Ethiopia (Abyssinia) #121 (1919)

Ethiopia #121 (1919)

Ethiopia #121 (1919)

The Ethiopian Empire (የኢትዮጵያ ንጉሠ ነገሥት መንግሥተ), also known as Abyssinia (a Europeanized form of the Arabic al-Habash), was a kingdom that spanned a geographical area covered by the northern half of Ethiopia. It existed from approximately 1137 (the beginning of the Zagwe dynasty) until 1974, when the Solomonic dynasty was overthrown in a coup d’état. Following the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, Ethiopia and Liberia were the only two African nations to remain independent during the Scramble for Africa by the European imperial powers in the late nineteenth century. The present-day Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (የኢትዮጵያ ፌዴራላዊ ዲሞክራሲያዊ ሪፐብሊክ) shares a border with Eritrea to the north and northeast, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, Sudan and South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south. With nearly 100 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world, as well as the second-most populous nation on the African continent after Nigeria. It occupies a total area of 420,000 square miles (1,100,000 square kilometers), and its capital and largest city is Addis Ababa.

Some of the oldest evidence for anatomically modern humans has been found in Ethiopia, which is widely considered the region from which modern humans first set out for the Middle East and places beyond. According to linguists, the first Afroasiatic-speaking populations settled in the Horn region during the ensuing Neolithic era. Tracing its roots to the second millennium BC, Ethiopia was a monarchy for most of its history. During the first centuries AD, the Kingdom of Aksum maintained a unified civilization in the region, followed by the Ethiopian Empire circa 1137.

Ethiopia derived prestige with its uniquely successful military resistance during the late nineteenth-century Scramble for Africa, becoming the only African country to defeat a European colonial power and retain its sovereignty. Subsequently, many African nations adopted the colors of Ethiopia’s flag following their independence. It was the first independent African member of the twentieth-century League of Nations and the United Nations.

In 1935, Italian soldiers commanded by Marshal Emilio De Bono, invaded Ethiopia in what is known as the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. The war lasted seven months before an Italian victory was declared. The invasion was condemned by the League of Nations, though not much was done to end the hostility.

During the conflict, Italy used sulfur mustard in chemical warfare, ignoring the Geneva Protocol that it had signed seven years earlier. The Italian military dropped mustard gas in bombs, sprayed it from airplanes, and spread it in powdered form on the ground. 150,000 chemical casualties were reported, mostly from mustard gas. In the aftermath of the war Italy annexed Ethiopia, uniting it with Italy’s other colonies in eastern Africa to form the new colony of Italian East Africa, and Victor Emmanuel III of Italy adopted the title “Emperor of Abyssinia”.

On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on the United Kingdom and France, as France was in the process of being conquered by Germany at the time and Benito Mussolini wished to expand Italy’s colonial holdings. The Italian conquest of British Somaliland in August 1940 was successful, but the war turned against Italy afterward. Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia from England to help rally the resistance. The British began their own invasion in January 1941 with the help of Ethiopian freedom fighters, and the last organized Italian resistance in Italian East Africa surrendered in November 1941.

In 1974, a pro-Soviet Marxist–Leninist military junta, the “Derg”, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, deposed Haile Selassie and established a one-party communist state. Haile Selassie was imprisoned and died in unclear circumstances, the most likely known rumour being that he was suffocated with an ether-soaked pillow. The Derg was later defeated by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which has ruled since about the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Ethiopia’s ancient Ge’ez script, also known as Ethiopic, is one of the oldest alphabets still in use in the world. The Ethiopian calendar, which is approximately seven years and three months behind the Gregorian calendar, co-exists alongside the Borana calendar. A slight majority of the population adheres to Christianity (mainly the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and P’ent’ay), while around a third follows Islam (primarily Sunni Islam). The country is the site of the Migration to Abyssinia and the oldest Muslim settlement in Africa at Negash. A substantial population of Ethiopian Jews, known as Bete Israel, resided in Ethiopia until the 1980s, but most of them have since gradually emigrated to Israel.

Ethiopia is a multilingual nation with around 80 ethnolinguistic groups, the four largest of which are the Oromo, Amhara, Somali, and Tigrayans. Most people in the country speak Afroasiatic languages of the Cushitic or Semitic branches. Additionally, Omotic languages are spoken by ethnic minority groups inhabiting the southern regions. Nilo-Saharan languages are also spoken by the nation’s Nilotic ethnic minorities.

Ethiopia is the place of origin for the coffee bean which originated from the place called Kefa (which was one of the 14 provinces in the old Ethiopian administration). It is a land of natural contrasts, with its vast fertile West, jungles, and numerous rivers, and the world’s hottest settlement of Dallol in its north. The Ethiopian Highlands are Africa’s largest continuous mountain ranges, and Sof Omar Caves contain Africa’s largest cave. Ethiopia has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa.

