Ras Gobena (1821-1889)

Ras Gobena was one of the outstanding generals of Menelik during the first reign of the emperor. He was one of the prominent architects who brought about a fiscal and military integration of the south and western provinces of Ethiopia under a centralized imperial control. Gobena was born around 1821 of a noble family of Oromo in Aman, Wegda, in Shewa. He was a close relative of the Aba Mudda, a spiritual head of the Oromo. It is not clear when exactly he started his career, but he came into the picture when he rebelled against Theodros, at a time when the later was trying to bring Shewa under imperial control. When Menelik escaped from Meqedela and returned to Shewa, Gobena was one of the nobles who welcomed him and joined his service. Gobena had demonstrated his bravery, leadership and war tactic when he rebelled against Theodros, and his appointee in Shewa. In the court of Menelik he was given the office of Agafari, master of the ceremonies, who received and introduced guests to Menelik. Usually this office was given to a trusted person. Soon after his appointment, Agafari Gobena was ordered to pacify a rebellion in Meskala, southern Wollo, in which he succeeded. (Nadew, Y{-Ras Gobena Tarik, a manuscript in private hands, p. 3. Hereafter referred as Nadew). He established his Ketema (military camp) at Bisi and began to "straighten out" (Hager Maqnat), all lands up to Selale. He continued to conquer, that was Hager Maknat, in the regions of Metta, Mecha, Ada, Cebo, Gulele and Yeka, the last two regions are now in the city zone of Addis Ababa. To boost his moral and power, Menelik gave him the title of Dejazmach. At that time Menelik had only two Dejazmach (and no Ras), the other person who was given the title of Dejazmach was, Menelik's paternal uncle, Darge. Dejazmach Darge was one of the four sons of king Sahle Selasie of Shewa, a potential claimer to the throne of Shewa.

As title holder of Dejazmach, Gobena had the right to appoint his military officers with a rank of Fitawrari, and he gave this title to his best military officers and left them in charge of continuing their expansion. Dejazmach Gobena himself proceeded to get the submission of the Balabats in the regions beyond Awash river, just to mention, Dendi Maru, Weliso, Chebo, Dulal, Amya, Nono, Sodo, Agemge, Qebene, Enemor. When Menelik got the title as King of Shewa, confered by Emperor Yohannes IV in 1878, he gave a rich feast at his town, Liche, and honoured Degazmach Gobena with the title of Ras, thus enhancing further his popularity (the other holder of the title of Ras was Dejazmach Darge). Ras Gobena continued his campaign in the remaining regions in Gudru, Mecha, Jebat and Gurage. He crossed the Gibe river and brought the territories in the remote south under cetral control system.

King Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam had also sent his general, Ras Deresu, who crossed Abay and campaigned in the regions of Gudru, Leqa, part of Wellega. The Shewans and the Gojjame aristocrats were rivals in control of the regions south of Abay. In their advance into the south, the troops of Ras Deresu encountered the force of Ras Gobena that was approaching from north. Ras Gobena sent a message to Ras Deresu, to withdraw from the region leaving behind the rich ivory and other items collected. Ras Deresu complied, but King Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam was infuriated and sent a message to Menelik to settle the problem in a battle, known as the Battle of Embabo. The battle took place in 1881, and King Tekle Haimanot was defeated. During this battle, Ras Gobena employed an out manoeuvre tactic and attacked behind the rear position, which led into the Gojame army into confusion and disarray. (On the background and event of this battle, see Caulk, R. "Territorial Competition and the Battle of Embabo", in Journal of Ethiopian Studies, IX, 2.)

Once the power of the Gojjam aristocrats was removed from the scene, Ras Gobena continued his campagn in Cala, Lago Horo, Leqa, Neqemt and Sayo, some of which had submitted to Ras Deresu. In 1883, he continued his campagn in the direction of Illubabor until Gimira. Following the religious agreement among the aristocracy of Ethiopia in 1878, known as the Council of Boru Meda, Ras Gobena was ordred to establish churches in the regions where he received submission. To this effect, he gave an order to the Meslene and district governors, and he consulted with his wife, Weyzero Ayelech, who, accordingly, founded fourty one churches (See Nadew, 8-9).

In 1886, Menelik consulted Ras Gobena and appointed governors along with central troops over the vast areas "straigten out" (Y! Qena Hagar) by the later. (See, Bairu Tafla, 1987, Asme Giorgis and His work: History of the Galla and the Kingdom of Shewa. p. 757). Menelik then marched in to Arsi in which Ras Gobena participated. When Menelik set out to march to Harar in 1887, Ras gobena was entrusted guarding the town of Entoto, and he mobilized his Wellega troops and camped near Entoto. When Menelik returned he gave him a warm welcome. Soon after, Ras Gobena, together with Fitawrari Habte Giorgis marched in to the region of Gurage to suppress a rebellion instigated by a leader, who declared Jihad. They succeeded in suppressing the rebellion and Ras Gobena returned into Entoto. In 1889, the governors on the boarder of Wellega wrote a letter to Ras Gobena, that they were attacked by the Mahdist of Sudan, the letter was shown to king Menelik, and Ras Gobena left Entoto, on September 15, crossed Gibe river on the 26th, mobilised his troops and engaged war against the Mahdist on October 14. He defeated them and thus checked their advance. While in Wellega he received a letter from King Menelik informing him the intention of Emperor Yohannes to invade Shewa.

Ras Gobena advanced with his troops to Shewa, and upon consultation he was given the responsibility of guarding a route coming from Abay. While he was there, Ras Gobena received a letter from Menelik notifying him a rebellion once again in the Gurage region. He returned with his army to Entoto and the Ras accepted the order to march to Gurage region. Menelik then gave Ras Gobena as present his horse, named Raswerq Ambaye, and Gasha (shield) decorated with gold. No sooner had he received the prize, Ras Gobena left for Gurage. According to the tradition, Ras Gobena was expected to hold a banquet at his house for his followers marking the prize award, but he did not. Instead, Ras Gobena marched straight to Gurage region and crushed the resistance there and sent a message of congratulation to King Menelik. Ras Gobena heard the death of Emperor Yohannes while in campaign, he was deeply touched and he ordered his soldiers to fire into the air. When Menelik marched north to get the submission of the northern nobles after the death of Emperor Yohannes, Ras Gobena was as usual entrusted to guard the town. One day, after he returned home, passing the whole day in receiving appeals from the people, he suddenly felt ill, and died after three days of treatment. He was buried at Debre Libanos in July 1889 few months before the coronation of Menelik the II, whom he had served devotedly for so long.

Best Regards,

Tsegaye T.