The formation of the Kingdom of Kafa occurred between 1500 and 1600 AD. During this time the ethnic groups moved away from a clan-lineage organization to a hierarchy of chiefs. The society was divided in a series of clans with varying classes. The higher class held very few members and represented the royal clan. Lower classes encompassed many more people who worked at a craft. The Kafa Kingdom accumulated wealth through trade in gold, ivory, and coffee with northern Ethiopian empires as well as in tributes paid from smaller kingdoms in the surrounding area. Gold and silver were used as insignia of political power. A monastery which dates to 1550 and is situated just outside of Bonga supports the oral tradition that an expedition by Emperor Sarsa Dengal in the 16th century resulted in the introduction of Christianity to Kafa.

In 1897 the Kafa Kingdom fell to the Imperial Ethiopian government under Menelik II, which resulted in loss of life, destruction of buildings and sites, dispersal of population, and enslavement. When the Italians occupied Ethiopia in the 1930’s, they ceded the governorship of Kafa to members of the indigenous royal clan. This relived the population of the unbearable treatment it endured by the previous government. With the Post-World War II administrative reorganization, Kafa was relegated to the status of province with the seat in Jimma. Varying administrative reforms evolved in this region until its present status as the Kafa Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region of Ethiopia with its seat in Awasa.



Historical evidence from the ancient Kafa Kingdom is plentiful. Defence trenches still border the historical frontier. Members of the Kafa Kingdom dug the trenches as traps for enemies. They also protected their settlements by building watch towers. The location of the demolished Andracha Palace is still a valued cultural site alongside other sites hidden within the forests. The local people consider some sites sacred and untouchable and strive to protect them. One such sacred site is Shosha, a famous resting place for ancient Kafa kings. Other important historical sites will be recreated in Kafa Biosphere Reserve so that visitors can find themselves immersed in the Kafa Kingdom. Historical sites also exist from the time after the kingdom’s fall that chronicle Christian and Muslim practices. Commissioned by King Wolde Georgis, the Andarcha Medhami Aleme Monestary took over seven years to build and was completed in 1882. The 13th century Tengola Mosque is a valued historical site for the Muslim community.



An interesting site to visit is the Open Air Museum. Perched on a hill with a wonderful view over the valley and the town of Bonga, it takes visitors on a journey to the past, when the kingdom of Kafa was at the peak of its power. The reconstructed palace of the last Kafa King, Gaaki Sharotchi, forms the heart of the museum. It is built according to the drawings of the Austrian researcher Friedrich Julius Bieber and testimonies of old Kafa people. In addition to the reconstructed palace, the Open Air Museum also shows typical houses of each of the woredas that are part of the Kafa Biosphere Reserve.

Where to find the Open Air Museum: From the information centre uphill, past the roundabout. First junction behind the school to the right, all the way up to the mountain top (ca. 1.5 km).

For more information on Kafa’s history refer to the following books (in German):

Bieber, F. J. (1920, 2008). Kaffa, Ein altkuschitisches Volkstum in Inner- Afrika, Nachrichten über Land und Volk, Brauch und Sitte der Kaffitscho oder Gonga und das Kaiserreich Kaffa, Band 1 und 2. Faksimi-le-Reprint Fines Mundi, Saarbrücken.

Grühl, M. (1938). Zum Kaisergott von Kaffa - Als Forscher auf eigene Faust im dunkelsten Afrika. Schlieffen-Verlag, Berlin.

Bieber, O. (1948). Geheimnisvolles Kaffa. Im Reich der Kaiser-Götter. Universum Verlagsgesellschaft, Wien.