Interview With Ms. Allimadi About her play “Empress Taytu Betul”

Playwright Doris Allimadi in the lead role of Empress Taytu Betul.
This year marks the 123rd anniversary of the Great Battle of Adwa, when a huge Ethiopian army commanded by Empress Taytu Betul, Emperor Menelik II, Ras Alula Engida –referred to as “Africa’s Garibaldi” by 19th century European writers– and several other generals    routed an invading Italian army seeking to colonize the Empire. The Italians were commanded by five generals, including Oreste Baratieri, who had vowed to return to Rome with Menelik in a cage. When the dust settled after the March 1, 1896 battle, thousands of Italian soldiers were dead including two generals –another general was captured– and Baratieri was running for his life. Two thousand captured Italian prisoners of war were marched back to Addis Ababa and forced to work constructing the Ethiopian capital. They were released after Italy paid millions in reparations. It was Africa’s greatest victory against European imperialism.  
Recently playwright Doris Allimadi spoke about her play “Empress Taytu Betul,” commemorating the Battle of Adwa, which performed on March 1, 2019 –with Ms. Allimadi in the lead role– to a sold-out audience in Reading, in the U.K. 
BSN: Tell us a little bit about your play, 
Doris Allimadi: My play is based on the life of Taytu Betul, Emperor Menelik’s wife. I found out about her only recently and was both amazed and ashamed that I didn’t know about her sooner. She fascinated me and I wanted the whole world to know about her.
BSN: What can you tell me about her? What is so significant that you felt it was important for you to write a play about her?
Allimadi: Firstly, she was highly educated which was rare for a woman of her era.  Secondly, Menelik considered her his equal, which was also rare then in the 19th century, and is still rare in the 21st century. We talk a lot about equality but that’s just it, talk. Most men do not consider women to be their equal.  
Taytu was not just an Empress, she was Menelik’s partner, confidant and adviser. She was also a military strategist who played an instrumental role in Ethiopia’s defeat of the Italians at the Battle of Adwa in the spring of 1896.
BSN: Why did you name the play “Empress Taytu Betul” and not “The Battle of Adwa”?
Allimadi: Because I wanted to tell the story of Taytu Betul. More people know about the Battle of Adwa than they know about Taytu. I felt it was a travesty. We know of many great European women like Catherine The Great and Joan of Ark but not a woman who was a key figure in destroying Italy’s imperialistic designs on Ethiopia.
BSN: Was the play easy to write?
Allimadi: No, the play was not easy to write. I did my research and had all the information that I needed but turning it into a script was quite challenging because I wanted to do her justice. I wanted people to remember her and if you were African then I wanted you to be proud.
BSN: How was the play received when you performed it on March 1?
Allimadi: The play was well received. People became interested when they read its introduction on the theatre’s website. They wanted to learn more about this formidable Empress and Ethiopia’s defeat of Italy at the Battle of Adwa.  
I spoke to an Ethiopian gentleman in the audience and he told he loved the play. He loved that I had used some Amharic words. He said, “Thank you, we really appreciate you doing this play”. This made the long hours of writing, editing and rehearsing with the cast worthwhile. I drove everyone crazy with script changes. It got a point that I was afraid to email them and so presented my changes during rehearsals but I knew we would have time to perfect it before the show. On the night, everyone stepped up.
BSN: What did you learn about Taytu?
Allimadi: That she was proud, courageous and determined that Ethiopia would remain free. She was not afraid to go to war in defense of her Empire. She also founded Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
She loved Menelik and was loyal to him. He loved her and respected her. He is said to have consulted with her on important issues before making any decisions. 
BSN: What next for you and “Empress Taytu Betul”?
Allimadi: To present it to a bigger stage and wider audience. She deserves it. There is a part in the play where she says, “The clock is ticking and I am just waiting to die; but please remember my name, never forget my name, Taytu Betul.”
Playwright Allimadi can be reached via [email protected] 

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