Meskel: Ethiopian Christian festival deemed a cultural heritage experience

Meskel activities in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Photo by Peter Chou Kee Liu, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27: Across Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and Eritrean Orthodox Christian communities, bonfires on the eve of Meskel remind families of an ancient story: the vivid dreams and forthcoming discovery of the true Cross by Queen Helena, in the fourth century. On Meskel, the faithful attend religious services, gather with family and feast together.

Did you know? Ethiopia is the only country in the world that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level. (Watch a one-minute video of Meskel celebrations on YouTube.)

Ethiopia recently petitioned—and succeeded, in December of 2013—in requesting UNESCO to register the Meskel events in Addis Ababa as a cultural heritage experience, for its “ancient nature … color and significance … and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists as well as the immense participation of the society.”

The traditional story tells that St. Helena instructed the people of Jerusalem to bring wood for a bonfire. After adding incense, smoke rose high into the sky then returned to the ground to touch the precise spot where the true Cross was located. Then, a part of the true Cross was brought to Ethiopia, where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.

MESKEL: A UNIQUE CELEBRATION

Injera bread, Meskel

A basket of injera bread. Photo by Pen Waggener, courtesy of Flickr

The Meskel festival traces its roots back 1,600 years. Although it hasn’t been celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm in every century, Ethiopians certainly enjoy the festival today. Colorful processions begin in the early evening of Meskel eve; firewood is gathered by community members, and the bonfire site is sprinkled with fresh yellow daisies. Bonfires burn the night through, and when the flames at last begin to smolder, leftover ash is used to mark the foreheads of the faithful, in an act similar to that of Ash Wednesday.

Ethiopian honey wine, exotic spices and spicy hot peppers complement plates mounded with food, as family-honored recipes fill the table. In community settings, dozens of women gather to prepare food for hungry churchgoers, humming and singing traditional songs while they work. Homemade cheese, tomatoes and lentils are served with injera flatbread. (Make injera with this recipe, from Food.com.) Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences.

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Categories: Christian

Birthday of Haile Selassie: Rastafari celebrate the final Ethiopian emperor

Dark-skinned man in Rasta hat and sunglasses, making peace sign with fingers

A Rastafari man. Photo courtesy of Pxhere

TUESDAY, JULY 23: Rastafari around the world—estimated to number 700,000 to 1 million—hold Nyabingi drumming sessions and celebrate the birthday anniversary of their God incarnate, Haile Selassie I. (Note: The belief that Selassie is God incarnate is not universally held; some Rastas regard Selassie as a messenger of God.) Born Ras Tafari Makonnen, Haile Selassie served as Ethiopia’s regent from 1916 to 1930 and emperor from 1930 to 1974.

TAFARI MAKONNEN: FROM MUD HUT TO PALACE

Beginnings were meager for this emperor-to-be, born in a mud hut in Ethiopia in 1892. Selassie—originally named Tafari Makonnen—was a governor’s son, assuming the throne of Ethiopia in a complex struggle for succession. The nation’s leaders favored Tafari for the role of emperor—and, in 1930, he was crowned. Selassie would become Ethiopia’s last emperor.

Years prior to Haile Selassie’s enthronement, American black-nationalist leader Marcus Garvey began preaching of a coming messiah who would lead the peoples of Africa, and the African diaspora, into freedom. When news of Selassie’s coronation reached Jamaica, it became evident to some that Selassie was this foretold of messiah. Beyond the prophesies in the book of Revelation and New Testament that Rastafari point to as proof of Selassie’s status, the emperor also could trace his lineage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Rastafari pointed to Selassie as the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David and the King of Kings.

Did you know? The Rastafari receive their name from the combination of Ras—an honorific title, meaning “head”—and Tafari, part of Selassie’s birth name.

Selassie remained a lifelong Christian, but never reproached the Rastafari for their beliefs in him as the returned messiah. To this day, Rastafari rejoice on July 23, the anniversary of his birth.

TIME MAGAZINE AND THE WORLD: SELASSIE’S STORY

Magazine cover, man on front in fancy clothing of nobility

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

LEAGUE OF NATIONS—One of the most poignant chapters in Selassie’s life—and a key reason that he came to global attention—was an impassioned appeal for help that Selassie delivered to the League of Nations in 1936. In 1936, TIME magazine named him its Man of the Year.

