Category Archives: Blog

The death of King Lalibela Commemorated Today

A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela

A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela

Today, 19th June / Senay 12, is known as Senay Mikael and is an important Saint’s day across the country. But in Lalibela it is the most important holy day in Lalibela after Gena, for it is the anniversary of the death 796 years ago, of the Saint-King Lalibela, whose name the town has taken. He is said to have died in 1221 and is renown as the architect of the amazing labyrinth of rock hewn churches which are the focus of the town of Lalibela, formerly known as Roha.

Most sources available on the internet are vague on when was King Lalibela born and how long he lived. Entries from the late Richard Pankhurst and other well researched entries such as museums are vague about his year of birth often preferring to give his dates as late 12th

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

Century and early 13th Century. Others only really agree about his reign (most agree with 1181-1221). It is often stated that King Lalibela became King and took the thrown name Gebre Meskal (as Ras Tefari took the name Haile Selassie) in 1181. Wikipedia however states that he was born in Roha (the previous name for Lalibela) in 1162 AD and died in 1221 at the age of 58/59. The Dictionary of African Biography notes King Lalibela’s dates as 1150’s to c.1225. It could be that the difference between 1150s (approx 1155) and 1162 would be down to the difference between the western and Ethiopian calendars. The circa 1225 for his death is not out of line with the suggested 1221! It should be noted that in mediaeval times living beyond 40 was probably beyond the average life expectancy and certainly late 50’s was an old man. Few would have lived beyond their early 60s.

His tomb is in the church Golgota which adjoins Beta Mikael

LalibelaGolgotta saint bas releif

Bas Relief in Golgotha church in Lalibela

in the main cluster of churches in Lalibela, making this a very special double annual saint’s day. Yesterday on the eve of the big day, there was singing and chanting around Bet Mikael and Golgotta (where the Saint-King is buried) and this morning the two tabots (Mikael and Lalibela) were paraded out to a nearby tent with great pomp and celebration, and an hour or so after returned to the church. There is also an especially big market today full of livestock and other local produce, even though its not the usual Saturday market day.

Leave a comment

Online E-Visas for tourists visiting Ethiopia

The new Visa Application web page

The new Visa Application web page

Exciting news for tourists visiting Ethiopia : E-Visas are now available online to nationals from major European countries, and other key countries including USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, Russia, India, China, Ethiopia-visa-2002Japan and Korea.

Go to this page: www.evisa.gov.et for details and to apply for your visa.

This should make the process much easier for tourists planning their trip and smoother on arrival at Bole Airport in Addis Ababa.

Leave a comment

Photos needed for the new Tesfa Calendar

Tesfa Calendar 2009 cover page

Tesfa Calendar 2009 cover page

Hi Folks – are there any Tesfa trekkers out there with photos from their trips that we could use in our new calendar (Wollo or Tigray)?

I am looking for some of your photos to include in the 2010 Eth Calendar (2017/8)… if you think you might have some please do get in touch with me – mark@tesfatours.com

Mark Chapman

For any photo included we will off course give a credit on the photo and a complimentary copy of the calendar will be sent to you!

Thanks

Mark

Leave a comment

Ethiopia Patriots Day – 5th May

Tigray offers great walking with wonderful views

Tigray offers great walking with wonderful views

In the first week of May there are two holidays: Monday 1st May and Friday 5th May. These are excellent opportunities to get out and se some of the stunning countryside and historical sights of Ethiopia. Why not book a Tesfa trek, a perfect way to see the scenery, culture and some of the wildlife that abounds in Ethiopia.

So what about these holidays? 1st May is international – May Day or Labour Day, but May 5th – Patriots Day is one of several holidays in Ethiopia

Haile Selassie's return to Addis with Col. Wingate

Haile Selassie’s return to Addis with Col. Wingate

that commemorate important historic events in Ethiopia. Patriots Day – is celebrated on Miaza 27 or 5th May, celebrates Haile Selassie’s triumphal return to Addis Ababa, ending the five year occupation of the city by Italian forces in World War II. In particular it honours the Ethiopian patriots (Arbegnoch) who fought for the liberation of their country alongside British (troops from Africa) and other Allied Forces from the Commonwealth countries, France and Belgium).

