H.I.M Hailesilassie I Satellite Lodge in Wolayta Sodo
By Desalegn Birara
As a cultural heritage curator, assessing the status of cultural heritages, follow up on practices of museums, evaluating facilities of curation and heritage administration, identifying challenges and opportunities and capacity building are few of my responsibilities. I have been to Wolayta Sodo five times in such missions with more than a week time stay each round. Along my colleagues, I tried my best to improve the dire condition of cultural heritages using the available resources and techniques. For indicating possible future interventions in heritage administration at the national level, we report assessments focusing on potentials, prospects, and opportunities at every heritage site we worked. It was at this shot that I found wrecks of a ‘cavity wall’ that was once a beautiful lodge, which could have been the safest cultural heritage collection room, in Wolayta Sodo.
The Ethiopian kings had a custom of establishing mobile courts and satellite palaces. They approach their communities at where they live and sit for hearings. They listen to cases and serve justices on the spot. (1) H.I.M Hailesilassie I, as had his preceding kings, had satellite lodges in the peripheral provinces of the country. To name some, Yirgalem (kibre-mengist), Wondo-Genet, Goré, and Wolayta Sodo were just few. These satellite courts are mostly lodges now, while others are knocked down to the ground.
Hailesilassie’s lodge in Wolayta Sodo was constructed at the heart of the city inside the historical Wolayta Qawo Palace. The compound consists of several government administration offices, the Qawo Tona Museum, the Wolayta zone cultural heritage collection and other facilities. Hailesilassie’s lodge in the compound was unique for one important reason. It was built by special bricks and outstanding design. No matter how durable the construction and fine the design was, it had been burnt down and destroyed to the level of irreversible status.
This damage is caused by the hate for ‘neftegna’ which denotes ethnic Amhara Ethiopians, including H.I.M. Hailesilassie and the Monarchy, more broadly. Destroying all the heritages and values of the monarchical era is part and parcel of erasing the neftegna legacies in the country. The hate to ‘neftegna’ has been a standard attitude in Ethiopia for the last half century. (2) The government policies supported the fictious victimhood narration of nationalities’ history. The fake narratives of the common past developed wretched attitude and devised revenging mechanisms. Accordingly, erasing the neftegna legacy from both literature and physical structures has been undergoing. Wolayta Sodo lodge is one among others where a beautiful building destroyed and ruined.
This case observation presents the historical narratives that caused the hate against neftegna and analyses the counter impacts of revenging measures to doers. The aim is to show how hate and revenge is a losing path in comparison with embracing narratives.
Narration of Wolayta History and its Absurdity with Neftegna
Wolayta elites believe that the Ethiopian monarchy or neftegna system oppressed them. In the wars between wolayta king (Kawo) Tona and Emperor Menelik II, the latter had victory. Wolayta elites narrate losing the war as an embarrassment to each Wolayta, and even made the incidence a chronological boarder. They call the time before 1894 as “pre-colonial Wolaita” (3,14). They claim Wolayta was great kingdom that had its own currency, military, government structure, distinct psychosocial make up and self-sufficient economy that aptly enables to proclaim it an independent nation. (5, 13) According to the scholars, the forceful unification of Wolayta to the Ethiopian empire not only culminated the age-old Wolayta kingdom, but also degraded the ‘nation/country’ status of Wolayta to a small Awraja under Sidamo Province– and now, zone. The contemporary quest of Wolayta for a Region status bases on this historical background. The spirit is ‘we make Wolayta great again!’. (a) However, the fierce process in delivering the request seems to take the movement unnecessarily hotter than it needs and went even to the scale of disengaging anything Ethiopian – i.e., containing the monarchical touch.
Wolayta nationalism led by figures such as Assefa Wodajo repeatedly made hate speeches that have been intended to mobilize the youth called Yalaga. Such public figures provided random information about atrocities during Kawo Tona and drove the youth movement destructively. Purposively, Wolayta’s history has been narrated focusing only on a maximum of ten years that show conflicts; and the rest of thousands of years is left blank. Because they want only the period that helps them play the victimhood: which prepares the youth for revenge. (b) There are many materialized publications in this regard that have been considered as ‘the History of Wolayta’; including the books that are written by the direction of Wolayta zone culture & tourism office.
