Ethiopia Engraved

When European travellers and writers came to Ethiopia before the age of photography, the made engravings of what they saw. Richard Pankhurst and Leila Ingrams collected these engravings, from 1540 to 1900, and published them in "Ethiopia Engraved: An Illustrated Catalogue of Engravings by Foreign Travellers from 1681 to 1900" (1988). The period following this time period also has a collection, "Ethiopia Photographed".

This book is divided into sections of location (Aksumite Origins and Christian Churches; Gondar; Adwa, Dabra Tabor and Other Towns of the North and North-West; Shawa and its Towns; Harar; Massawa and the Gulf of Aden Ports; Eritrea) people (Tewodros; Yohannes; Menilek and Taytu) and some categories (Scenery of the North; Wildlife of Ethiopia; the Travellers and the Artists; Ethnography, Geography and History; Birds, Butterflies, Fauna, Fish, Flora and Reptiles). The book provides glimpses into the past. It also highlights how engravings are also artistic renditions, in this case of European views of Ethiopia. Romanticized and idealized or exaggerated. In other cases, the engravings look much like things can see today, such a scenery portraits and buildings.

An excellent collection for those interested in Ethiopian history.

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Ethiopia Photographed (1867-1935)

Richard Pankhurst and Denis Gerard are well known to Ethiopians and those interested in Ethiopia. One of the many publications in their names, is "Ethiopia Photographed: Historic Photographs of the Country and its People Taken between 1967 and 1935" (1996). The book has a brief historical introduction, and it followed by hundreds of photographs spread over 168 pages, each with short descriptions.

The book has six sections: (1) Historic Personalities: From Tewodros to Haile Sellassie, (2) Historic Towns: North, South, East and West, (3) Addis Ababa: the "New Flower", (4) Economic, Social and Cultural Life: Tradition and Diversity, (5) Innovation and Modernization, and (6) Preparing to Resist the Impending Invasion.

For those who have spent time reading about Ethiopian history, this book provides imagery to color the narratives. Photographs have their own biases; who takes them, who gets photographed, which areas are represented and which are not, and so forth. Given these limitation, the book is an excellent and unique collection.

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The History of Famine and Epidemics in Ethiopia

Richard Pankhurst made significant contributions to the study of history in Ethiopia (see a listing of some of his works here). In this book, "The History of Famine and Epidemics in Ethiopia Prior to the Twentieth Century" (1985), published by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, Richard Pankhurst brings together a series of others works:

  1. The Great Ethiopian Famine of 1889-92 (1961) University College Review
  2. The Great Ethiopian Famine of 1888-92: A New Assessment (1966) Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
  3. The History of Famine and Pestilence in Ethiopia Prior to the Founding of Gondar (1972) Ethiopian Medical Journal
  4. The Earliest History of Famine and Pestilence in Ethiopia (1973) Ethiopian Medical Journal
  5. Introduction to the Economic History of Ethiopia (1961)
  6. Economic History of Ethiopia 1800-1935 (1968)

What I liked from the book is the clear outline of the complex interaction of factors that result in famine and epidemic. Rarely is it ever a single factor. This approach may have been more common in historical works than in development studies in decades past. Pankhurst outlines how in the 1888-92 famine, the first factor was animal disease, which contributed to agricultural failure as fields could not be plowed. The failure of rains also contributed to poor agricultural yields and a hot and dry season resulted in more locust, which compounded the losses. As famine struck, prices for all food commodities rose, deepening the food insecurity situation. As people began to die, poor sanitation resulted in the spread of human disease, and further loss of human life.

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The History of the Ethiopian Army

Richard Pankhurst made innumerable contributions to the history of Ethiopia. I found an original copy of "An Introduction fo the History of the Ethiopian Army", published by the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force, 101st Training Centre, in 1967. The Forward (of only 2 pages) by Colonel Aberra Wolde Mariam provide interesting insight into the thinking of the Ethiopian Military of the time, such as his comment that "no amount of technical skill and professional competence will win a war or achieve any worthwhile purpose unless it is coupled with that genuine pride and strong faith which alone is the driving force capable of stirring on to action despite insurmountable difficulties."

The book is 183 pages. A small portion (p. 3-17) covers the ancient and medieval times, followed be larger chapters on the army in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (p. 18-60) and the history of firearms (p. 61-147). A concluding chapter speaks about the effects of war (p. 148-183). The book contains a large number of endnotes for each chapter, which Pankhurst says are largely for the benefit of students and historians who want to pursue the matters discussed in greater detail. As Pankhurst books are known for, the book is detailed and offers an immense about of detail otherwise extremely difficult to locate.

A few notes from the text:

  • "Traditionally the soldiers did not constitute a separate section of the population, but were ordinary citizens mobilized by their rulers in time of need. Alvares, describing the set-up in the sixteenth century, noted that many lords, courtiers and even minor functionaries, such as trumpeteers, received grants of land in return for their service, while Almeida declared: "So that they should follow soldiering and continue to do so the Emperor grants them the lands on which they live and and which they enjoy in as much as they serve him. As soon as they fail him he gives the land to others"." (p. 7)
  • "The institution of war, as we have seen, played an important role in the economic and social life of Ethiopia in traditional times. Fighting against internal or external enemies was a frequent occurrence and involved very large armies, often composed of fifty or a hundred thousand men with numerous camp followers. The fact that the soldiers were unpaid meant that they were obliged to requisition or loot whatever they required from the countries through which they passed, irrespective of whether the inhabitants were friends or foes." (p. 148)
  • "The result, Pearce says, was that "the people... never know when their persons or property are safe, on which account they are obliged to repair to the habitations of their chief on holydays, some presenting bread, butter, honey, and corn, and others a goat, sheep, or fowls, to keep in favour, and to prevent him from sending his soldiers to live upon their premises." Though legal redress was often outside their power, perhaps for that very reason, the peasants showed great ingenuity in protecting themselves from the soldiers' rapacity. Peasantry and soldiery were in fact often engaged in a ceaseless battle of wits. "It is custom," Pearce relates, "for the inhabitants of the villages to have gudgauds, large pits under-ground, plastered within with cowdung and mud, and having the mouth very narrow, some of which are made to hold forty or fifty churns or corn, between three and four hundred English bushels." (p. 149)
  • Wylde explained that they [soldiers] seemed to increase their demands in areas of better cultivation, particularly where irrigation was practised: "Very often," he says, "the soldiers when they are on the march and cannot procure supplies from the natives, break down the slight banks of the channels, and in a few minutes destroy the labour of perhaps many days. Knowing what will happen if they do not give supplies, the peasants are most easily imposed upon, and the soldiers, when going through a country that depends upon irrigation for summer crops, always demand more from the people than in other places"." (p. 170) 
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