe of course,
European history is replete with these examples between
11th and 20th century. European royalty from France,
Britain, Spain, Prussia, Denmark, Russia and Germany inter-married
very, very extensively and there are also examples in the
colonial setting here for example that Spanish conquistadors
married Amerindian women in the 16th Century, French
commercial entrepreneurs in Senegal for example made a point of
marrying powerful trade women, known as sinaras to gain acceptance
and access to commercial networks. In the Ethiopian case my study
is limited to the Northern part of the country because my sense of
it was I wanted to study marriage, but in connection to politics, not
just marriage as it was happening. But in connection to political
history and but it’s fair to say that a similar study could be
designed for south and west of the country, in the area
of Wolayta, Naria and Keffiyeh where migration and marriage
relations are very important element and consolidation from the
17 through the 19th century. By way of background
and introduction a lot of my presentation today
draws from research I did for my dissertation study. The dissertation was titled
“Building Bridges Drying Bad Blood. Elite Marriages, Politics
and Ethnicity in 19th and 20th Century Ethiopia”. So, it came about because at a
very visceral level I grew up, as most Ethiopians,
grew up understanding that Ethiopia was an interconnected
space, we were intermarried, was all one big happy family. And as I got older and read
more and listened more, I grew anxious I think at
some subconscious level about the polarized way in
which discussions were happening around state building and identity,
both in conventional scholarship and in public discourse and of
course lately in social media. My advisor was Harold
Markus at Michigan State. And he was very worried
that I was going to write what he called
a begot dissertation in the style of the Old Testament. So and so, so and so
begot so and so. And tempting as though that was, which means I could have had
an Old Testament under my belt. But as it was the research
took shape and it crystalized around three interwoven
threads or themes. Ethnicity, identity on the one
hand, movement of political power and state building and
then gender and women. I drew the theoretical frame
and methodology from readings on ethnicity, theoretical
readings, gender and state building. I relied a lot on the
work of Anthropologists, the anthropologist couple John and
Jean Comaroff who defined ethnicity as a set of contextual relations
and therefore a more kind of fluid and complex product of human agency. To examine gender and
the place of women, and this was extremely
difficult in the case of Ethiopia because they don’t show up
in written records much. So I had to read widely to
come to the questions even. And I considered writings
by scholars who had explored the subject of
state building through kinship or marriage relations in places
like the Kingdom of Dowmy in Western West Central Africa. And the 19th century
Zulu and Boganda states. And from these readings I
eventually designed an inquiry that would combine
methodological and thematic concerns and examine issues
of power, identity, gender and state formation. By documenting and studying
Ethiopian elite inter-marriages and family histories I set out to map what I call a
social history of power. This meant focusing on elite family
histories and inter-relations and also reading this against the
narrative of political history. So it wasn’t just genealogical
trees and family histories, but how that related to shifts of
power that I was interested in. My study evolves against
the backdrop of 19th and 20th century Ethiopia, a period of intense intermittent
power struggles, unification, territorial expansion
and later consolidation. Not surprisingly the pattern of elite inter-marriage followed the
movement of power from [Inaudible], laterally including [Inaudible]. The marriages usually occurred as
part of other power negotiations. As a prelude of good will and
attempt to address past wrongs, [Inaudible] is what it’s called,
marriages to dry bad blood between families, or as marking
measure of close relations between regional nobility. Tenuous and fragile as they sometimes were these
alliances provided a critical continuum across geographical,
cultural, linguistic and political divides. Studying Ethiopian elite
inter-marriage also presented a novel opportunity to
explore the place of women. Although they’re not visible in
public records as wives, daughters and mothers of royalty, Ethiopian
women were social, cultural and political actors
of some influence. By re-examining new and old
sources in this light I intended to find a place or configure
a place of prominence for the lives of elite women. And in the process takes steps
towards engendering Ethiopian political and social history. Now there are previous works
that have been published and that are fairly
good, they’re out there. Works by [Inaudible] and the late
Richard Pankurst and Chris Prouty. They’ve considered the subject of
marriage and politics in some form. But I was proposing looking at
these family inter-relations across different regions of
the country and over 100 years. So in terms of scale and complexity and time period considered this was
