African Journal of
History and Culture

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Hist. Cult.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-6672
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJHC
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 187

Full Length Research Paper

Revisiting history of Gafat: Was emperor Tewodros’s military reform an attempt at “translative adaptation” of western technology?

Fantahun Ayele
  • Fantahun Ayele
  • Department of History, Faculty of Social Science, Bahir Dar University, P. O. Box 79, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 23 August 2016
  •  Accepted: 21 September 2016
  •  Published: 31 October 2016


Gafat is now a desolate spot located a few kilometers Northeast of Dabra Tabor, capital of South Gondar. Some one hundred and fifty years ago, it was a busy village. It was there that Emperor Tewodros II (1855 to 1868) set up his foundry to produce modern arms. Gafat did witness the production of many mortars including the largest one named “Sebastopol.” The purpose of this study is to evaluate the modernization policy of Emperor Tewodros. The paper also tries to explain why that technology failed to take root in Ethiopia. The author has examined both primary and secondary sources to conduct a historical investigation on Tewodros’s attempts at modernization. The author has also paid personal visits to the Gafat village twice. During the second visit in September 2015, he managed to locate the place where the blast furnace was set up to produce mortars. In addition, attempts have been made to critically evaluate and reinterpret available documents. The main findings of this paper show that Tewodros was trying to implement “translative” adaptation of western technology   in order to modernize his army. However, the objective condition of the country at the time did not allow the realization of Tewodros’s dreams.

Key words: Gafat, craftsmen, military technology, missionaries, mortars, modernization.