The magazine’s “honor,” today, looks like nothing but ridicule for what TIME editors regarded as a foolish figure on the global stage. Dripping with sarcasm and openly racist, the TIME profile of Selassie included this description of him:

The astounding marvel is that Africa’s unique Museum of Peoples has produced a businessman—with high-pressure publicity, compelling sales talk, the morals of a patent medicine advertisement, a grasp of both savage and diplomatic mentality, and finally with plenty of what Hollywood calls “it.”

Selassie was in a life-and-death struggle with Italian aggression in his homeland. The TIME cover story appeared in January 1936. International opinions of Selassie changed dramatically that summer, when he made a passionate plea for help in a personal appearance before the League of Nations in Europe. His plea did not result in the help he sought, but the appeal now is considered a milestone in 20th century history. William Safire included the League address in his book, Great Speeches in American History.

NEWS: RASTAFARI PLEA FOR RELIGIOUS RECOGNITION FOR CANNABIS USE

Rastafari in the Bahamas are requesting state recognition and inclusion involving their use of cannabis in a sacramental manner in their communities, as was reported by Tribune 242. Sources report that Rasta priests in the Bahamas hold the opinion that, as occurred in Jamaica and Antigua, the government should issue a formal apology for the longstanding oppression placed upon Rastafari communities for their sacramental use of cannabis. Rather than risk arrest or job security for what Rastas regard as “a way of life” and their “sacrament,” those in the Bahamas are voicing requests for further national discussions on marijuana law.

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Categories: Rastafari

Meskel: Ethiopian festival for the true Cross a ‘cultural heritage experience’

Big crowds, white clothing, dark-skinned people

Meskel celebrations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by peteropaliu, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 27: Across Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox communities, bonfires on the eve of Meskel remind families of an ancient story: the vivid dreams and forthcoming discovery of the true Cross by Queen Helena, in the fourth century. On Meskel, the faithful attend religious services, gather with family and feast together.

The traditional story tells that St. Helena instructed the people of Jerusalem to bring wood for a bonfire. After adding incense, smoke rose high into the sky then returned to the ground to touch the precise spot where the true Cross was located. Then, a part of the true Cross was brought to Ethiopia where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.

MESKEL: AN ANCIENT (AND UNIQUE) CELEBRATION

The Meskel festival traces its roots back 1,600 years. Although it hasn’t been celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm in every century, Ethiopians certainly enjoy the festival today. Colorful processions begin in the early evening of Meskel eve; firewood is gathered by community members, and the bonfire site is sprinkled with fresh yellow daisies. Bonfires burn the night through, and when the flames at last begin to smolder, leftover ash is used to mark the foreheads of the faithful, in an act similar to that of Ash Wednesday.

Did you know? Ethiopia is the only country in the world that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level. Ethiopia recently petitioned—and succeeded, in December of 2013—in requesting UNESCO to register the Meskel events in Addis Ababa as a cultural heritage experience, for its “ancient nature … color and significance … and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists as well as the immense participation of the society.”

Ethiopian honey wine, exotic spices and spicy hot peppers complement plates mounded with food, as family-honored recipes fill the table. In community settings, dozens of women gather to prepare food for hungry churchgoers, humming and singing traditional songs while they work. Homemade cheese, tomatoes and lentils are served with injera flatbread. (Make injera with this recipe, from Genius Kitchen.) Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences.

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Categories: Christian

Timkat: Ethiopian Christians reenact baptism of Jesus with vibrant festival

Close-up of three dark-skinned men in elaborate religious robes and carrying ornate cloth umbrellas under sunny skies

Priests celebrate Timkat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Andrew Heavens, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JANUARY 19: Rich, deep hues and velvet fabrics dot the landscape in Ethiopia during one of the grandest festivals of the year: Timkat, the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian ceremony commemorating the baptism of Jesus. As the countryside’s rolling hills are blooming with yellow spring flowers, pilgrims and priests dress in their finest clothing and form a procession that weaves through the rock-hewn churches and age-old passageways of Ethiopia. Central to the processions are models of the Ark of the Covenant (called tabots), carried by priests with caution and pride. To Ethiopian Christians, the tabot signifies the manifestation of Jesus as the Savior, when he came to the Jordan River to be baptized.

Did you know? Ethiopia is home to more UNESCO sites than any other country in Africa. In December 2013, the Demera festival of the Meskel holiday was registered as world intangible heritage by UNESCO; Ethiopia has since submitted study findings of three intangible cultural heritages to UNESCO for registration, one of which is Timket (Timkat).