This year, 76 years after this historic occasion, there are few surviving Patriots, but those that are still able will lay a wreath at Arat Kilo in the centre of Addis Ababa.

Its important to remember the events that led to the liberation of Ethiopia and that pushed the Patriots to take

Ethiopian Arbegnoch -Patriot Troops

Ethiopian Arbegnoch -Patriot Troops

up arms in defence of their country. At the start of the 20th century Ethiopia was the only country in Africa to retain its sovereignty and remain uncolonised by European powers. The victory at the Battle of Adwa (1896) had ended Italian attempts to colonise the county.

However with the rise to power of Benito Mussolini and his fascist creed, Italy again developed ambitions of extending its East African colony from Eritrea into Ethiopia. Despite Ethiopia’s membership of the League of Nations, which should have meant that

Haile Selassie speaks at the League of Nations

Haile Selassie speaks at the League of Nations

other members came to its aid if invaded, Italy attacked Ethiopia on 3rd October 1935.

Protests were lodged at the League of Nations to little effect. In June 1936 Haile Selassie made a formal, eloquent and impassioned appeal to the League of Nations, in which he referenced the chemical attacks launched on his people from Italian aircraft, and requested the assistance due Ethiopia. There was a toothless response from members who were afraid to anger a belligerent Italian state. But the Emperor

Haile Selassie "Man of the Year"

Haile Selassie “Man of the Year”

became a symbol for those opposing the rise of fascism around the world. Time Magazine even named him ‘Man of the Year’.

Nevertheless not much changed, only six countries refused to recognise Italy’s occupation: China, New Zealand, the USSR, the Spanish Republic (anti-Franco), Mexico and the USA. The  League agreed to partial and ineffective sanctions that did little to hamper Italian aggression and there was little effective support for the Ethiopian attempts to counter the Italian occupation until Italy entered the Second World War on the side of Germany in June 1940. Although British attempts to assist the Ethiopian resistance began in 1939/40 with Col. Daniel Sandford’s efforts to link up the resistance. With Italy’s declaration of war, Sandford’s mission swung into action providing assistance and support for the Arbegnoch, until Col.

Haile Selassie with Brig. Sandford & Col. Wingate

Haile Selassie with Brig. Sandford & Col. Wingate

Orde Wingate took over command. On 18th January 1941 Haile Selassie crossed into Ethiopia from Sudan, and with a force of Ethiopian Patriots joined the ‘Gideon Force’ led by Wingate which consisted of about 800 Sudanese troops, and 800 soldiers led by some fifty officers and twenty British NCOs.

The ensuing fighting, much of it in Gojam against superior Italian numbers saw the Italians pull out of Debre Marcos and the Gideon force with the Ethiopian Patriots take Addis Ababa.

Haile Selassie’s speech on returning to Addis Ababa was one of reconciliation that shares something of Nelson Mandela, though in a very different era:

Today is the day on which we defeated our enemy. Therefore, when we say let us rejoice with our hearts, let not our rejoicing be in any other way but in the spirit of Christ. Do not return evil for evil. Do not indulge in the atrocities which the enemy has been practicing in his usual way, even to the last.

Take care not to spoil the good name of Ethiopia by acts which are worthy of the enemy. We shall see that our enemies are disarmed and sent out the same way they came. As Saint George who killed the dragon is the Patron Saint of our army as well as of our allies, let us unite with our allies in everlasting friendship and amity in order to be able to stand against the godless and cruel dragon which has newly risen and which is oppressing mankind.”

These words of the Emperor which show a pride in what is Ethiopian and a call for humility, dignity and nobility despite the atrocities of others, ring true in a world besmirched by terrorism and atrocities. It is a standard that all should aspire too.

Leave a comment

Visit the new Tesfa guesthouses – now open

photo of Ras Dashen while on a Tesfa Trek in Simiens, curtesy of Kevin Rushby

photo of Ras Dashen while on a Tesfa Trek in Simiens, by permission of Kevin Rushby (posted on Instagram)

If you have been on a Tesfa trek before then why not try something new?

