Rastafari Talmud

Biblical Reasonings based on The Teaching of Qedamawi Haile Sellassie

Imperial Ethiopia’s Honor Guard | Kebur Zabagna ( ክቡር ዘበኛ) Pt 1

Matthew 21:42-43 Yeshua saith to them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is YHWH’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I to you, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.

Imperial Ethiopia Honorary Guard

Horsemen of Kebur Zabagna Honorary Guard Imperial Ethiopia Circa 1965

Kebur Zabagna  (Amharic: ክቡር ዘበኛ | kəbur zãbãňňya: literally ‘honorable guard’) was the Ethiopian Imperial Guard. Also known as the First Division, this unit served the dual purposes of providing security for the King of Kings of Ethiopia, and being an elite infantry division. It was not, however, part of the organizational structure of the Ethiopian regular army as it was part of the Zebagna, the Addis Ababa Guard. The Kebur Zabagna was based at Addis Ababa.

Kebur Zabagna

Kebur Zabagna, 27th July 1935. These look like Ethiopian horses. In 1934 as Haile Selassie I was getting his army prepared, he bought many big Australian horses for his Imperial Guard and artillery. The odd Australian popped up in Ethiopia in these times.

Richard Pankhurst dates the formation of the Imperial Bodyguard (previously known as the Mehal Sefari |Amharic መሃል ሠፋሪ) to 1917, when the Regent Ras Tafari (later Conquering Lion of Judah, Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of GOD) assembled a unit under his direct control from men who had trained in the British army in Kenya as well as a few who had served under the Italians in Tripoli.[1] In 1930 as Negus, he invited a Belgian military mission to train and modernize the Ethiopian military, which included the Kebur Zabagna. The unit was organized in three battalions of trained regular infantry armed with rifles, machineguns and mortars; one battalion consisted of men from the earlier mahal safari. The Kebur Zabagna also had one heavy machine-gun company. It was commanded by Ethiopian graduates of Saint Cyr, the French military academy, at the time of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.[2] As a unit, the Imperial Bodyguard only participated in the Battle of Maychew (31 March 1936), but afterwards many of its members joined the various groups of the Ethiopian resistance.

Haile Selassie I Victory over Fascist Italy

March 1941. H.I.M. Haile Selassie I was finally back in his own country after a frustrating wait on strict British orders, in Sudan. On a Waler he’d ridden some 200 miles looking at country, scouting out Italian positions.

Following the return of H.I.M. Haile Selassie I to Ethiopia, the Kebur Zabagna was reconstituted, and a Swedish military mission aided in its training. Men for the Kagnew Battalion, which fought in the Korean War, were drawn from the Imperial Bodyguard.[3]

Ethiopian Kagnew Division in Korean War

Ethiopia sent 1,271 – 3,518 troops as part of the United Nation Forces to aid South Korea

The Kagnew (ቃኘው) Battalions were three successive battalions drawn from the 1st Division Imperial Bodyguard sent by H.I.M. Haile Selassie I between June 1951 and April 1954 as part of the United Nations forces in the Korean War. The name Kagnew referred to the reconnaissance element in the military parlance of the Ethiopian Armed Forces.


It was also the war horse of Haile Selassie I‘s father, Leul Ras Makonnen. Military units from Imperial times are often adopt a name of a favored military commander. Ethiopian Warriors of old were often interchangeably referred to by the names of their war chargers. These “Nom’s de Guerre” or “Saddle name”, Amharic: Yekoricha Sim (የኮርቻ ስም)  were also used by the nobility and name warriors. Modern day Ethiopian commanders and leaders abandoned the Koricha Sim tradition though individual instances of such Saddle names did survive. The best known example, was HIM Haile Selassie I “Aba Tekil”. His return to Ethiopia leading the Allied forces of Mission 101 and Gideon Force and the vast Ethiopian Patriotic forces after the war against Italy was heralded as Tekil Be’Dil (ተክል በድል) “Plant/Vine in Victory”


Acts 1:6-7 “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Adonai, wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own Authority. “< (Click to Read: RasTafari Ethiopian Hebrew Israelite Education Project)

When the US established a military base in Northern Ethiopia in later years they named it Kagnew Station in honor of the officers and men of the elite Imperial Bodyguards that had earned their admiration. Kagnew’s exploits have been covered in detail in Pork Chop Hill by S.L.A. Marshall. Commenting on the fighting dogma of the Ethiopians Marshall states, “Like Horatius at the bridge or the screaming eagles at Bastogne, it was a classic fight, ending in clean triumph over seemingly impossible odds”. Pointing out that War correspondents who were drawn to the headline values of such operations as Little Switch the 163 war correspondents overlooked the equally interesting and unrivaled Ethiopian feats.[4]


“It (Kebur Zabagna) remained the elite force of the empire,” notes historian Bahru Zewde, “until discredited in the wake of the attempted coup of 1960.” That unsuccessful coup had been planned by its commander Brigadier-General Mengistu Neway, and his brother Germame Neway.[5] In 1961 it numbered nine battalions; in 1969 some 7,000 men. In 1974 the Commander was Major-General Tafessa Lemma. The Kebur Zabagna was disbanded after the Derg consolidated their hold on Ethiopia.

More to be published on Mehal Sefari & Kagnew Batalions; YAH Willing.

Cited References:

Pankhurst, Richard (1968). Economic History of Ethiopia, 1800-1935. Addis Ababa: Haile Sellassie I University Press. p. 562.

Jump up ^ Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, second edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2001), p. 148

Jump up ^ Bahru Zewde, A History, p. 186, and Fantahun Ayele, “The Ethiopian Army: from Victory to Collapse 1977-91, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 2014, 12.

UN-Korean War Veterans from Ethiopia, Jontambek’s BLOG, July 18th 2012

Jump up ^ Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time (New York: Palgrave, 2000), pp. 254f.

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