Is ethiopia a country of all Myth ?


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Ethiopia is a country of myth.

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Is ethiopia a country of all Myth ?

  1. 1. IntroductionEthiopiaEthiopiaEthiopiaEthiopiaEthiopia ethiopiaisyourmother: loveher ethiopiaisyourcountry: defendher ethiopiaiseverytoyou: dieforher emperorjohannesiv (1837-1889) Ethiopia is a country of myth.Thanks to the invention of the modern mass media, the images of Ethiopia famine in the 1980s were spread and amplified toTV screens in every corner of the globe.They touched the viewers’ hearts, and stayed in people’s minds. Since then, a name called Ethiopia remains forever as a synonym of poverty, malnutrition, drought, famine and war. It is true that even with the end of the famine more than a decade ago, Ethiopia remains as one of the poorest in the world, with $110 GDP per capita. We are not told, however, that Ethiopia is a country with extraordinary richness - in terms of history, culture and natural resources. Being the cradle of humanity, it is the home of the earliest known human ancestor, Lucy. 3.2 millions years later, the land has developed to a country inhabited by a population more than that of Great Britain or France, along with great ethnic and cultural diversity. According to legends, the biblical Queen of Sheba began to rule ancient Ethiopia in her capital near Axum in tenth century BC. In quest of knowledge and wisdom, the inquiring Queen travelled overland to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon of Israel, gave birth a child of his, who later became the first king of Ethiopia. Since then, the Solomonic line of generations of rulers has become the foundation of Ethiopia history. A thousand years later, a powerful kingdom comparable to Rome, Persia and China began to thrive here. In its heyday, the Kingdom of Axum stretched from the southern Arabia to the Nile Valley in Sudan, and grew rich by trading with not only countries nearby but also as far as Rome and Gaul.Today, the sky-piercing stelae serve as testimony of the glorious past. land of the faith However, the most significant impact to the Ethiopian culture by the Kingdom is perhaps its transformation by King Ezana in the fourth century into one of the first Christian State in the world. From then on, Christianity has stayed, and deeply entrenched in many Ethiopians’ daily life. With the rise of Islam in seventh century, the centre of Christian spirit was forced to Roha to the south. But it was not until the twelfth century during the reign of King Lalibela, Roha transformed itself into a world-renowned architectural marvel. Being impressed by the buildings in Jerusalem, King Lalibela was determined to create a new Jerusalem on African soil, accessible to all Ethiopians. He realised his dream, with the help of angels. A large cluster of churches with exceptional architectural style and craftsmanship was finally chiselled out from the rock in Roha.To commemorate his achievement, Roha was named Lalibela ever since. Today, Ethiopia is a country accessible to all types of travellers. Not only are they able to walk through the time line of the Ethiopian history by visiting relics in Axum and Lalibela, but also experience the modern day diversity of culture in areas such as Omo River Valley and Harar. Nature lovers would find a paradise of wildlife and landscape in this country, where the Simien Mountains offer a breathtaking scenery of the Ethiopian Highland, and the LakeTana sources the legendary Blue Nile and hosts numerous seclusive orthodox Christian monasteries. For those who have not had an opportunity to visit the country, it is my wish that this page would lead you into the land of wonder, as well as refresh your images about this country.
