Addis Ababa: A Fruit of Combination of Oriental, African and European Civilizations

JUNE 1, 2015 — 6:24PM


We are overly joyous to host an encyclopedic intellectual and a shining information and arts star Ustaz Mus’ab al-Sawey. As a first contribution to SUDANOW, he selected a travel writing article from his diary on a past visit to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa:

In response to a kind invitation by the Municipality and Mayor of Addis Ababa and in the context of an existing twin-ship between Khartoum State and Addis, a delegation of Khartoum State headed by Youth and Sports Minister Al-Tayeb Hassan Badawy travelled to the Ethiopian capital for participation in celebrations marking the 125th anniversary of the birth of the city. The delegation was made up of Eng. Hamad al-Nil Abdul Hamid, the Twin-ship Coordinator, Anus al-Natiq, from the Public Relations and Protocols and Abdul Rahman Hassan Abdul Rahman, from the Information Office of the Governor of Khartoum State.
The Khartoum State participation in the celebrations included a friendly football match between The Ethiopian Saint George Club and the Sudan Ahly Club led by a group of prominent administrators, technicians and supervisors led by Coach Lutfy al-Silaimy, a French national of Tunisian origin.
Addis Ababa welcomed the delegation of Khartoum State at the airport hall with genuine flowers and basils, put on our shoulders with the bright-colored Ethiopian shawls and colorful hats on our heads while a band played Sudanese music as a gesture of hospitality.
The twin-ship of Addis Ababa and Khartoum State resulted from an initiative by Khartoum State Governor Abdul Rahman al-Khidir. Following its signing by the top executive and political bodies in Addis Ababa Municipality, the twin-ship opened up wide avenues and opportunities for joint cooperation. This included investment in the economic field, exchange of visits, training, exchange of experience and sports, cultural and artistic partnerships, bearing in mind that the sports and arts represent a bridge for unity of the brothers and noting that the Sudanese music is widely spread in Ethiopia and also remembering that the Sudan and Ethiopia were the first founders of the African Football Associations Federation. For this reason the Ethiopian brothers invited a Sudanese football team –Al-Ahly- for this visit.
The Legendary Place:
The legend of the place is made by the pioneer inhabitants either by choice or at random and with the passage of time, the details of the original story of establishment disappears, save verbal tales and the diversity of those tales accords the place more and more romance and inspiration. And here come endeavors and speculations of the historians and investigators of the origin and roots of Addis Ababa.
In this memory-refreshing article, we are going to recall some of those tales, not for documentation but to explore those poetic visions which attempt to grasp the moment of the birth of the city and then instill it in the memory. The details of each tale also imply an overwhelming epic imagination and portray love by the inhabitants to their city which has become an object of aspiration for hearts and emotions.
The Menelik Horse Tale:
The statue of Emperor Menelik prominently stands of his ‘Mansour’ horse in the city center nearby its oldest building. The horse was named Mansour (triumphant) in the memory of Adwa Battle in which the Italians were defeated and Menelik seized power and thus Abyssinia became the first colony to gain international recognition and genuine representation with the international community. The Adwa victory turned into reality the dream of a united Ethiopia, a dream which had been a source of anxiety to the Menelik’s predecessors, especially emperors Theodore and Yohans or John. This battle was a dividing line in the history of contemporary Ethiopia in which the Ethiopian people defeated the powerful Palas fighters who were armed with the latest destructive European weapons. This victory vanquished the colonialist European ambitions and humiliated Fascism. The Ethiopians fought with bravery inspired by the home-love, donned in leopard skins and lion’s fur, bared footed and armed with spears and hunting tools but fought with a powerful will and steadfastness resembling their mountains and difficult terrain. The tale says that Menelik, filled with the spirit of triumph, loosened the rein of his horse to demarcate a camp for his army and with the passage of time, this camp spot became a seat for the government and the state. It was said that the horse closely listened to the fizzing of bees producing honey in the mountains and the Emperor thus realized that the climate of this place was so fine that no food or drink would get spoiled and therefore chose it for his capital.

