No More Lionisation



Lionisation used to be a popular practice all over Ethiopia. Grand things used to regularly be named after the king of the wilderness. Tales of their might, which were symbolic in the culture of Imperial Ethiopia, are now restricted to the history books. Only a few remaining institutions continue to bear the name of the king of the wilderness.


Dead or alive, the king of the wilderness has always been the symbol of power and glory in the history of modern Ethiopia. Legend has it that a couple of lion cubs were brought from the wild west of Ethiopia and Gambella to the Genet Leul Palace, as birthday gifts for Emperor Haileselassie. The king had the glorifying title of “the Conquering Lion from the Tribe of Judah”, perhaps intended to assert his ascendancy from the legible dynasty.

Nature took its toll over the course of time and the cubs grew older and older. An enabled reproductive system increased their numbers. As the crowd of people who peeped through the fence to have a glimpse at the wild cats increased by the day, it was found practical to move the lions to a new site, which served as a zoo as well as a resort park, further down the road, bordering the Yekatit-12 Square.

For decades, the species of lion with black manes have been kept captive inside the iron cages, and multiplied under the auspices of the Addis Abeba Municipality. A special office has been bestowed and charged with the responsibility of feeding and breeding the lions.

Today, school children and their parents from all over the country come to this zoo to watch the living lions from almost as close as the reach of a stretched hand. The children watch the glorious and proud looking cats, bearing in mind all of the thrilling stories they have read and heard about their kind from the wilderness. Parents tell their children these stories not only to lull them to sleep, but also with the intent of inculcating in their minds the sense of courage and bravery. Sometimes, lions are screened by television stations as a bridging picture between news casts and programs.

A lioness is usually the hunter. It chases its prey, like the antelope or young gazelle, as they try to run away for dear life, as fast as their legs could carry them. Usually, the prey is seen jumping up and down and dodging and turning between sides to narrowly escape from the claws of the hunting lioness.

The male lion usually rests on its folded forearms and upright head covered by massive dark brown hair, or a mane, growing thickly from its head down over its shoulders. Its skin has a yellowish brown colour.

Its sturdy looking forearms look so strong that no prey could ever hope to escape once they are caught and held tightly. The sharp and pointed claws and canines are used to tear apart the flesh of any hunted animal that happens to fall within their grips, any time the chase is concluded in a conquest.

The symbol of the conquering lion had been engraved both in words and sculpture. The first ever modern military training institute, which was established at Holeta, was named the Black Lion Military Officers Training Centre. Almost all the of our currency, notes and coins, until recently, had lion emblems embossed on one side or the other. One of the most popular army divisions was named “The Lion Army Division”.

The most sophisticated hospital in the country is known as the Black Lion Hospital, Ethiopian Airlines, the flag carrier, which is known as the pride of Africa, had the symbol of the lion as its trade flag. But, there are certain corners where the symbol seems to be taken as a daunting sign that equates to a bad memory of the past regime. These institutions have tried to distance themselves from the memories of the past by getting rid of the emblems. But, there are other institutions that still cling on to the name, both in words and deeds.

Looking back in time, history reveals that the lion ensign was also shown on the national flag, until it came to be exclusively used on the flag mast of the Grand Place, or on the small hoist fixed to the Emperor’s royal automobile. All of these adornments, which were used to amplify the glory and prestige of the powers that be, helped to instil in the minds of all subjects the belief that the imperial power of authority was almost indispensable to the achievement of peace and stability, throughout the breadth and width of the country.

These days, however, the living lions at the Sidist Kilo Zoo are just a pack of lousy looking beasts kept in bondage for tourists, who see them against the payment of token money. There are cases, rare as they may be, where the lions and their keepers have had physical confrontations, which have led to unfortunate culminations and fatal endings. But, considering the length of time the generations of the wild cats have been kept captive, such rare incidents are only a tiny footnote, unworthy of mentioning, if it were not for the involvement of human life.



By Girma Feyissa


Published on June 30, 2013 [ Vol 14 ,No 687]


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