  2. 2. Timket Timket Eve (January 18th, about 2pm), traditional horns herald the beginning of the three-day festivity (above). Priests in colourful regalia carry theTabot (the Ark of Covenant, but actually the tablet of Law housed in the Ark) of their respective churches gather at the town centre, accompanied by a troop of clergies and a huge enthusiastic crowd.Timket is one of the few opportunities that folks could be close to the Tabot, which considered to be the most sacred item in Ethiopian Orthodox Church. However, no one has taken a true glimpse of theTabot, as it is always covered by gilded silks. Flamboyant embroidered umbrellas protecting the sacredTabot and the priests.The umbrellas have become the most salient symbol of the festival. Timket, orTimkat, is Ethiopian language for Epiphany. Although the holiday commemorating Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan is observed by Christians all over the world,Timket is of special significance in Ethiopia. It is the most important and colourful event of the year. The festival starts atTimket Eve, January 18, eleven days after the orthodox Christmas. Although the festival is largely religious, it has no lack of secular elements such as partying and match-making. According to the Ethiopian epic Kebra Negast, the Ark of the Covenant was abducted from Jerusalem to Ethiopia during the first millennium BC. Since then, it has become the most sacred element of the Ethiopian orthodox church. Early afternoon in theTimket Eve, the replicas of the Ark, covered by silks, are carried solemnly by priests from each church to the nearby body of water. Accompanying the procession are tens of thousands of church members and believers, chanting, dancing, drum-beating, horn-blowing, prayer-stick-waving and sistra(a simple musical instrument)- rattling. All in all, it resembles the scene described in the Old Testament. As evening falls, the priests and the pious believers participate in overnight vigil around the Arks until dawn. Then huge crowds gather around the water. After the chief priest blesses the water, the celebration reaches its climax. Many jump into the water, the rest are eager to get a splash. After the religious vows are renewed, some of the Arks are paraded back with the same celebrating fashion. The festival does not end until the third day, dedicated to the Archangel Mikael. With parade no less magnificent than the previous two days, the rest of the Arks are carried back to their respective churches. Timket in the town of Gondar is undoubtedly the most interesting.The bath pool in the historical palace built by the Emperor Fasiladas during the 17th century stages a dramatic backdrop of the event, while the garden surrounding the pool provides believers a perfect ground for prayers and overnight vigil.
  3. 3. Young men in Gondar celebrate the festival fervently and zealotly, with prayer sticks and horns. Scenes like this was described in the Bible when the IsraeliswelcomeMose from Mount Sinai with theTen Commandments. Dressed up in festival gowns, young women chant “Haliluya” with their hands swinging left and right.While the celebrations by girls and young women are more gentle and melodic, elderly women also take part in. The tongue-twisting, high- pitch squeak can be heard all over the town. Drum-dancing is one of the activities played through out the three-day festivity by both men and women.There are uniformed drum-dancing, there are also spontaneous ones. After gathering at the town centre, theTabots are then slowly paraded to the nearby body of water - the 17th- century Fasiladas’ Bath. A little more than two kilo- metresfromthe centre.
  4. 4. After a long and exhausted procession, theTabot from each church finally arrives in 17th-century Fasiladas’ Bath before sunset. Under thousands of revered eyes, theTabots are brought into the seclusive tower in front of the pool, ready for the overnight vigil. Folks light up bonfires in the garden of the Fasiladas’ Bath. It’s one of the happiest nights of the year! As dawn approaches, believers camp in the garden prostrate toward the tower housing the holy Tabots. Other monks and believers pray with the religious scripts in front of the pool. Sunlight now emerges from the horizon. A hymn started spontaneously amid the pilgrims. But very soon the hymn spreads over every corner of the Fasiladas’ Bath, turning itself in to a gentle but soul-touching chorus with every harmony. As night falls, temperature turns cold. Pious believers line up in front of the tower for overnight vigil.
  5. 5. January 19,Timket Day. About 7am.The moment has finally arrived.The grand priest, gathered around by other clergies, slowly descents to the pool side. In a breathtaking moment, he prays while dipping the holy cross into the water. Immediately after the blessing, the crowd erupted.Young men dive into the freezing water, others are pushing forward toward the pool. Religious vows are not renewed without taking a splash of holy water. As the last man in regalia disappears into the door of the church, the three-day festival has finally come to an end. For a foreigner who has never witnessed the enthusiasm and ardent passion about religious faith, every bit of sound and action during the festival will not only engrave into his memory but also remind him forever the hope of life. Morning prayers in the Garden of Fasiladas’ Bath. (Below): Christian girls receive blessing from a priest
