"...A column for Ethiopian culture, geography, History, literature, music, k'ne, humor, current affairs and the like...."
NUMBER 4 ---< < < < < For the EEDN community > > > > > > --- November 15, 1992
Selam wd wegenoC! Indemn alaCu?
This week's edition of "Variety Column" has a different format. A couple of days ago, I was looking for a reading material as a diversion from the hectic routines of life when I came across a book which caught my attention not only by its title but by the name of the author. Taking a quick glance at the photographs inside, I remembered that I had seen this book few years ago and had read it rather casually. But back then, I had never heard of the name of the author before and didn't find the book that unique except perhaps the pictures. This time around, with an interest to know the person and experience of the author, I set out to read the book paying particular attention to the comments, conversation pieces and flow of story and eventually the conclusion. By the time I had read through the book, it was very clear that the content of the book was in fact more important.
The book is an exceptionally engaging account of the experience of the author and his family as they traveled through the breadth and depth of Ethiopia meeting ordinary people such as peasants, teachers and the clergy between 1969 and 1972. With detailed description of such places as Dima Giorgis of Haddis Alemayehu's epic-"Fikir eske Mekabir", the Sof Omar Washa of Bale, Kombolcha, Chilalo, Kulubi, Axum, Lalibela, Debark, the Chercher mountains and many more places, the reader will be reminded how little he or she knows about his or her own country, Ethiopia.
In the author's own words "Ethiopia carries an enormous burden of history and tradition. There is probably no place in the world where primitive, ancient, medieval, and modern are intermingled as they are here. They are intermingled not only in the landscape and the language but also in the minds of the people too."
With this in mind, our "Variety Column" might be an appropriate forum to learn about the diverse culture, history, sites, scenery and people that make our country-Ethiopia. This, hopefully, will just be one little step in understanding and coming in terms with the immense challenges that we Ethiopians face as a group.
In the next two editions of this column, we will "travel" to two very important places where the diversity and unity of Ethiopia is reflected to a degree unparalleled anywhere else in the country. These are two places where the lives of ordinary Ethiopians of diverse ethnic, religion and social background criss-cross and intermingle. It has been this way for a very long time and these places have outlived countless tribulations and commotion that had beset the country and are once again poised to outlive more.
Kulubi Gabriel of Harrerge and Bati, the town that all "tizita" songs are incomplete without, are the places that this column will take you.
Though the articles have nothing to do with the book mentioned in message and form, I have relied heavily on the book for most of the information and details. Acknowledgment is included wherever appropriate.
The book is "Ethiopian Journeys, Travels in Ethiopia 1969-72" The author, you might have guessed it right, is Paul B. Henze.
With its tradition spanning for almost a century and situated high up in the Chercher Mountains of Harrerge, Kulubi is the largest pilgrimage place in Ethiopia with almost equal importance to Christians and Moslems alike. Every year on Tahsas 19 (December 28), the faithful numbering as much as 100,000(*) make their pilgrimage to the Church of Kulubi Gabriel.
Oral history has it that the then governor of Harrerge, Ras Mekonnen had stopped at the small church of Kidus Gabriel at Kulubi on his way to join Menelik's army that was preparing for the showdown with the Italians where he made a vow ("silet"). The story goes that Ras Mekonnen vowed to Kidus Gabriel to build a major shrine if he returned victorious. (*)
Encouraged by the favorable response Kidus Gabriel seemed to have given to the Ras, faithful Ethiopians have been making "silet" ever since. The "silet" tend to be modest and more at the personal level, though. Not only Ethiopians would one see at Kulubi but people from other corners of the world like Italians, Greeks, Indian and Filipino school teachers, Yemeni's and other Africans. The area surrounding the church becomes almost a carnival site with the arrival of the multitude starting from Tahsas 18. Business in soft drinks, tej, tella, Katikala, candles (tuaf), colorful umbrellas and cattle is brisk. Sound trucks blare out commercials. There is even a communication center upon a hill where the names of the lost and found from such places as Gonder, Jimma, Asmera, Debre-Zeit, Debre Birhan etc... are announced. (*)
The evening of Tahsas 18 (the eve) is for Tej Bets where the aroma of fresh cut grass ("guz-guaz") and tej mix. The "Azmaris" are already in place bubbling with verses of "mugessa" for the brave and coward alike and occasionally "le-kefa" and "ash'mur". The carnival would just be a big blur for some who had gone direct to the tej and tella without the t're siga or t'ibs "guz-guaz".
Meanwhile the faithful and the clergy prepare for the mass. The debteras and Kesaw'sit are busy with "Akauakwam" and "ma'shebsheb".
The morning of Tahsas 19, Gabriel,.....baptism of thousands of children, especially those born as a result of "silet", provides the climax. Around the church, the multitude has occupied the whole area. "Silet" comes in various forms and it is staggering to see thousands circling the church some kneeling, some carrying animals of all nature. Ye' Harer Hadere setoch in their bright colored pants, kesawsit and monks in their red blankets, fashionable ye'adisaba wei'zazirt in bright jackets and mini-skirts, and Amhara ladies descending from newly arrived buses and Oromo women leading troops of children....(*)..... This is the face of Kulubi, the face of Ethiopia.
At the end of the day, chaos reigns as over 100,000 people in cars, buses mules and on foot prepare to live this mosaic place.
... And "Yene'bite-woch" count their money leisurely for it was a brisk business, the past 2 days. And Kulubi slowly turns into a sleepy shrine waiting for the next year.
* indicates reference is P. Henze's book.
Belu melkam sa-mnt yi'hunlachihu.