The Plight of Iyasu and Ras Hailu of Gojjam
By: Solomon Kibriye
Date: 26 March 2003
Imperial Ethiopia Homepage
Lij Iyasu initial capture took 5 years for significant reasons. Firstly, he spent much of his time in the Afar lowlands, Tigray and parts of Wello which were hostile to forces of the central government, and who were sympathetic to him. Indeed it is believed that he spent considerable time hiding in the home of Ras Seyoum Mengesha. People had a deep respect for high position, and for a time this man had been the un-crowned Emperor Iyasu V, and the respect that people felt was his due prevented them from handing him over. He was the grandson and designated heir of Menelik II who the population remembered with deep fondness. The northerners also were thwarting the powers of Shewa who they believed were relegating northerners such as Empress Taitu Bitul and Ras Gugsa Welle (husband of Empress Zewditu and nephew of Empress Taitu) from power. When he was captured by Dejazmatch (later Ras) Gugsa Araya and his forces, it is significant that Dejazmatch Gugsa, the grandson of Emperor Yohannes IV, knelt on the ground and kissed Iyasu's feet before arresting him. That was the kind of respect people had for position in those days.
Lij Iyasu's death was announced shortly before the battle of Maychew. It was one of several reasons given for the uprising among the Raya and Azebo people of Wello who repeatedly attacked the Emperor and the Imperial army as they retreated from their defeat at Maychew. The circumstances of his death are a complete mystery. The passage of time, and the death of almost everyone who was in the position to know at the time may mean that this will be an enduring mystery. The date and cause of death were never made public and his place of burial have never been revealed. Rumours and legends abound, but none are backed by firm evidence. It is said that just weeks before the announcement of his death, Italian planes had dropped leaflets over Desse and Addis Ababa stating that Italy was there to remove the usurper from the throne and restore the rightful monarch Iyasu V to the throne of Solomon. Could this have hastened the death of Lij Iyasu? It may very well have.
Ras Hailu admitted to being guilty of helping Lij Iyasu escape from prison in open court, not to collaborating with Italy. For this crime he was condemned to death, but because he was a member of the Solomonic dynasty and the son of the great warrior hero of Adwa, Nigus Tekle Haimanot, the Emperor Haile Selassie commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, and all his property was seized instead. What happened was when Emperor Haile Selassie prepared to flee as the Italians approached Addis, he had two prominent prisoners brought to the train station and put on the train with him. They were Ras Hailu Tekle Haimanot and Dejazmatch Balcha Saffo (Abba Nefso). When the train reached Dire Dawa, he had them brought before him and told them that he was releasing them, and that he hoped that their love of their country would guide their actions. The aged Oromo born Dejazmatch Balcha who had a long standing contempt for Emperor Haile Selassie, had however a deep and devoted love for the late Emperor Menelik II, and a fierce love of his country. He left the train, formed a guerrilla force and fought the Italians valiantly until he was killed in a martyr's death. Ras Hailu however boarded a train back to Addis Ababa and was there to receive the Italians. He was recognized as the highest native noble in Italian East Africa, was given an allowance from the Italian Government. He led delegations of collaborating Ethiopian nobles on visits to Rome to pay homage to Mussolini and to King Vittorio Emmanuelle of Italy who was proclaimed Emperor of Ethiopia by the fascist regime.
He was active in trying to convince the three patriot fighter sons of Ras Kassa, Dejazmatch Wondwossen, Dejazmatch Abera and Dejazmatch Asfawossen, to surrender to the Italians (Wondwossen Kassa was his son-in-law). When they did surrender, the Italians murdered them. It is said Ras Kassa and Dejazmatch (later Ras) Asrate his surviving son never forgave Ras Hailu for this, although he probably did not know that the Italians intended on murdering the Dejazmatches. When Emperor Haile Selassie returned with British aid and crossed into Gojjam at Omedla at the head of Gideon Force, the Italians thought to dilute any Gojjam uprising by sending Ras Hailu to Debre Markos to oppose the Emperor. Always shrewd, Ras Hailu negotiated his surrender with the English, who prevailed on the Emperor to reluctantly accept him back. His surrender was considered crucial to the war effort in Gojjam as a good portion of the population still regarded him as their rightful prince, so the Emperor was persuaded with some difficulty, to swallow his anger.
Ras Hailu made public submission to Haile Selassie and gave him the brand new Alpha Romeo car the Italians had rewarded him with. At the same time Ras Hailu was able to secretly negotiate with Belay Zeleke (the great warrior resistance fighter of Gojjam) to allow the remaining Italian forces in Gojjam to escape into Shewa with all their weapons doing the fascists that last favour. The Emperor insisted that Ras Hailu come with him to Addis Ababa and ordered him to remain there. Ras Hailu was never put on trial for his collaboration with the Italians. He was confined to Addis Ababa and was not permitted to leave the city limits. He died a decade later in the 1950's of illness. He was always prevented from returning to Gojjam, confined to remain in Addis Ababa where he could be watched, but receiving all the honour and protocol of a Prince of the Imperial House. He received a state funeral as the son of a king and a prince of Gojjam when he died, and the entire Imperial Family attended his burial. He was always labelled a collaborator however, and was widely regarded as such by both resistance veterans and returned exiles.
From: Ethiopian Treasures
Many thanks Solomon for your contribution. Ethiopian Treasures value the effort and contribution you have made to this website immensely.
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