As part of the 1867-8 invasion that culminated in the Battle of Magdala, the British established a field post office at Massawa (then a port of Ethiopia) in November 1867, using stamps of British India. The territory of Harar was taken by Egypt in 1875, and in the following year a post office was established; letters from there used Egyptian stamps canceled with a Maltese cross.

On March 9, 1894, Menelik II of Ethiopia awarded a concession to Swiss engineer Alfred Ilg to develop a railway including postal services. Ilg arranged for Frenchman Leon Chefneux to contract with the engraver Louis-Eugène Mouchon to design a set of seven stamps, four depicting Menelik, and three with a heraldic lion. They were printed by Atelier de Fabrication des Timbres-Postes in Paris, along with four values of postcards. Most of the stamps remained in Paris where the dealers Maury had the exclusive right to sell them but 135,000 sets were taken to Ethiopia. The earliest known use is January 29, 1895. These stamps were valid only for local mail and mail to Djibouti.

Initially the tasks of canceling and forwarding letters were entrusted to the Catholic mission at Harar. After a delay occasioned by the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, Ilg hired several Swiss postal officials and they began organizing a system of postal bags carried by the railway that was being constructed at the same time. The Harrar mission continued to process all mail until 1904, when a post office opened at the newly established town of Dire Dawa. In the meantime, it was discovered that Ethiopian stamps sold by an agent in France at a discount, for publicity purposes, were being shipped to Ethiopia and used on mail. To prevent this, beginning in 1901, stamps were locally overprinted in different ways each year, and were only valid for postage with the overprint.

Prior to the admission of Ethiopia to the Universal Postal Union in 1908, international mail from Ethiopia had to be additionally franked with stamps of UPU members. France operated post offices at Addis Ababa, Harar, and Dire Dawa, using stamps of Obock or the French Somali Coast, and mail is known with a triple franking of Ethiopia, British Somaliland (via the town of Zeila), and Aden.

The first stamps of Ethiopia valid for international mail were a November 1, 1908, set of overprinted stamps of the first issue. A further issue was required in new designs in 1909 which, in addition to Amharic, included the Latin inscription POSTES ETHIOPIENNES and the value in guerches. The older issues lost postal validity and the use of French Somali Coast stamps on mail sent abroad was discontinued as a result of the admission to the UPU which meant that Ethiopia could send mail to any country on earth.

The coronation of Zewditu I of Ethiopia and regency of Prince Tafari was marked in 1917 by overprints on the 1909 stamps. In 1919, a new definitive series of fifteen stamps included portraits of Zewditu and Tafari, along with various native animals, and inscribed ETHIOPIE.

In 1928, a set of ten stamps depicting Tafari and Zewditu was issued and soon after overprinted, first to mark the opening of the General Post Office in Addis Ababa, and a month later for the coronation of Tafari, the latter overprint including the phrase NEGOUS TEFERI in Latin letters. Overprints in 1930 commemorated first the proclamation and then coronation of Tafari as “Haile Selassie”, followed by a series of seven stamps depicting the coronation monument and various symbols of empire.

In 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia, annexing it the following year and declaring King Victor Emmanuel III Emperor of Ethiopia. In May 1936, Italy issued seven colonial stamps inscribed ETIOPIA and depicting Victor Emmanuel. Ethiopia was then incorporated in Italian East Africa with Eritrea and Italian Somaliland until the territory was liberated in 1941.

The first stamps after liberation were a series of three of 1942 depicting Haile Selassie, with the denomination printed in lower case, and reissued as a set of eight three months later, with the denomination in all capitals. Subsequent issues typically, though not always, included a portrait oval of Haile Selassie in the design up to the 1960s, after which Ethiopia continued to issue regular commemorative and definitive stamps.

Scott #121 was released on July 16, 1919 — a ¼-guerche blue green & drab stamp printed using typography, perforated 11½, portraying a pair of giraffes. A giraffe, of course, is the tallest living terrestrial animal. Its chief distinguishing characteristics are its extremely long neck and legs, its horn-like ossicones, and its distinctive coat patterns. It is classified under the family Giraffidae, along with its closest extant relative, the okapi. Each of the four species is distinguished by its coat patterns and genetics. The giraffe’s scattered range extends from Chad in the north to South Africa in the south, and from Niger in the west to Somalia in the east. They usually inhabit savannahs and woodlands. Their food source is leaves, fruits and flowers of woody plants, primarily acacia species, which they browse at heights most other herbivores cannot reach. Giraffes may be preyed on by lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and African wild dogs. Giraffes live in herds of related females and their offspring, or bachelor herds of unrelated adult males, but are gregarious and may gather in large aggregations. Males establish social hierarchies through “necking”, which are combat bouts where the neck is used as a weapon. Dominant males gain mating access to females, which bear the sole responsibility for raising the young.

The giraffe has intrigued various cultures, both ancient and modern, for its peculiar appearance, and has often been featured in paintings, books, and cartoons. Giraffes are still found in numerous national parks and game reserves. Estimations as of 2016 indicate that there are approximately 90,000 members of Giraffa in the wild, with around 1,144 in captivity.

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