Tag Archives: Timket

Timket 2.0

11 Feb

Living here for two years you get a few chances to see holiday celebrations. Is this craziness typical? What exactly is a tobat? Do I really have to get up at 3am? These are the questions you have a year to mull over before diving in to the second time on a holiday. This is my second Timket in Gondar. And it’s just as crazy as last year.

watching the parade

watching the parade

SONY DSC

on the way to the bath

on the way to the bath

Priest with an i-pad... yup.

Priest with an i-pad… yup.

Per usual, we started the day before with a parade of the arcs of the covenant down from the 44 Orthodox churches in town. Though not as much of a spectacle as last year, there were just as many people walking right in front of my house.

A priest pouring holy water float

A priest pouring holy water float

We woke up at 2:45am (learned our lesson from last year) and went down to the baths to get good seats on the rickety platforms. Lucky for us, this year they reserved seats for tourists so we just pretended not to speak Amharic for a day. Last year I was right in amongst the crowds, but this year we were more separated. I’m glad I got to experience both. Being in the thick of things last year was a great introduction to my community and the culture. This year, after living her for a while, ya…. I deserved the breather.

dawn prayer

dawn prayer

Fasil Bath at Night

Fasil Bath at Night

waiting for the service

waiting for the service

The rickety platforms

The rickety platforms

Timket in Gondar!

Timket in Gondar!

Timket is Gondar at its best and worst. People travel from all over Ethiopia to worship at the baths, as well as see the sights. A bazaar is set up the week before, tour companies pick up all sorts of business, and professional pickpockets from Addis come up to take advantage. The ceremony is both spiritual and chaotic. Young men jump in with no thought to the significance – one almost fell in before the water was blessed. But as the ceremony moves from religious to more generally cultural, we still get to experience a very unique part of Ethiopian life. This year many of the PCVs who visited jumped in to the pool! I declined, knowing from last year how cold it would be.

 

SONY DSC

jumping in!

jumping in!

the first jumper! right after the priest blessed the water

the first jumper! right after the priest blessed the water

in the holy water

in the holy water

so. cold.

so. cold.

climbing the trees to get a good view - too bad they aren't sycamores, that would have been perfect

climbing the trees to get a good view – too bad they aren’t sycamores, that would have been perfect

Seeing this holiday for the second time, I’ve come to realize how much I really have integrated into life here. Hearing the questions other tourists were asking their guides, I felt pretty knowledgeable. We knew where to go, when to go, and who to schmooze. I ran in to many many friends and acquaintances. It really is a community holiday, and on some level I’m really part of the community now.

so many visitors

so many visitors

priests at service

priests at service

Habesha Libs- Traditional Clothing

22 Feb

Traditional clothing in Ethiopia varies by region, religion, tribe, and socio-economic status. In Gondar there is a mix of traditional clothing and modern clothing, and even some modern-traditional styles running around.

Especially for the holidays, everyone gets dressed in their traditional best, even if sometimes it doesn’t match what a middle class Gonderian would wear. This year at Timket I saw a lot of Gojam outfits from stylish men and women who clearly were not Gojam farmers. Gojam is the region south of here. So traditional or not, or “semi-traditional” or however you want to call it, it’s still cool to see the influence of these cultural clothes on modern fashion. There is a hoodie made from traditional material with embroidery that is super popular in Addis right now, and I might have to pick one up.

For women, the traditional dress is a white linen with embroidery on the cuffs, in the middle, on the bottom, or all three, paired with a white nutella (scarf wrap) of the same fabric. A very Gondar version of this is to have a thick rim of embroidery on the bottom hem, but only on the back. There is also another traditional dress that is made of thicker white fabric that is loose around the arms with symbols of the Orthodox cross.

Girl with the largest forehead ever, wearing the cutest habesha libs

Girl with the largest forehead ever, wearing the cutest habesha libs

stylish leather bag not included

stylish leather bag not included

And of course, the hair makes the outfit. Traditional braiding here can get pretty crazy. Especially in the north (Tigray) there is braiding style that looks like 3 mountain ranges on the top of the head that is let loose about mid way down the head, with skinny braids over the forehead like a crown, supposedly representing Jesus’ crown of thorns.

women with nutellas and Tigray braids

women with nutellas and Tigray braids

Then there is a more Gondarian braiding style that is basically cornrows on crack, and they are beautiful.

braids- with smaller braids, and other braids around those. Cool.

braids- with smaller braids, and other braids around those. Cool.

