In honor of International Women’s Month, we want to give you a closer look at some of the women who were involved in various aspects of the war effort. The photos you see, unless otherwise noted, come from the private collection of Maaza Mengiste, whose novel, The Shadow King, tells the story of this war and those who lived through it. These photos and the novel are only a few of the many, many stories that exist.
As 1935 opened, the world was already starting to pay attention to the rising tensions between Italy and Ethiopia.
Some Ethiopian women were helping the Red Cross.
In other parts of the country, deep in the interior, life was going on as normal.
Yet as armies began to mobilize, some women also enlisted.
Story submitted by Maaza Mengiste
Getenesh 'Getey' Woldegabriel
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste tells the story of some of these women who joined the army.
Two of the characters in the novel were inspired by photographs from Maaza’s collection.
Excerpt of novel:
(a section when Hirut and Aster listen to Empress Menen give a radio address) p. 73
Hirut stares at the radio, at the large black knob and the jittery dial that is possessed by the princess’s breaths. She is spellbound trying to decipher how it is possible to hear this woman and this girl so clearly from far away. They are closer than the echo of drums that ricochet through the hills when there is news. They are here, but they are not here.
We are confident that women everywhere have the same desire in maintaining world peace and love.
The radio’s speaker is an arch of mesh, like a webbed sun. She is so close that she can feel the warm hum of it, can almost sense the empress and princess like two solid blocks of light spinning in a place where voices travel faster than flesh. Somewhere in there, past the wood and the mesh and the knob and the glass that holds the nervous dial in place, there is a royal woman who has moved outside of herself and become both vast and invisible, mighty as wind. Lost in thought, mesmerized and awestruck, it isn’t until she feels Aster nudge her leg that Hirut turns around to see what has happened.
We all know that war destroys mankind, and in spite of their differences in race, creed, and religion, women all across the world despise war because its fruit is nothing but destruction.
Aster is dressed in the tunic and jodhpurs, the stained cape across her shoulders, a new rifle slung against her back. The aged cape falls in folds, hanging in such a way that Hirut can tell it was cured by the surest hands, expertly rubbed and oiled to lie close against a body and mold to its owner’s shape. Aster shifts the new rifle from her left shoulder to her right while her legs stay firm and strong beneath her. She is resplendent. She is a fearsome and shocking figure, something both familiar and foreign, frightening and incomprehensible. A woman dressed as a warrior, looking as fierce as any man.