going to prove super challenging. So the first question is what are
the sources that are out there in terms of documenting
marriage relations? These are some of the sources,
believe it or not this image on the left is a family
tree and it’s dense. It’s full of names. All of these things are names in
between and it’s huge and framed in a friend of mine’s living room. As you can imagine you can’t find
full names of spouses, of husbands and wives to even be able to
trace the family connections. Paternal and maternal sides
were not all documented. Biographical material
is really missing. So, I did ask and go after family
trees when they were available. I went through scrapbooks. I went through newspapers,
old newspapers. The image that you see on the right
was called centric circles is a very interesting book that was done by
[Inaudible] and it was published in 1965 Ethiopian calendar. What those circles, those are
names that you see in the circles and what it does is it traces King
Silas Lacy Shoa’s descendants. So it’s a total of 2,442
people that are detailed here. The book is very well done. It’s indexed in the back. It’s alphabetized and so on,
so it’s a really good resource but this is only one family. We’re talking about
one family in Shoa. I lucked out in a weird
way, there was a scrapbook of wedding announcements at the
Institute of Ethiopian studies. I also went to great lengths
to walk through cemeteries and read gravestones
to be able to date some of the biographical information. And then of course I did archival
research here and in London as well. Oral history was where a lot
of my information came from. I was able to do field work in
1995, but officially 97 and 98 with funding from the Social
Science Research Council. In my presentation
today I think I’ll – I’d like to discuss three
aspects of – that illustrate kind of the complexity of the
social history of power. The first area is marriage and
politics in the 19th century and this is important because
it’s when empire is being formed. It’s sort of the first kind of
wave of marriages that happens at a central political kind
of way in a central way. I’ll speak also about the
inclusion and extensions of power that we’ll see with one
particular family in [Inaudible] and then I’ll touch a little on
elite women and their predicament and what their fate
was in these scenarios. So when we look at
the interconnections at the imperial center,
one of the first things and most obvious things
you’ll see is that the regional powers
start becoming interconnected through marriage relations. Another thing that you’ll
notice when you read it against the political
history is that the shifts in marriage patterns closely
mirror shifts in power. Marriages were not full proof. Sometimes they worked,
sometimes they didn’t. And that left mostly
women, not always, but mostly elite women
in certain predicament. As Ethiopian state moved toward
centralization the latter half of the 19th century, the struggle for ascendency dominated
the political stage vacated by the suicide death of
Emperor Tewodros in 1868. And the decades that followed
internal relations were characterized by shifting
allegiances and opportune alliances. When [Inaudible] crowned
himself Emperor [Inaudible] in 1868 he was faced with the same
difficulties of regional unrest and religious disagreements
as Tewodros. Three contenders to
the throne emerged. Pictured here Adal Tessema,
later Negus Takla Haimanot from the Central region
of Gojam in the middle. Kasa Mercha, later Emperor
Yohannes IV from Temben in the North pictured on the right. And Menilek Haile Melekot who was
expanding North into [Inaudible] from his base in Shoa
pictured on the left. Power changed hands three times
from the short lived reign of Emperor Takla Giorgis
to Yohannes, then Menilek. Between 1868 and 1889 even
while political maneuverings and conflict continued among these
and other figures less visible, but equally strategic
negotiations took place in the form of marriage arrangements
among the families. As we’ll see this charted
out in the next slide, sometimes it’s easier
to see it visually. But families of all three
contenders were intermarried with Emperor Takla Giorgis family. Even before he became
Emperor, Takla Giorgis made use of marriage alliances
to garner support. First with Gojjam and then
with surrounding regions. In 1868 Menilek’s cousin [Inaudible]
married [Inaudible] a relative of Giorgis and this provided a
diplomatic front between Shoa and Lasta and their
descendants continued to occupy important positions
into the 20th century in the families of Rascasa. So to give you a visual
idea of how this plays out we see here the three
sort of regional powers and Emperor Takla Giorgis family. Takla Giorgis appointed
Adal Ras in 1869, bestowing him with the governorship
of Gojjam, Damut and ago mandir. He also gave him his sister
[Inaudible] in marriage. While Takla Giorgis gamble
with Adal that worked out, appeared to be successful. He was soon faced with a more
serious threat from Casa, Takla Giorgis marriage to
Casa’s only sister Dinkinesh, did not deter Casa’s rebellion. After winning a decisive battle in 1871 Casa was crowned Emperor
Yohannes IV the following year and we’ll say a little bit