Some of the publications better address “Meles Zenawi’s Revolutionary Democracy Cadres minute” than any literature of historical value. Because its presentation of narratives is pre-designed by politicians, their hate speeches and spiteful thoughts are used as main sources of information; and massively shaped the history of the people and their proud kingdom. Multiple volumes have been sponsored by the government and published. Periodicals of the zone heritage and tourism office, EPRDF’s monthly “New Vision – አዲስ ራዕይ” magazine, pamphlets, and training modules… altogether target on mobilizing the people for hateful actions. Such publications and productions are usually called “consciousness raising sources”. Developing a certain consciousness doesn’t necessarily need truth as a justification. It only needs a common understanding of an idea. The reality that consciousness stands for can be constructed. It has little to do with historical fact. Hence, the aspired consciousness has been ‘victimhood’; and supporting narratives have been generated. So long as victimhood is claimed, there has to be a victimizer – there comes the zombie word ‘Neftegna’. Hence, the drive is not truth or reality; instead, it is the aspired consciousness; and anything that is believed to bring it up, has been written, told & applied.
Accordingly, history of Wolayta is framed in a way that enables each Wolayta to feel the oppression by Neftegna system, that they accuse, have abolished the kingdom of Wolayta. (4, 5, 13) Even though the war between Kawo Tona and Menelik II was concluded by Menelik’s victory, it never forced Wolaytas to destroy their native kingdom, neither had the Menelik army enslaved or taken trophies. Rather, Menelik placed Tona back to his throne so that their kingdom stays intact. How can this be perceived as Wolayta’s humiliation? Scholars like Tensay Hailu, my own cohort at Addis Ababa University graduate school, write accusations as if the victory of Menelik II against Tona “followed by massacre, plunder, and massive enslavement” (5,12,13). How fair is it to accuse a king on enslavement who costed much of his regime’s energy to stop slavery?
Anyway, much of the weight has been given to hating the Neftegna [Amhara] than the History of Wolayta. Hating Amhara and calling it names, such as ‘neftegna, settler (ሰፋሪ), comer (መጤ)” (6) and demonizing the monarchical era and the kings bent malevolent consequences on both the blamed category of people and the plaintiff. They argue Hailesilassie is a descendent of Menelik II and is therefore the same neftegna, whose legacies must be erased. (7) So, the people being mobilized and lead by Amhara haters went to the place chanting anti-Neftegna slogans and destroyed it. They revenged the neftegna system by burning the house that their parents had sweet memories of judicial hearings and more functions. I interviewed a senior person who used to be a government officer during Hailesilassie and that was what he regrettably mentioned. They attended social functions with the presence of his Majesty. He tears down while walking with me around the knocked down house and see grasses and trees grown at the wrecks of the house & between cracked surfaces of the floor. He curses the generation that knows only how to destroy establishments. The senior man hardly catches up the consciousness on which much has been invested on. He underpins the responsibility of the same generation that destroys facilities to take care of heritages that are more vulnerable today than any previous time – i.e., the consciousness that is suggested as the way forward in previous assessment. (15)
What is Destroyed?
Wolayta lost a very important facility that could have safeguarded their bared cultural heritages, at the least. They burnt down a fire-proof house built with double wall structure, called ‘cavity wall’. According to the national building code of India (1983), “a wall comprising two leaves, each leaf being built of masonry units and separated by a cavity and tied together with metal ties or bonding units is called a cavity wall”. (8) The structure is made in a way that the two leaves behave as one structural unit, and the space between the leaves is either kept as a continuous cavity or it is filled with waterproof material or a non-load bearing insulating material.
The outer wall is built with solid bricks. It helps keep the rainwater out, and simultaneously, adds to the wind load resistance of the entire wall. To make sure that the entire wall structure is stable, the brick outer leaf is kept “tied” to the inner leaf with the use of wall ties. The wall ties can be metal bars or plastic bands permanently fixed into the mortar of both block and brick, according to engineering sources. (9) In the wolayta lodge case, the tie is unique. Long solid bricks are applied as wall ties, instead of the ones found in literatures.
