Sat. Dec 9th, 2023


The Role of Oromo Cavalry Horses in Adwa Victory

At battle of Adwa (1896) Oromo cavalry horses were also the frontline at battle field as general and soldiers to against Italian imperialism which finally concluded by Ethiopian victory.

The last quarter of the 19th century was a period of dramatic political and historical importance took place in Ethiopian historiography; the process of the making modern Ethiopian empire and an attempt of external aggression. The military training and submission was began from Shoa to Sudan border, Wechecha to Walayta, Ilubabor to Mecha and kaffa to Borena and successful defended external aggression like Egypt at Gundet (1875) and Gura (1876) and Mahdist of Sudan. At battle of Adwa (1896) Oromo cavalry horses were also the frontline at battle field as general and soldiers to against Italian imperialism which finally concluded by Ethiopian victory. The aftermath of Adwa (1896-1900) the armies were able to conquered Afar in 1896, Somali in 1897, Kaffa in 1897, Borana in 1897, Benishangul in 1898, Bench Maji, Gardula, to Lake Rudolf in 1898. In peripheral provinces the project of conquest and submission was continued until 1900, the year which marked the making of modern Ethiopian empire of today.

Ethiopians interaction with cavalry can be traced to early times in history of the country. The kings and nobilities of the country were reported to have beautiful cavalry horses to against their rebels, for hunting activities and festival ceremonies in the country.  Likewise, the lives of entire Oromo people in Ethiopia were highly affiliating with horses as their traditional organization in Gada system. 

At large, among the Oromo people, horse is one of highly respected animals and symbol of interaction that signifies privileges and dignity, affiliation, as a means for socialization, inspiration of morals in the good and bad time.

Thus, Oromo used to call their horse as Daamaa, Booraa, Bulloo, Daalee, etc. Although, there was no historical evidence for when and which part of Ethiopia has started the domestication of horses, the Oromo people has exhaustively used cavalry long years before the 16th century.   Before the introduction of modern weapons to Ethiopia, horse is one of the magnificent arms in the process of territorial expansion, defending enemies from both internal and external forces, and it’s one of an old traditional warfare.   The Oromo have used cavalry not only against enemy but also in killing of a big game animal and take the ears and tails of animals and later they hold hung ceremony in which they boast about their heroic deeds. This culture was adopted among the Christian Abyssinian soldiers when the Yäjju army which was primarily composed Oromo cavalry soldiers from Wallo.

Although Oromo cavalries had been played great role in the making of the modern Ethiopian empire in the battle fronts by demising internal threats and revolts to the empire formation and defending external forces, it had been not included in the historiography of the country.

Foreign Aggressions and the Role of Oromo Cavalries Hourses

The other major theme in Ethiopia the past 150s years was struggling to defend foreign aggressions like that of Italy, Egypt and Mahdist of Sudan. Thus, Ethiopians has fought many battles and especially, second half of 19th century was the time of scramble for Africa as all surrounding regions were conquered by colonial warlords. Magdala, Gundet, Gura, Dogali, Adwa and Maychew battles were among the others battle that fought to defend foreign aggressors.

The entire Oromo cavalry from Mecha were installed near to the fields some distance from the center from where they could gallop at top speed to the central as well as the southern, the eastern and Western flanks during combat. The civilians were also responsible for logistics worked day and night in shifts to cook food, to store and to clean up the camp.

The Satin Chagn unit from Dejazmach Jote Tullu’s Leqa Sayo and Benishangul Wallaga administrative region with some 4,000 well trained and fully armed personnel led 4,00 mules loaded with boxes of rations. Abba Jifar of Jimma’s contingent supplied tarps and draperies that were installed in the camp.  As regards the makeup of the army, the central Ethiopian fighting unit was mainly drawn from Showa infantry, Oromo cavalry from the Machaa-Tulamaa of Salalé, Ada’a Berga, Ambo, Jaldu, Gudar and others. 

In all these, Adwa stands out for inflicting and crushing defeat on Italian by the Ethiopian patriots of both infantry and cavalrymen called Contingent of the Brave.  Adwa Victory has rewritten the

Ethiopian history in golden letters as a result of the determinant and persistence of these patriotic.

In this case, in 1875 and 1876, the Tulama Oromo cavalries paid thousands of the horsemen to Emperor Yohannis IV, that helps him to easily defeat the Egyptians at the battle of Gundet and Gura respectively. This was the other positions that Oromo cavalries participated and successfully defended and crushed an ambition of Egyptians to build great Egypt in Northeast Africa. In spite of the defeat at Dogali in 1887, the Italians were unable to set aside their colonial ambitions towards Ethiopia. They thus began to conquer and occupy the northern part of the country. 