more about this particular, what happened in this
situation for [Inaudible]. These early marriage
arrangements tied together Lasta, Gojjam and briefly Tigre. Soon shifted directions
in the accordance to changing politics The final
days of Lasta and revival ended as Takla Giorgis was
displaced and Tigres, Shoa, Gojjam assumed center stage in the
person of Yohnnaes Menilek Anata. And here is where the
politics is important. Yohannes authority was
immediately challenged by some chieftains leaving
him initially vulnerable. Rasada eventually submitted
to Yohannes and was reinstated as ruler of Gojjam and Darmut. He continued to be a loyal vessel until the empower dynamic shifted
again with the reckoning presence of Menilek Shoa who success in [Inaudible] signaled a
potentially powerful rival to the throne. Emperor Yohannes was preoccupied with the impending Egyptian
menace immediately continued to advance [Inaudible] the base
that he had founded in [Inaudible] through [Inaudible]
en route to Ghana. The clergy intervened to
divert the confrontation between Yohannes and Menilek. In 1878 Menilek carried the
traditional Stone of Penitence asked for forgiveness and swore his
allegiance to Emperor Yohannes. Emperor Yohannes effort to
maintain a balance of military and political power between
Menilek and [Inaudible] interfered with Menilek’s thinly
veiled imperial design. The emperor increasingly favored
Adal, possibly drawing him into the family with the
marriage of Yohannes’s nephew to Adal’s daughter in November 1879. Adal was appointed
[Inaudible] of Gojjam and Kafah in January 1880 bringing his
status to par with Menilek. Menilek continued to
challenge [Inaudible] authority and territorial holdings
defeating him at the Battle of Babu in May 1882. Angered by the unrest caused by these rivalries Yohannes
summoned Menilek and [Inaudible] to chide them for their actions and redefined their
spheres of influence. He redistributed their land
holdings taking [Inaudible] from Gojjam and Weloa from Shoa. Menilek was instructed to give
up all the arms he had secured from the battle to [Inaudible] the
trusted general of the Emperor. Yohannes pardoned [Inaudible] and
returned all his confiscated arms. Both the military and political
terms this agreement dealt a severe blow to Menilek. The administration of [Inaudible]
is divided into two and given to [Inaudible] and to the
emperor’s young son [Inaudible]. This is critical to
pay attention to. At this critical juncture
Yohannes proposed the marriage of the same son [Inaudible]
to Menilek’s daughter. Accounts agree that the
proposal may have been initiated by Emperor Yohannes with
several factors in mind. Such a marriage would soften the
slight of [Inaudible] made decisions on Menilek’s pride
indicating his respectability as a partner in power. Secession may also
have been an issue. Menilek did not have a male heir
and Yohannes may have wanted Menilek to acknowledge his son
[Inaudible] as heir. Menilek’s official chronicler
[Inaudible] writes that Menilek — that Yohannes was displeased with Menilek’s actions
[Inaudible] implying that such a connection would have
kept the King in close proximity, so to keep an eye on Menilek may
have been another speculation. Each speculation holds
some truth and point to Menilek’s growing importance as the impending successor
to imperial authority. And the underlying significance
of the dynastic alliance. So this marriage takes place. Historians hint that the young
age of Zawditu to Araya Selassie around six and 13 years old
respectively and the death of Araya Selassie five years
later made their marriage an event of symbolic union rather
than a practical one. Ras Araya Selassie is the one
sitting next to his father to the right of his father. Despite his youth Ras Araya Selassie
had been entrusted with the command of [Inaudible] with
[Inaudible] as deputy in 1883. He was later transferred
to [Inaudible] in 1886 and he remained an
administrator even at that young age,
there for two years. So it’s obvious as Ras
Araya Selassie tells us that when Menilek heard about
this proposal he responded with some appreciation
and appropriate modesty. So he said to Yohannes “It’s
only that the girl is to young for marriage or this would
not have displeased me”. Yohannes was not deterred
reminding Menilek that the children of kings had urgent destinies that
called for their participation, even from the time that they were
babies held in leather slings and carriers [Inaudible]. The wedding would proceed,
so Menilek returned to [Inaudible] to prepare
for ceremony. [Inaudible] now gives us a very kind of juicy imaginative
account of what followed. The Heavens had conspired
to bless the union by sending a streaking
star in the sky. A large canvassed area
was leveled and carpeted with a section curtained
off for the throne. Attendants were trained
to wait on guests. Adorned and gifts of beautifully
fashioned and embroidered clothes, the royal entourage
completed this stage set for the ceremony to take place. And the ceremony took
place on 13 February 1883. Festivities commenced
with a full [Inaudible], a royal feast for the armies, Rasa
Araya received gifts of clothes, different armaments,
soldiers, tents and golds. Yohannes was unable to attend
the betrothal due to illness but he granted [Inaudible] lands,
