By Nii B. Andrews.

The Battle of Adwa (also called Adowa and Adua) was fought over two days (1st / 2nd March) between Ethiopian forces under Emperor Menelik II and invading Italian forces.

It was the deciding battle in the First Italo-Ethiopian war and a turning point in modern African history with a European colonial power being decisively crushed on the battlefield leading to regime change in Italy.

For the Ethiopian scholar, Yirga Gelaw Woldeyes: “Adwa still stands as witness to what ordinary Africans can do when they come together as farmers, pastoralists, women and rural people, workers and artists.

They are able to score a decisive victory against global colonialist forces.”

***The Battle of Adwa, 1896; Unknown artist; “paint” on canvas, 86 x 192 cm; courtesy Horniman Museum and Gardens, purchased 1972 ***

Aided yet again by the British imperialists, the Italians had moved quickly to annex Ethiopia at a time (1888 – 1892) when the country was being ravaged by famine and disease.

Ninety percent of Ethiopia’s livestock had been decimated by rinderpest – a viral disease, and 30% of the human population was dead.

A peace treaty signed between Italy and the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik was marred by treachery and duplicity in the text: the Italian and Amhraic versions were different.

Menelik ordered a total national mobilisation and ensured its effective implementation with smart logistics and propaganda.

****HEAD OF A GENIUS/MATTER: George Afedzi-Hughes, Mixed Media on canvas, 162 x 162 cm, signed and dated lower left corner, 1999. Private collection; illustrated AFRICAN ARTS, Spring 2001*****

He pitched it as a battle in defence of family, country and religion in which every Ethiopian was to take part physically or spiritually.

The final battle – Adwa began on 1 March 1896, or, according to the Ethiopian calendar, Yekatit 23, 1888, the day of Saint George. 

The priests carried the Tabot, a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, a religious icon that symbolises the sanctity of Ethiopia, to the battlefield.

The Ethiopian army prevailed even though there was tremendous loss of life on both sides.

Etched in Ethiopian memory and consciousness forever were the exploits of Etege Tayitu Bitul, wife of Emperor Menelik; she led 6,000 cavalry to the war front, and employed traditional music and war chants that motivated the fighting spirit of the warriors.

ARTcapital Ghana

Nostalgia ought to be the ĺeast impetus or motivation for us in remembering Adwa at this time in Africa’s history. 

The battle and circumstances surrounding it are important as they show a remarkable departure from the prevalent and often jaundiced and bogus narrative of African history.

Here is an African nation which developed its own writing system Geez.

From the fourth century, an indigenous Christianity, Orthodox Tewahido, developed through the synthesis of belief in the Ark of the Covenant, the gospel and ancient traditional practices.

The Kebra Nagast is the national epic that documents and elaborates this worldview and provides a solid exegesis for a Solomonic dynasty that incorporates diverse lands and cultures into one country which included Muslim immigrants that were welcomed and protected by the Christian king in the seventh century.

The vital lessons of the Battle of Adwa are: self-worth, dignity, unity, resistance, confidence, self-reliance, freedom, justice and truth.

As stated by Emperor Menelik in February, 1897, “Ethiopia has need of no one. She stretches out her hands to GOD.” 


  1. Thank you so very much for this massive wealth of information 🙏🏽🙏🏽🫱🏾‍🫲🏾👊🏽🌹

  2. Awesome. It would be celebrated Thursday eh?

    When I first heard about this, I wondered why there was no mention of this battle throughout our school days.

    It’s about time our sons and daughters in our educational system taught this history.

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