The Adwa victory over European imperialism is an important event in the shared memory of the entire black population in the world. The Adwa victory is a complex nexus of various historical processes with wide-ranging in which hundreds of thousands were died and wounded to the cause of their country. But only small and significant heroes and kings were always being remembered. The victory is also not only reflects of time, but transcends it, and that the aspirations and meanings flow from it have been a powerful constitutive force of collective in the rise and evolution of modern Africa in general, Ethiopia in particular.   

In the middle of the battle, Ras Michael’s of Wallo (Mohammed Ali Bula Abba Yemam) troops went to reinforce Ras Alula, who had already begun fighting General Dabormida who was outnumbered by the gallant Ethiopian fighters. Moreover, the Oromo cavalry also reinforced Ras Alula, and to his credit Abba Nega effectively blocked the expected Italian reinforcement from Adi Quala. In view of the Italian retreat in masse, Alula conveyed a message to Emperor Menelik for more Oromo cavalry in order to cut off the retreat and make them encircled rather.  

Furious, Emperor Menelik declared a state of preparation for war against the invaders. The declaration reads as follows: 

“ . . . አሁንም አገር የሚያጠፋ ሃይማኖት የሚያናዉጥ ጠላት  እግዚአብሔር  የወሰነልንን የባህር በር አሌፎ መጥቷል፡፡

. . . እያሇፈ እንዯፍሌፈሌ መሬት ይቆፍር ጀመር፡፡ አሁን ግን በእግዚአብሔር ረዲትነት አገሬን አሳሌፌ አልሰጠዉም፡፡ . . . ጉሌበት ያልህ በጉሌበትህ እርዲኝ፡፡ ጉልበት የላልህ ሇሌጅህ፣ ሇሚስትህ፣ ሇሃይማኖትህ ስትል እርዲኝ፡፡ . . . ዘመቻዬም በጥቅምት ነዉና እስከ ጥቅምት እኩላታ ዴረስ ወረኢለ ከተህ ሊግኝህ፡፡” 44

… enemy has come that would ruin our country and change our religion. They have passed over the sea that God gave us as our border. These enemies have advanced, burrowing into the country like moles…..  With the help of God; I will get whoever has caused me sorrow. . . .Now, you who are strong lend me your strong arms, and you who are weak, help me with your prayers, while you think of your children, your wife, and your faith . . . assemble and meet me at Warra Ilu, and may you be there by the middle of October.

In response to this national call to arms, Ras Mikaél put himself at the disposal of the emperor, at Adwa on 1 March, 1896, more than two thousand cavalries from Tulama and Wallo mainly recruited from warra Ilu, Lasta and Dalanta led by Negus Mikael (Mohammed Ali Yemam Abba Bulaa), the father of the uncrowned Emperor (Li Eyasu).  At this time both horseman and infantry paid huge sacrifice.  

The battle of Amba Alaghe, a prelude to Adwa, was one of those many heroic combats that testify to the valor of the Ethiopian people. Fitawrari Gebeyehu Gurmu of Abbichu’s army stumbled upon units of this Italian force on December 7, 1895 and a battle ensued. Gebeyehu Gurmu was sick but even though he could not carry his weapon, he held a cane and gave direction to his soldiers to fight with determination. He also told them that if they exhausted their bullets, they must use their swords, kill the enemy and die in honor. 

Figure:1 Some portraits of Oromo Cavalry fromL‟illustrusione italiana

Generally, it is very difficult to list the names of hundreds of thousands Ethiopians sons and daughters were sacrificed their lives to defend and built the modern Ethiopian Empire. In this case, the Ethiopian army at Adwa was, therefore, a mosaic of scores of nationalities that marched north ready to shed their blood together for a common cause. In peripheral provinces the project of conquest and submission was continued until 1900, the year which marked the making of modern Ethiopian empire of today.

In the history of the empire formation and state building cavalry horses played great role at least from the mid of 16th century. Ethiopians were used cavalry horses exhaustively for both internal civil war and defending foreign aggression. The cavalry horses of Oromo people were used for tribute, gift, power ceremonial, and battlefront. Oromo cavalry horses have contributed for the survival of Ethiopian independence and state building.


  1. The Role of Oromo Cavalry Horses in the Making of Modern Ethiopian Empire: A Historical Review (ca.1870s-1900) the article published by Dereje Haile

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By Chala Dandessa

I am Lecturer, Researcher and Freelancer. I am the founder and Editor at ETHIOPIANS TODAY website. If you have any comment use as email contact. Additionally you can contact us through the contact page of

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