Cavity wall is the most conducive design of constructions for storing collagenic and organic cultural heritages. (10) Cultural heritages are generally, organic, and spoilable with exposures to weather variability – humidity, temperature, and agent hosting – parasites and microbes. (ibid) All of these are minimized and controlled in suitable infrastructures [such as the cavity wall], while otherwise can aggravate the issue.
Advantages of Cavity Wall
- The two walls (leaves) erect keeping the narrow space between them open, which prevents the moisture intrusion from the outer leaf to the inner leaf. The space between the leaves absorbs the moisture, in case if the moisture penetrates the outer wall, and drains back to outside. Even though the outside wall can be wet, the inside wall stays dry and avoids fungi, bacteria and insect reproductions that can decay things inside the house.
- Cavity walls are the best for temperature control in rooms. Construction technologists (11) experimented that the air in the cavity wall acts as a non-conductor of heat and hence minimizes the transmission of heat from the outer leaf to the internal face of the interior leaf.This is what in other terms called ‘fireproof’. Cavity walls give good thermal insulation keeping warm in winter and cool in summer.
- They offer a good sound insulation propertyand gives protection against
These properties of the destroyed house could have prevented 84% of the dangers that the cultural heritages in the museum are facing today. No matter how important the cavity wall house, people destroy it to revenge Neftegna; and got back to a house made of grass. Isn’t this losing in all ways, easier than forfeit? Now, the cause of heritage damages in the current museum are identified to be mainly moisture, direct sun light, dirt and insects that grow at the disadvantage of a house made of wood and grass.
The Current Museum
Wolayta zone cultural heritage collection is entirely made of fire sensitive, water leaking, insect hosting and generally dangerous components. It is possible to conclude, a house in the most dangerous form to be heritage storage. As it is clearly visible on the photo, the house is in the middle of a farm where rodents and insects can easily move in between. The roof has so many openings that allow rainfall directly bathe heritages. The opposite side of the farm, just six meters away from the heritage store stands the city’s water reservoir. If the water tank blasts, the museum will completely be washed away.
A team of experts discussed the issue with few officials and found out how proud the people and leaders are to destroy the cavity walls house and construct the traditional wolayta house for keeping the cultural heritage collections. However, preserving one’s cultural identity would have not been at the cost of opportunities that could have optimal protection and development.
Damage of Heritages in the Current Museum
The traditional house made heritage collections vulnerable for several dangers. Predominantly, it has no moisture regulating mechanisms – built in or installed. Every season of the year has varying room humidity that directly affects heritages. Rodents and insects are as dangerous as the microbes to destroy skin and textile products. Potentially, fire can completely turn the house and collections into ash; there is no even a fire extinguisher. The water tank Infront of the collection door has the same probability and effects.
Ventilation has been limited to manual operations – moving heritages outside the house to keep them dry, out of intense humidity in the room. This has been the periodical operation by the museum experts and volunteers to sustain the life of heritages in the store.
There are insects that feed and hybrid on organic materials. Under poor inventory of statuses and proper preservation of these organic and collagenic heritages, even more dangerously, in highly oscillating humidity, are found in sever condition. Such items had to be plastic-coated in their dry condition unless their room humidity is controlled and kept sterilized. The greasy substance in leather products [aka collagen] hosts micro agents that eat the item and decay it.
Revenge is a psychological issue that I hardly have the authority to talk much about. But I saw for fact that it is a total of fantasies that losers enjoy hurting themselves. Destroying a house that the wolayta people own, after all, can hardly harm Amhara. Damage of Wolayta’s precious cultural heritages primarily erases Wolaytan cultural legacy. Owning both positive and negative aspects of history and moving forward to make better future could have benefitted all a lot. It is possible to take lessons from the Wondo-genet recreational site comparatively.