so he gave as a gift the lands that she passed through on her trip to her husband’s family
in [Inaudible]. The next morning the
celebration continued until noon when the bride prepared
to leave for her new home. There was a 12 gun salute
and the rumbling sound of drums signaled the occasion as
[Inaudible] emerged accompanied by beautiful attendants
adorned in gold and silver. A basket covered with an intricately
embroidered skirt was carried in front of the group
that followed singing and showering blessings
upon the newlyweds. The significance here is that this
marriage actually allowed Menilek to save face by recompensing
him for losing Wellyo, this is also a very
significant point. This region, now that was taken
away from Manlike was going to be governed by his
new son in law, so it seemed a fair
kind of arrangement. It was not a minor afterthought
added to the agreement, but an essential element
of the negotiations in terms of understanding. Menilke’s letter to Yohannes
detailed his sentiments and it illustrates, really
strongly illustrates the political implication of this union. So Menilek writes a letter to
Yohannes and he said “Soon again when you said “I have taken
[Inaudible], I said I would be sorry if you were to give
it to [Inaudible]. While I would be pleased to
hand it to your majesty”. When later it was given
to rasa Ariyah his new son in law I told myself that
it had gone into the family. As the saying goes, when the calf
milks the cow it only returns to the stomach. [Inaudible]. And was therefore pleased. So in a roundabout way Menilek
is still kind of in the mix of governing this area
through his son in law. The young couple’s marriage
ended abruptly in 1888. Soon after the Emperor
returned from the [Inaudible]. [Inaudible] died suddenly from an
infliction with small pox in June. [Inaudible] stayed a few
more months then returned to her father’s court in Shoa. That same year Menilek and [Inaudible] secretly
joined forces against Yohannes. The emperors sense of betrayal
at his two vessels was apparent in the vengeance his
troops unleashed on Gojjam. Yohannes was angered that his more
lenient policies towards [Inaudible] had not guaranteed his loyalty. [Inaudible] would come to [Inaudible] supporting
this revolt was forced to submit to Yohannes. Meanwhile Menilek continued to push into Yohannes’s territory
involving Italians and appearing to mobilize his army to defense
Shoa against the emperor. [Inaudible] in the meantime is
very traumatized by all this and her reaction indicates
her understanding of the volatile political
situation and the potential that the marriage had
presented as a peace offering. In grief stricken words
she implored her father not to confront the emperor and noted that had her husband [Inaudible]
been alive there would have been no altercation. And moved by her plea
Emperor Yohannes was said to have cried afresh for his son. Also interesting to note is that
although she returned to Shoa at the death of her
husband, [Inaudible] lands and her many devotees there favored
recognition of Menilek as Emperor, so these lands that are given
as gifts, it’s another factor. Donald Crummy has done a
lot of work on land rights and women really feature into this
a lot so that’s something I’d really like to kind of revisit
in the future. We now move to the second section
of this presentation which looks at how a family kind of
moves from a local setting to closer to the imperial center. And I have here the
example of [Inaudible]. And we’ll see what this example both
how the supposedly local family, or non-royal family
moves to the center. But also how marriage was used
to heighten the prominence of one family and play down the
prominence of hereditary claims. Also we will see with this family, it’s very interesting how continuity
happens with these marriages and though this is
a story that happens in the 19th century,
the beginning of it. It rolls over to the 1970’s. The death of Gojjam [Inaudible] in
1902 marked the end of the reign of one of the last hereditary
provincial kings of Ethiopia. Menilek divided the
Kingdom of Gojjam into three administrative units
effectively consolidating control. Three men were appointed to
govern, [Inaudible] over Gojjam. Ras Mengesha whose
picture you see here over [Inaudible] and
the [Inaudible]. Though permanently weakened as a
regional power Gojjam’s importance at the center is indicated
by the marriage pattern of elite family histories, Ras
Mengesha Atikem’s in particular. Ras Mengesha grew in prominent
during Menilek’s reign. And his descendants entered
elite circles largely through intermarriage and
without direct or prior claims of blood links to the traditional
ruling council of Gojjam, that of [Inaudible]
except by marriage. Ras Mengesha himself was
linked to three different women in his lifetime and these
are serial marriages. They don’t marry them
all at the same time, that’s important to say actually. And two were of Shoan background, two of his wives and
one was from Weilu. His first marriage was
[Inaudible] a descendant of — the Shoa King [Inaudible] and
his second was to [Inaudible]. The third marriage was to
[Inaudible] from Weilu. While these first marriages
are not particularly noticeable for political intent. The children and the
