Bafana (circa 1834-1887?) was the wife (1865-1883) of King Menilek of Shawa, who later became Emperor Menilek II (q.v.) [ruled 1889-1913]. Backed by Emperor Yohannes IV (q.v.) [reigned 1872-89), she unsuccessfully attempted to have her husband overthrown in a coup in 1877.
Of humble origin, Bafana was attractive and vivacious, with ambitions both for herself and for her children by previous marriages. She became Menilek’s wife by customary law, and then schemed to make one of her sons King of Shawa. First she reduced the power of Dajazmach Mashasha, Menilek’s first cousin and heir apparent. Next, she alienated many of Menilek’s supporters from him, and established her own party, whose members upheld a particular religious dogma about Christ’s conception. Emperor Yohannes IV, who held this belief, aimed at imposing religious unity upon Christian Ethiopia. He also wanted to rule Shawa, but was unable to do so because it was controlled by Menilek, who in 1872 had been the only important political figure in northern and central Ethiopia to refuse to recognize him as emperor. Instead, Menilek had called himself Negusa Nagast (“King of Kings”), and was actively attempting to depose Yohannes.
Yohannes therefore agreed to support Bafana in a coup whose object was to make her the regent for her son. The attempt was made in 1877 while Menilek was out of the country on a campaign against Yohannes and Ras Adal, the ruler of Gojam. The coup failed, however, because it was badly timed. The army on the spot refused to recognize Bafana’s authority, and Menilek’s relatives were uncooperative.
At first Menilek refused to believe the reports about Bafana’a activities. Because of the evidence against her, however, he was reluctantly forced to exile her by the council of officers and chiefs. Though his love for her led to her recall, she was later exiled to a convent at Dabra Libanos in Shawa, after which, for political reasons, Menilek married Taytu Betul (q.v.) of Yaju.
Harold G. Marcus
A. Cecchi, Da Zeila alle frontiere del Caffa (“From Seila to the Frontiers of Kaffa”), Rome, 1886.
G. Chiarini, “Memorie sulla storia recente dello Scioa, dalla morte di Sahle Selassie sino ad oggi,” (“Memoir on the recent History of Shawa, from the Death of Sahla Selassé to the Present”), Memoir della Societa Geografica Italiana, Vol. 2, Rome, 1878.
See also Atsmé Giyorgis, “Ya Galla Tarik,” (“History of the Galla”), undated manuscript, Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (in 20 Volumes). Volume One Ethiopia-Ghana, ©1997 by L. H. Ofosu-Appiah, editor-in-chief, Reference Publications Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.