We have opened new guesthouses in the Simien Mountains. They are situated to the south of the National Park, in a woreda called Janamora. To access this area, until the new service roads are built you drive through the National park past Sankober and Geech, and over the back of Bwahit mountain, then down to Mekhane Berhan. There are 3 guesthouses, Taga Mariam, Khalid Abo, and Timbala, and we suggest a minimum of 4 nights, including a visit to the market at Wossen on Thursdays and Saturdays.  On the final day we would suggest trekking back up towards the park and getting picked up just south of Bwahit to

Khalid Abo guesthouse

Khalid Abo guesthouses

either camp at Chenek or stay in one of the lodges in the park – Simien Mountain Lodge or Limalimo Lodge.

View of Seheta Guesthouse

View of Seheta Guesthouse

We have also opened a new guesthouse in Tigray in the midst of the trekking we offer in the Agame Massif. The new guesthouse at Seheta, is set just above several farms on the edge of the village and is a great base to use to explore the valleys and local churches. Again we would recommend spending several days at Seheta. At this time of year there are feasts held daily in the villages and you would be most welcome to join in. You can also link staying here with a stay in one of the other longer established guesthouses in the area.

 

Leave a comment

The Battle of Adwa – 121 years since the Ethiopian Army defeated the Italians

Painting depicting the Battle of Adwa

Painting depicting the Battle of Adwa

Today is Adwa day, an Ethiopian holiday that  the Ethiopian victory of the Battle of Adwa in 1896. This was the battle that ended Italian Colonial ambitions in Ethiopia (until Mussolini gave renewed energy to colonial aspirations).  What happened?

The Italian forces: some 18,000 soldiers, faced the Emperor Menelik’s mighty army of

Emperor Menelik II

Emperor Menelik II

around 100,000. The Ethiopian forces were lead by The Emperor Menelik and his wife the Empress Taitu, with Menelik leading Showan forces of some 28,000, and the Empress leading a force of some 3,600 from Simien/Gondar area. However important regional leaders meant the forces represented much of Ethiopia.  These included Ras Mekonnen leading 15,000 from Harar, Negus Tekle Haymanot leading 5,000 from Gojam, Ras Mikael commanded 11,000 Oromo and Wollo forces and a Tigrayan forces of about 12,000 commanded by Ras Alula and Ras Mengesha. There were also forces commanded by Fit’awrari Mangascià Atikim and Ras Oliè. [information taken from McLachlan, Sean (2011). Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896. Osprey Puiblishing. p. 37].

General Oreste Baratieri

General Oreste Baratieri

The story goes that the Italian commander General Oreste Baratieri, knew that the massive Ethiopian force was living off the land and was running critically low of supplies, but that political pressure from Rome and on the urgent advise of his commanders, in the early hours of the morning of 1st March he ordered his army forward in three divisions to engage the superior Ethiopian forces in battle. Anyone who has been to Adwa will know it is a mountainous area with many steep peaks. The Ethiopians had occupied the high ground and the Italian divisions got confused in the dark and separated. Each division was roundly beaten and by noon the remains of the Italian army was in retreat. 7,000 of the Italian army were killed, with others wounded and taken prisoner. Two brigadiers were killed and a third captured, and many rifles and all their artillery was captured. As such  their fighting force was dessimated. From the Ethiopian side some 4-5,000 were killed, but the fighting force remained in tact.

However Menelik decided not to advance into Eritrea and totally annihilate the remains of the Italian army.  Despite the Ethiopian army being in tact, many solders had been on campaign for a long time, and the country was just recovering from a severe famine. Some believe that Menelik, perhaps rightly, that such a move would drive the Italian public to push for another campaign against Ethiopia. In point of fact the battle lead directly to the signing in October 1896 of the Treaty of Addis Ababa which ended the war between Italy and Ethiopia and in which the Italian’s recognised Ethiopia as an independent country.