descendants are the ones that kind of widen the prominence and sort
of the status of the family. And though it’s difficult to find
exact dates, a clear marriage of pattern relations —
marriage relations emerges from this particular family to show Ras Mengesha’s
growing political prominence. The early marriage, so
the first round he kind of marries within Gojjam. The early marriages of his granddaughter
[Inaudible] Mengesha was to that of the traditional
ruling house of Gojjam. She ends up marrying
[Inaudible] later [Inaudible]. By the next generation the
marriage relations had moved to Weilu and Shoa. [Inaudible] gave birth
to [Inaudible]. [Inaudible] went on to
marry Menilek’s grandson and heir [Inaudible]. This meant that by the second
generation Ras Mengesha’s family had married into the imperial center
with family networks extending to both Wello and Shoan
royal families. On the other hand Ras
Mengesha Atikem’s son, Ras [Inaudible] was married to Emperor [Inaudible] niece
[Inaudible] thus bringing into the story the Semen fold. Ras [Inaudible] second marriage was to Emperor Menilek’s grand-niece
[Inaudible] or later [Inaudible]. Ras Mengesha’s two daughters
from his second union with [Inaudible] extended
the networks further. One daughter [Inaudible]
married [Inaudible] the son of Ras [Inaudible], her
father’s colleague in [Inaudible] and the Emperor’s trusted general. Their daughter [Inaudible]
later [Inaudible] was the wife of [Inaudible] the progressive
intellectual, close confidante and cousin of Emperor [Inaudible]. Another daughter and I managed
— I did see a photograph of her, she was young and shy looking
[Inaudible] married General [Inaudible] and had three daughters, one of whom married the
Crowned Prince [Inaudible]. Are you glazed over or not yet? This is going to get thicker. [Inaudible] the daughter from
Ras Mengesha’s third marriage to [Inaudible] was the first wife
of [Inaudible], Prime Minister from 1943 to 57 and highly
recorded courtier [Inaudible] court. These marriages expanded
to create links between Gojjam, Semen,
Wallu and Shoa. Demonstrating that lateral
connections were equally important in preserving social
and political standing. And that marriage networks expanded
in relation to political prominence. So the significance is
that two descendants from Ras Mengesa’s family
designated heirs to the throne. [Inaudible] marriage to [Inaudible] and you see pictured here
[Inaudible] who is married to Crowned Prince [Inaudible]. If Ras Mengesha was once
Menilek’s beloved general and alternative choice to
gaining control in Gojjam, by the third generation
his son in law, his son in law’s brother [Inaudible]
had married Emperor [Inaudible] daughter [Inaudible] and Ras Mengesha’s granddaughter
[Inaudible] was positioned at the side of Crowned
Prince [Inaudible], the last heir of the
Ethiopian Monarchy. And I should say what I learned
doing social history and reading it against political history is
that there’s a certain telling of politics and political
history that kind of ends and the social history piece
still continues, the marriage and the inter-connections
still continues. So when you read the political
history you understand in the 20th century the ruling house of Gojjam had turbulent
relationships with the imperial court. And conventional scholarship
says you know the house of Gojjam was distanced
from the imperial court, and this is of course true. But you know [Inaudible] family but Ras Mengesha’s family history
indicates how alternative power relationships were
created and cultivated and sustained through intermarriage. And the ruling house of Gojjam was
absent, but Gojjam itself continued to be represented at
the imperial courts. And women had a big part to
play in these continuities. So I’ll transition
over to women now. Again you know writing about
women was extremely difficult because they are pretty much
invisible in the written literature or they pop up in a way that
there’s no context to understand who are these women, are
they important women, which families do they belong to,
what is their source of power? Obviously they’re not
in – they’re seldom in official positions of power. So, there’s a lot of sort of
implicit power that they exercise, influence that they
exercise in the courts. We’ll also look at one predicament
of a royal women in these marriages and of course one has to talk about
Empress Taytu who had immense skill and vision in running
politics through intermarriage, so she would be important
to say a little bit about. So we talked about the sort of the
power struggle that was happening in the latter half of the 19th
century, and one of the women in the story gets caught
in the cross fire. And it wasn’t always women, one has
to say that because there were times that men are also kind of
caught unaware or made victims of these marriage arrangements,
it happened to men too. So in the 19th century, in
this example that we looked at, Emperor [Inaudible] was facing
threats from Casa and from Menilek. Takla Giorgis marriage to Casa’s
sister [Inaudible] did not deter Casa’s rebellion. So Casa went ahead
and went into battle and was crowned Emperor
Yohannes in 1872. So what had happened to [Inaudible]
is that her brother was pitted against her husband and
she was still married to the future Emperor Yohannes IV. So to kind of bemoan her
