Home >> Encyclopedia-britannica-volume-01-a-anno >> Abhidhamma to Acanthocephala >> Abyssinia Administration andIndustry

Abyssinia - Administration and Industry


ABYSSINIA - ADMINISTRATION AND INDUSTRY Provinces and Towns.--The ancient provincial divisions of Abyssinia (Amhara, Tigre, Gojam, Shoa, etc.) are for the most part now mere geographical expressions, having been broken up into smaller governorships with the exception of the ancient king dom of Goj jam, enclosed by the great bend of the Abbai, which is still a single governorship. The more important provinces number about 20, of which may be mentioned : Gojam, North and South Tigre, Bagemdir, Harar, Salale, Waag and Lasta and Jimma. Each is divided into sub-districts and further subdivided into groups of villages. With the exception of the capital, Addis Ababa (q.v.), Harar, and Diredawa, there are no towns of any size in Abyssinia. Centuries of almost continual warfare between the provinces help to account for the absence of large towns; also royal residences have changed frequently on exhaustion of fuel supplies. The earliest capital appears to have been Aksum (q.v.), in Tigre, where there are extensive ruins. Gondar in Amhara was the capital from the middle ages to the middle of the i9th century. Addis Ababa in Shoa, the capital since 1892, has about 70,000 inhabitants, Diredawa 30,00o and Harar 40,000.

None of the other towns has a permanent population exceeding 6,000 to io,000, but several have large periodic markets. In Tigre are AcluWa (I7m. E. by N. of Aksum), Aksum, Adigrat, Makale and Antalo. The three last are near the eastern escarpment of the high plateau on the direct road South from Massawa to Shoa. West of Adigrat is the monastery of Debra-Damo, a most cele brated sanctuary.

In Amhara are Magdala (q.v.), formerly the residence of King Theodore, and the place of imprisonment of the British captives in i866; Debra-Tabor ("Mount Tabor"), the chief royal residence under King John in a strong strategic position, over looks the fertile plain east of Lake Tana ab6ut 8,62oft. above sea. Amba-Mariam, a fortified station midway between Gondar and Debra-Tabor near the north-east side of Lake Tana, with a population of 3,000, has the famous shrine and church dedicated to St. Mary, whence the name Mandera-Mariam ("Mary's Rest"). It was a royal residence, and is an important market and place of pilgrimage, a few iniles south-west of Debra-Tabor; Sokota, a great central market, capital of Waag, is at the con vergence of several main routes. Iii Shoa are: Ankober, formerly the capital of the kingdom, Debra-Birban ("Mountain of Light"), once a royal residence; Liche (Litche), one of the largest market towns in the south. Lfeka, the largest market in Gallaland, com municates direct with Gojam, Shoa and other parts of the empire. Anderacha, the commercial centre of Kaffa, and Jiren, capital of the neighbouring province of jimma, attract traders from surrounding provinces.


There is a single line of railway from Jibuti to Addis Ababa (486m.) but, outside the capital, there are no roads for wheeled traffic. Transport is by mules, donkeys, pack-horses and (in the lower regions) camels. Telegraph lines connect Addis Ababa and several important towns of the North with Massawa, Harar and Jibuti. There is also a telephonic.

service, but outside Addis Ababa, the capital, it is subject to fre quent interruption.


The soil is exceedingly fertile and agriculture is extensively followed; in the lower regions maize, durra, wheat, barley, rye, teff, pease, cotton and sugar-cane are grown. Teff, a kind of millet with pinhead grains, is the common bread grain. The low grounds also produce a grain, tocussa, from which black bread is made. Certain oleaginous plants, the suf, nuc and selite (no European equivalents for the native names), and the ground nut, are largely grown. The castor bean grows wild, the green castor in the low, damp regions, the red castor at medium alti tudes. The kat plant, a medicinal tonic, is largely grown in Harar province. On the higher plateaus the chief crops are wheat, barley, teff, peppers, vegetables of all kinds and coffee. Above 20,000ft. one finds barley, oats, beans and occasionally wheat. Of all cereals teff and barley are the most widely and generally grown. In the high plateaus sowing begins in May, in the lower plateaus and the plains in June, but where the summer is long and rain abundant sowing and reaping are going on at the same time. Most regions yield two, many three, crops a year.


