Atsme Giyorgis (1821-1914) a historian of the Galla or Oromo people, was one of the few Ethiopian authors during the reign of Emperor Menilek (q.v.). (1889-1914).

Atsme was born at Harramba in Shawa. His father was Gabra Masih and his mother was Walatta Gabriel. He was educated in monastic schools. He also learned Arabic from Muslim traders in the eastern Ethiopian lowlands and Latin from two Ethiopian missionaries. Monseigneur Lorenzo Massaia (q.v.) also known as Father Guglialmo and Monseigneur Giustino de Jacobis. Kind and philanthropic, he was interested in teaching and believed in universal education.

Atsme started life as a confidential messenger for Menilek, for whom he successfully engaged in espionage in Harar. After Menilek’s conquest of that town in 1887, he became a presiding judge dealing with cases concerning foreigners – a post which gave him time for writing.


In 1889, he questioned the Treaty of Wechale (Uccialli), concluded between Menilek and the Italians, but was punished for criticism. The points he raised, however, represented Italo-Ethiopian differences that subsequently led to the Adwa campaign of 1896, in which the Ethiopian forces defeated the Italians. In 1905 his possessions were confiscated, allegedly because he practiced Catholicism.

Although there are references to his works by other authors, none was published and only two manuscripts are now available. One is a history of the Galla people which is the most detailed work available on the subject. The other is a laudatory biography of the Virgin Mary, a literary composition in rhythmic Amharic verse and prose.


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