situation [Inaudible] was set to have lamented [Inaudible]
the winner my brother, my husband is the victim. My grief is incomprehensible, all
contained in my house and my family. So there were certain
cross fires that many of the women found themselves. But when we move along to
Empress Taytu time we also begin to understand that the movement of
women in marriage alliances was part of a social strategy,
it was not a mistake. It was not happenstance or
kind of happening arbitrarily. Empress Taytu was an adult
woman when she married Menilek who was her fifth husband and
he had married a few women, most notably [Inaudible]
before her as well. She had no children but she
married off nieces and cousins and extended relatives or
become Godmother to those that she wasn’t related to by blood. And the end result of this
was a very formidable network of power base that she built. With very, very careful savvy
as to the political balance. Commenting on her success Governor
[Inaudible] attempted to sum up this group of [Inaudible]
power in 1900. And he says “[Inaudible], her
brother, controlled to [Inaudible], [Inaudible] her nephew
governed [Inaudible]. [Inaudible], her nephew ruled
Kafa and [Inaudible] was presumed to have fallen into her orbit by his
marriage to her niece [Inaudible]”. Early 1908 Menilek’s health
showed signs of deterioration. The year before the
Emperor had taken measures to safeguard the empire beyond
his death by forming a cabinet. A crowned council of great chiefs
and ministers who also was created and [Inaudible] was
appointed advisor guardian of the young [Inaudible]
Menilek’s grandson and proclaimed heir to the throne. Though considerably weakened
physically Menilek’s presence afforded [Inaudible] the protection
she needed to concentrate power into her own hands, which
she did with the support of well-placed relatives. And here I rely on the
work of [Inaudible] who did some really good article
titled “Political Marriage Pattern in Ethiopia 1890’s to 1916”
and he kind of created columns that showed the chronological
power shifts and their corresponding
marriage patterns. So Empress Taytu period begins
around 1890 to 1909 [Inaudible] after that and then [Inaudible]. And so we see here for example,
[Inaudible] three nieces, [Inaudible] who were married to Ras
Mengesha Yohannes, Ras [Inaudible] and [Inaudible] respectively. [Inaudible] planned on
the neutrality of such men as [Inaudible] who was married
to her niece [Inaudible] and [Inaudible] whose stand against the emperor may have
been tempered initially due to his marriage of [Inaudible],
[Inaudible] Goddaughter. So when she wasn’t blood related,
[Inaudible] would become Godmother to a lot of these important women. [Inaudible] cousin [Inaudible] ends up in this period being
married four times. And your first instinct
– well let me finish. She was married [Inaudible],
later [Inaudible]. And no doubt [Inaudible] hand was in
many of these marriage arrangements. So my first instinct when I saw this
was you know this woman is getting married four times in a
period of a very short time. So what’s going on, is she just
being thrown about in the system or is she doing this willingly
or what is it you know? So your first instinct is to think
they’re pawns, they are pawns in this political game and
they don’t have any say. But as I did my oral history
and interviews and talked to the women more,
I began to realize that if not the woman that’s
actually getting married, then a woman in the
family up higher, an older family exactly knew
what the political situation was, why the families were
being intermarried. Women were in the know and
actually part of the negotiation. And in this case also – it also in
a way, in a strange way also points to the value of the
women, their birthright and their family connections. They were in demand pretty much. And so this woman got married
four times in a very short period. [Inaudible] started strong
opposition particularly among Menilek’s officials and followers
whose privileged positions were threatened. [Inaudible] hoped to have [Inaudible]
Menilek’s daughter instead of [Inaudible] ascend the throne. Here’s [Inaudible] with
his father [Inaudible]. But she prepared for
both possibilities. [Inaudible] whom you see seated on
the ground the emperor’s grandson and desired heir was the son of Menilek’s daughter
[Inaudible] and [Inaudible]. Menilek’s early rival
turned ally in Wallo. Menilek’s chronicler records
that upon the occasion of [Inaudible] he was
still Ras at the time, proposal around 1884
Ethiopian calendar. The emperor was said to have
commented that [Inaudible] was like a son to him and he could
not marry his two children to each other. [Inaudible] response to
this is very interesting. She says Menilek’s
metaphoric ancestors in Israel would intermarry cousins and that this marriage would only be
a case of adding water to increase and whiten the milk and so
that decided the matter. In 1908 [Inaudible] saw another
important marriage alliance between [Inaudible] and
[Inaudible] that was designed to solve several problems. The bride’s ancestry as
granddaughter of Emperor Yohannes and the daughter of [Inaudible]
niece [Inaudible] served as a good pretext to