Timkat events begin on Timkat eve, when the tabots are ceremoniously wrapped in cloth and carried by priests in a procession. In the earliest morning hours, while the sky is still dark, crowds gather near bodies of water to witness a blessing of the waters—a reenactment of the baptism of Christ. Crowds are sprinkled with water, and baptismal vows are renewed. When all rituals are complete, pilgrims return home for feasts and continued celebrations.

News organizations in the U.S. rarely cover Timkat, but reporters from the UK, India and Africa usually file stories. This year, the India-based Economic Times advises readers on the best spots in Ethiopia to visit for Timkat celebrations:


The Timkat Festival, an Orthodox Christian celebration of Epiphany, remembers the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. While Timkat is celebrated across the nation, the best place to attend the event is Lalibela, Gonder or Addis Ababa. The festival kick starts with a procession, during which the Tabots, models of the Ark of the Covenant, present on every Ethiopian altar are brought in from churches around Gondar. The Tabots are borne in procession, on the head of the priest, parading through the streets. The priests, escorted by drums and worshippers making merry, hold an overnight vigil until dawn. The services the following morning culminate in the priests blessing the waters of the historic Fasilides Bath. In Addis Ababa many tents are pitched in the grassy field at Jan Meda, to the northeast of the city centre.

Care to learn more?

If you have the Smithsonian channel available in your home, an episode of the Secrets series focuses on the Ark of the Covenant and includes a section on Ethiopia. Here is a link to watch an excerpt of that episode.

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Categories: Christian

Haile Selassie: Celebrating Bob Marley’s 70th on a Rastafari birthday

Colored headshot of Bob Marley laughing

Bob Marley brought international attention to the Rastafari movement. Photo by Jason H. Smith, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, JULY 23: During what would have been the year of Bob Marley’s 70th birthday, the world celebrates the legend of a Reggae artist—and, for the Rastafari, the man who helped place their religion on the international stage. Today, the Rastafari acclaim the birthday of their messiah, Emperor Haile Selassie—a man referenced in lyrics of Marley’s songs. In Rastafari communities worldwide, Selassie’s birthday is met with Nyabingi drumming sessions, chanting and dancing. Born in a mud hut in Ethiopia in 1892, Selassie—named Tafari Makonnen at birth—was the son of a governor who would become the final emperor of Ethiopia.

Did you know? The Rastafari receive their name from the combination of Ras—an honorific title, meaning “head”—and Tafari, part of Selassie’s birth name.

Looking for more Marley and other artists’ peacemaking music? Check out modern-day interfaith peacemaker Dan Buttry’s column—complete with links to videos.

Rastafari point to several sources as proof of Selassie’s destiny: astrological occurrences at the time of Selassie’s birth, a lineage traceable to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, the prophesies of Marcus Garvey and biblical passages relating to Ethiopia and Zion. The constellation of Leo, which represents the house of Judah, was in full effect during the birth of Selassie on July 23, 1892. Marcus Garvey had been preaching of a messiah who would lead the African people to freedom. Biblical text relays that “he will be called … conquering lion of the tribe of Judah.” (For a Rasta view, click here.) When news of Selassie’s assumption of the Ethiopian throne reached Jamaica in 1930, the Rastafari movement was born.

Are Rastas Christian? Many Rastas believe in Jesus and embrace the Bible. What sets Rastas apart from other Christians is their belief that Haile Selassie was (is) a messiah. During his lifetime, Haile Selassie remained an Ethiopian Christian.

NEWS: OBAMA VISITS MARLEY MUSEUM, FAMILY CONTINUES LEGEND

President Barack Obama visited The Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, last April, and the museum has been receiving international media attention throughout the year of Marley’s 70th birth anniversary. Beyond Reggae, Marley wrote songs about war, revolution, protest, human rights and justice. Marley’s greatest hits collection, Legend, has been certified platinum 15 times, and the BBC named “One Love” the Song of the Millennium. This year, Billboard reviewed both the continued marketing of Marley’s image (he ranked No. 5 on Forbes’ 2014 Top Earning Dead Celebrity list) and the 10 protest songs that best exemplify his fight for social justice.

Interested in more? View a modern Rastafari celebration for Haile Selassie’s birthday here, and Time’s photos of Selassie’s 1966 visit to Jamaica here. Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s wife, converted to the Rasta faith after seeing Haile Selassie on his trip to Jamaica, claiming to have seen a stigmata print on his palm as he waved to the crowd. Rita influenced Bob in his conversion to Rastafari.

