Mikael Aragawi (circa 1848-1931) was the first Ethiopian Protestant missionary.
Born a Falasha, or Ethiopian Jew, he grew up with the family of Joseph Martin Flad (q.v.), a German missionary who established a station for the conversion of the Falasha at Jenda, near Lake Tana. When in 1866, Emperor Téwodros (q.v.) [reigned 1855-68] sent Flad as an envoy to Queen Victoria, Mikael accompanied him to Europe. After attending a German orphanage, he entered the missionary school at St. Chrischona in Basel, Switzerland, acting as translator and guide to a group of recently arrived young Ethiopian converts. On returning to Ethiopia he undertook evangelizing journeys, distributing Bibles and tracks translated in to Amharic by Flad. With the help of other Ethiopian missionaries, Mikael converted some 2,000 Falashas. In 1885 he joined Flad at the British and Foreign Bible Society in London, and helped to revise the third edition of the Amharic Bible published at St. Chrischona.
In subsequent years Ethiopia faced foreign invasions, pestilence, and famine, and the mission was cut off from outside aid. Mikael suffered persecution and imprisonment, and had to flee with his wife and children to escape the Mahdist dervishes (members of a Muslim religious fraternity), who raided western Ethiopia from what is now the Sudan in 1887. Emperor Menilek II (q.v.) [reigned 1889-1913], less hostile to Protestantism than his predecessor Emperor Yohannes IV (q.v.) [reigned 1872-89], granted Mikael, now leader of the mission, written permission to work. At the age of 75, Mikael, who had been granted the title of Alaqa (learned man), undertook a final visit to Switzerland, celebrating his 50th jubilee at St. Chrischona in July 1923. He assisted Flad’s son Friedrich in the correction of the New Testament, translated by Blattengeta Heruy Walda Selasse (q.v.) into Amharic, which was subsequently printed in Addis Ababa with parallel Ge’ez and Amharic texts. He died at Jenda in 1931.
Rita J. Pankhurst
F. Flad, Michael Aragawi, Basel, 1952; J.M. Flad, 60 Jahre in der Mission under den Falashas (“Sixty Years in the Mission to the Falashas”), Giessen and Basel, 1922; Richard Pankhurst, “Ethiopia’s First Protestant Missionary,” Ethiopia Observer, Vol. 10, Addis Ababa, 1966.
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.