  6. 6. Gondar - the Ethiopian Camelot Icame to Gondar for theTimket. I could have stayed in Addis Ababa, or pushed further to Lalibela.The celebrations in both places were equally colourful, people say.But Gondar had its own legacy - the castles, the gardens and the pool, all of which added an ideal backdrop for the ancient festivity. Emperor Fasiladas must fall in love with this fertile land midway between the vast LakeTana and the lush Semien Mountains, both laden with resources. He came here in the 17th century,and built his capital with impressivearchitectures. And so did the Italian fascists realised the importance of this geographical gateway.They chose Gondar as one of their strongholds in Ethiopia during the WWII. Until recently,their edifices at the main streets remainedas the mostmodern buildings in town, serving various functions from government’s post and telecommunication bureau to a cinema and hotels. Nowadays, tourism has energised the local economy. When visitors arrive in town, the first modern building entering their view is no longer the telecom building but the six-storeyed Circle Hotel strongly resembles an airport tower.Outside the hotel, beaten-up taxis and mini-vans provide people additional means of transportationtothetraditional donkey-drawn carriages called Garis.Tour guides lurk around the town centre, restaurants open one after another.Not far from the town, the Ethiopia- Denmark joined venture brewery produced beers overwhelmingly popular in the country In the morning of theTimket Eve, amid the sound wave of the celebration horns, I walked through the gate of the 75,000-square-meter Royal Enclosure. Group tourists had not yet arrived.The sun was bright, the sky was blue, the trees were lush, the wind was still. Camelot and Ethiopia seem to be a pair of oxymoron today.But drifting through the palaces, towers, banquet hall and library,itwas not difficult to convince that Emperor Fasiladas andhis people had indeed enjoyed a golden age in the history of Ethiopia. Butitwas Fasiladas’ bath, a few kilometres fromthe Royal Enclosure, that deeply impressed me. After the stone gate, tens of ancient trees surrounded a lush garden.The luxuriant foliage almost covered the entire sunken pool in the middle of the garden.The water calmly reflected the image of the stone tower elegantly stood by the poolside. I came to Fasiladas’ bath several times during the Timket celebration. I witness nothing but joyand piousness. In the evening, folks sang and danced around the bonfires in the garden. Not far from here, holiday lights were decorating the tower and the pool. But as the night went by,noisy celebrations were slowly replaced by quiet prayers and vigil. Before dawn, large crowd had already gathered around the pool.The humming of haliluya spread over the air, and soon turned into a large chorus… Not until I sat in the marble floored airport terminal for my departure flight, I realised that I had been indulged by the charm of the town. A Camelot was indeed no longer,but Gondar always remained in heart as a green andpleasantland. The painting covering the entire ceiling of the Debre Berhan Selasie is largely responsible for the fame of the Church.Each winged head of the eighty Ethiopian cherubsdemonstrates a slightly different The Fasiladas’ Palace inside theRoyal Enclosure. After choosing Gondaras capital, Emperor Fasiladas constructed a Royal Enclosure that covered 75,000 square metres, and contained castles, palaces, libraryand banquethall etc.The two-storey palace witha rectangular corner tower and three domed towers oftenimpressed foreign envoys.
  7. 7. Wallpaper with classic Chinese poem on the ceiling of Delicious Bakery. With little domestic industry of its own, Ethiopia depends heavily on foreign import - heavy trucks from Italy, cars from Japan, light industrial pro- ducts from China. The courtyard at the Church of Debre Berhan Selasie (Church of theTrinity at the Mount of Light) not far from the town centre.The church is one of the most prominent in Ethiopia owing to its internal wall paintings (see previous page). At noon, a farmer returns home under the scorching sunshine.The country’s unique geographic situation and the use of Julian calendar prompt the slogan by the NationalTourist Board “Ethiopia,Thirteen Months of Sunshine”. Simien Mountains north of Gondar boast one of the most spectacular landscapes of the country. Home to a veriaty of endemic plants and animals (such as the Gelada babooms), it is a heaven for trekkers and declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. (Below):The town centre overlooked from Circle Hotel, one of the upper-end hotels in Gondar. It is so-named due to its resemblance of a cylindrical airport tower. Each guest room in a storey occupies about 40 degree of the circle, with wide-opened glass window and balcony. (Right): Local vs imported beverages. Even though traditional drinks such as tej have gradually losing ground to imported beverages, local favourites likeDeshan Beer mural), Ambo sparkling water and Harar Sofie are holding strong in the market.
