Historic Relations between Bangladesh and Ethiopia

During the reigns of autonomous Sultans in Bengal (today’s Bangladesh) in the fourteenth and fifteenth century, an influx of Ethiopians/Abyssinians (Habesha misquoted as Habshi in Arabic/Bangla language) reached Bengal and some of them rose into prominence, even in the Royal Court. Many of them became reputed military commanders, some also became administrators. The Sultani reign was an era of immense prosperity and influence for Bengal. Due to the widespread reputation and abundance of opportunities, immigrants flocked from all corners of the world to Bengal.


During the reign of the most powerful of the Sultans, Sultan Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah, nearly 8000 Ethiopians served in the administration alone carrying out the duties of state funded Islamic preachers, court magistrates, tax collectors, law enforcers, overseers of trade and commerce, among others. During the reign of Sultan Jalaluddin Fateh Shah around 1487, many Abyssinians took prominent positions in his royal court. His Commander of the Army, Barbak, an Abyssinian, deposed Jalaluddin and founded the short-lived Habshi dynasty in Bengal.

Barbak assumed the title Sultan Gias Uddin Barbak Shah. However, he distanced himself from the mass people, the local nobility and even from his own kin and soon became very unpopular. He was deposed shortly after by another Ethiopian named Malik Aadil and claimed the throne in 1488 by the title of Saif Uddin Firuz Shah. The 26-metre tall Firuz Minar, built in the memory of the Habshi Sultan, located in the present-day West Bengal (originally part of Bengal) bears an enduring testament of his many achievements. The short-lived dynasty survived until 1493 when the last Habshi ruler was deposed by the descendants of the Founding Sultan Ilyas Shah. Following this, the vast majority of Habshis fled to South India.

The Ethiopian migration still continued but it never rose to the previous height nor prominence. Due to increasing foreign incursions to Bengal including the Huns, Mughals, Afghans and Marathas, the migration trend from Africa became stymied. It was not until many years since this historic connection between Bangladesh and Ethiopia would be re-kindled.