Category Archives: Meket

Melkam Timkat

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

The community at Mequat Mariam in Wollo parade the Tabot out at Timkat

Today one of Ethiopia’s big holidays has started, it is the eve of Timkat and if you are in Addis the roads are closing as the Tabots are paraded out of the churches on their way to the field where the Baptism of Jesus will be commemorated tomorrow morning.  Timkat – meaning ‘Baptism’ is a festival that seems to encapsulate Ethiopia’s unique place in the world. It is frequently referred to as Epiphany, which while technically correct undersells what is a very special and Ethiopian day. Epiphany 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 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 Canaa, 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.

Holes are cut in the Ice in Russia

Bathers queue to dip in the freezing water in St..Petersburg

In the Eastern Orthodox churches Epiphany, in Greece often called Theophany (meaning shinning forth/appearance) is celebrated to commemorate the Baptism of Jesus as it is in Ethiopia. In Russia people cut a hole in the ice on a body of water and jump in. In Greece a cross is thrown into water and men dive for the honour of bringing it back. In Ethiopia, the holy Tabot is the heart of the church and what in fact makes a church holy, is processed to a place where water will be blessed. The tabot is in fact a replica of the Tablets of Stone that Moses carried down from Mount Sinai (although many state that they are a replica of the the Ark of Covenant).

In fact it is really spread over 2 or 3 days. This year – (leap years are different next one is 2020), it will start on the 18th Jan (Ter 10). In Addis the Tabots 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 place is Jan Meda (the Imperial 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 tabots from St Mikael churches 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 in front off the tabot. They rapidly roll 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 there could be pick pockets at work so be careful of possessions and do not carry unnecessary valuables.

The followers play the church drum “Kabero” and dance the tabot across town

These Timkat processions are through-out Ethiopia where ever there is an Orthodox church. Procession make 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. These processions bring to mind the biblical accounts of King David’s processing the Ark of Covenant to Jerusalem: “So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.” although Ethiopia’s instruments are drums and horns.

So where should you go to see it (in Ethiopia). 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 will tell you when.

Worshippers jump into the Fasilides baths

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 joyful processions back up to the churches.

The 20th January, Ter 12, is one of the big St Mikael days in the year, and also commemorates the Wedding Feast at Canaa when Jesus turned water into wine. The St.Mikael tabots remain in the field on the 19th and on the morning if the 290th a special mass is celebrated and the procession then begins back to the Mikael church. This is the biggest procession of them all as followers of other nearby churches will join in. In many places there is Gooks: racing of decorated horses around the procession. With a lot of dancing through the morning the Tabot is processed back to its church bestowing blessings on all whose house is passed. Most processions will be finished by around 2pm.

Melkam Timkat!

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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!

 

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Lalibela & Meket now safe for travel – so says British FCO

Happy tourists on Mnt Abuna Yoseph

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

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

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.

 

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Come and see the special Saintsday in Lalibela

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

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 mark@tesfatours.com for more details.

 

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Giyorgis festival in Meket

IMG_3861.JPG

  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.

IMG_3906.JPGAina Amba is in a stunning location, and the community cooked us a lovely dinner on  the night before.

IMG_3953.JPG 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.

IMG_3958.JPGAfter 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.

IMG_4056.JPG 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.

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