When women’s history month meets Ethiopia’s historical victory over Italy’s colonial ambitions, Empress Taytu comes to mind, the woman who agitated Emperor Menelik II to act, and led her people to defeat Italian forces on March 01, 1896.
This African victory over European aggression was not only significant for Ethiopia, but was also empowering for people of color across the world (without excluding the fact Ethiopia had its own internal feuds). And Empress Taytu was at the forefront of the campaign for national defense and sovereignty.
No wonder the European papers of the time praised the Empress as the “Joan of Arc of Africa,” though the comparison was unnecessary, for she was unique in her own way. Empress Taytu was an astute political observer and a military commander who fought on the front lines and crafted strategies alongside the generals (or Rases) who were all men.
An American historian Raymond Jonas wrote about the Menelik-Taytu relationship: “It was a union of destinies. In Menelik, Taytu saw a vehicle for her ambitions. In Taytu, Menelik saw wealth, political smarts and connections in a part of the country he would have to win over if he was to rule Ethiopia. If Menelik and Taytu were running for office in an American presidential election, it would be said that Taytu brought geographical balance to the ticket.”
Her name’s meaning: Tsehai means the Sun. Taytu (Tsehaitu) means “she is the sun.” She was indeed the Sun: bright, warm, and also fiery.