ABYSSINIA (officially Ethiopia), an inland country and empire of North-east Africa lying, chiefly, between 5° and 15° N. and 35° and E. It is bounded on the north by Eritrea (Italian), on the west by the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, on the south-west and south by Uganda and Kenya, on the south-east and east by British, Italian and French Somaliland. The coast lands in European hands, which cut off Abyssinia from access to the sea, vary in width from 4o to 250 miles and are narrowest on the north-east border near the Red Sea. Abyssinia in the north is 23orn. east to west, but is 9oom. wide along latitude 9° N., and resembles a triangle with apex north. It is divided into Abyssinia proper (i.e., the old Ethiopian empire consisting of Tigre, Amhara, Gojam and part of Shoa) with the south west Galla highlands and the remainder of Shoa all forming a geographical unit—and cut off from it by the great Rift valley— and the Somaliland plateau with Harar: nearly all this country being surrounded by tracts of low-lying desert. The area of the whole State is about 35o,000sq.m., of which Abyssinian Somaliland covers about a third. Pop. estimated at about 5,500,00o.
The uplands usually slope north-west and nearly all the large rivers flow to the Nile ; the Takkaze in the north, the Abbai in the centre, and the Sobat in the south make up four-fifths of the entire drainage. The rest is carried off almost due north by the Khor Baraka, which occasionally reaches the Red Sea south of Suakin, by the Hawash, which runs out in the salt lake area near the head of Tajura Bay; by the Webi Shibeli and Juba, which flow south-east through Somaliland, though the Shibeli fails to reach the Indian ocean ; and by the Omo, the main feeder of the closed basin of Lake Rudolf. The Takkaze, the true upper course of the Atbara, falls from about 7,000ft. in the central tableland to 2,5ooft. in the tremendous crevasse through which it sweeps west, north, and west again, to the western terraces and the Sudan. During the rains the Takkaze (i.e., the "Terrible") rises some i8ft. above its normal level, and at this time forms an impassable barrier between the northern and central provinces. Lower down, the river has the Arab name Setit. The Setit is joined (i4° io'N., 36°E.) by the Atbara, formed by several streams of the mountains west and north-west of Lake Tana. The Gash or Mareb is the most northerly Abyssinian river flowing towards the Nile. It rises on the landward side of the eastern escarpment within 5o miles of Annesley Bay on the Red Sea, and reaches the Sudan near Kassala to lose itself in the sandy plain. The Mareb is dry for a great part of the year, but like the Takkaze has sudden freshets during rains. Only the left bank of the upper course of the river is in Abyssinian territory, the Mareb here forming the boundary between Eritrea and Abyssinia.
The Abbai or Blue Nile has its source near Mt. Denguiza in the Gojam highlands (about I ON. and 37°E.) and first flows for 7om. nearly due north to the south side of Lake Tana (q.v.), through which it runs for some 20 miles and, escaping by a deep crevasse, bends in a great semicircle, east, south and north-west, the reverse of that of the Takkaze, down to the plains of Sennar. The Abbai has many perennial tributaries, of which the principal are the Bashilo, the Jamma, the Muger, the Gudiv, the Didessa, largest of all, and the Yabus. The right-hand tributaries, rising mostly on the western sides of the plateau, have steep slopes and are generally torrential; the Bolassa is perennial, and the Rahad and the Dinder are important in flood-time.
In the mountains and plateaux of Kaffa and Galla in south-west Abyssinia rise the chief affluents of the Sobat tributary of the Nile. The Akobo joins the Pibor, which unites with the Baro to form the Sobat. These rivers (which form for 25om. the west or south-west frontiers of Abyssinia) descend in great falls, and like other Abyssinian streams are unnavigable in their upper courses. The Baro on reaching the plain affords, however, an open water way to the Nile (see NILE, SOGAT, and SUDAN).
