September 27th this year marks another big Ethiopian celebration. An even bigger festival than Enkutatash the Ethiopian New Year, is the Meskel “True Cross” Celebration which takes place on September 27th or 28th in leap year. Meskel 2021 is on September 27th . The festival commemorates the discovery of the “True Cross” on which Jesus was crucified, and is held annually in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa.
The word “meskel” is from the Ge’ez language which translates to “cross.” The festival is basically a celebration of the finding of the cross. The festival is held at the iconic Meskel square in Addis Ababa and draws out a large number of religious and civil leaders as well as public figures and Christian faithful. Meskel has been celebrated in Ethiopia for more than 1,600 years as an outdoor religious festival and has been registered at UNESCO since December 2013 as an Intangible World Heritage.
The legend goes that in 4BC, the Roman Empress Helena (Queen Eleni) was able to locate the important artifact in Jerusalem by using the smoke from a huge fire. The celebration is especially important to Ethiopians as it is alleged that a piece of the cross Helena discovered was brought to Ethiopia, and hidden away somewhere in the mountains of Amba Geshen, which itself has a cross-shaped plan.
Ethiopians commemorate the find by building their own massive bonfire, the Meskel, which they decorate with yellow flowers known as Adey Abeba before burning. Ethiopia’s religious leaders lead colorful processions and prayer around the fire, and attendees intently watch to see which way the bonfire will collapse, as it is believed to predict the future.
As you can see, the month of September is a month of cultural and religious celebrations in Ethiopia.
As we talked about the Enkutatash or the Ethiopian New year, I thought that it will be awesome to talk more about the Ethiopian calendar. After all, we are in 2014 in the Ethiopian calendar while we are in 2021 in the Gregorian calendar. Where does this come from? Do months have 30 and 31 days in the Ethiopian calendar like in the current calendar used by most people?
Well, the Ethiopian calendar is derived from the Egyptian solar calendar but adds a leap day every 4 years without exception. Like the Egyptian Coptic calendar, the Amharic calendar comprises 12 months of 30 days each, with anadditional month of just 5 or 6 days, depending on the year, i.e. in the Ethiopian calendar, there are 13 months, with 12 months which all have 30 days, and one month with only 5 or 6 days; no need for a song to keep track of which month has 30 or 31 days or even 28 days (February, I am looking at you). Ethiopian calendar months begin on the same days as Coptic calendar months but are instead named in Ge’ez, the ancient language of northern Ethiopia and southern Eritrea. Also a 6th day is added every four years to the 13th month, without exception, to indicate the leap year; this is placed 6 months before the corresponding Gregorian day.
The Ge’ez calendar is the principal calendar used in both Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The beginning of the calendar is based on the birth of Jesus. Ethiopians use the Incarnation Era to indicate the year, which places the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus on March 25, AD 9 in the Julian calendar. On the other hand, Europeans adopted a different calculation for the Annunciation which placed it eight years earlier, meaning that there exists a gap of 8 years between the start of the Ethiopian calendar and the Gregorian. Most of the major celebrated holidays such as Christmas occur on completely different days, so instead of December 25th, it is celebrated on January 7thwhich is considered by the Ethiopian orthodox church as Jesus birth day.
Lastly, the time of the day is such that the day starts at sunrise, and sunset is the end of the day: the sun and the moon that are used to count time each have 12 hours before setting… so 6:00AM in the morning in other places of the world will be 12:00AM, midday is 6:00AM, and when the sun goes down it is 12:00PM in Ethiopia. I just wonder how you would tell time if you lived in a different country, and were trying to call a friend in Ethiopia, how would you know when to call?
Wouldn’t it be difficult for a foreigner to tell the time and the year in Ethiopia? I must admit that the Ethiopian calendar does seem a lot simpler than what we have though!
A few days back, yours truly was invited to the celebration of the Ethiopian New year. Yes… this year Enkutatash, or the Ethiopian New year, was celebrated on September 11th, and my friend went on to tell me more about it. Did you know that we are currently in the year 2014 in the Ethiopian calendar?