  8. 8. Axum - the Lost Kingdom In Ethiopia, no other town occupies a more important position and represents more glory inthe history of the country than does Axum. Numerous kings and queens reigned here, including the legendary Queen of Sheba and King Ezana, who first introduce Christianity tothe horn of Africa. Despite that the power and prosperity of Axumite kingdom once rivaled those of Rome, Persia and China, Axum is rarely known by outsiders. Its geographic isolation keeps it from hordes of mass tourists. It remains as a little town, cozy, charming and pleasant, for a few keentravellers.There is no tour couch here, neither are there many annoying “hustlers” offering unwanted service. Only a few roadside souvenir shops quietly but perhaps desperately wait for a few adventurous visitors. The Axumites have hoped to bring prosperity through tourism. Modern hotels are being built, and hotel managers greet passengers in the airport every flight. I was taken to the new Remhai Hotel,which had a quality of service and an indemnity comparable to those in European tourist cities. Axum is tiny, but not dusty. Its size makes it free from bustling mini-buses, taxis and garis (a kind of horse-drawn passenger carriage). Strollingdownthe centrally divided avenue, I could hardly imagine that it was once the place where a great civilisationthrived. Ninety-eight percent of the ancient Axum remains unexcavated. But the road soon turned north when it reached the big tree at the town’s old quarter. Within minutes I was greeted with the first sight of ancient Axum - the stelae field. Amid the forest of mighty stelae, my imagination seemed to be evoked by the painting occupying the wall in the dinning hall of Remhai Hotel. Thousands of years ago, these monoliths, some weighted several hundred tons and measured tens of metres,were cracked from the granite quarry three miles away, hurled and erected by the sheer power of men and elephants as symbols of authority and glory of the rulers. But perhaps the emperor did over-estimate his slaves and animals. The largest stele toppled during its erection.Today, this 33-metre lying giant provides visitors a closer look at its extraordinarycraftsmanship. On the way to the hilltop, I stopped by the Bath of Queen of Sheba.The plain- looking rock-hewn reservoir has now become a swimming and laundry pool for local kids and women. I tried hard to put myself into the time-tunnel, and imagine how the Queen ruled an area so big that it extended from Ethiopia into modern-dayYemen. No one has left a portrait of the enigmatic Queen. I imagine she must be as beautiful as Sheherazade. But there is no doubt about the Queen’s desire and pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.When she heard about the wisdom of King Solomon, she defied all the hardship and travelled toJerusalemto learn from him.Whether her union with Solomon was a trick devised by the King himself, or a result of mutual admiration, or physicaldesire, their tale described in the Ethiopian Epic Kebra Negast is nevertheless touching and beautiful. From the hilltop café at the luxuriousYeha Hotel, I overlooked Axum’s skyline,which dominated by Monoliths point heaven-ward in Axum’s stelae park. For thousands of years, stelae have been used in East Africa as symbols of power and glory of the ruling class. But it was the Kingdom of Axum that brought the stelae making technology to its pinnacle.The height of these 2000-year-old stelea in Axum can range from merely one to more than thirty metres. Some are plain looking and others are finely carved with exceptional craftsmanship. At Denver Road, the large bayan tree still serves as Axum’s centre of daily activities.
  9. 9. the large spherical dome of the St Mary of Zion Church. Apparently, Emperor Haile Selassie had never forgotten his Solomonic linkage. He initialised its construction in1960s. Since then, the giant church and its bell tower have dwarfed the more historical old churches. Some twenty years after the Queen’s journey, her son Melenik had decide to travel to Jerusalemto see his father. During his three-year sojourn in Jerusalem, the young man was taught and imparted with books and knowledge. However, his heart was in Ethiopia, despite the King’s offer to be the ruler Israel after his death. Reluctantly, the King permitted him to leave, but not without ordering twelve thousand Israelis as his company.These Amid the lush trees, the massive new St Mary of Zion Church and its bell tower dominating Axum’s skyline. It was built by the last Emperor Haile Selassie as a pride of his Solomonic line. Under the spherical dome of the new St Mary of Zion Church, a church keeper displaying a holy book commonly seen in all all Ethiopian churches depicting Virgin Mary and St George killing the serpent. of emperors, as well entering the old church to enjoy some of the finest murals in Ethiopia. The three-day sojourn in Axum was like flipping through a three-thousand- page book of Ethiopian history in three minutes. Like other tourists, I stepped into the plane hastily for the next destination. However, everything I witnessed and learnt inthis unpretentious little town will stay not only in my films but also deep in my memory. (Above): Lemons ripe in the beautiful courtyard of the St Mary of Zion church compound, which consists of the spherical-dome new church, the rectangular old church exclusively for men built by Emperor Fasiladas in the 17th century and, most importantly, the small church housing the true Ark of the Covenant. (Right):The 33-metre, 517-ton Great Stele is the largest single block of stone that human tried to erect. Carved around 4th century AD, the stele is now believed to have never been stood. It might have toppled during it erection. Israelis were depressed to see themselves leaving the Holy Land of Jerusalem, and decided to take the HolyArk of the Covenant with them. It was all too late when the King discovered the fact, only could he consoled by the Holy spirit that it was his own son who took the HolyArk. On the other hand, the Queen of Sheba, Melenik and his company were overjoyed when convoy reached Axum. Today, the HolyArk of Covenant sits quietly inside a modest chapel in the St Mary of Zion Church compound full of lush azalea and lemon trees. No one has the privilege even to take a glimpse of the Ark, except the life-long guardian who would never leave the chapel. However, as a male visitor, I did have the privilege seeing the crowns of generations The 24-metre King Ezana’s stele is the third tallest in Axum.While the tallest Great Stele lies broken nearby, the second tallest, measuring 25 metres, is standing at Rome’s Piazza di Porta as a result of Mussolini’s direct order.
