Ups, Downs, Expectations of Ethiopian New Year

The New Year denotes a multitude of meanings to Ethiopians. For some, it is a holiday that symbolises the end of the rainy season, and that sewerage problems would abate. For others, it is time for setting New Year's resolutions in the hopes that the coming 12 months would be more productive, less unfortunate and more enriching.

Even in the days when paganism existed in most societies and organised religions were a nonentity, there were people who still believed in superstition. I was never alive in those times, and I did not need to be, as superstition has outlived most earlier forms of religion.

When I was a young lad, not even 10 years of age, during the New year, an assortment of roasted cereals and a rooster with a particular feather shade would be put in the field where children played. These flightless birds would then be circled thrice around the head of a person that needed relief. It was believed that the bird would not only cure, but also carry that person’s sickness away. But we, the clueless children, kicked and threw the birds like a ball. The idea was to show how fearless we can be.

Of course, aside from our rather cruel games, we were severely unaware of what New Year actually signified in the context of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Enkutatash, which denotes either the end or inception of a year, is named after for Evangelists, Saint Luke, Saint Mark, Saint John and Saint Matthew. All four religious figures’ likeness could be found at the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

According to the Ethiopian calendar, each moth has 30 days. That means, given the number of days in a year, which is 365 and 366 on leap years, five days remain extra. Although those 5 extra days, which make Pagumen, are much shorter than a full month, it did not stop Habte-Selassie Taffesse from coining the term ‘Thirteen Months of Sunshine’ to describe Ethiopia. That slogan has done a lot to promote tourism in Ethiopia. As of late, however, it has been replaced by ‘Land of Origins’ which among other things denotes that Ethiopia is one of the cradles of mankind.

The third day of Ethiopia’s unique Pagumen is Saint Rafael day, according to Ethiopian Orthodox followers. Rain in that day is traditionally considered holy. However, rain is not always considered a blessing. It is not uncommon to see little brooks and rivers suddenly overflow.

Once, on a relatively sunny day, it started raining, first in drizzles, and then cats and dogs. What I encountered on that day, I will never forget. In times of such torrential rains, Entoto is particularly harsh, as the area has a high altitude. People shouted, “gorf, gorf”, noting the oncoming flooding, at the top of their voices, but to no avail. It was unfortunate when the gushing flow caught up with one woman. Many on-lookers tried to save her, but unfortunately, the gushing river swept her down in earnest. Very soon she was nowhere to be seen. It ended up being a tragic episode in Pagumen, very close to the New Year – a reminder that the holiday season is not always filled with happiness but may also bring sadness.

But the inconveniences the rain brings would be all over pretty soon. Eyoha Abebaye will herald the new year, which in this regard is 2010. The rainy season has, by-and-large, come to an end. Dilapidated roofs and doors vulnerable to heavy downpours aggravated the situation. Coordinated efforts to mend such houses have been in effect, and they may have worked, if that was the only problem. People usually block sewage ducts with dirt and residues of khat and empty plastic bottles, all the more aggravating the problem the rainy season brings with it. Hopefully, with the coming of the New Year, and the sunny season, most of these problems would at least diminish.

Nothing much happens on September 11th, the day of the New Year, except for being a collection of the cumulative memories and simple hopes for the better. In a way, this has a positive implication on people, as it would keep them working hard believing they have better prospects.

I am not sure how people would construe this, but in fact, there is nothing “new” in the beginning or the end of a year, be it in the Ethiopian or Gregorian Calendar. Hopes and well wishes make one want to work harder, but it should be noted that if anything changes, it does not have anything to do with the new year but the individuals themselves.

New Year celebrations, whether in China or Tanzania, Bulgaria or Nigeria, take place without even knowing what will happen in the coming year. Although it is somewhat inappropriate to celebrate without a clue of what fate has in store for us, it is heart warming to see people accepting it with such enthusiasm.

In much the same way, when little girls go around door to door singing Abebayehosh, the lead would chant that she does not even own a fence and spends the whole night counting the stars in the sky. A fitting metaphor for the theory behind New Year celebrations.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Sep 16,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 907]



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