The whole war came about because of the preceding treaty of Wuchale signed in 1899. Article 17 of the treaty in the Italian version stated that Ethiopia must conduct its dealign with foreign powers though Italy thus to be in effect a protectorate of Italy, but the Amharic version stated that Ethiopia could use the good offices of Italy in its foreign dealings. Now Menelik had achieved the goal of maintaining Ethiopian independence in an age in which colonial powers over-ran every other country in Africa (only Liberia was independently ruled). This left Ethiopia as the emblem and point of pride for other Africans dreaming of self governance. It is not a coincidence the the AU, formerly the Organisation of African Unity, has its home in Addis Ababa today.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Fifty five days of fasting underway in Ethiopia

Fasting-JokeAs many will know the big fasting season in Ethiopia started this week on Monday. Fasting is appears in many religions around the world. But in the west its has lost its rigour for most people. However in the Ethiopian Orthodox church there are many fasting days through the year. In fact a strict observer of all fasts would be vegan for half the year. The longest of the fasts is Hudadi or the Abiy Tsom, as the lenten fast leading up to Easter is variously known, and the majority of followers of the Orthodox church fast these 55 days every year.

Why is it 55 days when in the western church it is 40 days?  There are specific reasons for the addition of 2 weeks to the 40 day fast that many people are not aware of.

Eraclias

Medieval painting of King Eraclias

The first week of Hudadi is known as the fast of Eraclius, a Byzantine Emperor who lived in 614 A.D. During his reign the Persians invaded Jerusalem and took the Cross of the Lord. Eraclius made an expedition to Persia and having defeated the Persians he took the Cross back to Jerusalem. The Christians in Jerusalem who were very happy because of Eraclius’s victory and the return of the Cross, dedicated the first week before Lent to be the fast of Eraclius and included it in their canons. The last week of Lent: Passion Week during remembers the Apostles who fasted in commemoration of Christ’s Passion.

To the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Hudadi is a period of fasting when the faithful undergo a rigorous schedule of prayers and penitence. This fast is observed with greater rigour than any other fast and it is a test of one’s spiritual strength and resolve. Properly observed it is believed to nullify sins committed during the rest of the year. 

The fast if strictly followed :

  • is applicable to all persons older than 13 years of age
  • involves abstinence from: meat, dairy products and eggs (and many will abstain from fish too)
  • instead, cereals and vegetables will be consumed
  • only one meal (vegan) a day is eaten, taken in the evening or after 3:00pm (when church services end). Before that no food, drink  nor even water is to be consumed
  • starting on Good Friday to Easter Sunday (i.e. late on Saturday night), there is total abstinence nothing taken maybe eaten nor drunk.
  • on other Saturdays and Sundays during Lent, eating breakfast is allowed.
  • Daily Services are conducted in all churches from morning to 2:45pm.
  • Priests regularly attend night services starting at midnight up to 7am.
Fasting selection with Ethiopian beer

Fasting selection with Ethiopian beer

For the visitor to Ethiopia a wonderful array of fasting foods is served up on enjara – just ask for: – ‘ye tsom bayenetu’. You may also get a wonderful fired fish (probably Tilapia) ‘asseh‘.  Enjoy!

Tesfa Tours will happily recommend good fasting restaurants in Addis, and take you there as part of a city tour.

Leave a comment

A country says farewell to an historic figure.

Richard Pankhurst's funeral, Selassie church, Addis Ababa

Richard Pankhurst’s funeral, Selassie church, Addis Ababa

Dignitaries gathered yesterday at Selassie church in the centre of Addis Ababa to pay their respects to Richard Pankhurst OBE, who died last week at the age of 89.

With his mother Sylvia Pankhurst, the famous suffragette and long time supporter of Ethiopia, he moved to Ethiopia in 1956. As a historian he worked at Addis Ababa University and has been a leading researcher and publisher of historical studies on Ethiopia ever since.

Richard Pankhurst

Richard Pankhurst

He will also be remembered for leading the campaign to return the stolen Obelisk from Rome to Axum, where it was re-erected in 2008.

We at Tesfa Tours, send our condolences to Richard’s family and our admiration and respect for a historic figure in this remarkable country. His great body of work will live on.

For more information see his obituary in the Telegraph

 

Leave a comment

Melkam Timkat … Timkat explained.