The Empress’ Dream:
The second tale relates that the Emperor did not intend to choose the place for his capital Addis but was planning to find a secret road across Bahr Dar, the land of coffee and spice. Feeling exhaustion from the travel, the Empress had a nap in her howdah before dawn. During that nap she had a dream of flowers blooming in the surrounding but with no fruit. In the morning break, she saw the flowers turning into colorful clusters on the curves and slopes of the mountains and dropping with the pouring water, while the dry flowers flew in the shadow of the clouds, glaring in the sunshine. The astonishment stripped the Empress of her imperial solemnity and she shouted: “Addis…Addis…Addis Ababa”, meaning: Look at the blooming flowers.
Oh God! A Mulatto:
Addis Ababa, with its present and past features, is a fruit of a combination of oriental, African and European breeds as reflected in the architectural style and the cultural, economic and social mosaic. Moving the center of the state and the seat of the Imperial rule to Addis made the other cities lose some of their importance, particularly after linking the capital with railroads to Djibouti, Eritrea northwards and Sudan westwards. The commercial activity was monopolized by foreigners, such as Indians and Greeks, and by princes and leaders. The first hotel in the city was owned by Empress Tahiti. Addis was also headquarters of numerous European consulates. All this connected the Ethiopian capital with the outer world and brought into it diverse cultural activities, including the Western classic music, fashion, costumes and living modes. Meanwhile, the presence of the Orthodox Church accorded the place an air of sanctity beside the central religious authority.
St. George Cathedral:

St George ChurchSt George Church

The best embodiment of this hybrid culture is St. George Cathedral which is the oldest church in Ethiopia, probably in Africa. It is needless to say that the Ethiopian church is among the oldest oriental churches of a direct contact with Beit Lahm and Mahd (cradle) Church in addition to its close contact with the Coptic Church in Egypt and until recently leaders of the Ethiopian church used to spend Christmas in Egypt. The Egyptian Coptic Church contains Ethiopian structural elements. Although some of the leaders of the Ethiopian church were endowed high clerical positions, this did not impair its affiliation to Alexandria, the headquarters of the Christian Copts.
Judging from its architectural style, St. George is an amplified embodiment of a a monastery which is originally a Christian idea borrowed from the old traditions of the Egyptian church, it is a place where monks refrain from sin and practice piety, abandoning the secular world for the world of Heaven, a place for seclusion from the world with the Lord. When he was asked why he stays long in the monastery, Bishop Abraham said: “Seclusion with the Lord is an entertainment.”
St. George Church therefore combines, from an architectural point of view, between grandeur and simplicity of the monastery and the shape of the oriental domes (the Mahd Church dome). The body of the mihrab (shrine) is designed in a gradual ascendance, resembling ascendance of the soul from the mihrab upwards and so are the sculptured stones and Jesuit gates. The gate is of three levels with graved steps up to the wooden gate which takes inside the Church. The windows are made of colored glass interlocked with icons mostly of bright green and golden yellow colors. Seats of coral (graved stone) are scattered over the garden donated by benevolent people in memory of their dear dead, It is a form of church endowment engraved in Ethiopian language and gifted to the church.
The church plays an important social role as all voluntary and philanthropic meetings are held in outer yard of the church to discuss development of some regions, whether the residential quarters or sectoral venues.
The Ethiopian Icons:
The Ethiopian iconic art is characterized by aesthetic and doctrinal features which make it different than the Coptic art, although the iconic painting with which the Coptic Church is more distinguished than other churches as that of the Coptic Church is influenced by the Pharaonic art which rescinds the three-dimension vision and draws the face and limbs in a horizontal line. The Ethiopian iconic art is also characterized by a basic mark which is that the center of the portrait turns east, just like the face of Jesus Christ, though the artistic elements were based on the environment and were reshaped in accordance with the local Ethiopian culture with the Virgin Mary in the Mahd Church picture, carrying an ear of wheat of which the Abyssinian bread (anjeerah) is made, and her veil and belt with its crosses, depict the local female costume in Ethiopia. The hair braiding in the Virgin’s icon is made exactly in the style of the Amharic women (four braids on both sides of the face while the remaining hair is left loose. The pallet on which the Virgin placed her Holy Child in St. George Church is made of palm leaves and placed around are earthen pots just like the pots of Gander the most renowned area for production of pottery in Abyssinia.
The Ethiopian iconic art greatly emphasizes on the picture of Gabriel The Angel and an analysis of Gabriel icon reveals that the Ethiopian painter made on the face of the Angel a touch of kindness and emotion that cannot be expressed in writing, particularly during the birth-giving in which the Virgin appears worried and her Child weeping while the Angels is shown pacifying them.
Haile Selassie’s reign:

