The Battle at Bet Meka’e, Asmara, with Ras Barya’u of Tigray

20 May, 1878


Ras Barya’u of Tigray was sent by Emperor Yohannes IV to subdue Raesi Woldemichael of Mereb Mellash who rebelled against the emperor. Ras Barya'u was killed in the battle and his army defeated.

Raesi Woldemichael Solomon Raesi Woldemichael Solomon

Having spent some years up in Bogos with the Egyptians following the threat of Ras Alula’s arrival in Hamasien, specifically in the Asmara area, Raesi Woldemichael moved to occupy Mereb Mellash when Ras Alula was called south to Adwa by Emperor Yohannes IV. The Abyssinian Ras had been negotiating with the Egyptians on defining borders and passage of trade through Massawa. On certain demands of the Egyptians, he said he would need to discuss them further with his emperor who was getting impatient with the Egyptians.

Meanwhile at the same time, the Abyssinian King Menelik II of Showa had moved up northward with his army. His advance seemed like he was headed to Gonder, the historical throne city of the Abyssinian emperor. He also had been calling himself “King of Kings” in direct challenge to the current emperor, Yohannes IV. Consequently, Allula was ordered to march the emperor’s imperial army of 10,000 to face him.

Having weighed his options, Menelik asked for peace. On 26th March 1878 at Beru Meda, in a traditional ceremony, the beaten Menilek submitted to the emperor of Ethiopia. As tradition dictates, to ask for forgiveness, Menelik approached the throne carrying a stone on his neck and lay before Yohannes. The emperor ordered Alula to remove the stone as a gesture of reconciliation.

Having re-occoupied his court at Tseazzega and encouraged by the Egyptians, it was rumored that Raesi Woldemichael was preparing to march south into Tigray itself. To face this threat, Ras Barya’u Gebretsadiq who was left in charge of the northern frontier by Emperor Yohaness IV, marched north to subdue Ras Woldemichael Solomon of Merb Melash.

Emperor Yohannes IV of Abyssinia Emperor Yohannes IV of Abyssinia

Ras Barya’u crossed the Mereb River with a large army. During the harvest months, he pillaged and looted every village on his way, all the way to Adi Ne’amn, deep into the territories of Raesi Woldemichael. He prepared his army for a face off with the rebelling chief of Mereb Mellash although he doubted Woldemichael had enough resources to face him in battle. He is said to have exclaimed “I come to him, not him to me!” when his entourage told him Woldemichael was coming. He camped at Bet Meka’e, at a top of a hill where he could see the the surrounding lands below him.

Raesi Woldemichael had gone around the country assembling his army and recruiting even more. Once it was ready to march, he ordered his army to move in stealth. They came to the Karneshim territory without being noticed. Early morning on May 20, 1878, they set out from Emba Derho. They marched east-ward to Adi Nefas so they could have the rising sun behind them when they line up for in battle facing west. This strategy had worked for him at the Battle of Wekidiba where he defeated Degiat Hailu of Tsazzega.

When they got close to Bet Meka’e, Ras Barya’u realized he had lost the initiative. He rushed to quickly get his army ready. They met in the valley between [Arba’ete] Asmara and Bet Meka’e. Raesi Woldemichael’s horse was hit by a bullet and fell from under him but the raesi survived. His army was routing that of Barya’u’s who was killed in the battle. Many soldiers and many nobility also fell. Many family members of Ras Barya’u escaped towards Tigray. Many others ran towards HazHaz (ሓዝሓዝ) hills where they were captured; this is why the place became known as “HazHaz”, the battle cry of that day, meaning to hound and catch.

Raesi Woldemichael ordered all the dead bodies to be buried except that of Ras Barya’u’s for the latter had killed his nephew and left his corpse to wild beasts. Woldemichael’s son, Degiat Mesfin, however snuck out during the night and buried the remains of the ras.

This forced Emperor Yohannes to rethink his strategy and device other means of subduing Woldemichael as the raesi was getting too powerful for comfort.

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