Gojjam which mean
buda cannibalism eating human
flesh in Somali and Oromo languages was a province in the north-western
part of Ethiopia, with its
capital city at Debre
Marqos. This province is distinctive for lying
entirely within the bend of the Abbay River from its outflow from Lake Tana to the Sudanese
Gojjam's earliest western boundary was undefined. By 1700, Gojjam's
western neighbors were considered to be Agawmeder
in the southwest and Qwara
in the northwest. Agawmeder, never an
organized political entity, was gradually absorbed by Gojjam until
it reached west to the Sultanate of
; Juan Maria Schuver
noted in his journeys in Agawmeder (September 1882) that three
months prior "the Abyssinians considerably advanced their frontier
towards the West, effacing what was left of the independent
regions." Gubba acknowledged its dependence to Emperor Menelik II
in 1898, but by 1942 was absorbed into
Island in Lake
Tana was administratively part of Gojjam until
The ancient history of Gojjam is mostly associated with religion.
pre-Christianity era Mertule Mariam
Abay in the eastern and central parts of Gojjam,
respectively were places of worship. Along with Tana Qirqos in Lake Tana, Axum Tsion in Tigray, and Tadbaba Maryam in Wollo province,
Mertule Mariam was a place where animal sacrifices were made for
worship. Gish Abay is also considered as a sacred
place for being the source of Abay River, also called Felege Ghion in Geez. Ghion
is believed to
be the Biblical name of Abay River that is mentioned in the
Book of Genesis
as one of the four
rivers, which flows out of Aden and encompasses the land of
Ethiopia. Considering its location within the bend of Abay River,
the province of Gojjam is also referred to, especially by the
church community, as Ghion or Felege Ghion.
The first church in Gojjam was then built at Mertule Mariam, which
became the second church in Ethiopia, next to Axum Tsion. Tradition
relates that Christianity then spread from Tana Qirqos, Gish Abay
and Mertule Mariam to different parts of the province. Gojjam then
became home to some of the finest liturgical schools in Ethiopia.
schools worthy of mention include Washera Mariam, Dima Giorgis, Debre Elias, Debre Werq, Amanuel, Tsilalo, and Gonji.
are generally credited for developing a sophisticated genre of
expression called Sem'na Worq
("Wax and Gold") which is
distinctive to Ethiopia.
The earliest recorded mention of Gojjam was during the medieval
period, in a note in a manuscript of Amda
military campaigns there and in Damot
in 1309 EC
(AD 1316/7), during which time it was
incorporated into Ethiopia. It was also referenced on the Egyptus Novello map
, (c.1451), where it
is described as a kingdom (though it had by this time long been
subject to the Emperor of
). Emperor Lebna
Dengel, in his letter to the King of Portugal (1526), also described Gojjam as a kingdom but one
that was part of his empire.
At least as early as Empress Eleni
, Gojjam provided the revenues of the
Empress until the Zemene
("Era of the Judges"), when central authority was
weak and the revenues were appropriated by Fasil of Damot
. Gojjam then became a power
base for a series of warlords
at least as
late as King (Negus
) Hailu Tekle Haymanot
, who was deposed
During the Italian occupation
Gojjam came to be the home of armed bands who resisted the Italian
occupiers, whose leaders included Belay
, Mengesha Jemberie
and Hailu Belew
. These resistance fighters, known as
limited the Italians to only the immediate arreas around heavily
fortified towns like Debre Markos. Belay Zelleke was even able to
fully liberate and run civil administration in the eastern part of
Gojjam and some adjacent woredas in South Wollo and North Shoa.
Since the Italians were unable to bring Gojjam under their control,
the province was finally chosen by Emperor Haile Selassie
as a safest way to
return back to Ethiopia. During his return, he was supported by the
combined forces of British army
Patriots, and other Ethiopians living abroad by then in fear of
persecution by Italians. During the reign of Emperor Haile
Selassie, however, the inhabitants of Gojjam rebelled several times
due to resentment over ill-treatment of patriots and increased
taxes, the latest occasion in 1968 -- about the same time as the
. Unlike in Bale
, the central government did not
use a military solution to end the revolt, instead replacing the
governors and reversing the attempt to levy new taxes; in response
to the 1968 revolt, the central government went as far as waiving
tax arrears back to 1950.
divided in to western and eastern portions during the time of the
Derg military regime, with Debre Marqos
remaining the capital of East Gojjam while Bahir Dar became the capital of West Gojjam.
adoption of a new
constitution in 1995, Gojjam was divided with the westernmost
part forming the majority of the Metekel
Zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz Region, and the rest becoming the Agew Awai, the Mirab Gojjam and the Misraq Gojjam Zones of the Amhara Region.
- Gerd Baumann, Douglas H. Johnson and Wendy James (editors),
Juan Maria Schuver's Travels in North East Africa
1880-1883 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1996), p. 212
- Donald L. Donham and Wendy James (eds.), The Southern
Marches of Imperial Ethiopia (Oxford: James Curry, 2002), p.
- James Bruce Travels to Discover the Source of the
Nile, selected and edited with an introduction by C.F.
Beckingham (Edinburgh: University Press, 1964), p. 130.
- Gebru Tareke, Ethiopia: Power and Protest
(Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1996), at p. 167 enumerates two
other occasions -- in 1942-44 and 1950.
- Zahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, second
edition (London: James Currey, 2001), pp. 216ff, and Gebru Tareke,
Ethiopia, pp. 160-193.