I was interested to find out during that visit the traces of Emperor Haile Selassie, a unique personality whom I greatly admired and who had distinguished ties with the Sudan and the Sudanese people. I had a rare picture of the Emperor with singers in Sudan such as the singers’ doyen Ahmed Al-Mustafa who was greatly admired and respected by the Emperor and considered him an ambassador of his country. The Palace of the Emperor was transformed into a semi-museum. Pondering over the place, you can get acquainted with the essence of this unique person who combined affiliation to his people and their culture which he deeply loved, besides acquiring a great deal of the Western culture. His choice of the portraits depicts a fine taste and knowledge of development of the contemporary art, including paintings reflecting the Renaissance to portraits of the expressionists and the masterpieces of the contemporary Ethiopian painting. This taste also applies to architecture, furniture, gardening and design of gates and walls. The imperial taste involves not only the magnificence but is also interested in what is most precise, most beautiful and most expensive. The Emperor invited the Ethiopian folklore troupe after its composition elements were selected from all of the Ethiopian nationalities. He paid attention to the modern art which was produced by the contemporary artists, collected all rare books on Ethiopia in different languages in addition to what was written in Amharic of old gospels, interpretations and religious messages. During his exile in Britain, he managed to get acquainted with a wide-range of the intelligentsia and public opinion makers- the experts and journalist and, employing his charisma, the Emperor managed to convince the world public opinion of his cause and his right to return home and rule his people.
The general temperament of the Emperor is the French classic temperament mixed with a genuine Ethiopian spirit. The design of the porticoes, the predominance of the white, crimson and green colors, the arches and the miniatures give an air of grandeur and culture. These charming French touches might be attributed to his first teacher, French, who was running Harare Hospital. Then he was sent to the Monks school where he learned the Holy Book sciences and Amharic by Priest Abandrias of Abandrio. His original name was Tafari Makonnen Mikael and he was born in 1892 and his father was Ras Makonnen,, a famous military commander who beat the Italians in Ampalajy battle which preceded the defeat of the Italians in Adwa battle. He played an undeniable role in this decisive battle and during Menelik reign, he was appointed governor of Harare. The Emperor’s grandmother mother was a descendent of a Muslim family called Yachimbeet who gaive birth to several children who all died while still young, except Tafari (Haile Selassie) her only son who survived.
New Ethiopia:

The New Ethiopia is indebted in many of the economic and spiritual aspects of life to Haile Selassi . During his reign, tens of churches were built inside and outside Ethiopia, including the Ethiopian church in Khartoum and others in Europe and Africa. The development covered all walks of life during his reign, starting with Burhan Salam Printing Press; cars were imported and the number of students sent to Europe and other countries of the world redoubled. Internally, feudalism came to an end during his era and the political power centered in his person, but he did not abrogate the privileges of the landlords so that they would not rebel against him. The constitution was written during his reign and he placed emphasis on establishing a modern army, starting with the imperial guard, and a military academy was built in Holta to the west of Addis Ababa under the supervision of a Swedish military mission. He obtained assistance of Belgium in building and modernization of the army.
After his coronation as Emperor on November 2, 1930, Tafari chose for himself the name Haile Selassie, that is, Might of the Trinity. 
Rastafarian Groups:

Emperor Haile Selassie has remained a symbol of inspiration for the Rastafarian group. Searchers and experts in religions and arts believe the source of this influence was Shashamni Suburb. One of the most renowned followers of this cult was the famous signer Bob Marley. It is noticed that the inhabitants of Shashamni comb their hair in the same fashion of Bob Marley. It is a spiritual experience in which the concept of love is mingled with the spirits of revolution, freedom and salvation.

