Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Role of Indian Craftsmen in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Ethiopian Palace, Church and Other Building

  • Richard Pankhurst


In Ethiopia the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth were of crucial importance. This period witnessed the rise of King, after 1889 Emperor, Menilek, founder of the modern Ethiopian state. He it was who established the presentcapital, Addis Ababa, in 1886–7, defeated an Italian colonial army at the battle of Adwain 1896, and between 1905 and 1910 established a number of modern institutions, including the first modern bank, school, hospital, roads and railway. A notable innovator, he was well content to utilise the skills of Indians, as well as other foreigners, for themodernisation of his age-old empire.



Hide All

1 Pankhurst, R., “Menilek and the utilisation of foreign skills”, Journal of Ethiopian Studies I (1967), pp. 2986.

2 Idem, “The history of Ethiopia's relations with India prior to the nineteenth century”, Accademia Nazionale, Problemi Attuali di Scienze e di Cultura, 191 (1974), pp. 281–9.

3 Family traditions kindly recalled by Hajji Khawas Khan's great-grandson Akbar Mohammed Kureisha, currently a resident of Addis Ababa.

4 Powell-Cotton, P. H. G., A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia (London, 1902), p. 169.

5 Sellasé, Gäbrä, Chronique du règne de Mé'né'lik II (Paris, 19301931), i, p. 211. For descriptions and photographs of the church, and references to its builders see Vignéras, S., Une mission fiançaise en Abyssinie (Paris, 1897), pp. 137–8.Vivian, H., Abyssinia (London, 1901), pp. 281–3;Mérab, , Impressions d'Éthiopie (Paris, 1922), ii, p. 195.

6 Pankhurst, , “Menilek and the utilisation of foreign skills”, p. 50.

7 For the reasons for the abandonment of Entotto see Pankhurst, R., History of Ethiopian Towns from the Mid-Nineteenth Century to 1935 (Stuttgart, 1985), pp. 176–7.

8 On the history of the town see Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Centenary of Addis Ababa,November 24–25, 1986,Addis Ababa, 1987.

9 Mérab, , op. cit., ii, p. 119.

10 Sellasé, Gäbrä, op. cit., ii, pp. 465–6. To judge by its style the neighbouring balustraded palace elfeñ, i.e. the Emperor's private quarters, were also of Indian construction. Photographs of this structure are reproduced in Vanderheym, J. G., Une expédition avec le négous Méné'lik (Paris, 1896), p. 63, d'Orléans, Henri, Une visite à l'empereur Ménélick (Paris, 1898), p. 199;Vivian, , op. cit., pp. 197, 202.

11 Gleichen, Count, With the Mission to Menelik (London, 1897), pp. 248–9.

12 Powell-Cotton, P. H. G., A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia (London, 1902), p. 118.

13 Mérab, , op. cit., ii, p. 111.

14 Duchesne-Fournet, J., Mission en Éthiopie (Paris, 1908), i, p. 180;de Bozas, R. Bourg, De la Mer Rouge à l'Atlantique (Paris, 1908), p. 210;De Castro, L., Nella terra dei Negus (Milan, 1915), i, p. 244. For early photographs of the structure see De Castro, i, Figs. 113 and 114.

15 Sellasé, Gäbrä, op. cit., ii, p. 496. See also Rey, C. F., In the Country of the Blue Nile (London, 1927), p. 71.

16 De Castro, , i, p. 244;Le Roux, H., Chez la reine de Saba (Paris, 1914), p. 106.

17 De Castro, , op. cit., i, p. 244.

18 Sellasé, Gäbrä, op. cit., ii, pp. 499500. An interesting illustrated history of the church (which does not, however, mention the Indian craftsmen's involvement) was later published by the church authorities. It is written in Amharic and English, and entitled Zéna Däbrä Seyon, Addis Aläm. Chronicles of Debre Seyon of Addis Alem (Addis Aläm, 1988).

19 Le Roux, , op. cit., pp. 106–7.

20 The priests at the church at Addis Alam, when interviewed by the present writer in 1991, were still familiar with the name of Wali Mohamed.

21 Public Record Office, F.O. 1/40, p. 173.

22 On the etymology of this term see Kane, T. L., Amharic-English Dictionary (Wiesbaden, 1900), i, p. 596.

23 Rosen, F., Eine deutsche Gesandtschaft in Abessinien (Leipzig, 1907), p. 291. See also Mérab, , op. cit., ii, p. 206.

24 Hajji Khawas Khan died early in 1905. He was reported by the British consular authorities in Ethiopia to have left “considerable movable and immovable landed property” in Addis Ababa (1,700 m2 in the market area) and at Aden. He also owned a large estate of 3 gaša or about 120 hectares, with 31 cows, 30 oxen, and 6 calves, at Furi, west of the Ethiopian capital, 1,500 m2 at Addis Aläm, 2,000 m2 at Holota, and another piece of land somewhere in Harargé. F.O. 1043/3·5. See also F.O. 1043/1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

25 Pankhurst, , “Menilek and the utilisation of foreign skills”, p. 50;Rey, , op. cit., p. 71. Traditions at this monastery are particularly weak, as the monks were all killed during the Italian Fascist occupation. Ethiopia, Ministry of Justice, Documents on Italian War Crimes (Addis Ababa, 1950), i, pp. 1820, 51–3, ii, pp. 1011.

26 Pankhurst, R., “A brief note on the Fascist murder of the monks and deacons of Däbrä Libanos”, Sociology, Ethnology Bulletin of Addis Ababa University I, 3 (1994), pp. 1213.

27 Annaratone, C., In Abissinia (Roma, 1914), pp. 151, 155;De Castro, , op. cit., i, pp. 214–17;Mérab, , op. cit., ii, pp. 104, 110–11.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed