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Ethiopia is a land with many unique faces –
Life – One of the oldest sites of human existence with the remains of Lucy, our oldest ancestor, being excavated here.
Religion – Ethiopia was the first empire to adopt Christianity as a state religion and is also home to the oldest Muslim settlement in Africa.
Culture – The Country with the most number of World Heritage Sites in Africa. Ethiopia has also probably shaped the World’s culture because of one major contribution – coffee
But you already know all this.
To get a glimpse into the beliefs, culture and history of Ethiopia, it’s necessary to journey to a tiny little town in the Northern part of the Country – Axum. Axum, once the Capital of Ethiopia, is a perfect example of how remnants of ages long gone are still preserved in monuments and traditions of modern day Ethiopians.
Legend has it that Moses descended from Mount Sinai after his little chat with God with a bunch of rules; 10 to be precise. These commandments were stored in a case also known as the Arc of the Covenant. Legend has it that the Arc of the Covenant has been preserved to this very day and lies in the repository of St. Mary of Zion in Axum. Only one designated priest is allowed to enter this Chapel and this extraordinary claim will remain as another one of life’s unsolved mysteries.
The coffee ceremony is a ritualized form of brewing and drinking coffee in Ethiopia. Green coffee beans are roasted over hot coals causing aromatic coffee smoke to be produced. Next the beans are ground into a fine powder and boiled in a special container. After a torturous ten minute wait, the aromatic coffee if finally poured out into tiny cup and handed to the participants of this ceremony. One tiny sip, and coffee anywhere else in the World will never be the same again.
Before Christianity arrived, the Ethiopians believed in Pagan Gods and also believed that their dead were to be buried under huge stelae or obelisks to guarantee good fortune in the after life. Many of the 20 odd metre long stelae were carved out of single pieces of stone and transported from the quarry and erected at the burial site; which is an engineering miracle for that age. The Stellae carved out for the Kings were extremely intricate while all the peasants got was an oval rock in the mud. The 1700-year-old Obelisk of Aksum was broken into 3 parts packaged and shipped to Rome during Mussolini’s attempts at colonizing Ethiopia (which didn’t last too long). After a UN directive in 1947, it was finally returned to Ethiopia in 2005.
The Queen of Sheeba remains a mystery at large to the World. According to Ethiopian legend, she visited King Solomon in Jerusalem somewhere about the 6th Century B.C. and bore him a son, Menelik I, who went on to become the first Emperor of Ethiopia. What remains in Aksum is an excavated palace assumed to belong to Queen Sheeba due to the artifacts found at the site.
Most Countries put 200 year old artifacts into temperature and humidity controlled chambers and charge visitors a whopping entrance fee to peer at them through thick glass walls. Not Ethiopia. Here 900-year-old manuscripts lie around in Churches and bookshelves gathering dust with occasional undiscerning monks and even tour guides leafing through them like it were the morning newspaper.
Built in the 6th Century A.D., this is one of the oldest structures in East Africa. Yeha monastery is surrounded on all sides by hills and definitely sits on prime real estate. A lot of excavation work has been done to piece together the monastery. Adjacent to the monastery is a relatively new (and by that I mean only 50 years old) Church holding Ethiopian artifacts.
Modern day Jesus is white. This is highly improbable given the location of Biblical events – the Middle East. If he did exist, Jesus would be, at the very least, a nice brown tan. Perhaps even black. And paintings within the St. Mary of Zion Cathedral have tackled this very point. 2 identical paintings adjacent to each other have one fundamental difference. Any guesses?