Ras Mikael Ali of Wollo and the Battle of Sagale
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On October 27, 1916, Ethiopia witnessed the historic Battle of Segale, a bloody confrontation for control of Ethiopia’s royal title between the forces of the uncrowned Emperor-select Lij Iyasu V and that of Empress Zawditu. Empress Zawditu was the daughter of the late Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II and Lij Iyasu V was Menelik II’s grandson.
Following the annual Meskel celebration—the finding of the True Cross—-on September 27, 1916, forces loyal to Empress Zawditu proclaimed the removal of the young Lij Iyasu V on the grounds that he had converted to Islam, an accusation unproven.
The Battle of Segale was carried out a month later near the town of Meiso, some 300 kilometers southeast of the capital, where forces led by the young Ras Tafari Mekennon(later crowned Emperor Haile Selassie) clashed with forces led by Lij Iyasu V’s father Ras Mikael Ali of Wollo.
During the battle of Segal, it was reported that the forces of Ras Miikael quickly ran out of ammunition and after much bloodshed , were forced to surrender. Both Ras Mikael and his son were eventually capitured and imprisoned. Ras Mikael was later released into house arrest and died shortly afterward in 1918; Lij Iyasu V remained imprisoned till his death in 1935, at a time when it was reported that Italian forces had intentions of “rescuing and restoring” his authority over Ethiopia.
The significance of Ras Mikael
—-Ras Mikael was one of the key players in the Battle of Sagale. Born in 1850 as Mohammed Ali, Mikael was a member of Ethiopian nobility who later converted to Christianity where he embraced his new title as Ras Mikael. In his early years Mikeal befriended both Emperor Yohannes IV and Menelik II. Menelik II appointed Mikael, who married Menelik II’s daughter, as the governor of Wallo, where Ras Mikael established his base in the small encampment of Dessie. It was in Dessie where he constructed his palace and the Enda Medhane Alem church.
In spite of his conversion to Christianity, and his encouragements for his countrymen to follow his lead, suspicions of his religious affiliations continued and were carried over unto his son Iyasu V.
(Photo: Negus Mikael Ali of Wollo—-father of Menelik’s II grandson Lij Iyasu V—-lead a fearless and feared Oromo cavalry of fighters in the Battle of Adwa in 1896, wiping out an entire Italian brigade.)