Shewareged Gedle:- ‘The Lion Hearted Woman’

As in other traditional societies, the main responsibility and role of women though was considered to be exemplary wives, bear and raise children and to take care of family, pushing the envelope and standing by the side of their counterparts, several Ethiopian women have contributed a lot in defending their country.

The women though were kept out of the politics, by breaking the barrier and participating in ‘warfronts’ that were entitled to men, they have fought bravely, tortured, imprisoned, suffered and died for their country. By doing so, they can write their name in the continuous historical account of the nation.

Among these brave women, Shawaragad Gadle, is the one.

Patriot Shewareged, whose heroic deeds earned her the epithets ‘the Lion Hearted Woman’ detained, suffered, tied to a tree and badly beaten by the Italian fascist forces.

As documents stated, when the Italo-Ethiopian war broke out, Shewareged was very busy raising funds, collecting first aid medication and mobilizing a league of women patriots who, according to some sources, took an oath to fight the enemy till death.

As a dedicated guerrilla fighter, she sold the land she inherited from her father and used the money to buy clothes, medicine, bullets and rifles for her soldiers and other patriots operating near Addis Ababa. She also gave financial support to the Red Cross. To her credit, she is also reported to have assisted poor villagers deprived of their living by the Italians.

Her extensive patriotic activities brought Shewareged to frequent court trials by Italian officials. However, she was dauntless and used to declare her unreserved commitment to die for her country’s independence.

At one time she was brought to the Italian court for having wept on seeing the Italian flag hoisted and was asked why she did that. Her response was surprising even to the fascist officials:

“Women of your country who were envious of others’ country have given their rings to the bandits (soldiers) who came to invade Ethiopia. Is my weeping alone a crime when I see my country invaded by alien people, my state collapsed, and my county’s flag replaced by another? [Weeping is not enough].

She was released, but she kept up her struggle. Different sources agree that Shewareged also rendered multi-dimensional service in underground patriotic activities in the capital from where she used to instill patriotic zeal, organize and send foods, medicines, arms and clothes to the guerrilla fighters. Using her relation with an Ethiopian in the service of the Fascist political office, she gathered valuable information on contemporary political and military affairs. Her intelligence report was systematically sent to renowned war leaders such as Ras Abebe Aregay.

Following the attempt on the life of Grazziani, she was suspected of treason and captured to be deported with many Ethiopians to the Italian prison near the island of Sardinia where she stayed for two years. She was tortured and flogged in prison to force her to disclose secrets many times.

At one instance, she lost her patience and struck an Italian officer in the face and shouted “You are entitled to imprison me, but not to insult me.”

Having promised not to engage in subversive activities, she was allowed to return home.

However, Shewareged did not fulfill her promise and kept up her patriotic struggle. As The Newspaper published in 3 November 1967) stated, the heroine joined an underground organization known as Wust Arbegnoch (inner patriots). The main duty of this organization was to gather intelligence information, raise funds, and collect ammunition, food, clothes and medication to be sent to the guerrilla fighters. She gave extensive service in this regard

In the summer of 1940 Shewareged was engaged in a grand plan to attack an Italian ammunition depot in Addis Alem, where she had a house. She investigated the condition of the depot and of the Ethiopian prisoners in the same compound.

The Gender Issues Research Report Series reported that she corresponded with prominent Showan patriots such as Jagema Kello (later General), Colonel Zewde Tilahun, Captain Tengesse Kello and other officers, asking them to coordinate their efforts to attack the Italian prison and loot the depot at Addis Alem.

She also won to her side the Ethiopians responsible for running the prison. In November 1940, an organized attack by her group overrun the prison, set free the prisoners and looted the depot. In his account of the underground patriotic activities Kegnazmach Tadesse Zewelde wrote of the fact that about 70 enemy soldiers were killed during the attack and that the Ethiopians collected about 2700 rifles and many grenades.

Shewareged fled to Becho in Shoa, where she met guerrilla fighters and continued her propaganda work at different camps by informing fighters about international developments and the emperor’s expected return in the near future. To some notable war leaders, she is reported to have written letters informing them of foreign aid accompanying the emperor, and fortunately for her, the letters of the emperor began to reach the patriots shortly afterwards.

She continued her activity until she was captured by the Italians at Kussay in the Gurage region in December 1940. She went there to coordinate her efforts with a famous war leader in Gurage known as Dejazmach Gerresu Duki, the Newspaper further stated.

Shewareged suffered a lot in the hands of the Italians. She was arrested twelve times by the Italians before the Graziani murders, and she was also condemned to death but eventually released. She was tied to a tree and mercilessly beaten, and later detained at the prison of Akaki near the capital city, Addis Ababa. She was sentenced to death, but fortunately her life was saved by the triumphant entry of the joint Anglo-Ethiopian army into the capital.

Shawaragad took part in fights in many parts of Ethiopia. She was again taken prisoner by the Italians, treated badly, and on hunger strike for 32 days. However, the general liberation of Ethiopia was near.

She was detained in Italy but released after two years and came back to Ethiopia. She suffered more when the Italians detained her again in 1940. She was tied to a tree, badly beaten and sent to prison. Her adopted son was murdered before her eyes; and she was tied to a tree and publicly flogged.

However, she recovered, escaped and fought on to the end of the Italian occupation in the Debre Birhan region.

Finally, in 1946, five years later the Italian forces expelled from the country defeated by brave Ethiopia’s sons and daughters; and the flag-waver, Shewareged Gedle, passed away registering her name in the continuous historical account of the nation.



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