The Ethiopian calendar is a solar calendar based on the ancient Egyptian calendar. The first month of the year is September, called Meskeremin Amharic, the local language. One of the reasons given is that during the month of September, the number of daylight hours and nighttime hours happen to be exactly equal in every part of the globe. Moreover, during this time of the year, the sun and the moon that are used to count time each have 12 hours before setting. Another reason often given is that it could be derived from the Bible, where the creation of the Heavens and Earth are said to have taken place in September. Lastly as in many world calendars, harvests must have been key in the setting up of the calendar.
Enkutatashis the name for the Ethiopian New Year and means “gift of jewels” in Amharic. The story goes back almost 3,000 years to the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia who was returning from her visit to King Solomon of Israel, as mentioned in the Bible in I Kings 10 and II Chronicles 9. She had gifted King Solomon with 120 talents of gold (4.5 tons) as well as a large amount of unique spices and jewels. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia, her chiefs welcomed her with enkuor jewels to replenish her treasury. The name Enkumay also refer to the countryside, which is covered by bright yellow flowers known as Adey Abeba as this time of the year also marks the end of the raining season. The appearance of the bright yellow flowers also indicates the impending harvest which is to be celebrated (see… harvest).
The celebration is both religious and secular. The day begins with big church services, followed by the family meal. Young children will receive small gifts of money or bread after the girls gather flowers and sing, and boys paint pictures of saints. Families eat the famed national flat bread injerawith the national dish doro wot (chicken stew), which takes at least half a day to prepare, and is rarely missed during these celebrations; families visit friends, and adults drink Tej, the national Ethiopian wine made out of honey… reminds me so much of King Lalibela (bees)… is this where the tradition comes from?
This year in particular, the hope is for peace and harmony… to a happy new year. Enkuan Aderesachihu!
Ruben Um Nyobé said it so well, “The colonial peoples can neither do the policy of a party, nor that of a state, nor a fortiori that of a man. Colonial peoples make their own policy which is the policy of liberation from the colonial yoke and in their struggle for this so noble objective, the colonial peoples observe and judge. They observe the government, the parties, the persons, the media, not on their ideology or their program, but only and only on their attitude towards the demands of the people of our countries.
This is the position of the U.P.C. [Union des Populations du Cameroon (Cameroon People’s Union] at the service of the people of Cameroon.”
(« Les peuples coloniaux ne peuvent faire ni la politique d’un parti, ni celle d’un Etat ni à plus forte raison celle d’un homme. Les peuples coloniaux font leur propre politique qui est la politique de libération du joug colonial et dans leur lutte pour cet objectif si noble, les peuples coloniaux observent et jugent. Ils observent les gouvernements, les partis, les personnages, les organes de presse, non sur leur idéologie our leur programme, mais seulement et seulement sur leur attitude à l’égard des revendications des populations de nos pays.
Voilà la position de l’U.P.C. au service du peuple camerounais. »)
As you can see, his answer does not just apply to Cameroon, or Africa, but to the entire world. The real government should be of the people by the people, for the people, and no person should stand against the will of the people or muffle its will, or sit on top of the people.
Every September 12, we like to celebrate the life of Amilcar Cabral, the father of Cape Verdean and Guinea Bissau’s independence. As you all know, Cabral fought for the independence of his land, of his people, from the imperial Portuguese domination. He also talked a lot about understanding the link between national liberation and culture. The extract below is part of a speech originally delivered on February 20, 1970, as part of the Eduardo Mondlane Memorial Lecture Series at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, under the auspices of The Program of Eastern African Studies. It was translated from the French by Maureen Webster. Enjoy!
A people who free themselves from foreign domination will be free culturally only if, without complexes and without underestimating the importance of positive accretions from the oppressor and other cultures, they return to the upward paths of their own culture, which is nourished by the living reality of its environment, and which negates both harmful influences and any kind of subjection to foreign culture. Thus, it may be seen that if imperialist domination has the vital need to practice cultural oppression, national liberation is necessarily an act of culture.