  10. 10. Visitors can take a peek outside an iron fence at the exterior of a small chapel, which appears to be humble compared with the new church in the St Mary of Zion Church compound.The chapel is believed to be the home of the real Ark of the Covenant - the holiest element and foundation of the Ethiopian orthodox church.The Atang, the monk who shoulders the task of guarding the Ark, will never leave the chapel until his death. Some of the numerous murals inside the 17th- century old St Mary of Zion church. (Right):The Emperor was so captivated by the music of St Yared that he unknowingly leaned his spear on Yared’s foot. Unawared of the pain, StYared sang on until he finished the song. StYared was born in Axum in 525AD in a humble family. During his childhoodYared was a poor pupil struggling to understand the teaching of church. One day, he ran away from punishment. Crying and hungry, he came to rest under a tree. But he noticed an insect succeeded in climbing up the tree after six failures.The youngYared learnt the wisdom of God. He went back to school and became an outstanding student. Later he also developed a unique musical notation used by the church.The example of StYared has become an inspiration of young priests who face enormous challenge in learning church scriptures. (Left):The nine Saints of Ethiopia. For generations, these Saints have served as bedrocks to the Ethiopian orthodox church for education and inspiration. Azaleablossoms outside the huge domeoftheChurch of St. Mary, Axum.
  11. 11. Debre Damo - Home of the Hermites There was a time I thought that Axum was enough “isolated” to be reached by tourist crowds. But “isolation” soon changed its meaning on my way to Debre Damo, one of the most prominent and historic among Ethiopia’s twenty thousand plus churches and monasteries. Axum has an airport, an avenue, a few hotels, a handful of shops and a bank. It has bus connections to other towns. Debre Damo has none of these. Located eleven kilometres off the mid-point of the bumpyAxum-Adigrat road, the monastery perches on top of a 2,800-metre plateau surrounded by vertical cliff. Which explains why a visit to the monastery came with a price - $110 for a Land Rover with a driver. Poor pilgrims have to endure much more hardship to reach their goal. I was not surprised to see a pilgrim woman who stopped my car by pouncing herself on the hood, just begging me to tag her along. She was going to Kidane Mehret monastery built specially for women at the foot of the cliff. It remains a mystery as why females are not permitted in Debre Damo. One commonly accepted theory is that sexual contact should be avoided between females and the monks or hermits. But this can not explain the exclusion of female livestock. Debre Damo monastery was built in the 6th century byAbuna Aregawi, one of the nine Saints who taught Christianity in Ethiopia. Aregawi had a vision of an isolated place ideal for a solitary life.The construction was sponsored by Emperor Gebre Meskel and, according to the local legend,withthe help of a huge snake. Upon its completion, the Emperor asked if the stairs leading to the mountain top should be kept or destroyed. Aregawi answered “Dahememo”, meaning “wreck it”.Over the years, “Dahememo”has corrupted into “Debre Dahm’mo” and eventually Debre Damo. When vehicle could go no further, everyone, rich or poor, had to rely on their own power to propel himself to the destination. But the real challenge was to scale the twenty-four-metre cliff by means of a rope.The local monks seemed to have developed an uncanny skill in climbing the cliff with minimal effort. As for the sole visitor of the day, a little help was necessary. A rope of hide was tied on my waist in case I lost my grip. After fifteen centuries, the monastery of Dabre Damo has experience little change. Rare visitors are usually led to the home of the high priest paying respect and fee, then they would be escorted to appreciate the interior of the monastery and surrounding area,which boasts a spectacular panorama viewof theTigray Highland.Today, there are about 600 monks and priest live in the 150 stone houses on the mountain top.Their life is almostentirely self-sufficient,with cisterns collecting rain water, home grown crops and (male) livestock. GeographicallyYeha is not far from Debre Damo. But it still required some effort for a vehicle to reach. Few realise that it isYeha, not Axum, that claims the titles of the earliest capital of Ethiopia and the birthplace of Ethiopia’s civilisation.Tucked away at the highland in northern Ethiopia, the village and monastery inYeha surrounded by an idyllic landscape that rivals Switzerland. Sadly, there is not much left inYeha today except the ruin of a temple believed to have been built by the southern Arabs in5th century BC. Nevertheless, I was happy to discover the best kept secret in Ethiopia. Timbers and slab- stones that make up the wall of the Debre Damo Monastery, which has withstood wind and raid a thou- sand plus years. Perching high on top of a 2,800-metre mountain, the Debre Damo monastery is an ideal place for hermits. The mountain is 11 kilometres from the main Axum- Tigray road. Only the toughest 4x4 can access to the nearby village, from where pilgrims and visitors alike start a steep ascend in the cactus-scattered slope A test of faith. Following the rope and foot- holds, a monk scales the cliff to reach the mona- stery 24 metres above with little effort.