Wondo-genet lodge is established in same way as Wolayta lodge amid a beautiful scenery near the hot springs. Today, the Wondo genet lodge is one of the best domestic tourist attractions and amongst the best-preserved satellite palaces of Hailesilassie, in the country. Both lodges, the wolayta and Wondo-genet, were Hailesilassie’s private properties duly; and transferred to the respective zone governments later. However, people in Wondo-genet were interested to renovate the rooms of Hailesilassie and use as sources of income, instead of destroying it. Today, this lodge allows guests to rent and stayover in Hailesilassie’s bedroom, paying reasonably high price – perhaps a price equivalent to a 5-star luxury hotel room. How wise is it? The chance to feel sleeping in H.I.M Hailesilassie’s bed for the Rastafarian community living in nearby Shashemene, is a brilliant business formula. What would they earn now had they destroyed it like Wolayta’s? It is crystal clear. Wondo-Genet would have been left as any other hot spring spot in the area. There are many hot springs in Halaba, none of which generate income.
The Wondo-genet lodge not only preserved for renting Hailesilassie’s rooms, but also opens it to visitors. Visitors pay money as well; and the money goes back to add values to the collection so that the collection can be attractive and protected. Wondo area people (Sidamas) chose to preserve and innovate the lodge for crucial reasons. Nonetheless, that does not necessarily mean they love/don’t hate Neftegna/Amhara or H.I.M. Hailesilassie. In fact, Sidamas also expressed their hate to Neftegna multiple times. It is just a difference in choice. Arguably, no one hates neftegna more than OLF and TPLF; albeit both never destroyed the boarding schools in Welega and Mekelle, that were constructed by Menelik II and H.I.M. Hailesilassie I.
The movements to request & attain a certain status of self-administration could have been undertaken with justifiable contemporary causes; instead of efforts to instill a victimhood consciousness that ultimately erupts to vengeance. They only realize it was an evil choice after the victimhood – revenge fantasy combatted themselves with ricochet consequences. The case of H.I.M. Hailesilassie’s Wolayta lodge is a testament of how revenge fantasies are dysregulated ways to become a complete loser.
- 1. Derese Ayenachew (2014). Evolution and Organization of the Ç̌äwa Military Regiments in Medieval Ethiopia. Annales d’Ethiopie, Année 29, pp.83-95 https://www.persee.fr/doc/ethio_0066-2127_2014_num_29_1_1559
- Girma Berhanu (2023).ፍኖተዐማራ – ከሀሰት ትርክትና ተጻራሪ የፖለቲካ ኃይሎች አሰላለፍ አንጻር የአማራ ህዝባዊ አብዮት አስፈላጊነትና ትልም። ዋሽንግተን ዲ ሲ
- Tensay Hailu (2019). Wolaytta’s Quest for Statehood: A Historical Overview and Analysis of Contemporary Quests for Regional Statehood in Ethiopia’s Federation. Social Sciences. Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 198-205. doi: 10.11648/j.ss.20190804.18
- Fancho and Eyob (2014) የወላይታህዝብታሪክ እስከ 1966. ወላይታ ሶዶ
- Desalegn Birara (2017). Illicit trafficking of cultural heritage and its prospect in Ethiopia. https://www.academia.edu/39903777/Illicit_trafficking_of_cultural_heritage_and_its_prospect_in_Ethiopia
(a) The rationale for Wolayta’s quest for Region Status, today, is its ‘sovereign nation-state’ status before the 1894 unification to the Ethiopian empire. Proponents of the movement believe Wolayta had been great kingdom before and must resurge.
(b). The mass doesn’t know victimhood is a choice in the play book of ethnic politics. That is what elites who don’t have the stamina and perseverance to create agendas opt as an effortless path. I still doubt if they ever have learnt anything even after they sat on the ashes of their self-destroyed scarce resource.
* The literal meaning of Neftegna is musketeers. It originates from neft – gun & ‘-gna’ is suffix indicating the gun-holder. The 19thc. musketeers were peasant soldiers mainly from Amhara, who collect customs & tax for the central government. Today, Neftegna is a code name for ethnic Amharas, targets of massacre and ethnic cleansing, generally.