Category Archives: Mikael

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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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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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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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!

 

 

 

 

 

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Holy days of Hedar, Mikael and Mariam

Icon of St. Mikael

Icon of St. Mikael

There are many big saints days in Hedar (Ethiopian month that runs from 10Nov – 9Dec) where certain churches will parade out their tabots with much dancing and celebration. One such is Hedar Mikael, St.Michael’s day on 21st November. On this coming Monday morning your nose will be the first to tell you of this holiday (unless you live very close to a Mikael church – in which case it will be your ears, reminded through the night), as the slightly acrid smell from thousands of bonfires wafts into your nose. The smell ives meaning to the slightly increased haze over the capital city this coming Monday morning.People light small fires burning up rubbish from their compound, believing the smoke clears away disease and sickness – a sort of purification.

Michael church in Lalibela

Michael church in Lalibela

In Lalibela one of the main churches is dedicated to the archangel St.Michael. The church behind, known as Golgotha is the burial place for the Saint King Lalibela who built the amazing complex of rock hew churches in the place formally known as Roha, but now of course called Lalibela.  Lalibela’s saints day is the same as Mikael and so al Mikael days are extra special in Lalibela.

Just over a week after Hedar Mikael is Tsion Mariam (St Mary of Zion): one of the big annual St. Mary days in the country and sees one of the most important Saint’s days celebrations in Axum. The church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (to give it it’s full name) is arguably Ethiopia’s most important church. It was one of the first churches built in Ethiopia back in the very early 4th century, and has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice with destruction inflicted by the armies of Queen Yodit and Mohammed Gragn.

axum-mariam-fasilidas-img_4555

Axum Mariam, built in the Gondarine style by Emperor Fasilidas

It was here that Emperors came to seek the coronation. If an Emperor was not coronated at Mariam Tsion or at least had a special ratification service they could not hold the title “Atse’.

Axum is booked out early each year for Tsion Mariam (30th November) with thousands of pilgrims descending on the town and spending the night at the ancient church. But the church

Ancient stones in the Church compound in Axum

Ancient stones in the Church compound in Axum

compound is worth spending some time visiting if you can arrange a stay there  at another time. There are stones on which is old Sabean script, that must have been sources from far older buildings. The church built by Emperor Fasilidas has lovely frescoes aside (though only men can enter here), and the trees are full of sun birds and other iridescent birds.

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Be in Lalibela for the Special Saints Day on 19th June

Be one of a few foreigners to witness this special saints day and follow it with walk in the mountains of Meket.

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

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

St Mikael’s day in Lalibela and a Tesfa Trek in Meket

Come and visit Lalibela for Senay Mikael, the St Michael’s day celebrated on Sunday 19th June is one of the biggest saint’s days in Lalibela, with it also marking the anniversary of Saint-King Lalibela’s death. The Church of Mikael in Lalibela is connected to the church known as Golgotha where Lalibela himself is buried.

Only Gena (Ethiopian Christmas) is a bigger celebration in the town.

Fly in on Saturday and see the market – a day when the town is really buzzing, and visit the other churches. After the

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela

processions and celebrations on Sunday morning head off  to Meket to send a couple of days trekking in the mountains before coming back for a flight to Addis on Tuesday.

See details here – prices and tour itinerary

A Meket farmer enjoys the view

A Meket farmer enjoys the view

 

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Smoke, prayer and running in Addis Ababa

212_Archangel_Michael

Icon of St. Mikael

As the sun peers through the thin veil of smoke and the chanting from the churches creates a murmuring sound through the city, sent forth on loud speakers, worshippers are heading to church, as is one of the big days of the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar. Today is known as Hedar Mikael or the November St. Michael’s day, and is the day that everyone sweeps up the rubbish in their compound and burns it. The fires are said to take the disease and sickness away with the smoke.

Great Ethiopian Run (curtesy of GER http://ethiopianrun.org/)

Great Ethiopian Run (curtesy of GER http://ethiopianrun.org/)

But as worshippers head off to church, some 20,000 runners are making there way to the centre of Addis Ababa to participate in Africa’s largest mass participation run. The Great Run as Addis Ababa’s 10km run is called, is also a highlight in the calendar for Addis Ababans, as the mass run becomes a running street party in green and yellow (the colour of this years shirt) for the 15th year in a row.

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Michaelmas today in Ethiopia – Senay Michael

212_Archangel_Michael
Today is Senay Mikael in Ethiopia (Senay being the month), and is one of the three big St.Michael’s days. The saints’s days come round every month (Mikael on the 12th of each month), but each church celebrates one or two and occasionally three big ‘annual days’.  St.Michael’s big annual days are in Senay (now), Hedar (November) and Ter (January – this is the day after Timkat).
In the west Michaelmas was celebrated on 29th September and gave rise to the name of that autumn term in universities, and was one of the 4 days when quarterly rent payments were due.Things generally started a new at Michaelmas.

In Ethiopia the Senay 12 also  marks the anniversary of the death of King and Saint Lalibela, and so in Lalibela itself today is very special as both Mikael and Lalibela’s tabots will be paraded out.

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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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