  12. 12. The monastery of Debre Damo.Windows of various styles are cut through the stone wall. It took Aregawi two years to build (perhaps with the help of the huge snake) in 6th century, maily with slabs of stone and timber. Since then, the monastery has stood firm even without renovation..... Today, there are about 600 monks reside in the 150 houses on the mountain top, which comprises an area of about half of a square kilometre.The village is almost self-sufficient with their own rock-hewn cisterns collecting rain water, and herds of (male) livestock. The surreal blue sky ofTigray and the lush meadow land create an idyllic backdrop for the village and ancient temple ofYeha. The massive wall of the 5th-century-BC pre-Christian temple serves as the only remaining relic of this oldest capital of Ethiopia.The temple represents the highest architecture achievement of the time - large blocks of sandstone fit perfectly together with mortar.There is no room for a blade between the blocks even after more than two thousand years of erosion. A priest reciting his holy book in Geez in the Church of Abuna Aftse inYeha. After the introduction of Christianity in Ethiopia, the church was built in 6th century to replace the century-old temple. Portraits of generations of Saints and priests decorat- ing a residence in Debre Damo.
  13. 13. Lalibela: Jerusalem in the Mountains “My coming here is like my going to Jerusalem”, told me an Ethiopian American on our way to Lalibela. He lived in Washington DC. Indeed, to most Ethiopians, Lalibela is Mecca to the Muslims, or Jerusalem to the Christians in other parts of the world. enormous project that rivaled any of those in other ancient civilisations - carving out a cluster of eleven churches from volcanic rocks. Scholars were still debating the manpower and time needed to complete such monumental work with architectural grandeur and artistic intricacy. Privately, I tended to accept the Ethiopian legend, in which angels were mainly responsible for this world wonder. Navigating through the labyrinth of deep passages, stairs and tunnels of the eleven churches, I saw a picture which seemingly frozen in time since the era of King Lalibela. Carrying prayer’s sticks, priests, monks and pilgrims in medieval robes scattered around the courtyard. Hermits sat still, studied and prayed in the niches on the stone wall surrounding the churches; religious chanting came out from hidden crypts and grottoes; the smoke of incenses and bee wax candles carried a sweet odor… As I approached some rock hewn churches, the high priests often scrambled to unlock the doors, then eagerly demonstrated the crosses with complex patterns unique to their very own churches. Hey on the floor provided sitting comfort for the residents during the scripture studying, the sacred Arks of Covenant were always hiding behind the heavy curtain.Through the door, the sun shed light onto the ceremonial drums on the floor, as well as the slick door sides touched and kissed by thousands of pilgrims over the centuries. I met the Ethiopian American again at the departure lounge in the airport. As a devoted Christian, he carried a bottle of sacred water in his suitcase. For other tourists, there were plenty of gifts and souvenirs in their baggages. As for me, I carried nothing but a historical lesson and images captured by my own. But reaching Lalibela itself requires tremendous effort.The village is there as if it wants to test the resolve of every pilgrim. Until recently, the road to Lalibela was not always passable all year round. Even today, a two-day arduous journey from Addis Ababa is far from a guarantee, except for the lazy tourists who want a quick in-and-out, a small airport is built 30km from the village, and the Ethiopian Airlines shuttle a few times a day from here to other major towns. Lalibela is more rural and poverty-stricken than anywhere else I visited in Ethiopia. It is a village with some humble houses and huts located on the ridge of a lofty mountain. It has few vehicles, no paved road, no bank. A five-year-old can remember the days without electricity. Few outsiders would believe that a historical and architectural wonder is just living yards away. Although it was the Axumites who first embraced Christianity in the 4th century, ever since the Arabs seized the trading seaport to the north, Axum started to wither and eventually crumbled. Christianity fled to Roha, whose rugged terrain provided a safe sanctuary. Here in Roha in 12th century, King Lalibela was determined to establish a new Jerusalem in the African highland, away from Islamic threat yet accessible by all Ethiopians. He initiated an Lying on a 2,630-metre ridge of the rugged Lasta Mountains, Lalibela remains as an isolated and poor village, despite its historical treasure and religious significance. Monks studying the Bible near the tomb of Adam.
