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Trade, Islam, and the Mahdia in Northwestern Wallaggā, Ethiopia

Alessandro Triulzi
The Journal of African History
Vol. 16, No. 1 (1975), pp. 55-71
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/181098
Page Count: 17
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Trade, Islam, and the Mahdia in Northwestern Wallaggā, Ethiopia
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Abstract

The district of Belā Shangul, in the northwestern corner of the present Governorate-General of Wallaggā, Ethiopia, has played a crucial role in the introduction of Islam in western Ethiopia. The present paper attempts to show how the commercial potential of Belā Shangul was the reason for the peaceful penetration of Islam in the region in the nineteenth century, thus creating the basis for the ready acceptance of the Mahdia by the Islamized ruling families of the region later. It is due to the considerable inroads that Islam had made in the region that the first Mahdist envoys were welcomed there, and that they could operate freely from 1882 onwards. The paper further discusses the importance of Mahdist presence in the region, its impact on local society, and its attempts to penetrate the Oromo countries south and east of Belā Shangul. It argues that Mahdist rule over the region was effective until about 1890, and that the favourable attitude shown towards the Mahdia by the region's ruling families became more hostile mainly because of the harsh rule established in Belā Shangul by the Mahdist commander, Khalīl al-Khuzāni, and of the new militant Islam he introduced in the region. Khalīl's campaign of 1886 and Mahdist raids in 1888-90 further alienated the local rulers, who rebelled under the leadership of 'Abd ar-Raḥmān of Belā Shangul proper. The reported cession of this district by the Khalifa to Menilek of Ethiopia must be seen in the political context of the time: the border district had become too burdensome for Omdurman to rule, yet its commercial and mineral resources made it too valuable to remain a no man's land.

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