After learning about the origin of the name Addis Ababa, from Empress Taytu Betul‘s visit to its location, I could not help but talk about the Empress herself. Who was Taytu Betul?Well, Taytu Betul was Emperor Menelik II‘s third wife and was thereby Empress of Ethiopia. She was his confidante, a loyal wife, a commander, and a brilliant military strategist. Taytu Betul (also Taitu Betul), whose name Taytu means Sunshine, was a sunshine for her nation when it was about to fall into the hands of the Italian colonizer. Perhaps, there would not have been the famous Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896, which marked the Ethiopian victory against colonialism, without Empress Taytu, for she inspired it.
Empress Taytu Betul was born in Wollo from a Christian and Muslim family. She had a comprehensive education and was fluent in Ge’ez, the classical Ethiopian language; which was a rare achievement for a woman at the time, as education was mostly reserved for boys. Taytu was the third of four children in an aristocratic family related to the Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia. Her uncle, Dejazmach Wube Haile Maryam, was the ruler of Tigray and much of Northern Ethiopia in the 1840s, and a rival of Emperor Tewodros II. Her father’s family were the ruling family of Semien province, claiming descent from Emperor Susenyos I. Her grandfather was Ras Gugsa, a member of the powerful ruling family of Yejju, of Oromo origin, which had ruled as Regents in Gondar during the Zemene Mesafint (“Era of the Princes”). After four failed marriages, Taytu Betul was married to Emperor Menelik II (he was still King of Shewa at the time) in 1883 in a full communion church service and thus fully canonical and insoluble, which Menelik had not had with either of his previous wives (whom he had divorced). Their marriage was not just about romance but was also a political marriage sealing alliances with the northern regions of Begemder, Lasta, Semien, and Yeju. She remained his wife until his death in 1913.
Empress Taytu was a loyal and respectful wife to her husband Emperor Menelik II. According to royal historians, she was co-equal with Menelik, who always consulted her prior to making important decisions. She was the one who pushed him to declare war against Italy at the Battle of Adwa—tearing up the 1889 Treaty of Wuchale between the Ethiopian Empire and Italy, a treaty whose article 17 had two different meanings in Amharic and Italian versions: The Amharic version recognized the sovereignty of Ethiopia and its relationship with Italy as just a diplomatic partnership, while the Italian version made Ethiopia Italy’s protectorate. The moment that discrepancy was uncovered, Empress Taytu was the first to agitate the hesitant Emperor and other men to stand up for liberty, dignity and against Italian aggression.