  14. 14. Bieta Giyorgis, St. George Church, is undoubtedly the most famous and photographed among the churches in Lalibela. Cut from volcanic tuff more than 800 years ago, the church is still remarkably well preserved.Worshipers and visitors can reach the 13-metre- deep courtyard through a serpentine tunnel (upper-right in the picture). A hermit studying the Holy Book outside his living cave. The stony walls surrounding the churches of Lalibela have been carved with numerous niches that are no more than 2 square metres inside.With the ardent religious faith, hermits and pilgrims live in these caves at night, while pray, study and meditate during the day.Their very survival depends upon the meager donations from the nearby villagers and tourists. (Right):Pilgrims exit from the tunnel of Beta Meskel. After almost a thousand years, many of the churches have developed seepage problems. A project funded by the European Union has used corrugated-iron roofs as a temporary solution until a better one is found. (Lower Right):Sitting in a 12-metre-deep trench and measuring 34x24 metres in area, Bieta Medhane Alem (Church of the Saviour of theWorld) is the largest monolithic church in the world.The entire church is supported by 72 square pillars representing the 72 saints in Ethiopia. Depite its history and age, the church is still offering service everyday.
  15. 15. If I were to live in Ethiopia, I would choose neither Addis Ababa nor Gondar, but BaharDar. EmperorHaile Selassie would certainly agree, as he built his palace, and once tempted to move the Ethiopian capital here. Now a regional capital, Bahar Dar has not grown into a metropolitan like Addis Ababa.Unlike Gondar, on the other hand, it has every thing it needs to qualify as a city. Situated at the southern shore of the LakeTana, it is the most charming and pleasant city in the entire Ethiopia. Palm trees grow along the centrally divided avenues. Offices, banks, hotels and, alas, internet service, start to spawn around the town.The 3,500-square-kilometre Lake Tana provides a haven for a wide range of flora fauna, as well as the Christian hermits. It also nurtures the city with abundant water and food source. Some thirty kilometres east of the city, near the bustling village of Tis Isat, the water of the lake thunders down the forty-meterTis Isat Falls, following the Blue Nile to the Mediterranean, leaving arcs of rainbow behind. In the modern and comfortable Papyrus Hotel, I finally relax and washed away the dusts collected in the past two weeks. Hotels like this with hundreds of guestrooms and a swimming pool aimed to compete with the incumbents such as the Ghion andTana Hotels. However, their older counterparts seemed to survive well in competition owing to their precious assess - the lakeshore. In the waterfront garden of Ghion Hotel,visitors sap tea or juice under the large canopy of the banyan trees while the birds sang.The sunset added a golden tone on the flocks of dancing pelicans. After dusk, candles lit dimly the garden in the breeze, the silver moon rose above the wave on the lake. On the distant islands from the shore, I imagined, Christian hermits inthe monasteries mustbe reciting scripts under the moonlight. For centuries, monks on these islands and peninsulas had enjoyed their very own sanctuary with tranquility and peace. As twenty-first century tourism flourished, this isolation was more vulnerable than ever. Fromthe small pier at the Ghion Hotel, it only took a few hours for the motorboat to reach the centre of the lake,where the muddy water turned green like a halo surrounding the holy Dek Island under a dense forest canopy. Hidden in the trees, an arc cloisterenclosed the circular thatch-topNarga Selassie Monastery. While the priests were busy lifting the curtains covering the religious murals for other tourists, I sneaked out of the monastery to experience a halcyon picture of the island. Through the foliage, the sun cast a motif of shadow on my path, and the air was loomed with the scent of wild lemons.The white-domed watchtowers stood in siesta. A papyrus boat and a fishnet laid sun-bathing on the stone fence, forever looking the green ripples on the lake. But it was the thousands of robust papyrus by the water did not seemto lay rest.Their slander trunks swayed gently with the breeze and wave, as if they were greetings this stranger from afar. As the moon rose again, the water birds stood tall on the treetop watched the motorboat made its way back to the mainland. Like the lake water, I soon would set off my journey, going back to where I belonged. However, unlike the lake water,which bore no memory, I would be forever haunted by the beauty of this exquisite land. The Source of the Blue Nile Water from LakeTana thunders down theTis Isat Falls, and heads to the Blue Nile without ever turning its back.
