Kingdom of Kaffa

Last updated
Kingdom of Kaffa
Capital Anderaccha
Common languages Kafa
Religion Officially Christianity with Islam, animism
Government Monarchy
 Annexed by Ethiopian Empire
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blank.png Mato Dynasty
Ethiopian Empire Flag of Ethiopia (1897).svg

The Kingdom of Kaffa (c. 13901897) was an early modern state located in what is now Ethiopia, with its first capital at Bonga. The Gojeb River formed its northern border, beyond which lay the Gibe kingdoms; to the east the territory of the Konta and Kullo peoples lay between Kaffa and the Omo River; to the south numerous subgroups of the Gimira people, and to the west lay the Majangir people. [1] The native language, also known as Kaffa, is one of the Omotic group of languages.

Ethiopia country in East Africa

Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country in the northeastern part of Africa, popularly known as the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with Eritrea to the north, Djibouti to the northeast, and Somalia to the east, Sudan to the northwest, South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south. With over 102 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world and the second-most populous nation on the African continent that covers a total area of 1,100,000 square kilometres (420,000 sq mi). Its capital and largest city is Addis Ababa, which lies a few miles west of the East African Rift that splits the country into the Nubian Plate and the Somali Plate.

Bonga Place in Ethiopia

Bonga is a town and separate woreda in south-western Ethiopia. Located southwest of Jimma in the Keffa Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region upon a hill in the upper Barta valley, it has a latitude and longitude of 7°16′N36°14′E with an elevation of 1,714 meters above sea level. It is surrounded by Ginbo woreda. Bonga is the administrative center of the Keffa Zone, with a major market on Saturday and lesser ones on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Note that there is another town in Ethiopia named "Bonga", near Gambela.

The Gojeb River is eastward-flowing tributary of the Omo River in Ethiopia. It rises in the mountains of Guma, flowing in almost a direct line its confluence with the Omo at 7°20′25″N37°21′17″E.


Kaffa was divided into four sub-groups, who spoke a common language Kefficho, one of the Gonga/Kefoid group of Omotic languages; a number of groups of foreigners, Ethiopian Muslim traders and members of the Ethiopian Church, also lived in the kingdom. There were a number of groups of people, "but with the status of submerged status", who also lived in the kingdom; these included the Manjo, or hunters; the Manne, or leatherworkers; and the Qemmo, or blacksmiths. [2] The Manjo even had their own king, appointed by the King of Kaffa, and were given the duties of guarding the royal compounds and the gates of the kingdom. [3] The kingdom was overrun and conquered in 1897, and was eventually annexed by Ethiopia.

Kafa or Kefa is a North Omotic Language language spoken in Ethiopia at the Keffa Zone. It is part of the Ethiopian Language Area, with SOV word order, ejective consonants, etc.

Omotic languages language family

The Omotic languages are group of languages spoken in southwestern Ethiopia. The Ge'ez script is used to write some of the Omotic languages, the Latin script for some others. They are fairly agglutinative and have complex tonal systems. The languages have around 6.2 million speakers. The group is generally classified as belonging to the Afroasiatic language family, but this is disputed by some.

The land where this former kingdom lay is in the southern parts of the Ethiopian Highlands with stretches of forest. The mountainous land is very fertile, capable of three harvests a year.

Ethiopian Highlands mountain range

The Ethiopian Highlands is a rugged mass of mountains in Ethiopia, situated in the Horn region in northeast Africa. It forms the largest continuous area of its elevation in the continent, with little of its surface falling below 1,500 m (4,900 ft), while the summits reach heights of up to 4,550 m (14,930 ft). It is sometimes called the Roof of Africa due to its height and large area. Most of the Ethiopian Highlands are part of central and northern Ethiopia, and its northernmost portion reaches into Eritrea.


Phallic warrior headgear (17th century) Phallic headgear from Kaffa.jpg
Phallic warrior headgear (17th century)

The Kingdom of Kaffa was founded c.1390 by Minjo, who according to oral tradition ousted the Mato dynasty of 32 kings. However, his informants told Amnon Orent, "no one remembers the name of a single one." [4] The first capital Bonga was either founded or captured by Bon-noghe; it was later replaced by Anderaccha, but Bonga retained its importance.

Anderaccha is a town in southwestern Ethiopia. Located in the Keffa Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region, at the confluence of the Guma River with the Gichey, it is 1,629 meters (5,344 ft) above sea level. The Central Statistical Agency has not published an estimate for its 2005 population.

During the 16th century, all of the territories north of the Gojeb River were lost to the Oromo migrations. Also in the later 16th century, the Emperor of Ethiopia Sarsa Dengel convinced the kingdom to officially accept Christianity as its state religion. As a result, the church of St. George was dedicated at Baha; the building preserved a tabot bearing the name of Emperor Sarsa Dengel. Over the following centuries the influence of the Ethiopian government grew weak, and Christianity more or less disappeared, although the church of St. George was used as a "male house of ritual of George" until late in the 19th century when Christian practices were reintroduced. [5]

Oromo people An African ethnic group, largest in Ethiopia

The Oromo people are an ethnic group inhabiting Ethiopia. They are one of the largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia and represent 34.5% of Ethiopia's population. Oromos speak the Oromo language as a mother tongue, which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. The word Oromo appeared in European literature for the first time in 1893 and slowly became common in the second half of the 20th century.

