An Ethiopian Epiphany

Today is Timkat (or Timket, depending how you pronounce your as and es). Ethiopian Epiphany. In western christendom, this marks the time when the wise men visited Jesus, and the day when you’re supposed to get rid of your Christmas tree. In eastern christendom it seems to be about the baptism of john (not sure what his name was before he became john the baptist).

Spot the Ark of the Covenant

I wandered out mid-morning wondering whether I’d missed the festivities and not planning on going very far. I had heard that Jan Meda – a couple of miles away – was the place to be, with holy water being hosed on the crowd. I quickly acquired a very helpful and friendly guide – Dawit, who is a student in Jimma but was in town for Timkat. He spoke great English and humoured me with my amharic.

We wandered up past Arat Kilo and Siddhist Kilo and nearly made it as far as Jan Meda before the crowds got a bit too much. I’m used to celebrations of Arsenal winning the double and the open top bus tours of north london, but these crowds were something else. There was lots of dancing and music, lots of people dressed in white shawls and cloths. Bullrushes and sticks being waved in the air.

Turning back we took advantage of my relative wealth and escaped to the space of Blue Tops restaurant and the shade, for I had forgotten my hat. After lunch, we zipped past parliament and into the grounds of the palace (where Prime Minister Meles lives). Today was one of only a couple of days per year when Emperor Menelek’s church was open. He was the person who founded Addis about 120 years ago and brought lots of modern things – electricity, running water, cars – here. We went inside, saw the resident Michael Angelo painting, and then went into the vault to see the tombs of menelek, his daughter and wife (zaitu and zewditu I think), and various other old artefacts.

I paid the various priests, being reassured that the hefty fee I was being asked for was for orphans who the church looked after rather than just for the priests, and we just about made it back to near Arat Kilo to see the Ark of the Covenant – I think that’s the thing that the stone tables with 10 commandments on were kept in (this country is really testing my memory of things I used to know!) – process past. The crowds were amazing. Huge. At least half a million I’d say. Very colourful. Full of energy. Lots of priests and sub-priests in purples and greens. And then bright colourful umbrellas/parasols being held by the more senior priests. And then the ark itself – to be honest, I have no idea what it looks like, but maybe it’s a box – being carried by the most senior priests and perhaps the pope of the ethiopian church.

Anyway, despite the fact that I didn’t completely know what was going on, it was quite an experience, and Dawit was an excellent guide. Oh, nearly forgot. Earlier in the day, I had given 10 birr (50p) to a very bedraggled man. He was so pleased he gave me a big hug, span me round and gave me a big kiss, much to the amusement of the people walking past!

Photos and movies are here.

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