The community at Mequat Mariam parade the Tabot out at TImkat with Ethiopian flags flying

The community at Mequat Mariam parade the Tabot out at TImkat

So tonight 18th January, is the eve of Timkat. Processions made there way across towns in urban areas and over the fields in the countryside, to a place where in the morning the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan river is commemorated. Water will be blessed and the multitudes will be splashed with the holy water and try to take some home with them in bottles. Following this ceremony the tabots (with the exception of Mikael tabots) will be processed back to their church with similar joy, noise, colour and reverence to that with which they were processed today.

Why is Timkat called “Epiphany”, and hey, what is Epiphany? Well it is a Greek word meaning manifestation or appearance, and it celebrates the events in Christ’s life that showed him to be the son of

Priests at Mequat Mariam head to the water blessing

Priests at Mequat Mariam head to the water blessing

God. In the early church (before Rome got into it) this was the major feast in the church after Easter. In Epiphany was encapsulated all the major events that manifested Christ’s Godhood to man: his birth (Nativity) , the visit of the Magi, the turning watering wine at the wedding in Cana, and his baptism in the Jordan river. With the appearance of Christmas in the developing church as a new festival, his nativity was taken out of Epiphany.

So where should you go to see it. In Addis Ababa, head for your nearest place where tabots have congregated, and try to get there quite early (8am). There will be big crowds near the major places such as Jan Meda, and beware of pickpockets! In the countryside similarly head for the tabots resting place early in the morning. Local people

Worshippers jump into the Fasilides baths

Worshippers jump into the Fasilides baths

will tell you when.

In Gondar you will need to seek out a place early in the morning at Fasilidas’ baths. It becomes extremely crowded. Your guide will advise you. The moment of the joyful splashing is the high point. In Gondar youngsters jump into the pool, in Addis the clergy spray the crowd from the water in the pool in the midst of the field. In parishes up and down the country water is splashed from the blessed pool, spring or river in a joyous celebration. Then you can follow the processions.

Melkam Timkat!

 

Leave a comment

Ethiopia prepares for Timkat

Flags put up on the streets of Addis in preparation for the Timkat processions on 18th - 20th Jan

Flags put up on the streets of Addis in preparation for the Timkat processions on 18th – 20th Jan

Preparations are underway for one festival that seems to encapsulate Ethiopia’s unique place in the world: it is Timkat – or ‘Baptism’. It is frequently referred to as Epiphany, which undersells what is a very special and Ethiopian day. In fact it is really spread over 2 or 3 days. And it start tomorrow- Wed 18th Jan (Ter 10).

The programme:   In Addis the Tabot will leave the churches at around 2pm with a big procession, singing of hymns and chants, drumming, horns being blown and dancing to the chants. Icons are processed and most especially the tabots wrapped in brocaded cloth carried on the heads of the high priests under umbrellas. The procession will makes its way over several hours to the special resting point for the tabots. In north eastern Addis Ababa this is Jan Meda (

A Tabot  being paraded

A Tabot being paraded for Timkat

the Royal horse racing fields). At Jan Meda about a dozen tabots spend the night with tents for shelter, and priests and devoted followers. The fields become the centre of the festival for the evening and next day, and for St Mikael Tabots  the next day too. Tens of thousands of people will gather at the fields in the evening, hundreds sell refreshments and nicknacks. The roads around are packed solid.

During the processions roads are closed across the city (and the country) and no cars can pass. Houses beside the route the tabots pass are blessed. Young lads lay down carpets on the road infant off the taboo. They rapidly rolls them up behind and run them round to the front again, extreme hard work and a devotion that illustrates how deep seated are the beliefs and culture of the Orthodox church even in the capital city.

Where to see it?  Head to your nearest Orthodox church, and plan to be there by 2pm. Then you can join in the procession to the fields. Don’t be worried by the crowds, everyone is joyful and will be happy to see you, but do show respect for the priests and the Tabots, dress appropriately (women should cover heads and neither men nor women should wear short clothing – if you have traditional white cotton clothes all the better).  At the convergence points of the tabots thee could be pick pockets at work so be careful of possessions and do not carry unnecessary valuables.

See tomorrow for details of the rest of Timkat!  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment