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
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
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.
Happy tourists on Mnt Abuna Yoseph
The British FCO has now removed the travel advise against non essential travel to Eastern Amhara, (including Lalibela and the Meket & Lasta Community Treks). [See here] This means UK insurance companies policies will be valid for visits to these areas.
This change in advise has also been taken by many other western governments, all of whom have realised travel in Northern Ethiopia is safe for tourists (and has been for some time now!)
What about Gondar, Bahir Dar and the Simiens?
Giyorgis festival in Meket, villagers ready to welcome tourists
Well the British still advise against non-essential travel to these areas. We sincerely hope this will be lifted in the coming weeks too. Other western countries no longer give advise against travel even in the western parts of Amhara and Tourists are traveling though these places in quite large numbers with no problem. I myself will be traveling to the Simiens, Gondar and Bahir Dar next week and will report on my trip with photos.
If you are visiting to places where the FCO advises
Lalibela – a subterranean labyrinth of passageways
against non-essential travel, then do check with your insurance company to see if your insurance will still be valid. Some companies will provide cover for medi-vac, and other services (but not political evacuation) for areas to which the FCO advises against. Examples are TAG and BUPA Global.
So how about you plan your trip for Christmas and New Year now before all the good slots get taken! We can arrange wonderful treks on the Meket plateau or climbing mount Abuna Yoseph (4,300 m peak and home to a pack of Wolves), and give you time to make a visit to Lalibela with its labyrinth of subterranean rock hewn churches.
Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela
On 19th June Lalibela celebrates a big double festival, as it is both an annual day for St Mikael (Senay Mikael) and the anniversary of the death of the Saint-King Lalibela. This is the biggest celebration in Lalibela after Gena (Christmas) and attracts many Ethiopian pilgrims from the surrounding area to see the festival … but few tourists.
On the eve of the day itself, there will be singing and chanting around Bete Mikael & Golgotta (where the Saint-King is buried), and in the morning the two Tabots (Mikael and Lalibela) will be paraded out to a nearby tent with great pomp and celebration, and an hour or so after will return to the church.
Later on you should see the market – although it is a Friday there will be an especially big market that day in town, full of livestock and other local produce.
This is a day you should not miss!
Tesfa Tours are offering an all inclusive 4 day package for $700 USD per person (minimum group 2 people) including local flights (based on having local resident cards or national ID), transport, accommodation at the best hotel in town, entry fees & guides, AND two nights trekking in Meket with the local communities as your hosts. (Only excludes meals and drink in Lalibela, bottled drinks on the trek and personal expenses and gratuities etc). Please email email@example.com for more details.
The festival is called Sebar-atsemu Giyorgis – and commemorates the day that St George’s bones were ground into dust. I decided to visit one of the Tesfa communities in Meket whose parish is St.George and where it is the big annual festival. So we went to Aina Amba Giyorgis on 26th January, the eve of the festival.
Aina Amba is in a stunning location, and the community cooked us a lovely dinner on the night before.
Next morning the crowds began to gather, and soon after 9am the Tabot was paraded out of the church carried by priests in colourful robes under brocade umbrellas. The crowd emerged from the wooded compound before emerging out onto the dry dusty grazing land below the church and with the tabot and priests in their midst accompanied it to its camp in a colourful tent nearby.
This was the signal for groups to start dancing and singing to the beat of the marvellous kabero drums. The dancing is an aggressive dance, with shoulders seemingly dislocated from the body jerking up and down to the drum’s beat.
After some hours the Tabot emerged from its tent and was again paraded as it slowly made its way up to the church, but this time with horses galloping around the procession. Now everyone was there, old men carrying older muskets, younger people from the nearby town, important people with colourful umbrellas, bit most in the traditional white cotton shawls.
At a given point the procession stopped and a series of wild horse races took place to honour the tabot. This is referred to as gooks, although there is no spear throwing as further south. The horses are wonderfully decorated with bright pompoms and colourful saddle cloths and the riders, three or four at a time, gallop up the fields, often without holding on.
Congratulations to Simon Nazer for his great shot of tea at Mequat Mariam. Have a look at the photo in the Guardian competition