Mikael of Wollo

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Mikael of Wollo
Mikael Ali (Mohamed Ali). King of Wollo.jpg
Ras of Wollo
Monarch Yohannes IV
Menelik II
Negus of Abyssinia
Monarch Iyasu V
Personal details
Mohammed Ali

Wollo, Ethiopian Empire
Died 8 September 1918(aged 68 years)
Holeta Genet, Ethiopian Empire
Nationality Ethiopian
Relations Ali Abba Bula, Getie
Children Iyasu V
Occupation Military Officer, Diplomat, Court Official
Military service
Allegiance  Ethiopian Empire
Battles/wars Gojjam

Mikael of Wollo (1850 – 8 September 1918), born Imam Mohammed Ali,[1] was an army commander and a member of the nobility of the Ethiopian Empire. He was the father of the "uncrowned" Emperor Iyasu V. He changed his name to Mikael upon converting to Christianity.


Mohammed Ali was born in Wollo. His father was Imam Ali Abba Bula, and his mother was Wollo Amhara Woizero Getie (from Warrahimano).

Ras Mohammed Ali was a relative of Queen Worqitu of Wollo.[2] Worqitu had befriended the young Shewan Prince named Menelik and helped him in his escape from Emperor Tewodros II who was holding him hostage in Makdala.

Mohammed Ali became a close friend of Menelik who was six years older than he was, and was shortly to be proclaimed King of Shewa. In time, Menelik was proclaimed Emperor Menelik II and Ras Mohammed Ali became one of his loyal supporters. As a result, by 1874 Menelik appointed Mohammed Ali as governor of Wollo.[2] However, when Ras Mohammed returned to Wollo from a campaign with Menelik in Gojjam, he found his position threatened by an anti-Shewan revolt. He decided to forsake his friend to maintain his power base and sided with Yohannes IV, who was about to march on Shewa and likely to defeat Menelik.

Emperor Yohannes forced Menelik to submit to him on 20 March 1878, which included transferring Ras Mohammed Ali's allegiance from Menelik to Yohannes. Later that year, the Council of Boru Meda, held under the directions of Emperor Yohannes, forced all muslims holding office in Wollo to convert to Christianity within three months or renounce their positions. "Having concluded that Wollo was worth a mass," Marcus claims, "Mohammad Ali led his people to Christianity." Nevertheless, while some of the elite leaders of Wollo converted to Christianity, the vast majority of the Muslim populace of Wollo refused to convert. While he was baptized with the name "Mikael" and became a Ras (equivalent to "Duke"), many of his fellow Wollo Amhara and Oromo refused to forsake their faith and left for sanctuary in Metemma, Jimma, and Harar.[3] Emperor Yohannes IV stood as his godfather at his baptism. Ras Mikael of Wollo, as he was now known, eventually would marry Shoaregga Menelik,[nb 1] Menelik's natural daughter, becoming the third of his four wives. Mikael founded Dessie, the first town in Wollo and its new capital. It is claimed that Ras Mikael became a deeply devout Orthodox Christian, and a dedicated builder of churches.

In 1896, during the First Italo-Ethiopian War, Ras Mikael fought with Menelik and led the feared Oromo cavalry against the invading Italians at the Battle of Adwa. An Italian brigade began a fighting retreat towards the main Italian positions. However, the brigade inadvertently marched into a narrow valley where Mikael's cavalry slaughtered them while shouting "Reap! Reap!" (Ebalgume! Ebalgume!). The remains of the brigade's commander were never found.[4]

Following Menelik's death in 1913, Mikael's son, Lij Iyasu, ascended as Iyasu V. Per Menelik's wishes, Ras Tessema Nadew became the Regent for Menelik's 18-year-old grandson. However, that same year, Tessema Nadew died. While Iyasu was now on his own, he was never fully accepted. More importantly, he was never formally crowned Emperor. However, on the instructions of Iyasu, his father Mikael was anointed Negus or king. Negus Mikael then became the power behind the throne.[5]

During World War I, concerns arose over Iyasu's ties to the Central Powers, over his possible support for Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, and over his potential conversion to Islam. In response to these concerns, on 27 September 1916, Iyasu was deposed by a council of nobles and high clergy, and Mikael's sister-in-law, Woizero Zewditu, was pronounced Negiste Negest ("Queen of Kings") Zewditu I. Zewditu was another of Menelik's daughters, and at the same time that she was made Empress, the council also proclaimed as Regent and Heir to the Throne, young Ras Tafari Makonnen, the future Emperor Haile Selassie I. The new Regent and Heir Ras Tafari was married to Woizero (later Empress) Menen Asfaw, a granddaughter of Negus Mikael by his daughter Woizero Sehin Mikael.

Negus Mikael's response to Iyasu being deposed was swift. On 7 October, Mikael set out from Wollo at the head of an army of 80,000 men to invade Shewa and to reinstate his son; Iyasu would join him there with an army of his own. On 27 October, Negus Mikael confronted the main body of the forces supporting Zewditu in the Battle of Segale. Mikael attacked first, but ammunition for his machine guns ran out early and his artillery was silenced quickly. His infantry and cavalry assaults ran directly into the murderous fire of an enemy ready for his attacks.[6] Iyasu was detoured on his way to the battlefield and arrived too late to help. He was only able to see that his father was defeated, and fled the battlefield and went into hiding.[7] Mikael was captured and put under the supervision of Fitawrari ("Commander of the Vanguard") Habte Giyorgis, who confined on an island in Lake Chabo in Gurageland. After two and a half years, Mikael successfully petitioned to Empress Zewditu to be moved from the island, and he was put under house arrest at Holeta Genet at a former country home of the late Emperor Menelik II, where he died six months later.[8] As the grandfather of the wife of the Crown Prince, the court went into full mourning for Negus Mikael.

See also


  1. ^ Also spelled "Shewa Regga".
  1. ^ Royal Ark
  2. ^ a b Harold G. Marcus, The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopia 1844-1913 (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1995), p. 35
  3. ^ Marcus, Menelik II, p. 58
  4. ^ George Fitz-Hardinge Berkeley, Campaign of Adowa (1902), quoted in Lewis, Fashoda, p. 118.
  5. ^ Mockler, Haile Sellassie's War (New York: Olive Branch Press, 2002), p. 385
  6. ^ Gebre-Igziabiher Elyas, Prowess, Piety, and Politics: The Chronicle of Abeto Iyasu and Empress Zewditu of Ethiopia (1909-1930), translated by Edward Molvaer (Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 1994), pp. 372-375
  7. ^ Harold G. Marcus, Haile Sellassie I the Formative years: 1892-1936 (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1996), pp. 25f
  8. ^ Gebre-Igzabiher Elyas, Chronicle, pp. 400f


Media related to Negus Mikael of Wollo at Wikimedia Commons

  • Mockler, Anthony (2002). Haile Sellassie's War. New York: Olive Branch Press. ISBN 978-1-56656-473-1.
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