Emperor of Ethiopia Hereditary rulers of the Ethiopian Empire

The Emperor of Ethiopia was the hereditary ruler of the Ethiopian Empire, until the abolition of the monarchy in 1975. The Emperor was the head of state and head of government, with ultimate executive, judicial and legislative power in that country. A National Geographic Magazine article called imperial Ethiopia "nominally a constitutional monarchy; in fact [it was] a benevolent autocracy".

Sarsa Dengel was nəgusä nägäst (1563–1597) of Ethiopia, and a member of the Solomonic dynasty.

Beginning with Gali Ginocho (1675–1710), the kings of Kaffa began to expand the borders of their kingdom, annexing the neighboring small Gimira states of She, Benesho and Majango. The neighboring state of the Welayta came under their control in the reign of Tato Shagi Sherocho (1775–1795), who extended the boundaries of his kingdom as far as the Omo to the southeast and almost to the confluence of the Omo and the Denchya to the south. [6] It was during the reign of King Hoti Gaocho (1798–1821), that the territory of the Kaffa kings reached its maximum. According to Orent, the traditions of the Kaffa people relate that he ruled far and wide, conquering wherever he went, even as far afield as Wolleta and Kambaata. "To this day," concludes Orent, "some people still talk about the time that their ancestors defeated all their enemies and sat at the foot of a famous tree in Wolliso and decided not to go farther into Shoa province." [7]

The Welayta, Wolayta or Wolaitta are an ethnic group and its former kingdom, located in southern Ethiopia. According to the most recent census (2007), the people of Wolayta number 1.7 million, or 2.31 percent of the country's population, of whom 289,707 are city-dwellers. The language of the Wolayta people, similarly called Wolaytta, belongs to the Omotic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Despite their small population, Wolayta people have widely influenced national music, dance and cuisine in Ethiopia.

The Denchya River is a river of southern Ethiopia. It is a south-flowing tributary of the Omo River, entering it on the right bank at 6°27′30″N36°19′32″E.

Gaki Sherochi in 1897 Tato Gaki Sherocho in chains - 1897.jpg
Gaki Sherochi in 1897

The last Kaffa king, Gaki Sherocho, resisted for months the combined armies of Wolde Giyorgis, Ras Damisse, and King Abba Jifar II of Jimma, until he was captured 11 September 1897, and was first sent to Ankober, then to Addis Ababa. Kaffa was then held as a fief by Wolde Giyogis until 1914. [3] During his visit to Kaffa in 1897, Alexander Bulatovich had the opportunity to study the culture of the inhabitants, describing them in his book With the Armies of Menelik II, emperor of Ethiopia, identifying a number of practices in common with the more familiar Amhara people. [8]

The inhabitants suffered greatly from slave-raiding during the de facto rule of Lij Iyasu, and the region almost became uninhabited. During the reorganization of the provinces in 1942, the former kingdom was enlarged by the addition of a number of other kingdoms from the Gibe region to become Kaffa Province.


A coffee cup from the era of the Kaffa Kingdom. Ancient Coffee Cup, Kafa Tribe (13186929813).jpg
A coffee cup from the era of the Kaffa Kingdom.

In Kaffa, Maria Theresa Thalers (MT) and salt blocks called amoleh were used as currency (as in the rest of Ethiopia) as late as 1905, which circulated at a rate of four or five amolehs to 1 MT. [9]

The economy was based on exports of gold, civet oil, and slaves. Crops raised included coffee and cotton. However, according to Richard Pankhurst, the amount of coffee exported was never large: he cites an estimate for its production in the 1880s at 50,000 to 60,000 kilograms a year. [10] Livestock was raised, and honeybees kept in barrels (called gendo) which were hung in trees. [11]


  1. G.W.B. Huntingford, The Galla of Ethiopia; the Kingdoms of Kafa and Janjero (London: International African Institute, 1955), p. 104
  2. Huntingford, Galla of Ethiopia, p. 136
  3. 1 2 Huntingford, Galla of Ethiopia, p. 105
  4. Amnon Orent, " Refocusing on the History of Kafa prior to 1897: A Discussion of Political Processes", African Historical Studies, 3 (1970), p. 268 n. 8
  5. Huntingford, Galla of Ethiopia, pp. 133f
  6. Richard Pankhurst, The Ethiopian Borderlands (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1997), p. 351
  7. Orent, "Refocusing on the History", p. 277
  8. "With the Armies of Menelik II, emperor of Ethiopia", translated by Richard Seltzer
  9. Huntingford, Galla of Ethiopia, p. 112
  10. Richard Pankhurst, Economic History of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie I University, 1968), p. 199
  11. Huntingford, Galla of Ethiopia, pp. 105ff.

Further reading

See also

Coordinates: 7°16′00″N36°14′00″E / 7.2667°N 36.2333°E / 7.2667; 36.2333

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