Ethiopian Herald by Gethun Legese
September, the first month according to Ethiopian calendar, is the unique period when several occasions happen in Ethiopia. The field will naturally be decorated by different colorful eye catchy flowers. The flowers are unique and are locally called Adey Abeba or Meskel flowers. Living things replenish themselves in this month.
In September, flowers bloom, schools start, and new hope grow in the chest of everyone. One will see beautiful birds including Yemeskel Wef, a charming bird species that appears only in the September.
The fields will be colorful and scenery. To my understanding, all living things will be joyful during this time. I imagine flowers laughing. They too look hopeful and optimistic to embrace the new season. The old things will replace themselves by the new ones in this month.
Ethiopians’ New Year celebration, Enkutatash, which happens on September 11 (September 12 during leap year), is different from the rest of the world that celebrates New Year on January 1st. The country’s unique calendar considers September, called Meskerem in the local language of Ethiopia, to be the first month of the year. Thus, September is considered to be the month of a new beginning.
The Ethiopian New Year Enkutatash means the ‘gift of jewels’. The history of Ethiopian new-year is traced back to the legend of Queen Sheba. Queen Sheba’s return to Ethiopia after receiving jewels from King Solomon coincided with the New Year celebration in September, and the name Enkutatash came to be.
The number of daylight hours and nighttime hours happen to be exactly equal in every part of the globe once every September, which is one of the reasons Ethiopians celebrate New Year during this month. During this time of the year, the Sun and the Moon that are used to count time each have 12 hours before setting.
Ethiopians believe that the month has different signs that explain why it should be celebrated as the beginning of a New Year. Blooming flowers, sunny days and a generally pleasant weather reign during this month. It is a time when people get rid of the rainy, foggy and thunderous months in Ethiopia leaving the rainy season behind and move on to better days.
As a harbinger of the New Year, a song called ‘Abebayehosh’ is performed by groups of Ethiopian girls. You could be at home in your PJs, sipping on some coffee, or maybe taking a stroll, as a group of girls approach you beating their drums, clapping and singing the traditional song. One of the girls leads the song and the rest respond to the lyric, chanting “lemlem”.
They carry bright-yellow flowers called Adey abeba, which grow in Ethiopia only from September to November. As a token of appreciation, people respond to the girls’ pleasant songs with a piece of bread prepared for the holidays, or with money – the latter taking precedence these days. Then, the heartwarming praises come from the girls, wishing the gift giver more riches, more children for the coming year and even 30 calves.
The whole family comes together to light a bonfire in their backyard and dance around it in circles on the eve of the New Year. For the New Year celebration, young boys have a different role. Weaving their creativity into beautiful paintings that herald the coming of a bright new day, the boys go from one house to another handing out their works of art on the morning of the holiday to family members, neighbors and friends.
Holidays in Ethiopia are bound to make most people feel a pinch in their pockets, because of the feast. Slaughtering animals is mostly done at people’s homes, and men usually assume the traditional role. The national dish doro wot (chicken stew), which takes at least half a day to prepare, is rarely missed from the holiday menu, and is served along with local alcoholic drinks such as tej (honey wine) and tela. The doro wot is served with injera (a flatbread) on a large platter; everyone can dine together, and it is common to see people feeding each other as a way of showing affection and love.
Families, neighbors, relatives, and friends come around a dining table and eat together. Together they savor every holiday dish may leave some people overwhelmed. Relatives visit each other during the New Year.
Boys and girls chant seasonal songs that accompany the holidays. Hoya hoye, performed two weeks earlier, and Enkutatash are the most common. The male goes around chanting hoya hoye whereas the girls sing enkutatash.
The common verse is ‘Enkutatash enkwan metash…’ which means welcome New Year. The girls wonder around the neighbor wishing a happy year. The neighbors, in return, give them gifts such as money or food. The girls bless and wish the people happy and successful New year.
There is no better time than the holidays for people who would like to relish Ethiopian coffee in all its glory. Complemented by popcorn and a pleasant frankincense aroma, coffee is served after an extensive holiday feast is over, and long, freshly cut green grass called k’etema is spread on the floor.
Sociologists indicated that holidays such as this would help strengthen the social bondage in the community. It enhances the habit of sharing and aiding the needy. Besides, it can help augment the cultural values in the society.
Thus, such holidays and similar cultural and traditional occasions need to be conserved and nurtured since they help cultivate virtue in the society. Thus, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism needs to put an effort on conserving them.