Ametsegna Washa- translated to mean the “Defiant Cave”- is a huge cave situated in Northern Shoa, Menz district with two chambers and a big lake. In 1940 the Italian Fascist force was surveying the area and observed a contingent of Arbegnoch from a distance. The Arbegnoch group was led by one of the Shenkut brothers (namely Dejazmatch Teshome) and civilians who were camped nearby the cave.
Some three hundred Merhabete Arbrgnoch broke free from the Fascist Italian encirclement and proceeded to Jemma to join the rest of the troops of Dejazmsch Abebe Shenkut. In spite of the opposition made by Dejazmatch Teshome and a few of his followers, the overwhelming number of his followers and the civilians of the area decided to enter the cave out of desperation in the hopes that the Fascist force would not follow in pursuit.
Erroneously, they thought, they could easily defend themselves and the enemy would eventually abandon its wish of subduing the Patriots. It is estimated that over five thousand people, herds of cattle and all sort of grain were transported into the cave through the torturous terrain. Family units settled around a fire at various locations inside the cave as warriors fended off attacks at the entrance of the cave. On Easter Sunday the patriots conducted the religious rituals within the cave and numerous oxen were slaughtered to break lent.
All efforts by the invaders to flush them out of the cave were in vain. The enemy decided to take the most heinous measure – the use of poisonous gas. It transported barrels of poisonous gas to the top of the cave entrance, suspended the barrels from the top of the cliff to reach the mouth of the cave and shot the barrels from a distance with canons. The gas permeated the cave and poisoned those sheltered in the cave. Thousands perished and some became delusional as they fired on their own compatriots until they were overpowered internally.
Instead of dying in the cave, Dejazmatch Teshome bid farewell to his parents, sister and other relatives and made plans to escape. He jumped out through the mouth of the cave with 267 of his daring followers in the middle of the night in spite of the incoming fire from the enemy. A few including Dejazmach Teshome were badly wounded but survived the daring escape from the cave. Those left behind were all victims of the poisonous gas and died as they sat around the fire. The remanents of the victims – fathers, mothers and children - are still evident in the cave, scattered for all to see. In 2015, the Association visited the Defiant Cave and laid a marker in remembrance of the tremendous loss and sacrifice that took place at this location.
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