Ras Mengesha Yohannes
|Native name||መንገሻ ዮሐንነስ|
Mengesha Yohannes (Ge'ez: መንገሻ ዮሐንነስ; 1868 – 1906) was the "natural" son of Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia, Ras of Tigray, and, as a claimant of the Imperial throne, is often given the title of Leul. Ras Araya Selassie Yohannes was his older half brother.
Prior to the Battle of Metemma, Mengesha Yohannes was considered to be a nephew of Emperor Yohannes IV. During the battle, the Emperor was mortally wounded and it was on his deathbed that Mengesha Yohannes was acknowledged as his "natural" son and designated as his heir. This created something of a succession problem.
Fighting between various relatives of the slain Emperor split his camp and prevented Mengesha from making a viable bid for the Imperial throne. Instead, the throne was assumed by Negus Menelik of Shewa. Ras Mengesha refused to submit to Menelik and later even flirted with joining the new Italian colony of Eritrea. He hoped that the Italians would support his rebellion against Emperor Menelik. However, encroachments by the Italians into his native Tigray, their previous enmity to his father Yohannes, and recognition that the ultimate goal of the Italians was to conquer Ethiopia themselves, led Mengesha Yohannes to finally submit to Menelik II. On 2 June 1894, he and his three major lieutenants went to the new capital at Addis Ababa. Within the newly constructed reception hall of the Grand Palace, the Emperor awaited them. He was seated on his throne with a large crown on his head. Mengesha Yohannes and his lieutenants each carried a rock of submission on his shoulder. They approached, prostrated themselves, and asked for forgiveness. Menelik simply declared them pardoned.
Following their allegiance with Menelik, they returned to Tigray, where Bahta Hagos initiated the rebellion against the Italians. Mengesha then led his army against the Italians at the Battle of Coatit, where his force was rebuffed. The Tigrians regrouped, and later attacked the Italians at Amba Alagi. The war culminated in 1896, as Mengesha Yohannes and the forces of Tigray fought at the side of Menelik against the Italians at the pivotal Battle of Adowa.
In 1899, Mengesha Yohannes rebelled again against Menelik when he was denied the title of Negus of Zion (his descendants would be outraged decades later when Ras Mikael of Wollo was crowned with this title by Lij Iyasu). Emperor Menelik had Ras Mengesha captured and put under house arrest at the old Shewan royal palace at Ankober.
The confusion over Ras Mengesh's parentage is due to the fact that his mother Wolete Tekle Haymanot Tomcho (Woizero Tekle) was betrothed to Dejazmatch Gugsa. On the death of Ras Arya Sellassie, son and heir of Yohannes, the title of Ras was conferred on Mengesha and the army of Ras Araya Sellassie was transferred under his command. It was only on his deathbed, at Metemma, that Yohannes declared to Etchege Tewoflos and the important dignitaries present that Mengesha was not the son of his brother Gugsa, but his. He thus acknowledged him as his son and declared him as his heir. Immediately after this announcement, close relatives of Yohannes, suhch as Fitawrari Meshesha, son of Maru, Yohannes's brother, and Dejach Bogale Araya, son of Ras Araya Dimtsu, maternal uncle of Yohannes, refused to accept Mengesha as the son and heir of Yohannes, claiming that they were equally entitled to succeed the deceased Emperor.
Since Gugsa had the same father and mother as Yohannes, the legitimacy of Mengesha would not have been affected if Yohannes had declared that he had chosen Mengesha, his nephew, as his heir. Mengesha, through his mother, had also additional claim to the Imperial lineage. The only reason for claiming Mengesha as his own son was simply ro reveal the truth, which hitherto was kept secret due to the close association that had existed between Yoahannes's elder brother Dejazmatch Gugsa and Woizero Tekle, the mother of Mengesha.
Augusus B. Wylde, a correspondent of the British paper, The Manchester Guardian, who had been in Ethiopia as a member of the Hewett Mission of 1884 and later, soon after the Battle of Adwa of 1896, contends that Mengesha was indisputably the actual son Yohannes. Bairu Tefla, on the other hand, although he is aware of the various sources, which assert that Mengesha was the natural son of Yohannes, has placed him as the son of Gugsa on the ground that "Most of the old people agree that Mengesha was the son of Gugsa, the eldest brother of the sovereign."
Familial rivalry and division of Tigray
Even after the submission of Mengesha Yohannes, familial rivalry between the two lines of descent from Emperor Yohannes IV proved to be a difficult issue for Emperor Menelik II and his successors. Yohannes IV was survived by his elder "legitimate" son Ras Araya Selassie Yohannes and by his younger "natural" son Mengesha. Ras Araya's son Gugsa Araya, and Ras Mengesha's son Ras Seyoum would for a time divide Tigray between them, with Ras Gugsa Araya ruling the eastern half and Ras Seyoum the western half.
Eventually Mengesha's son Ras Seyoum was made Leul of all Tigray in succession to his father after the death of his cousin Ras Gugsa Araya and after the treason of Gugsa Araya's son, Dejazmatch Haile Selassie Gugsa. In 1935, Haile Selassie Gugsa joined forces with the Italian invaders when they conquered Ethiopia and occupied the country.
Ras Mengesha is regarded as the founder of one of the two senior cadet branches of the Ethiopian Imperial Solomonic Dynasty.
- Marcus, A History of Ethiopia, pg.89
- Marcus, A History of Ethiopia, pg.95
- Tubiana, Joseph (1967). Quatre généalogies royales éthiopiennes. Paris: Cahiers D'Etudes Africaines. pp. 491–505.
- Wylde, A.B. (1901). Modern Abyssinia. London. pp. 179, 315.
- Tafla, Bairu. A Chronicle of Emperor Yohannes IV.