Kingdom of Kaffa

Kingdom of Kaffa

The Kingdom of Kaffa (c.1390–1897) was an ancient state located in what is now Ethiopia, with its capital at Bonga. The Gojeb River formed its northern border, beyond which lay the Gibe kingdoms; to the east the Konta and Kullo peoples lay between Kaffa and the Omo River; to the south numerous tribes of the Gimira people, and to the west lay the Masongo people. [G.W.B. Huntingford, "The Galla of Ethiopia; the Kingdoms of Kafa and Janjero" (London: International African Institute, 1955), p. 104]

Kaffa was divided into four sub-tribes, who spoke a common language Kefficho, one of the Gonga/Kefoid group of Omotic languages; a number of groups of foreigners, 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. [Huntingford, "Galla of Ethiopia", p. 136] 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. [Huntingford, "Galla of Ethiopia", p. 105]

The land where this former kingdom lay is mountainous with stretches of forest. The land is very fertile, capable of three harvests a year.


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. [Huntingford, "Galla of Ethiopia", p. 112]

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. [Richard Pankhurst, "Economic History of Ethiopia" (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie I University, 1968), p. 199] Livestock was raised, and honeybees kept in barrels (called "gendo") which were hung in trees. [Huntingford, "Galla of Ethiopia", pp. 105ff.]


The Kingdom of Kaffa was founded approximately c.1390 by Minjo. The first capital Bonga was either founded or captured by Bong-he; it was later replaced by Anderaccha, but Bonga retained its importance.

During the 16th century, all of the territories north of the Gojeb River were lost to the Oromo migrations; however, the Kaffa kings compensated for this by annexing the neighboring small Gimira states, and in the later 18th century brought the neighboring state of Walamo under their control.

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. [Huntingford, "Galla of Ethiopia", pp. 133f]

The last Kaffa king, Gaki Sherocho, resisted for months the combined armies of Walda 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 Walda Giyogis until 1914. [Huntingford, "Galla of Ethiopia", pp. 105] The inhabitants suffered greatly from slave-raiding in the reign of Iyasu V, 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.


Further reading

* Werner Lange, "History of the Southern Gonga (Southeastern Ethiopia)". Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1982.

See also

* Monarchies of Ethiopia (king list)

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