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Saturday, 14 January 2012

Tewodros II (Theodore II; Kassa; Ethiopia; Battle of Magdala

One of the most fascinating African heroes is Theodore II (Tewodros II), formerly known as Kassa.

There have been many books written about the Battle of Magdala, and I once produced educational TV and radio programmes telling Theodore's story, the events leading up to the Battle of Magdala and his suicide on April 13, 1868 (Theodore had imprisoned a group of  missionaries and some of Queen Victoria's envoys, so the British marched against the fortress of Magdala). The military campaign, or punitive expedition, lead by Napier, took place in 1866-1868.

My two treatments were produced around 1973. For the TV programme we persuaded the Ambassador to lend us his ceremonial hat, to be worn by the actor (Gerald Mosback) who played the part of Napier.

Producing the radio play:

The poster at the top is from an Ethiopian play which was staged in Addis at the beginning of the Ethiopian revolution. Tewodros II became a great hero and symbol to Ethiopian students. His lowly origins stood in strong contrast to the feudal aristocratic lineage of Emperor Haile Selassie. The diabolic and violent imagery of the poster speaks for itself.

Here are the last two verses of "The Ballad of Kassa", which I wrote to open my own documentary radio play:

'The Queen sent an army to set the prisoners free,
Such cannons and soldiers you never did see;
They captured the fortress, the battle was won,
But Kassa just stood there, and took out his gun.

He would never surrender, he was a brave man and proud,
"I am still King of Kings!" he shouted out loud.
"Have you ever seen a lion just lay down and die?"
He blew out his brains without even a sigh.'

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