The land is admirably adapted for stock raising; enor mous herds of cattle estimated at from 20 to 25 million head are found in Abyssinia, of which the most remarkable are the immensely long horned Sanga or Galla oxen. Most cattle are of the zebu or hump-backed variety, but there are also two breeds— one large, the other resembling the Jersey cattle—which are straight-backed. Sheep, of which there are also immense flocks, belong to the short and fat-tailed variety. The majority are not wool-bearing, but in one district a very small black sheep is raised for wool. The small mountain breed of sheep weigh no more than 20 to 301b. apiece. Goats are of both the long and short-haired varieties, those from the Arusi Galla country having fine silky hair sometimes 26in. long. Large quantities of butter, generally rancid, are made from the milk of cows, goats and sheep. In the Leka province small black pigs are bred in considerable numbers. The horses (very numerous) are strong and only about 14 hands high. The best breeds come from the Shoa uplands. The ass is also small and strong; and the mule, bred in large numbers, is of excellent quality, and, both as a transport animal and as a mount, is preferred to the horse. The mule, which averages 12 hands, thrives in every condition of climate, is fever-proof, travels over the most difficult mountain passes with absolute security and carries a load of from 150 to 2oolb.


In the south and west provinces placer gold mines along the water-courses are worked by Gallas as an industry subsidiary to tending their flocks and fields. In the Wallega dis trict veins of gold-bearing quartz and finds of platinum have been reported. Iron, coal, potash and other minerals are found. Rock-salt is obtained from the province of Tigre.

Trade and Currency.

The small progress in the economic and commercial development may be attributed to disturbed political conditions (until quite recently), the lack of communi cations, bad methods of taxation, suspicion of foreign enterprise and currency difficulties. Some European commercial enterprises have been started and there are indications that the Government will be able to give more sympathetic attention in the future to this. A Belgian company has acquired the alcohol monopoly, but is meeting with great difficulties; a Franco-Belgian company has been formed for cotton cultivation, two )3elgian companies are developing large coffee plantations in addition to a few small er undertakings. Banking is a monopoly of the Bank of Abys sinia (a branch of the National Bank of Egypt) under charter of Emperor Menelek.

The total trade approximates £2,500,000 annually. The chief exports are coffee and hides, and the principal imports, salt, cotton fabrics and hardware. The main channel of trade is the Franco-Ethiopian railway, from Addis Ababa to the port of Jibuti in French Somaliland. The principal trade routes with the Sudan are via Gambela, Gallabat and Roseires. Other trade routes are through the Italian colony of Eritrea to Massawa, and through Harar to Berbera in British Somaliland. The cur rency is the Maria Theresa and Menelek dollars of a nominal value of about 2S., but in parts of the country bars of salt or even cartridges are used.


The political institutions are of a feudal character, and within their provinces the rases and other chiefs exercise large powers. The empress and regent have a number of ministers and a council of elders of the Crown. The legal system (Feta Negast) is a strange combination of various origins based on the Mosaic Code, the chief judicial officer being known as the Afa Negus (breath of the king). From all decisions there is an appeal to the throne. The powerful Church (q.v.) is pre sided over by the Abuna, always a Copt nominated from Egypt. The priests, an ignorant body, teach the scriptures in Giz, a tongue understood by very few. Apart from this and two schools in Addis Ababa, for which a few European teachers have been introduced, education is practi cally non-existent. The Abyssin ian calendar divides the year into 12 months of 3o days each, fol lowed by one month of five days (six in leap year). The year begins on ist Maskaram, our Sept. 11 (12 in the European year preceding our leap year) and is then seven years behind the European year; from Jan.

to Sept. 20 it is eight years be hind. The land is not held in fee simple but is subject to the con trol of the throne or the church.

Revenue is derived from a 20% customs duty on imports, and from a levy on all forms of pro ductions; but as the provincial governors receive no salaries the receipts of the central Govern ment are subject consequently to fluctuations. (C. F. R.) Defence.—The early history of Abyssinia was marked by the struggles of an early Christian community against pagan and Mohammedan invaders. Early Portuguese records (152o-27) contain some entries of military interest. King Theodore (h. 1818) first conceived the idea of organizing an Abyssinian army on European lines. His power was broken in 1868 by an expedi tion under Lord Napier of Magdala, sent to the succour of Eur opeans whom he had made prisoner. (See also EGYPT AND SUDAN, CAMPAIGNS IN, 1882-1899). In March 1896 Theodore's successor Menelek successfully defended the country against an Italian in vading force, 200,000 men having responded to his call to arms. In time of war every able-bodied Abyssinian is expected to serve. According to recent estimates, about 250,000-300,000 Abyssin ians (including a small standing army) could be equipped with modern rifles ; but lack of commissariat would prevent a large force from keeping the field long. From 1890 onwards various expedients have been adopted ineffectively by the European Powers to limit the import of arms. The co-operation of Abys sinia, which joined the League of Nations in 1923, is now being sought (1928).

Under the terms of a treaty concluded in May 2902 an area near Itang (Baro river) bordering the Sudan cannot be used for any military purpose (State Papers, vol. 95, p. 467). (G. G. A.)

capital, european, addis, ababa and harar