Balahu was a towering Ethiopian giant who served as the esteemed umbrella bearer and later drum-major to Emperor Haile Selassie. However, his life took a tragic turn when he encountered Italian troops in 1936. His remarkable story reflects the complexities and injustices of the era, shedding light on the resilience and sacrifice of the Ethiopian people.
Balahu’s remarkable journey began when Emperor Haile Selassie discovered him in 1934. Standing at an impressive height, he earned the distinction of being the tallest man in Ethiopia. Balahu’s path crossed with the Emperor’s when he faced trial for a love-related dispute that turned violent, resulting in the death of a rival. It was during these proceedings that Emperor Selassie, presiding over the trial, was struck by Balahu’s towering stature.
Impressed by Balahu’s towering presence, Emperor Selassie intervened in the legal proceedings, paying a substantial amount in blood money to secure Balahu’s freedom. Recognizing the uniqueness of his new acquaintance, the Emperor appointed Balahu as his personal umbrella bearer. Balahu’s role was to ensure the Emperor’s comfort and protection from the elements during his public appearances. His towering frame made him an iconic figure in the imperial court, captivating the imaginations of both Ethiopians and foreign visitors.
Balahu’s role as umbrella bearer, while important, did not fully showcase his potential. Consequently, the Emperor transferred Balahu to the imperial band, recognizing his musical abilities and promoting him to the esteemed position of drum-major. With his commanding presence and rhythmic drumming, Balahu became an integral part of the musical ensemble, adding to the grandeur and spectacle of imperial events.
The Tragic End
The arrival of Italian troops in Ethiopia in 1936 marked a period of immense hardship for the Ethiopian people. Mussolini’s forces sought to colonize Ethiopia, aiming to expand the Italian empire. This invasion inflicted great suffering on the Ethiopian people, challenging their sovereignty and independence. As the war progressed, Emperor Haile Selassie, a symbol of Ethiopian resistance, was compelled to flee the capital city and seek refuge in exile.
However, Balahu chose a different path, driven by his unwavering loyalty and fierce determination. He chose to remain in the city and join the resistance against the Italian occupation.
Balahu’s fought alongside his fellow compatriots, risking his life for the freedom and independence of Ethiopia. Unfortunately, his valiant efforts were cut short when he was captured by the Italian forces.
Subsequently, Balahu was taken prisoner and confined behind bars. Afterward, he was found guilty of “espionage and brigandage” by the Italian military tribunal and sentenced to death by a firing squad.
The execution of Balahu by Italian troops in 1936 marked a somber moment in Ethiopian history, highlighting the brutality of the Italian invasion and occupation. Balahu’s tragic fate symbolized the suffering endured by the Ethiopian people at the hands of foreign aggressors. However, his legacy lives on as a testament to the resilience and unwavering loyalty of the Ethiopian people in the face of adversity.