Ask me if I felt a little strange holding two candles and celebrating the beginning of a New Year in September and I will tell you no. I have done stranger things and besides I knew exactly what I was doing. A number of Ethiopians including the Ambassador of Ethiopia to Uganda, Degfe Bula Wakjira, had taken the trouble to explain that this New Year was as legit as any and he added that they were welcoming 2007.
You heard that right. It is 2007 in Ethiopia, and also in the various places Ethiopians had gathered all over the world. Ethiopians may more or less share the same world with us, but as far the dating system goes, we are worlds apart. Or more precisely seven and a half years apart.
Ethiopia, which was never colonised managed to keep the same dating system they had adopted many centuries ago as they went about practicing the world’s oldest known form of Christianity still present today, Coptic orthodoxy. Their dating system developed from the Coptic calendar, which showed characteristics of being adapted from the ancient Julian calendar.
The Gregorian calendar, the one we are all familiar with. Pope Gregory commissioned the improvement of the Julian calendar and the resulting calendar later named after him spread throughout the world over the centuries.
While Ethiopians are Christians, a number of Christian feast days like Christmas fall on different dates from when the rest of the world celebrates them. The Julian calendar has 13 months, 12 made up of 30 days each and one month of just six or seven days if it is a leap year. This according to the Amsalu Tizazu, the consular at the Ethiopian embassy is the origin of Ethiopia’s tourism tagline, Thirteen months of sunshine.
To Ethiopians everywhere, the first day of the New Year also has cultural and religious significance for most Coptic Christians. It is also believed to be the day the famous Ethiopian queen of Sheba returned from her visit to Kind David of Israel. The story goes that the chiefs met her with gifts of jewels to replenish her vaults, which had been depleted on her journey, hence the day being named Enkutatash, which means gift with Jewels.
The interesting bit is that on the Ethiopian calendar, is that their first month of they year is named September, though it is named the first day of September. The Ethiopians mark this day with friends and family beginning by first visiting church, then later celebrating with family and friends according to my crash course on Ethiopian culture. But the eve to Enkutatash, which falls between September 11 or 12 every year, seems to be just as important with people ushering in the new year with song and dance late into the night.
In Kampala, a party had been organised by an Ethiopian owned events company, Elson Pro, to bring together Ethiopians, at Terraces in Muyenga, last Wednesday. A dance troupe and singers from Addis Ababa had been hired, and the venue decorated in with Ethiopia’s favourite colour white, with a touch of the flag colours.
I learnt later that there were other gatherings Ethiopians had organised in their own small circles to usher in the New Year, which probably explained why the turnout was not the greatest. But this one was the official do, with support from the embassy and sponsors like Ethiopian Airlines.
Henok Fiseha the Managing Director, Elson Pro, said he was not bothered by there being empty chairs. “It is our first attempt to hold such an event, so there is still room for improvement. Next year we want to go bigger and better.
Yes, we may make some losses but the objective has been reached. The message that the Ethiopian community is free and happy here in Uganda is what we wanted to get out there. That Uganda is a haven for Ethiopian community, and to attract others to see it is as good a place as any to invest and live. And of course we get to share our culture with our friends from Uganda, our second home,” he said.
He also mentioned that the commemoration of the World Trade Centre 911 attacks in America falling on the same day as their New Year put a little damper on the celebrations, especially for the large Ethiopian community in the US. At least two Ethiopian nationals are known to have perished in the terror attacks.
At midnight, the dancers performed the New Year’s song, joined by everyone else in attendance. We danced in a circle till our candles burned out and our legs really could not take it anymore. Then it was on to other cultural dances from different parts of Ethiopia, the visiting troupe donning appropriate wear from each region. Again, revellers would join, imitating the movements as closely as possible.
Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa has over 80 tribes and while the dancers did not perform a song from each, they made a good attempt, they were still performing by 2am when my eyes could not stay open any more New Year or not.
A large screen was showing the celebrations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. If they were not dancing, they were watching people celebrating in their home country. I asked one what she missed most about being home for the New Year. “There are fireworks as the year turns and of course there is family,” she said.
But that did not seem to dampen her mood, or anyone’s mood for that matter as a few minutes later she was back on the dance floor. Fireworks or no fireworks, the Ethiopian New Year was here and hey, it is not going to celebrate itself.
Ethiopia is the largest landlocked country in the world and the second most populous country in Africa. It has the one of the hottest inhabited settlements in the world. The Dallol depression. It has over 80 ethnic groups. Oromia is the largest ethnic group. Ethiopia has no national language, just the official Language which is Amharic. English, Italian and the local languages are also spoken in different states.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor