Gojjam (Ge'ez: ጎጃም gōjjām or Goǧǧam, originally ጐዛም gʷazzam, later ጐዣም gʷažžām, ጎዣም gōžžām) was a kingdom in the north-western part of Ethiopia, with its capital city at Debre Marqos. This region is distinctive for lying entirely within the bend of the Abbay River from its outflow from Lake Tana to the Sudan. Gojjamis believe that they are the original people mentioned in the Bible as the river Guihon/Gihon (Nile, or Niger[see: Giehun, Sierra Leone] ) encircling the land of Cush extending to the ancient kingdom of Meroe. At the fall of Meroe to the Axumite King Ezana (4th century AD). Gojjam (Guihon) became a kingdom and later joined the rest of the kingdom of Ethiopia having their own kingship up to the coming of Menlike II of Shoa in the late 19th century, who reduced it to a province. (Stigma By Prof. Muse Tegegne 1993 Geneva).
The name Gojjam was given to the inhabitants due to their resistance in accepting the doctrine of the Alexandrian Church in the past, keeping their own version of the ancient testament, and respecting books like "Teezaze Senbet", the Book of the death of Moses, the Book of Enoch and that of the Psalms in Geez/Ethiopic version. (Stigma M.Tegegne).
Gojjam's earliest western boundary extended up unto the triangle to ancient Meroe in Sudan. By 1700, Gojjam's western neighbors were Agawmeder in the southwest and Qwara in the northwest. Agawmeder, never an organized political entity, was gradually absorbed by Gojjam until it reached west to the Sultanate of Gubba; Juan Maria Schuver noted in his journeys in Agawmeder (September 1882) that in three prior months "the Abyssinians considerably advanced their frontier towards the West, effacing what was left of the independent regions." Gubba acknowledged its dependence to Emperor Menelik II in 1898, but by 1942 was absorbed into Gojjam. Dek Island in Lake Tana was administratively part of Gojjam until 1987.
The ancient history of Gojjam is mostly associated with religion. During the pre-Christianity era Mertule Mariam and Gish Abay -in the eastern and central parts of Gojjam respectively- were places of worship. Along with Tana Qirqos on Lake Tana, the Axum Tsion in the Tigray, and Tadbaba Maryam in Wollo province, Mertule Mariam was a place where animal sacrifices were made for worship. Gish Abay is also considered a sacred place for being the source of the Abay River, also called Felege Ghion in Geez. Ghion is believed to be the Biblical name of the Abay River that is mentioned in the Book of Genesis as one of the four rivers which flow out of Eden and encompasses the land of Ethiopia. Considering its location within the bend of the Abay River, the province of Gojjam is also referred to, especially by the church community, as Ghion or Felege Ghion.
The first church in Gojjam was built at Mertule Mariam, which became the second church in Ethiopia, next to Axum Tsion, and hence the second most important. Tradition relates that Christianity then spread from Tana Qirqos, Gish Abay and Mertule Mariam to different parts of the province. Gojjam then became home to some of the finest liturgical schools in Ethiopia. Other schools worthy of mention include Washera Mariam, Dima Giorgis, Debre Elias, Debre Werq, Amanuel, Tsilalo, and Gonji. These schools are generally credited for developing a sophisticated genre of expression called Sem'na Worq ("Wax and Gold") which is distinctive to Ethiopia.
The earliest recorded mention of Gojjam was during the medieval period, in a note in a manuscript of Amda Seyon's military campaigns there and in the Damot in 1309 EC (AD 1316/7), during which time it was incorporated into Ethiopia. It was also referenced on the Egyptus Novello map, (c. 1451), where it is described as a kingdom (though it had by this time long been subject to the Emperor of Ethiopia). Emperor Lebna Dengel, in his letter to the King of Portugal (1526), also described Gojjam as a kingdom but one that was part of his empire.
At least as early as Empress Eleni, Gojjam provided the revenues of the Empress until the Zemene Mesafint ("Era of the Judges"), when central authority was weak and the revenues were appropriated by Fasil of Damot. Gojjam then became a power base for a series of warlords at least as late as Ras Hailu Tekle Haymanot, who was deposed in 1932.
During the Italian occupation, Gojjam came to be the home of armed bands who resisted the Italian occupiers, whose leaders included Belay Zelleke, Mengesha Jemberie, Negash Bezabih and Hailu Belew. These resistance fighters, known as arbegnoch (or "Patriots"), limited the Italians to only the immediate areas around heavily fortified towns like Debre Markos. Belay Zelleke was even able to fully liberate and run civil administrations in the eastern part of Gojjam and some adjacent woredas in South Wollo and North Shoa. Since the Italians were unable to bring Gojjam under their control, the province was finally chosen by Emperor Haile Selassie as the safest way to return to Ethiopia. During his return, he was supported by the combined forces of the British army, Gojjamie Patriots, and other Ethiopians living abroad before then in fear of persecution by Italians. During the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, however, the inhabitants of Gojjam rebelled several times due to resentment over ill-treatment of patriots and increased taxes, the latest occasion in 1968—about the same time as the Bale revolt. Unlike in Bale, the central government did not use a military solution to end the revolt, instead replacing the governors and reversing the attempt to levy new taxes; in response to the 1968 revolt, the central government went as far as waiving tax arrears back to 1950.
With the adoption of a new constitution in 1995, Gojjam was divided, with the westernmost part forming the majority of the Metekel Zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz Region, and the rest becoming the Agew Awi, the Mirab (West) Gojjam and the Misraq (East) Gojjam Zones of the Amhara Region.
- Gerd Baumann, Douglas H. Johnson and Wendy James (editors), Juan Maria Schuver's Travels in North East Africa 1880-1883 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1996), p. 212
- Donald L. Donham and Wendy James (eds.), The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia (Oxford: James Curry, 2002), p. 122.
- James Bruce Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, selected and edited with an introduction by C.F. Beckingham (Edinburgh: University Press, 1964), p. 130.
- Gebru Tareke, Ethiopia: Power and Protest (Lawrenceville: Red Sea Press, 1996), at p. 167 enumerates two other occasions -- in 1942-44 and 1950.
- Zahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, second edition (London: James Currey, 2001), pp. 216ff, and Gebru Tareke, Ethiopia, pp. 160-193.