Category Archives: Blog

Ethiopian Wolf in the Simiens

NATURE PICTURE LIBRARY / ALAMY, Ethiopian Wolf, from Selamta Magazine

Flying on Ethiopian this week I was really happy to see a photograph of the Ethiopian Wolf on the cover page. The Ethiopian Wolf is a beautiful and now extremely rare and endangered animal, but we all must ensure its survival.

Tesfa Tours would be happy to arrange a tour dedicated to spotting these rare canids. Contact us to let us arrange the trip.

Have a look at the article on line here.

 

 

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The Ethiopian New Year & the month Meskeram

Meskal flowers in Meket, North Wollo

September is a wonderful time in Ethiopia and particularly the Ethiopian month of Meskerem that runs from 11th September -10th October marking the beginning of the Ethiopian year. The countryside is lit up with the masses of bright yellow ‘Meskal’ daisies and more sunshine flickering through the rain clouds, and it brings with it all the promise of the new year.

However 2009 ends with that Ethiopian peculiarity, the 13th month or Pagumay. It is generally 5 days long, but on leap years it is 6 days. It works as a fill in with all other months being 30 days and 12 x 30 being 360, so it adds up the year to 365 days. There is one very special day in Pagume– St Rufael’s day which is on 3rd day of the month (8th Sept). If it rains on this day the rain is holy and blesses those it falls on.  A great day for dancing in the rain! St Rufael for those that did not know (and I had to look it up!) is an archangel coming 3rd in rank after St Michael and St Gabriel.

The Demara – the flames of the Meskal fire.

So what are the celebrations for New Year? It is of course not only a national holiday but a feast day and families will celebrate the New year together on the 11th – Enkutetash as the day is called. They will visit and be visited by close friends and relatives.

It is closely followed by Meskal which his celebrated across the country but most especially in parts of the south such as Gurage, Wolaita, and in the north in the town of Adigrat. Across the country bonfires – demara -are erected around a central pole that holds a cross and are decorated with the Meskal flowers. In Addis they are lit on the night before Meskal 26 Sep or Meskeram 16.  The big demara will be in Meskal Square but they are in every neighbourhood, roundabout and street corner. The fire is lit and goes up with much dancing and wielding of sticks and the direction which the cross falls is said to predict the success of that years harvest. Meskal day itself – the 27th is another public holiday, and families will again celebrate with a feast at home.

Stick Dancing in Meket

Meskal (itself means cross) is a ceremony that commemorates the Finding of the True Cross. Legend has it that in 326 AD, Queen Eleni (Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great) was guided by a dream to light a fire and follow the smoke to find the True Cross. The smoke rose high in the sky and descended at the point where she found the Cross. Many think that Meskal marks the end of the rainy season, well not quite, but its true the rains get less frequent, the flowers are in full bloom and the promise of a new harvest is seen around the country. But don’t put away your rain clothes, for the end of the rainy season – as per the old time calendar – is Meskeram 25th, or 5th October.

If you want to know in advance of the holidays coming up and the workings of the Ethiopian calendar then why not pick up a Tesfa Calendar from Tesfa Tours. It starts on 1st Sep 2017 and runs til 31stAug 2018. it has Saints days, fasts, Ethiopian dates and a wealth of other information set into the western calendar, with wonderful photographs from the Tesfa Village treks across the country – which will make you want to get out of Addis and explore this beautiful country.  Please contact calendars@tesfatours.com or tel 011 124 5178 to get your copy.

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State of Emergency lifted – come an experience Ethiopia’s unrivalled hospitality

Coffee ceremony in village guesthouse

Last week the Government of Ethiopia lifted the State of Emergency that has been in place since last October. Since the State of Emergency was set in place, there have been no further disturbances and the country has been peaceful and safe to travel in.

The lifting of this SoE on top of the lifting of restrictions on the travel advice by many countries for visitors to Ethiopia, is all evidence that no one should have any concerns about security when planning a visit to Ethiopia. In fact Ethiopia is a remarkable country and we feel sure you will find the people welcoming and extremely hospitable. As one of our recent groups said

We did two weeks with Tesfa Tours covering Bahir Dar, Lalibela, the Simiens, Gondar, Axum, and Tigray (July 2017). We are 100% satisfied and can say that many of our ‘high’ expectations were exceeded!

We never once felt threatened/endangered and never worried about missing an activity or flight.

Shepherd boys along the trail in the highlands

We had heard that Ethiopia’s hospitality is unrivaled and now that we have experienced it for ourselves we completely agree. The people are genuine, caring, thankful, and full of joy. We all agree that Ethiopia is one of the most fantastic countries in the world and that there is no group better than Tesfa to show it to you!”

Nate, Dan, Matt, and Cal (USA)

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

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