secure [Inaudible] presence at the imperial court. Also whether or not [Inaudible]
inherited the throne [Inaudible] princess would continue to
control political outcomes through this equally
sound family network. In addition, Menilek’s
loyalists would remain appeased as [Inaudible] would prevail as
the emperor’s intended successor. Both [Inaudible] were under 10 years
old and it’s also important to note that these were not – these
marriages were not made conjugal. They didn’t have – they
weren’t married in the sense that they were adult people and
were having sexual relations or anything like this. It was almost a betrothal and
an agreement at this young age that they would – when they reach
adulthood be married to each other. [Inaudible] were under 10
years old but the political and symbolic implication of
their union far surpassed its practicality. The second possibility offered
Empress Taytu equally sound channels of political control. Menilek’s daughter [Inaudible],
the widowed bride of [Inaudible], you’ll remember her from
before, [Inaudible] Yohannes, was at this time married to
[Inaudible] nephew [Inaudible]. He would act as regent of
the throne and administrator of the government the
way she calculated it and Empress Taytu would
have full access to power. As we know history had another
ending plan for Empress Taytu, she was Eventually removed from
government in 1910 and exiled from the palace after Emperor
Menilek’s death in 1913 until her own death five
years later in 1918. So you know the big take
away from me here was that women were actually conscious
actors in this political chess game. The unions were sometimes fragile; sometimes they completely
did not work. The women soldiered
on most of the time, sometimes they left their husbands. Actually in the oral
history research and the interviews
it’s very interesting to see how women are
extremely liberated. They – you know I am the one kind
of gawking in the background. “You married who and you left
who and how” and I’m the one who is completely indignant. And they’re like “Yeah, I
didn’t like him; I moved on. And I left the kids”
they’re very sort of liberal and you know I felt myself to be actually a lot more
worried than they were. So, but in conclusion I’d
say that the continuity of these family histories to
me, points a very essential link between their presence,
their collective presence and the crafting of empire. And in addition, to pointing
to a more sort of diplomatic and peaceful mechanism of the expanding Ethiopian state
one could raise new questions on identity women in power. And so the social history
of families in proximity to power was sort of the frame, the girdle on which the
entire state apparatus hung. So I’ll stop there
and see if you’re – if you might have questions
or thoughts. There might be folks here that
are actually family members of the people I mentioned,
so I’ll stop there and wait to hear from you guys. Thank you very much
for listening to me. [ Applause ] [ Inaudible Question ]>>Heran Sereke-Brhan:
So it’s a mixed thing. The women I got to interview, I did
most of my research in the 90’s, mid 90’s and they –
most of the women were in their 80’s at the time. At least one woman that I remember
very vividly, actually two were kind of – they were cognizant of what
was going on politically but still within that space, they could
make their own decisions. They got admonished, the
Emperor’s got involved, Emperor [Inaudible] also, you know
one of the women was a relative of his was actually
– he was quite upset that she had left the marriage, which had political
weight obviously. So he had her – I think he ordered
for her to have her hair shaved and you know so there
is repercussion. But even within that, I think
sometimes the women feel obligated to stay and sometimes – so it was
never the same kind of reaction. But sometimes the women felt like this is not my
life, so I can move on. So I got both kind of reactions. The alliance may have
collapsed, that’s interesting. I haven’t thought about
that, it may have. It may have or it may have
solidified enough at that point where the marriage you know,
was sort of secondary to the – it didn’t all rely on
the marriages obviously. But the marriages supported
and cemented what was doing on politically, but
that’s a good question. I should look at that more closely. Thank you. [ Inaudible Question ]>>Heran Serek-Brhan:
That’s actually yes. I would think that the models
existed before the imperial, building of the – the expansion of
the imperial center absolutely true. And [Inaudible] is
another of the women and even Menilek’s
first wife [Inaudible]. These are very powerful women
because of their birthright, because of their connections
and every time that you know there was a
threat to the [Inaudible], in this case the [Inaudible]
imperial center falling apart, the women start looking to marriage
to create these continuities so it’s just that I picked this time
period [Inaudible] is very important and the [Inaudible]
family that then comes into power is very
important part of the story. And I think for the women’s section
should be very, very important. There was definitely
precedence before Taytu, yes. Thank you. Good to see you too. Yes. [ Inaudible Question ]>>Heran Serek-Brhan: Okay
so are women still empowered and do the political