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Categories: Rastafari

Ethiopians celebrate first Meskel since making UNESCO list

Children in colorful robes with dark skin stand in crowd appearing to perform

Children participate in the Meskel festivities at Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, 2012. Photo by opalpeterliu, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26: Bonfires ignite an ancient story as darkness spreads across the Ethiopian landscape tonight: Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Christians celebrate Demera, the eve of the grand holiday of Meskel. Recalling the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Helena in the fourth century, the bonfires of Meskel eve recreate the colossal bonfire that St. Helena experienced in a dream. Ethiopians remember a traditional Christian story that says St. Helena instructed the people of Jerusalem to bring wood for a bonfire; after adding incense, the bonfire’s smoke rose high into the sky and, returning to the ground, touched the precise spot where the true cross was located. It’s believed that a part of the true cross was brought to Ethiopia, where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.

DEMERA AND MESKEL:
‘IMMENSE PARTICIPATION OF THE SOCIETY’

The Meskel festival traces its roots back 1,600 years, and although it hasn’t been celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm in every century, today’s Ethiopia is packed with adherents who grandly celebrate Meskel. (Photographs and more of last year’s ceremonies are at International Business Times.) Colorful Demera processions begin in the early evening of Meskel eve; firewood is gathered by community members, and the bonfire site is sprinkled with fresh yellow daisies. (Learn more from Wikipedia and AllAfrica.) Bonfires burn the night through, and when the flames at last begin to smolder, leftover ash is used to mark the foreheads of the faithful, in an act similar to that of Ash Wednesday. On Meskel, the people of Ethiopia attend religious services, gather with family, and feast together.

Did you know? Ethiopia is the only country in the world that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level. Ethiopia recently petitioned—and succeeded, in December of 2013—in requesting UNESCO to register the Meskel events in Addis Ababa as a cultural heritage experience, for its “ancient nature … color and significance … and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists as well as the immense participation of the society.”

How does Meskel taste, sound and feel? Ethiopian honey wine, exotic spices and the spiciest of hot peppers dazzle the plates mounded with food, as family honored recipes fill the table. In community settings, dozens of women gather to prepare food for hungry churchgoers, humming and singing traditional songs while they work. Homemade cheese, tomatoes and lentils are served with injera flatbread. (Make injera with this recipe, from Food.com.)

Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences. (Toast your own cup to the coffee ceremony—or celebrate with family and friends—by learning more here.)

 

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Categories: Christian

Ethiopians and Rastafari mark Enkutatash, New Year, 40th anniversary

Dark-skinned boy holding out orange flower  with yellow flowers in background

An Ethiopian New Year card. Photo courtesy of the International Livestock Research Institute and Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Harvest and autumn themes take center stage in many September holidays and celebrations, but in Ethiopia, the opposite is true: Today is Enkutatash, the first day of the Ethiopian New Year and the end of the rainy season. Flowers are bursting into bloom in the fields, and young children gather bouquets to bring to friends. Enkutatash typically begins in church and leads to traditional shared meals, the exchange of New Year’s songs and greetings. (Wikipedia has details.) Many Ethiopians recall, today, the return of the Queen of Sheba from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem.

Did you know? The Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar, which was fixed to the Julian calendar in 25 BCE. The New Year date is August 29 on the Julian calendar—which, given the current 13-day gap between calendars—pegs Enkutatash as September 11 on the Gregorian calendar.

Beyond Ethiopia, many families around the world have begun marking Enkutatash. The Ethiopian African Millennium Group promoted a massive festival in 2007, and large celebrations have taken place in Washington, San Jose and Seattle. Long before the Western festivals for Enkutatash, though, the Rastafari—ardent believers in late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as the Messiah—have marked this event, with Nyabinghi drumming sessions, shared meals and joy.

Hungry? Try an easy-to-follow recipe for traditional Enkutatash wat (stew), courtesy of In Culture Parent.

ANNIVERSARY OF EMPEROR HAILE SELASSIE

Rastafari and Ethiopians may note tomorrow’s 40th anniversary of the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie, by the Dergue junta. On September 12, 1974, reformist officers toppled the monarchy that had ruled Ethiopia for centuries. Emperor Haile Selassie—nicknamed Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings—could trace his lineage back thousands of years, to (many believe) the Queen of Sheba. The final emperor of Ethiopia had ruled 26 million subjects and gained the worship of growing numbers of Rastafari—many of whom still believe today.

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Categories: AnniversaryRastafari