Ethiopia’s Intangible Heritages of New Year Celebrations.

by Zelalem

A number of Ethiopia’s intangible heritages are celebrated around the Ethiopian New Year which is just at the corner. These celebrations are entirely inclusive in which the whole crowd of a specific nation or nationality or peoples are actively involved out of their own will, beliefs, aspirations and wishes about the New Year.

Although Ethiopia’s New Year is officially marked on September 11, a number of nations, nationalities and peoples mark their own traditional New Year celebrations on different dates every year.

Buhe, one of the intangible cultural heritages is celebrated on the 19th of August by children both in the rural and urban settings. Various bands of small children come together and sing songs making rounds from house to house singing jostling hoya hoye with sticks in their hands to keep their rhythm. As a reward for their songs they are provided with loaves of bread or mulmul. The kids prepare whips made from peeled tree or from sisal and thrust it into the air to make an explosive sound in memory of the Transfiguration of Jesus at Mount Debere Tabor.

Buhe also heralds the end of the rainy season ( Kerepmpt ) and the inception of the bright spring season as an Amharic sonnet goes ” Buhe Kalefee Yelem Kerempti, doro ke chohey yelem lelitti) meaning “After Buhe there is no more rainy season and after rooster crows the night subsides”.

Enkutatash is marked on the first day of the New Year in Ethiopia. That is Meskerem 1 on the Ethiopian calendar, which is 11 September (or, during a leap year, 12 September) according to the Gregorian calendar.

Enkutatash means the “gift of jewels”. Is associated with the famous Queen of Sheba who returned from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her with gifts of jewels or inku. Enkutatash is celebrated with a pompous paraphernalia particularly among children who go from house to house with their adey abeba – traditional bouquet of flowers, singing, chanting and welcoming the bright Ethiopian spring.

Demera and Meskel are a pair of religious New Year festivals that are celebrated on the 26th and 27th of September for over 1,600 years. The celebration is the only and unique religious celebration registered by UNESCO and is related to the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Eleni who happened to travel to Israel in the 4th century.

Demera is celebrated on the eve of Meskel with a bone fire which is a symbolic recreation of the bone fire that Queen Eleni saw in her dream. It is believed that a part of the true cross was brought to Ethiopia, where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.

Ashenda, Shadey or Ashendye is a festival celebrated starting from August 22 in Tigray state. It is currently used both in Amharic and Tigrigna languages to denote a vertical sewerage channel that passes water down to the ground from the top of a roof. In the Agewghna, Ashenda means the “tall green grass”. In the tradition of this religious festival, blades of grass are strewn on the floors of homes and shops as a kind of welcome mat.

This cultural festivity was originated from two historical legends that occurred in different periods. During the ancient times of Ethiopia it was said that there was a girl who always walked around praying that her father would come back safe from war. When he did, she welcomed him singing and beating drums. She was 17 years old. So every year it becomes a tradition of all the young girls together around singing and beating drums, while the young boys keep an eye on them from a distance, to make sure they were safe from any wild animals

The festival of Ashenda has cultural, religious and economic importance, and encourages industriousness. Originally it was a girls’ festival, it has since gained widespread recognition and popularity in the northern Ethiopia and among communities of the Ethiopian Diaspora.

Irecha is a thanksgiving celebration which marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of spring. It is celebrated among the Oromo people. The celebrants, women and men get attired with white colorful costumes, turbans, and hides of wild animals. They as well holding spears and a special stick in honor of the Gada system which has already been registered as an intangible heritage at UNESCO. It is celebrated at federal level at Bishoftu, Hora Arsadi, and some 25-kms to the south of Addis Ababa. Irecha celebrants hold newly cut green lush grasses as a token of fertility and soaking it the lake water.

Fiche Chambalala is a New Year traditional celebration colorfully marked among the Sidama in the State of South Nations, Nationalities and peoples. People of all walks of life converge on open space to listen to the advises of the elderly while the youth get attired with their attractive traditional. This festival has already been registered at UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.

The most common traits of the above mentioned New Year celebrations are their social and inclusive characteristics. The celebrations also coincide with other national events like the opening of new school year in universities and various schools in the country.

Despite the availability of such cultural heritages that are recognized by UNESCO, regrettably enough the youth, particularly in urban centers are not being taught about the significance of such cultural celebrations. With the advent of social media and satellite TV systems, Ethiopian youth are far more informed about western events like water day, mother’s day, valentine day, Halloween and a number of events that are marked in foreign countries.

When it comes to introducing Ethiopian kids to such cultural heritages, families, social organizations and schools need to play a major role. Some families think that introducing their children and encouraging them to take part in such cultural celebration is dangerous for their safety but the disservice they commit in preventing their children from knowing about such cultural heritages could have a far reaching repercussions that they may feel later in their life.

Although some attempts have been made in covering such events, it is difficult to conclude that the media in Ethiopia are doing enough in this area.

It is beyond doubt that such cultural celebrations attract thousands of tourists every year but the marketing and promotion activities conducted in allowing the rest of the world to know about the cultural heritages is by far minimal.

The cultural celebrations of the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia creates a favorable forum for developing the rich traditional creative arts that the country has but very little is being done in this regard.

The universities and other institutes of higher learning in the country seem to either ignore the extensive researches that they can conduct on traditional cultural heritages of the country or it has not been listed as their priority area of research.

The cultural celebrations could set a remarkable stage for studies on folklore, linguistics, sociology and other fields of social studies.

Ethiopia’s New Year related and other traditional cultural celebrations are the indicators of the identity and pride of the country and need to be cherished.

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