January 22, 2010

Timket for First Timers


(Addis Fortune):- This week is the week of Timket, once again, and for the best holiday experience one could travel to Gondar or Lalibela to be surrounded by the most atmospheric of landscapes (if not already there). But for many people who do not have at least a few days of vacation to spend on one of Ethiopia’s most important and most celebrated holidays, a short jaunt up to Jan Meda, east of Sidist Kilo, will prove very rewarding. Compared to Meskel, Timket is less formal, but more spirited. There is a saying that claims a dress has no value if it cannot be worn for Timket.


The crisp air was warmed and energised with the palpitations of the chants resounding through the gathering of church deacons dressed in all their most glorifying regalia. It was the eve of Timket (literally baptism), the epiphany celebration of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, and the feeling was sublime.

It was one of those days when there were enough puffy white clouds that took turns blocking the sun to keep the temperature at a perfect level. After taking a taxi up to Sidist Kilo, past Addis Abeba University’s various campuses, people were already starting to gather around the monument memorialising those who suffered and died during one of the many massacres of the Italian occupation. In fact, it was getting more crowded by the minute.

The abundance of traditional white Ethiopian clothes girding the vast majority of the mass of people would tell even the most inexperienced voyeur that this was a very special day. Soon, with the width of the road reduced to half by the mass of people on each side, increasingly morphing into worshipers, a rich chant filled the air descending from further up the hillside road.

As the energy and excitement peaked, a splash of colour appeared, hovering above the mass of white. These were the umbrellas or parasols of red, green, purple and blue with every edge laced in gold thread dangling with tassels, shading the church fathers and their precious cargo as they walked along.

Each abbot, as they are reverently called, carried a tabbot, or a replica of the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, which is believed to be held in St. Mary of Zion Church, in Aksum in the Tigray Regional State. Both the priests and tablets were covered with similarly decorative fabric.

As they neared, the joyous chanting grew louder. And as they passed, everyone was sucked into their wake, like a funnel. Following down the shady lane, one woman boldly called out in rhythm some chant of gratefulness and joy, discernable only to the mass of people who knew Amharic.

Suddenly, everyone responded in unison as if on queue. Even the few followers who were wearing street clothes, one man in old-fashioned camouflage, responded in unison.

She kept calling out, and they kept singing back a loud response. It was mesmerising and enchantingly peaceful.

Then this first mass entered an intersection, joined by identical masses coming from all directions. This intersection connected at least five roads. From the centre of the intersection there was a mass of white, stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see down every road.

When one is confronted with such experiences, one cannot help but wonder how many of the world’s problems could be solved if everyone had the same spirit that was exhibited by so many people that day.

Upon entering Jan Meda, the crowd dispersed throughout the whole multi-hectare sports field. The church fathers and deacons assembled themselves next to a small church where they sang in a similar fashion to the woman and the mass of followers.

Their song, led by a deacon with a beautifully clear and joyous tone, was at a slower tempo, but with the same youthful pitch. Even if one could not see the face of the deacon, one could imagine him smiling as if he was looking in the face of his saviour. The sound made everyone want to smile, unless they were too awestruck to even remember that they had muscles in their face to use in such occasions.

By now the sun was low in the sky. The procession left their post, following the church fathers down to some source of water for an eventual baptismal service. The deacons followed in their white robes, followed by Sunday school children and finally everyone else who began to run at this point.

Other groups of revellers formed circles, trooping around in circles holding sticks and singing chants. There were multiple languages represented. Everyone seemed so gleeful.

With nary a taxi to be seen, there was nothing to do but walk back home in the dusky blue evening light.

Timket, falling on Tuesday, January 19, 2010, this year is to be another day of celebration as well as feasting.

By HANS LARSON
SPECIAL TO FORTUNE




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