Friday, January 27, 2006

A tale of two festivals

Last week was marked by two festivals each with a different theme, both musically exhilarating and one marked by terror. Here is the story.

TIMKET (January 16 - 18)

Blood thicker than holywater?

Among the followers of Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Timket (Ephipany) is celebrated on January 17th to mark the baptism of Jesus Christ. Like Meskel, it is the most colorful holiday in the Ethiopian calendar but unlike Meskel it is lasts for three consecutive days making it more of a festival.

Day 1- Jan 16th , Ketera: All tabots leave their respective church to spend the night outdoors, most preferably near water. The tabots and the priests who carry them are draped with colorful fabrics and people escort their neighborhood church’s tabot to its designated spot. A mass is held in the evening and the church members and other orthodox Christian followers spend the night around the tabot singing spiritual songs.

Day 2 – Jan 17th, Timket: Early in the morning, prayers are held around the water. The water then gets blessed by a high priest who later sprinkles (hosing down is more common this days) the mass with the (now) holy water. The pool of holy water is opened to the public for a few hours of cleansing sins and splashing around. All tabots, except for Kidus Michael, start their gracefully-slow procession back to their churches. Each tabot is followed by their congregation dressed in white traditional outfit singing, chanting and dancing.

Day 3: Jan 18th, Kidus Michael (St. Mike) Day. The Kidus Michael tabots that stayed an extra night out return to their churches. The fact there are at least half a dozen Michael Churches in Addis make the day as crowded as the actual Timket day.

My favorite part of the Timket festival is the Music. The hymns of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are a delight even for a non-believer who is musically inclined. The sullen voices of the priests together with intermittent Ka’chels and drum emanate a dreamy atmosphere impossible to resist. Other more upbeat church songs are also sung and chanted amongst the followers. One not related to the church but is a common musical accompaniment to the Festival is the Harmonica Dance. The dance involves an amateur harmonica player blowing repetitive rhythms while the others clap and dance in a circle.

There is more to this year’s festival. The fact people are agile and they have no other way to let out their angst makes occasions like this the perfect opportunity to speak out. Recall the Great Ethiopian run - the 10 kilometer inner city marathon turned to a non-EPRDF-Authorized peaceful protest. similarly, this year’s Timket had more musical additions; the words of the regular festive songs were changed to anti-operation songs that fiercely criticized the regime and it’s cadres. Clashes between the public and the police were reported throughout the three days resulting in loss of life and scores of injuries.

Meskel square has a nice coverage of the festival plus a photo set from heaven. Reports and reactions on the incidents can be found here, here and here.

to be cont……

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