  16. 16. Sunset over LakeTana, viewed from the garden of Hotel Tana in Bahar Dar. Although tourism in Ethiopia is still in its enfancy, high-end hotels with all western comfort and amenities have long been established in major tourist attractions, such as the HotelYeha in Axum, Hotel Roha in Lalibela, Hotel Goha in Gondar.These incumbent hotels, however, have recently been challenged by new-comers like the Papyrus in Bahar Dar and the Remhai in Axum, which offer about a third of the price. (Left): Moon rise over LakeTana. Covering 3,500 sq km, it is not only the largest lake in Ethiopia but also the home of the numerous orthodox monasteries on some of its thirty-seven islands. As a source of the Blue Nile, its water is like the milk which quenches the thirst and provides the livelihood for more than a hundred million people in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. (Above): Just outside the city of Bahar Dar, water flows calmly at the mouth of LakeTana, before reaching the thunderingTis Isat Falls.The water and the isles provide an ideal ecosystem for not only water birds but also hippos and crocodiles. You are Africa’s black soil that produce life; You are the milk that quench the thirsty multitudes You are the messenger of my gospel, O Nile; That bring my abundant harvest to the mouth of the needy You are the elegant pilgrim of my mercy; Your are the first fountain you are the first ever Ethiopia You are the appeaser of the lustful greed; You are the first Earth Mother of all fertility Rising like the sun from the deepest core of the globe; You are the conqueror of the scorching pestilence You are the source you the Africa you are the Ethiopia; You are the Nile. Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin, Ethiopian Poet Laureate
  17. 17. The main church at the Narga Selassie Monastery at the Dek Island of LakeTana. It boasts a typical Ethiopian Orthodox church architecture with circular porticos and thatch cone roof. Another halcyon day at the Dek Island. Papyrus grows robustly around the shore and islands of the LakeTana. Boats made with dried papyrus are widely used by locals for fishing and transportations. The intricate Ethiopian Orthodox crosses in different churches have always been unique and rarely identical.
  18. 18. (Upper Left): A priest at the 17-century Kebran Gabriel Monastery at the middle of LakeTana. (Upper Right): A young monk at the Narga Selassie Monastery. (Lower Left):The warden of the Nagar Selassie Monastery. (Lower Right): At the Monastery of Nagar Selassie, a priest is demonstrating his holy book to the visitors. Nearly every church in Ethiopia possess similar books with Geez written on sheep skins.The ages of these books are often unknown but believed to be a few hundred years. Among the bible stories, the killing of the serpent by St. George is the most common graphic depiction. Exhibition of the books to visitors has become a standard procedure of the churches.
  19. 19. OOOOOnnnnn AAAAAssssssssssiiiiigggggnnnnnmmmmmeeeeennnnnttttt Following the footsteps of gen- erations of hermits, author J.-L. Gao ascends the 24-metre cliff to cover the story of the 6th- century Debre Damo Monas- tery, one of the oldest and most important ones in Ethiopia. In recalling his sojourn in the country, the author is indebted to those Ethiopians, who took care of him, and passed him along from one caring hand to another. He also remembers the anonymous shoeshine boy, who gave him a complimentary service, so that he could step in the plane home with shoes free of mud. On the other hand, fleas infected from the country still annoy him even a month after his return, and would likely leave permanent marks on this torso like the Ethiopian experi- ence in his memory.