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Colonial powers and Ethiopian frontiers 1880–1884 is the fourth volume of Acta Aethiopica, a series that presents original Ethiopian documents of nineteenth-century Ethiopian history with English translations and scholarly notes. The documents have been collected from dozens of archives in Africa and Europe to recover and present the Ethiopian voice in the history of Ethiopia in the nineteenth century. The present book, the first Acta Aethiopica volume to appear from Lund University Press, deals with how Ethiopian rulers related to colonial powers in their attempts to open Ethiopia for trade and technological development while preserving the integrity and independence of their country. In addition to the correspondence and treatises with the rulers and representatives of Italy, Egypt and Great Britain, the volume also presents letters dealing with ecclesiastical issues, including the Ethiopian community in Jerusalem.
The letters of 1882 include a number related to internal conflicts between regional rulers and opposition to the Emperor. They also contain documents related to the struggle between Egypt and the colonial powers for control over the Gulf and the trade routes, and the increasing involvement of the most important ruler in the area, the Sultan of Awsa, Maḥammad Ḥanfadhē. The documents include the first letter by an Ethiopian ruler written in a European language.
The documents from 1883 are strongly dominated by correspondence between local rulers along the coast and in Danakil and the representatives of the Italian government. The most important documents are the treaties between Italy and Awsa and Italy and Shewa, clearly revealing the interdependence between the rulers of Shewa and the rulers of the Danakil, the basic issue being secure and free trade routes and Italian hegemony over other European interests. A number of letters from Emperor Yohannis to European rulers show the increasing Ethiopian impatience with continued European support for Egypt after its defeat in the wars of the 1870s, and an interesting letter demonstrates the Emperor’s concern over the growing cooperation between King Minīlik and the Italians.
The most important documents of the year 1884 are the letters from Emperor Yohannis to Queen Victoria and her representatives and the so-called Hewett treaty of 7 June 1884, which finally ended the Ethio-Egyptian war that had started in 1875. Several documents from this year reveal the strong relations between Italy and Shewa, the role of Count Pietro Antonelli, and the tensions created by these leading up to the famous Wichale treaty and the subsequent Italian attempt to conquer Ethiopia. Other documents relate to an increased French presence in the Gulf, including a number of rather suspect so-called agreements, eventually leading up to the French colony of Djibouti.
A variety of matters are dealt with in the documents of the year 1880, but two issues receive special attention. The first issue is the attempts made by the Italian government and its representatives to secure and expand their settlement at Aseb by means of agreements with local rulers, many of which seem to lack proper documentation on the Ethiopian part. The second issue is found in letters that deal with the problems of identifying the purposes and roles of European explorers and their respective fate, in particular the arrest of Giovanni Chiarini and Antonio Cecchi, as well as the death of the former and the release of the latter.
Among the issues treated in the documents of 1881, the two most important are, first, the attempts made by Emperor Yohannis to define the borders of his country: these attempts involve Gerhard Rohlfs as German arbitrator, his mission to Egypt to obtain new bishops for Ethiopia, and his engagement on behalf of the Ethiopian community in Jerusalem. The second important issue is King Minīlik’s increasing attempts at an independent foreign policy and control over the increasing Italian interests in Ethiopia, documented in his letters to King Umberto of Italy. The increasing role of the import of arms for the Ethiopian rulers is also clearly visible.