Metfo Buna — Was Emperor Tewodros II Poisoned?
— Today’s tidbit in regards to the death on this date in 1867 of Abuna Salema III, who was imprisoned by Emperor Tewodros(a once close companion) raises an opportunity to discuss a seldom discussed question.
I have suggested before and will again and again suggest my hypothesis that the great Emperor Tewodros’ bizarre, paranoid, and unstable behavior in his last years before his self-inflicted suicide could have been a result of Metfo Buna—poisoning. Metfo Buna “Bad Coffee” was a term frequently used in Ethiopia to suggest suspicious death. Even Emperor Haile Selassie has been accused of using it in the sudden death of Empress Zewditu in 1930. Throughout history poisoning was a common silent weapon. Often when the poisoning was not immediately fatal, the results were equally damaging—mental illness. And the reign of Tewodros was without enemies as he was hailed for ending a violent century called the “Era of Princes”. One soft but heavily documented example I recommend on the subject of the non-fatal but deteriorating nature of poisoning is that of the great painter Vincent Van Gogh whose own last days are often remembered as being bizarre after he severed part of his ear lobe and gave to a prostitute. Immediately after this act of self-mutilation, Van Gogh was admitted to hospital where his mental condition worsened. Van Gogh was described as suffering “hallucinations” and “dillusions”. It has been hypothesized that Van Gogh was indirectly self-poisoned slowly over time from exposure to lead based paints. Although some accounts claim he drank the poison directly. Possibly both. There are several common poisons that if not fatal can cause such mental conditions such as arsenic poisoning or mercury poisoning. What other poisons available in Ethiopia that could cause a similar psychosis still needs to be investigated. Nevertheless, unless Emperor Tewodros could be exhumed and studied–this hypothesis may never been proven. (Photo: Tewodros II of Ethiopia pointing his gun against the patriarch of Alexandria. Created by Bayard after Lejean, published on Le Tour du Monde, Paris, 1867)