On the basis of what has just been said, we may consider the national liberation movement as the organized political expression of the culture of the people who are undertaking the struggle. For this reason, those who lead the movement must have a clear idea of the value of the culture in the framework of the struggle and must have a thorough knowledge of the people’s culture, whatever may be their level of economic development.
… The experience of colonial domination shows that, in the effort to perpetuate exploitation, the colonizers not only creates a system to repress the cultural life of the colonized people; he also provokes and develops the cultural alienation of a part of the population, either by so-called assimilation of indigenous people, or by creating a social gap between the indigenous elites and the popular masses. As a result of this process of dividing or of deepening the divisions in the society, it happens that a considerable part of the population, notably the urban or peasant petite bourgeoisie, assimilates the colonizer’s mentality, considers itself culturally superior to its own people and ignores or looks down upon their cultural values. This situation, characteristic of the majority of colonized intellectuals, is consolidated by increases in the social privileges of the assimilated or alienated group with direct implications for the behaviour of individuals in this group in relation to the liberation movement. A reconversion of minds–of mental set–is thus indispensable to the true integration of people into the liberation movement.Such reconversion–re-Africanization, in our case–may take place before the struggle, but it is completed only during the course of the struggle, through daily contact with the popularmasses in the communion of sacrifice required by the struggle.
As we continue to learn more about Lucy, and the origin of mankind, I thought of sharing the video below. It is a short interview of Donald Johanson who found Lucy in 1974 in the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia. It is “In Conversation with Donald Johanson, a film by Pierangelo Pirak” on the BBC Earth. It is just a snippets, but it helps to perceive the change that occurred with the discovery of Lucy in our understanding of the human evolution and origin. There are definitely other documentaries, much longer that will give more information, but this is to wet your appetite. Since the discovery of Lucy, more Australopithecus afarensis have been found, and even older remains like those of the Kenyantropus platyops (3.5 million years) or the Ardipithecus (dated 4.4 million years). Enjoy!
Now, you might ask, why is she called Lucy? Well, because the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky withDiamonds” was playing on the radio when the archaeologists found her remains. Thus the name Lucy. Lucy belongs to the species of Australopithecus afarensis; afarensisfor the Afar region of Ethiopia where she was found. She is one of the most important fossils ever discovered. Her discovery helped solidify the idea that Africa was the cradle of humanity, and a crucial hub for human evolution. Before Lucy, the skeleton of the Taung child dated to about 2.8 million years old had been found in South Africa in 1924, but European archaeologists and scientists refused to admit (as always) that Africa could be important in the study of human evolution. As always, they thought that Europe and Asia were the centers. Aren’t we tired of this Eurocentric view of the world which pretends to give meaning to everything it does not understand? Oh Mama Africa, your beauty and splendor is truly too much for these people that they have to keep denying your place and importance in the world!
Lucy was an upright walker, i.e. she walked standing up, thus dating the bipedalism observed in humans to at least 3.2 million years. She was only about 1 meter tall (3.5 feet). Lucy was a full-grown adult, because she had wisdom teeth and her bones had fused. Unlike modern humans, it would seem that she had grown to full size very quickly, and was about 12 years old when she died. From a 2006 study, the findings of a 3-year-oldAustralopithecus afarensis suggested that their brains reached their full size much earlier than modern human’s does. Lucy was ape-like in appearance and brain size, but could walk upright like more advanced hominins that lived later like the Taung child (2.8 million years) or the Australopitecus sediba (2.2 million years old). She had powerful arms and long curved toes that paleontologists think allowed her to climb trees as well as walk upright.
Lucy’s finding marked a turning point in our understanding of humanity, and the human lineage. She is a treasure, and although older skeletons have since then been found like the Kenyantropus platyops (3.5 million years) or the Ardipithecus (dated 4.4 million years), she remains a treasure. No wonder, Ethiopians call her Dinkineshor “you are marvelous” or “marvelous one“, for Lucy truly is marvelous as she has allowed to place Africa back at the center as the cradle of humanity (Africa was always at the center, but some Eurocentric views would not let her shine). If you are ever in Addis Ababa, please do not forget to visit her (her cast) at the National Museum of Ethiopia . Enjoy!