Ras Alula Engida Equbi one of Ethiopia;s greatest generals.
Image taken from: “Ras Alula and the Scramble for Africa: A Political Biography : Ethiopia & Eritrea 1875-1897 “, Red Sea Press,U.S. (1997), Haggai Erlich
Known popularly as “Alula Aba Nega”, Ras Alula was born in Menawee district of Tembien in Tigrai province sometime between 1839 and 1841. Son of a humble peasant, Alula earned distinction and respect among his peers for his leadership, his humor, his loyalty and his bravery from a young age. He came to the notice of the regional nobleman, Dejazmatch Kassa Mercha, who eventually became Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia, who would raise him to the high title of Ras (equivalent to the European title of Duke). The meteoric rise of this humble born figure caused much envy and bitterness among the higher born nobles of Yohannes’ court. Alula participated bravely in the Ethiopian victories over Egypt at the battles of Gundet and Gura in 1875 and 1876. He was named “Turki Basha” by Emperor Yohannes for his role in these battles.
Ras Alula was first married to Woizero Bitweta and had three children. However in order to enhance his position at the Imperial court, he divorced his wife and married Woizero Amlesu Araya, daughter of of Ras Araya Dimtsu, the powerful and much respected uncle of Emperor Yohannes IV. Woizer Amlesu however died soon after their marriage.
Emperor Yohannes IV made Ras Alula ruler of Hamasein and all Mereb Melash (modern Eritrea) displacing the native nobles earning both him and the Emperor much local resentment. Ras Alula established Asmara (now the capital of Eritrea) as his regional seat. Ras Alula fought and defeated the Mahdists at Keren and at Kufit in 1885 and anihilated an Italian force at Dogali in 1887. This last action was subsequent to the Italian seizure of Massawa and Sa’ati threatening Ethiopia for the first time. Before the confrontation with the Italians escalated further, Alula had to follow the Emperor south to put down a rebellion by King Tekle Haimanot of Gojjam, and to prepare to put down a parallel uprising by Menelik of Shewa. However, the Mahdists burned Gondar and the Emperor marched back north to confront them at Mettema where he was killed in 1889.
Ras Alula tried valiantly to support the Emperor’s designated heir, Ras Mengesha Yohannes, but infighting among the Tigrean relatives of the late Emperor and the Italian seizure of Mereb Melash and the establishment of their new colony of Eritrea forced Ras Alula to give up this venture and both he and Ras Menshesha evenually submitted to Emperor Menelik II. Ras Alula however would go on to fight the Italians and participated with valour at the Battle of Adowa in 1896. Ras Alula then retired to live the life of an elder statesman and advisor to Menelik II, but quarelled with Ras Hagos of Tembien and went to war against him only eleven months after Adowa, even though both the Emperor and Ras Mengesha pleaded with both men to refrain from fighting. Ras Hagos was defeated and died shortly thereafter of serious wounds. Ras Alula was also wounded and died in February of 1897. The death of these two great Ethiopian patriot warriors in battle against each other was much lamented by both Ras Mengesha and by Emperor Menelik II.