The chief eastward river is the Hawash, rising in the Shoan uplands and bending first south-east and then north-east. It reaches the Afar (Danakil) lowlands through a broad breach in the eastern escarpment of the plateau, where it is nearly goof t. wide and 4f t. deep, even in the dry season, and during the floods rises 50 or 6oft. above low-water mark, thus inundating the plains for many miles along both its banks. Yet it fails to reach the coast and after a winding course of about 5oom. is lost near Lake Aussa, some 6o or 7om. from the head of Tajura Bay. From Shoa south-west to Lake Rudolf extends a chain of lovely upland lakes, some fresh, some brackish, some completely closed, others connected by short channels, the chief links in their order from north to south being:— Zwai, communicating southwards with Hora Abyata, which connects with Langana, all in the Arusi Galla territory; then Shala and Awusa; farther south Abaya (Margherita) with an outlet to a smaller tarn, Chamo, in the romantic Baroda and Gamo districts, skirted on the west by grassy slopes and wooded ranges (6,000 to nearly 9,000ft.); lastly, in the Asille country, Lake Stefanie, the Chuwaha of the natives, completely closed and about i,800ft. above sea. To the same system obviously belongs the neighbouring Lake Rudolf (q.v.), larger than all the rest together. This lake receives at its northern end (r,800ft. above sea level) the waters of the Omo, a rapid and unnavigable perennial stream with many affluents, rising in the Shoa highlands and falling 6,000ft. in its course of 37om. The chief rivers of Somaliland (q.v.), Webi Shibeli and Juba (q.v.), rise on the south-eastern slopes of the Abyssinian escarpment and most of their course is through Abyssinian territory.
Geology The East African tableland is continued into Abyssinia, the following formations being represented : Archaean.—Metamorphic rocks, the main mass of the table land, are exposed in every deep valley in Tigre and along the Blue Nile. Mica schists are most prevalent. Hornblende schists also occur and a compact felspathic rock in the Suris defile. The foliae of the schists strike north and south.
The incidence of the rains varies slightly in different parts of the country, the rain moving from north to south; the average annual rainfall at Addis Ababa over a period of 25 years amounted to I,200MM. ; it is on the whole rather lighter in the north. The rainy season is of great importance not only to Abyssinia but to the countries of the Nile valley, as the pros perity of the eastern Sudan and Egypt is largely dependent upon the Abyssinian rainfall.
Elephant and rhinoceros are found in low-lying districts, especially in the Sobat valley. The hippopotamus and crocodile inhabit many of the rivers and lakes, in some of which otters of large size are plentiful. Lions abound in the low countries and in Somaliland. Leopards, spotted and black, are numerous and often large ; hyaenas are found everywhere and are hardy and fierce; lynx, wolf, wild dog and jackal are also common. Boars and badgers are more rarely seen. The giraffe is found in the west; the zebra and wild ass frequent the lower plateaux and the rocky hills of the north. Antelopes and gazelles of many varieties are numerous in most parts and include greater and lesser kudu (both rather rare), onyx, duiker, gemsbuck, hartebeest, gerenuk (the most common---it has long thin legs and a camel-like neck), klip-springer, found on the high plateaus as well as in the lower districts, and the dik-dik, the smallest of the antelopes, rarely over 10 lb., common in the low countries and the foothills. The rarest of all these is the nyala. The civet is found in many parts but chiefly in the Galla regions. Squirrels and hares, monkeys, notably the guereza, gelada, guenon and dog-faced baboon, range abundantly from the warm lowlands to heights of i o,000ft. Eagles, vultures, hawks, bustards and other birds of prey, par tridges, duck, teal, guinea-fowl, sand-grouse, curlews, woodcock, snipe, pigeons, thrushes and swallows are very plentiful. A fine variety of ostrich is common. Among birds prized for plumage are the marabout, crane, heron, blackbird, parrot, jay, and many sun-birds of extraordinary brilliance. Serpents are not numerous but several are poisonous. The bee's honey is an important part of the people's food. The locust is a pest. There are thousands of varieties of butterflies and other insects.