Category Archives: Oromo

Crosses, Thanksgiving and Fasts

Cross shaped Amba at Gishen Mariam

In Ethiopia, October kicks off with big celebrations. This Sunday (1st October) is Meskerem 21, is one of the biggest Mariam days in the year, commonly called Gishen Mariam after a church in Wollo, not far from Dessie on a cross shaped Amba properly called Gishen Debre Kerbe which holds its annual saint’s day on this date.

There are reportedly documents at Gishen that state that Emperor Zara Yaqob (who reigned in the mid 15th century), bought a piece of the “True Cross’ on which Jesus was crucified and buried it at Gishen Debre Kerbe under the church of Egyziabher Ab (Literally God the Father). There are in fact four churches on Gishen Debre Kerbe: Egyziabher Ab, Gishen Mariam, Kidus Gabriel and Kidus Mikael (Kidus is Saint). Gishen Mariam is one of the biggest pilgrimages in Ethiopia with thousands of pilgrims making their way up the narrow mountain paths to celebrate this day at the end of the rainy season.

Celebrations in 1903 at Lake Hora

Sunday 1st of October is also the culmination of the Oromo festival of Ireeycha Birra, a thanksgiving ceremony most famously celebrated beside Lake Arsadi outside of Bishoftu some 50 km south east from Addis Ababa. This day is actually the climax and most important day of several weeks of celebration. Thousands of Oromo people descend on the town and lake from across the region.

The celebration marks the end of the rainy season and the Oromo people give thanks to God for his bounty and pray for peace and reconciliation among humans and with God. The festival is led by the elders or wise men known as haayyuu who lead the blessings by the lake and make speeches. Tragically last year there was a large loss of life at this festival.

Coptic Icon depicting Holy Family fleeing to Egypt

For those new to Ethiopia you may not be aware that the year is punctuated by fasts of varying length and importance. Each Wednesday and Friday is a fasting day, except for a month or so following Easter when people will have been fasting for 55 days in the run up to Easter. A fast implies that people eat one meal a day in the afternoon or early evening and follow a strictly vegan diet (although many do still each fish which used to be accepted but not so much these days).

On 6th October the Tsige Tsom (fast) starts and runs for 40 days through to 15th November Kusquam Mariam day and it marks the exile of the Holy Family when they fled their land and took refuge in Egypt to be away from King Herod and his slaughter of infants. It ends on the day that commemorates Kusquam, a village in upper Egypt where the holy family were said to have lived during their exile in Egypt. This fast is however considered optional and only clergy are required to fast, but never the less most establishments will serve vegan options throughout this fast.

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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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