Maskil Square:
It is an important landmark of Addis Ababa, similar to Tahir Square in Cairo, where political gatherings and old public celebrations are held and from it the outstanding Ethiopian political leaders, artists and national symbol gain prominence.
Addis Ababa University:
Addis Ababa University is also a landmark of the city. It is characterized by a modern European architecture inspired by the Ethiopian spirit, particularly its main gateway. It is among the oldest African universities, comprising colleges specialized in economics, commerce, law and human sciences.
Computer studies, medical laboratories and information technology were recently introduced in Addis Ababa University which is not only a place of studies but is also a venue for enlightenment, awareness and political and intellectual activities throughout the contemporary history. Moreover, many international and regional organizations are eager to convene workshops, encounters and programmes of a public nature in its porticoes. There is no African university which emulates Addis Ababa University other than Cairo University, Macrere University and Khartoum University. Numerous political and social leaders who helped change life in Ethiopia graduated from this university which is designed to host cultural, social and sports activities in its vast grounds that can accommodate those activities. Some faculties were expanded and modernized to give room for the modern sciences of technology and communication.
Addis Ababa Society:

Serving coffeeServing coffee

Life in the city of Addis Ababa is characterized by vitality and freedom, with a wide range of options, starting with Pauli Road and ending up Addis Ababa Stadium, passing by the public libraries and museums. The time of entertainment follows the duty hours in the government offices. Most of the families in Ethiopia, known as one of the biggest coffee producers, prefer to sip coffee at home. And I imagined that Addis would be full of coffee-houses but later I found out that most of the frequenters of the cafes are either tourists or Ethiopians whose work circumstances forced them to have coffee away from their families. I noticed that the old people are respected in the cafes and they spend long times there, exchanging news and enjoying quiet senility.
Entertainment for All:

Addis is a real democratic city where everybody has the right to finding an opportunity for entertainment and enjoying the advantages of the city. The per capita does not impair enjoyment of these humanitarian rights. You can find a place of entertainment for a hundred birr and other place of the same entertainment for a hundred dollars and it will be your choice. The gardens, public parks and markets are a property of everyone, apparently a leftover of the socialist rule Mangistu in which the general resources are available for the people, with class or social discrimination and the prices are determined by the kind of service ordered by the customer.
Meles-the hope and change:
Addis has changed a lot, thanks to the efforts made by late Meles whose pictures still decorate the walls of the city which has not yet recovered from the shock of the death of its hero and dream. He was a dynamic personality, both regionally and internationally, representing a landmark in the history of the Ethiopian people. During his reign, Addis Ababa has become two cities- old Addis with its well-known landmarks and modern Addis with its architecture and economic boom, thanks to the tremendous investments Meles managed to attract and persuade them to continue operating in the country by removing the bureaucratic obstacles from the path of investment.

Meles mourning ceremony, al-Sahah al-Khadra (Green Square), KhartoumMeles mourning ceremony, al-Sahah al-Khadra (Green Square), Khartoum

The Ethiopian investment law which Meles personally supervised its drafting and amendment is considered an example to be followed in view of the tempting and encouraging opportunities for the investors. By attracting those tremendous investments Meles’ objective was to prove jobs and curb unemployment in addition to bringing about benefits to the country and was what eventually happened, especially in investment in tourism, food industries, packaging, building materials and agro-industry.

He managed to persuade regional and international banks of open branches in Ethiopia to help finance the projects and to attract the deposits of the investors and in less than half a century those branches became part and a stimulant of the Ethiopian economy.
What Meles did in Ethiopia largely resembles what Mahathir Mohamed had done in Malaysia. It is true that Meles had some mistakes; some people believe that his steps were unsuitably hasty and precipitate; others criticize him for making an abrupt jump from decades of a socialist economy to a European capitalist economy. Yet what Meles had done was liable to be erroneous and correct, but he carried out his part in faithfulness and love for his country. Despite the divergent opinions on his policies in ruling and administering the country, no-one can suspect his patriotism and faithfulness and has character and performance gained respect and appreciation by everyone.
Music- the People’s Spirit:
In resumption of our previous talk about the community of Addis Ababa and their cultural and social structure, we add that the visitor notices devotion by the Ethiopian people to music which is part and parcel of every detail of the social life in Ethiopia, starting from the Shoro songs to the cradle songs which the mother sings to make her baby sleep, to the songs of harvest, labor and marriage, even elegies during mourning. A young man or woman who is not responsive and has no taste for music will lose social contact because social dialogue is made through art and music. The Ethiopian dancing, like any other part of the world, is dually performed a man and a woman. There are schools for dancing, particularly for professionals. A young Ethiopian girl is trained and brought up on it so that she becomes very attractive in her speech. The familial etiquette within the Ethiopian family is a science of its own.

