The iconic images visually narrated by Ethiopian artist Belachew Yimer (1869-1957) entitled “BATTLE OF ADWA” dramatically depicts the political and spiritual fight for the protection of the sovereign empire of Ethiopia 1896. The event arguably propelled the Pan African Movement, seeded in the early to mid 1800’s in the Americas. The oil on canvas approximately 1899 painting portrays red, gold and green banners waving in the wind against a crystal-clear blue sky over a steep dark mountain range. The scene is set with brave Ethiopian warriors and women alike, accompanying nobles on well adorned horses with the sacred St. Giorgis talbot carried by the Ethiopian Orthodox clergy in customary white turbans with embellished umbrellas, all led by Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu. Belachew’s original work is on permanent display at Addis Ababa University Institute of Ethiopian Studies Pan African Wing, opened to 32 African leaders 60 years ago on the occasion of the inaugural Organization of African Union Summit May 1963. The Pan African Wing documents the inspiration and galvanizing force of the Victory at Adwa, considered by Pan Africans as the ultimate act of courage and faith in the battle of good over evil.
There are several examples of the fight against colonial powers throughout African history where spirituality (church) and state collaborate for success. For instance, Queen Nzinga Mbandae (1583-1663) Monarch of Mbundu People of Central Africa converted to Christianity in a strategic attempt to maintain peaceful relations with the encroaching Portuguese. While Muhumusa (1850-1945), feared female leader of the Rwanda region, led rebellions against German and British invaders relying heavily on the legendary spiritual medium known as Nyahbinghi, to rally fearless forces against European invaders. While Pan African Rastafari artists penned anti-apartheid songs, known as protest/liberation music. Peter Tosh’s “APARTHEID” and Bob Marley’s “WAR” arranged profound lyrics to the one drop rhythm with the latter, an excerpt from Emperor Haile Selassie I’s 1963 speech at the UN declaring and defending the humanity of all Africans.
So where are we today, literally, as African Heads of State meet to determine the political destiny of over 1.4 billion people? Will Pan Africanism be reduced to a catch phrase, which if used, legitimizes political agendas, while ironically sidelining Pan Africanists in Africa and the Diaspora along the way? Will the African Union et al embrace and exhibit the grand principles established by those whose blood was spilt at the monumental Adwa mountain, where submission to foreign powers was a nonstarter? Will the fraternity of s/elected leaders recognize and recall the contributions and sacrifices made by persecuted Pan Africans such as founders of the Movement, American born Martin Delaney (1812-1885), Danish West Indies born Liberian Edward Blyden (1832-1912) and Jamaican born Honorebel Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940)? Shall the visions of the OAU founding Fathers, Emperor Haile Selassie I, President Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere of Kenya, Sékou Touré of Guinea and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia etc. be pursued? Shall the spirit of Pan Africanism, best expressed in the seminal scripture that rallies Black people, found in the Holy Bible Psalms 68, “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands to God” remain the clarion call for hope, love, justice, peace and protection? Will Africans be guided by the cautionary words espoused of Emperor Haile Selassie I, “…until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.” While the questions far outweigh the answers, let us pray the Politicians, Pan Africans and Priests/esses will do their part, individually and collectively, to invoke the spirit of love and stewardship through the guidance of the Most High, our ancestors and angels and all means of spiritual realms which are at the core of African culture and society.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.