marriages still continue? My sense of it is towards the 1960,
70’s the process was complete. This process of marrying,
intermarrying, regional areas to the
political center. So by the Emperor [Inaudible]
granddaughters pretty much have the flexibility to marry
whomever, you know? I think that’s because the process
of bringing together the country through these intermarriages was in its own way complete,
that’s my sense of it. Women – when we talk about women in political it’s very hard still
even now after I’ve read all of this and tried to think about it to claim
that women were political actors, here and there they were officially, publically like Empress
Taytu and [Inaudible]. But it’s very hard –
so I think what we need to do is reverse the
question and look at different ways we can
see power being exercised. So it’s not are they in official
capacities because they’re seldom in official capacities, but they
were very important influential in the courts, the emperors, I
mean even in our recent history. For example [Inaudible] was very,
very you know kind of important in Emperor [Inaudible] court. It’s not something
[Inaudible] she has this office and she’s exercising this you
know, but decisions you know I see for example now I’m
reading [Inaudible] letters, [Inaudible] letters like a
big, big book of 600 pages. And you notice who are the
women that report into Menilek? I’ve gone from this
place to this place. I’ve arrived in this place. So that’s how you kind of get
to bring them into the story, is there were women that were in
very close touch with the emperor with the powerful men, and
that influence discussions that were happening. So it’s a very kind of tenuous
thread, but one has to follow that to bring them
into relief I think. [ Inaudible Question ]>>Heran Serek-Brhan: So I’ll
take the last question first. It manifested very much among all
Wallo, Gojjam, [Inaudible] a lot of different kinds of ethnic groups. The challenge I think for me,
and I’m hoping to publish this. It’s been many years and I’ve
been thinking about this, but it feels like now is
the right time to do it. But at the end of the day
what we can say for sure is that the power elite was
a very diverse group. But so what, how does
one measure that? What is the outcome of that? What does it do the
layering of identity? What does it do for our sense
of who are the Ethiopian rulers or even their own sense
of themselves? How does one measure that as something that’s
effective is a question. It’s still an outstanding
question for me. So, and then to backtrack the
marriages definitely there were some that did not work. And I think [Inaudible]
daughters marriage to [Inaudible] was very much
sort of the last act of trying to create continuity,
that just didn’t work. So there are times when it
fails and it fails miserably. But – and I suspect if we
were to push the story even into the current kind of
contemporary Ethiopian history that there are stories of
intermarriages of these people around power, families around power. I think that still
happens as an exercise. Possibly elsewhere too. I mean I don’t think it’s –
this is just for Ethiopia. But the challenges, definitely
the ethnic groups intermarried but I know when I questioned in the
interviews when I said something like for example I would talk to [Inaudible] you know
[Inaudible] or somebody. And I’d say “So did you think
about [Inaudible] roots, did you think about his ethnic”
that wasn’t a consideration. In honesty none of them said
that was a consideration. They would say “We would see
that he was from a good family”. So my sense is its more
class than even ethnicity that had any bearing at all. And he was from a good family, [Inaudible] the values were very
different and anyone seeking for an ethnic calculation
you wouldn’t find the answers to it at all, you know. But there was that layering, it
was important you know in a sense. Thank you. [ Inaudible ]>>Heran Sereke-Brhan: It’s
so hard to find documents or anything written really, but
you do – at least I can remember for example one example [Inaudible]
was married to Ras Mengesha who was very, very active in
pleading for her husband’s case when her husband was imprisoned. She basically convinced the
emperor in the end to let him go. So I think the documentation
is hard to find but I think they were very involved. Nothing happened that they were –
I mean it was really interesting, even interviewing the women was
harder than interviewing the men because they have a really strong
sense of history and politics in the past, but if there’s a man in
the room they’ll defer to the man. They won’t agree to being
interviewed, they’ll step away. If you push past that
and if you get there – in official positions and so on. They have the knowledge,
they have the tact, they have the configuration
and the balance. They know all about this but it’s
really hard to even in that – in the 1990’s to get women
to talk about it, you know? So that’s the challenge. I know they were utilized in
this way, they definitely were but how do you get to talk about it
and research it is a big challenge. [ Applause ]>>Heran Sereke-Brhan: Thank you
so much everybody for coming.>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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