How a Bad Translation Started A War…

The Battle of Adwa!

 The Battle of Adwa was a major conflict in the late 19th century that pitted the Ethiopian Empire against the Kingdom of Italy. The battle was a pivotal moment in African history, as it marked the first time an African nation successfully defended itself against a European colonial power.

     The war began when the Italians attempted to cheat the Ethiopian Empire out of their rights by manipulating the Italian version of the Wuchale Treaty.

     The Wuchale Treaty, a document signed in 1889 between the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II and the Kingdom of Italy, was intended to establish a peaceful relationship and trade between the two countries. However, the Italian version of the treaty contained multiple mistranslations; the 17th clause, which would give Italy control over Ethiopia’s foreign affairs, stands out, and the certain power of protectorate by default. The Italians then refused to accept the Amharic version of the treaty and insisted that the Italian version was the only valid one. This led to a diplomatic crisis between the two countries, and eventually to the outbreak of the War of Adwa in 1896.

The Wuchale Treaty: Clause 17  

Amharic: “His Majesty the King of Kings of Ethiopia can use the Government of His Majesty the King of Italy for all business with other powers or governments”

Italy: “His Majesty the King of Kings of Ethiopia must use the Government of His Majesty the King of Italy for all business with other powers or governments”

The Battle of Adwa was a result of the Italians’ attempt to trick the Ethiopians into submission by signing a treaty that contained clauses which did not translate the same in Amharic. This led to the Ethiopians’ denouncement of the Italian translation of the treaty, which ultimately resulted in the Italians declaring war on Ethiopia.

The victory at the Battle of Adwa for Ethiopians was a major turning point in history, as it showed that Ethiopia could not be colonized by whatever force the Europeans had and it could stand up to foreign powers and protect its sovereignty, against all odds.

Today, the Battle of Adwa is remembered as a major event in African history, and as a reminder of the importance of standing up for one’s rights.

The Battle of Adwa is an ignition to every proud black history that can be taken as a great marker in the world and a reminder of the importance of accuracy, fairness, and responsibility in translation. It is essential that a translation mirrors all versions of the original agreement or any type of document; a discrepancy, no matter the weight, can lead to misunderstanding and conflict. The Wuchale Treaty is proof of the mix-up of ‘CAN’ or ‘MUST’.

Source

https://www.britannica.com/event/Treaty-of-Wichale
https://gspi.unipr.it/sites/st26/files/allegatiparagrafo/17-02-2015/documenti_-_treaty_of_wuchale_1889.pdf
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Menilek-II

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