For the men there are the traditional white clothes, and then there are the Gojam button clothes. Green is the typical colour for Gojam farmers and they wear these short shorts in order to work more efficiently. Then for a little flair, white buttons are sown all over.

Carmen and Wendeson,  my landlord's brother

Carmen and Wendeson, my landlord’s brother

Gojam kids with a sheep horn

Gojam kids with a sheep horn

In addition to the shorts, there is also a type of pantaloon pant with suspenders that they wear sometimes. I saw some stylish girls rocking a fashionable version of these Gojam pumpkin pants, and maybe I’ve been in country too long, but I could totally see wearing that out. The other farmer accessory is a straw hat, almost like a cowboy hat. Gotta protect yourself from the sun. The priests also have a turban like wrap made of the same traditional nutella white fabric as the women wear.

the straw hats

the straw hats

priestly hats

priestly hats

So a mix of traditional, modern, well-off and farming culture has created a new kind of traditional clothing that mixes elements from all of it. Fashion is always one of many lenses into culture, and which elements get picked up from where create a story of cultural dominance, migrant movement, historical patterns, and modern twists.

And how these travel around the world are even more interesting. I heard the other day that the intricate Ethiopian Orthodox cross was becoming a popular pendant in America.

straight from Etsy

straight from Etsy

Timket – The Epiphany Celebration

28 Jan

About a week ago we celebrated one of the biggest holidays in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition – Epiphany or Timket. It was a three day celebration with parades, holy water blessings, eating, discovering new parts of Gondar, and learning more about the Orthodox tradition.

As a bit of background, the Orthodox Epiphany is different from what most protestant Christians think of it. I grew up understanding Epiphany as the time when the wise men came to Jesus (ya, it wasn’t Christmas Eve, sorry Nativity sets). But Orthodox Epiphany is the celebration of when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River some 30 years later. Epiphany being less of the wise men’s eureka moment and more of the commencement of Jesus’ mission and teachings on Earth.

Going even farther into background, the Arc of the Covenant is also believed to be housed in Ethiopia (Axum- Tigray Region). It was taken here from Jerusalem for safekeeping by Menelik I, the lovechild of the Queen of Sheba (Ethiopian) and King Solomon (wise old dude ruling Jerusalem). But Menelik didn’t exactly ask permission to take the Arc, thus creating a legend of Indiana Jones proportions (seriously, Indiana Jones goes to Ethiopia in the Last Crusade). Each Orthodox Church has a replica of the Arc of the Covenant and during Timket these arcs get paraded around each city or small town. But no one is supposed to look upon it (since it houses the Holy of Holies and all) so what you end up seeing are a bunch of umbrellas running around town.

What makes the Timket celebration in Gondar unique, and the biggest in the nation, is the ceremony at the Fasilides Baths. Most towns have parades and some holy water blessings, but Gondar goes through an elaborate ceremony and a priest converts and entire castle moat into Holy Water. Ya, it’s epic.

So I’ll walk you through some of the celebrations, history and ceremony from the vantage point behind my camera. My house was directly on the parade route and only 10 mins walk from the baths so I can safely say I was in the thick of the celebration all weekend.

Friday afternoon the celebration started with a parade of all the churches coming together with their priests, arcs, some floats and thousands of people walking from each church to the baths. There are 44 arcs (44 Orthodox Churches) in total in Gondar.

The parade coming down from Piazza, view from the mountain by my house

The parade coming down from Piazza, view from the mountain by my house

Some of the bigger churches had floats and entire entourages, all the arcs had to travel on a carpet which boys rolled and unrolled in front of the procession all the way down the hill

Some of the bigger churches had floats and entire entourages, all the arcs had to travel on a carpet which boys rolled and unrolled in front of the procession all the way down the hill

The arcs arrive, AKA a flock of umbrellas

The arcs arrive, AKA a flock of umbrellas

Arc Parade Float

Arc Parade Float

Each church had their own personality, uniform and group. In addition to the church processions many people joined and watched the parade in their finest traditional clothing [future blog post]. For women, habesha libs, as their known, are the white shawls (nutellas) with white linen dresses with beautiful embroideries on the hemlines. This year, there were a lot of Gojam (West Amhara region) farmer clothes as well. The green or blue outfits with the buttons made for the cutest little children.