Tezetta & others:
Tezetta song (memory) is a masterpiece of the eternal and superb Ethiopian music. In fact, it is a national icon that brings together the affiliation to the land, the human-being, the universal elements and the human soul feelings of imagination, dreams and philosophic contemplations on life and living objects. I heard this immortal melody from several voices but signers Mahmoud Ahmed, Talhon Gasasa and Tsfai Abata registered this work in the eternal art book, each in his own style. The song was also sung by Astair but I think she is inclined to the European classic style while was far from the originality you feel in Mahmoud’s voice. Until the late 1990s, Astair was a distinguished singer but afterwards she turned to the Western music and American Rapp, thus losing the flavor the listeners used to find in Shoro song which talks about love like a baby, if not properly looked after, dies in its cradle, leaving sadness behind. Shoro is a word used for lulling a baby until it falls asleep.
Life Cycle of an Ethiopian:
Like a person in any part of the world the life cycle of an Ethiopian is made up of certain rites which are influenced by the local cultural environment. These rights are more tense, closer to nature and complicated in the countryside and change gradually to simplicity and get rid of several elements the more the Ethiopian gets nearer to life in urban communities. If an Ethiopian is a Muslim, his family practices the Islamic teachings relevant to birth, marriage and death and other Islamic rites. But the case is a bit different for a Christian. In conclusion of this article, we will try to explain the features of the rites of life of a Christian Ethiopian child until he reaches the age of marriage and then his death.
The Rites of Birth & Baptism:
When a male or female baby is born to an Ethiopian family, the family holds a small party to welcome the baby and congratulate the parents. This party is supervised and organized by the expanded family, in the village, and by the colleagues, neighbors and friends, in the city. It was recently preferred to throw an evening meal (supper), under the light of candles as a token of blessing and optimism, in which traditional foods and beverages are served. After 40 days from the delivery, the mother, after washing from the delivery blood, the mother takes her baby to the diocese to be baptized by the priest. According to the Orthodox doctrine, there are two births for a baby- the first birth (involves blood and womb) and the second birth (of soul) through baptism with water to lead the life of a Christian. Before immersing the baby in the water vessel, the priest gives the baby the name of a saint (Yusuf, Abram, John, etc.) if it is a male; and the name of a female saint (Mary, Magdalene, Teresa, Helen, etc.) if the baby is a female. The mother is accompanied to the diocese by old women from the family and a number of children, the baby is dressed in new clothes which the saints costumes and is taken to the diocese in a joyous procession expressing pleasure for having a new member of the Christian family. The priest then starts purifying the holy water and playing the tune: “Haloloya…haloloya… how pleased I am to be born in the Messiah…accept me as a good person and bless my parents.”
The Wreath Rite:
This is a wedding that is sponsored by the church and is preceded by betrothal according to the Orthodox tenets. The betrothal has no specific time, pending completion of the wedding arrangements, and some gifts, mostly in kind, are presented to the bride and her family during the engagement and if the bridegroom is well-off, he gifts cover the bride’s friends and maids. Yet priority is accorded to preparation of the marriage house as regards furniture and decoration in which the friends of the couple may help by offering some gifts which may assist in preparation of the marriage house. After that a date is agreed upon with the priest for organization of the wreath rite. The church undertakes formal arrangements while the family bears the costs of entertainment, flowers, candle, etc. The bride and bridegroom receive the wreath pact from the priest and they are blessed. The condition of the Orthodox marriage is a single wife and eternal marriage till death.
The Wedding Party:
The wedding party in the past consisted of two parts- a traditional part accompanied by ceremonies, songs and folklore costumes and a modern part. Yet the wedding we watched in Addis Ababa combined both kinds. A prominent feature of that wedding was domesticated beautiful, elegant white pigeons placed on the heads of the bride and groom. According to the eastern Christian culture, pigeons stand for the soul as it is believed that the pigeon which flew from the should of John the Baptist and landed on the head of Jesus Christ signaled the advent of a new era, and consequently the landing of the pigeon of the heads of the couple is regarded the beginning of a new era of happiness and good omen.