This horse is decked out

This horse is decked out

Gojam boys and outfits

Gojam boys and outfits

nuns and crowd

nuns and crowd

watching the parade, and protecting herself from the sun

watching the parade, and protecting herself from the sun

As the parade passed we jumped on to the end and walked toward the baths. On the way, impromptu dance parties were happening everywhere. Morgan and I made sure to document. I was lucky enough to host Dan and Nicole, third year extension volunteers who spent their first two years in Gondar and were able to introduce me to more organizations, hole in the wall restaurants, and their favorite places around the city.

Ryan getting his shoulder shake on with a Gojam farmer

Ryan getting his shoulder shake on with a Gojam farmer

Morgan getting a good shot

Morgan getting a good shot

Dan and Nicole- best tour guides

Dan and Nicole- best tour guides

At the baths on Friday evening, the arcs arrive and the priests begin to set up. The more committed pilgrims stood vigil all night saying prayers and giving thanks. We returned the next morning in the dark at 4:30am to bleachers already full. BBC was doing a documentary on Timket this year (yay for Ethiopian tourism!) so there were a lot of media around as well. But being some of the only ferenjis able to say more than four words in Amharic we got pulled to the front and given prime spots. The enthusiasm by Ethiopians to share their traditions is really great to witness and experience. The weekend was full of anecdotes extolling Ethiopian hospitality, including the next day when five priests walked into my compound and invited us to have tea with them.

Fasilides Baths

Fasilides Baths

This priest came out and posed for our cameras, pretty awesome

This priest came out and posed for our cameras, pretty awesome

Prayer by candlelight at dawn

Prayer by candlelight at dawn

Priests lined up and chanting

Priests lined up and chanting

There were no seats left so people started climbing trees, very Zachius...

There were no seats left so people started climbing trees, very Zachius…

The ceremony lasted through the dawn and priests and worshipers sang, chanted and prayed as the sun came up. A quick sermon was given in Amharic and one of the priests blessed the water in the moat around Fasilides Castle. Not even three seconds later, hundreds of young men stripped down and jumped 20 feet off the walls into the water. Events got pretty chaotic as mobs pressed in around the sides of the pool. It’s a moment of ecstasy as (mostly men) jump into the water for blessing and then turn around and “bless” everyone else by throwing large splashes into the crowd. It was a lot of fun, if not a little claustrophobic.  Young boys climbed over scaffolding, jumped from trees, and old women filled water bottles with holy water to bring back to their homes.

As an aside, in Ethiopia, there is a superstition that holy water can cure AIDS and so part of the public health communications approach  (which is part of my work here) has been working with religious institutions not to necessarily discredit this belief, but to advocate a dual holy water/ART drug strategy.

Priest blessing the water

Priest blessing the water

The baths are open all weekend for revelers to come take a dip. Sunday afternoon we returned and the baths resembled more of a community pool with kids diving in and out and racing each other around the sides. It doesn’t sound like there is an expiration date for the Holy Water, so I filled up a bottle myself. It’s sitting full of silt on my kitchen counter- I’ll have to remember not to boil my pasta in it.

Diving in

Diving in

Lots of blessing going on

Lots of blessing going on

Jumping in, clothes and all

Jumping in, clothes and all

Baths become a community pool

Baths become a community pool

A more leisurely time to bathe

A more leisurely time to bathe

So there’s a long winded but very brief description of Timket in Gondar. It’s clearly the place to be for this holiday if the explosion of tourists (both foreign and Ethiopian) are any indication. It was a great introduction to some more of the cultural aspects of the city and Orthodox faith which pretty much dominates this region. I’m taking reservations for my floor for next year, but you’ll have to bring me chocolate.

For more Timket photos here is a link to my facebook album 

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