Ethiopia: Timket - a Unique Ethiopian Cultural Festival of Antiquities

Timket (The Amharic word for immersion or Epiphany) is one of the grand outdoor religious festivals celebrated among the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians on the 19 of January (or the 20 of January once in every four years). The festivity commemorates the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. It is celebrated 12 days after the festivity of Gehenna or Ethiopian Christmas.

Members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church highly revere the festival as a period of religious revival and rejuvenation and also as a thanksgiving occasion to God for his protection and support in nurturing their spirit.

Timket sets in after the end of the harvest season in Ethiopia and the farmers in restive parts of the country will have some time for past time activities like paying visits to friends or performing various personal duties.

The festival is marked with great pomp and paraphernalia right from the eve of January 19 which is known among the Ethiopian Orthodox as Ketera. On this day the tabots of each church are carried out in procession to a place near a river in rural areas or on a special baptism spot prepared for the occasion.

Assistant Patriarch of Ethiopian Orthodox and Foreign Communication Director, Abune Aregawi said Timket is among the ancient religious festivals celebrated publicly with cultural wears and songs beyond its religious commemoration.

According to Alula Pankhurst who quoted James Bruce (2010) states the eve of Timket is known as Ketera, a reference to damming a stream to make a baptismal pool, known as the 18th century Scottish traveler, describes how the streams are in Adwa was dammed for several days to reach a depth of four feet. In some cities pools was purposely - built, the most famous being Fasiledes's pool at Gondar and the queen of Sheba's at Aksum.

Adults prepare for Timket by washing their cotton robes, called shamma, and restoring them to a brilliant whiteness. In addition, they brew special beers, bake bread, and slaughter a sheep in preparation for the Timket feast.

In Addis Ababa where some 40 arch of the covenant, which is tabot in Amharic, from local churches converge on Jan Meda, aspecial open field which is also used for horse racing. Special tents are majestically perched on the field for each tabot. Sunday school children sing hymns and priests show special choreographic steps with their special cestrum and prayer sticks accompanied to the beats of drums.

A tabot which is carried by senior priests to the spot of the celebrations is wrapped up with colorful clothes specially prepared for the occasion and a colorful umbrella is a replica of the actual Arc of the Covenant and the ten tablets of the law which Moses received on Mount Sinai as mentioned in the Bible.

Very early in the morning the next day, ecclesiastics and believers go to the water and attend the praying. A senior priest dips a golden processional cross in the water to bless it and extinguishes a consecrated candle in it. Then he sprinkles the water on the people in commemoration of Christ's baptism.

This is a unique public baptism in which all the participants of the occasion make sure that they are baptized on open field.

Early in the morning, biblical verses pertaining to the baptism is read out loud and people humbly listen to the priest reading from a huge bible specially put together for ceremonial purposes.

Timket is also a period of special spiritual reconciliation among the neighborhood and the public at large. This is particularly true of the rural parts of Ethiopia.

After two days, all the tabots are seen off to their respective churches accompanied by huge crowed of believers and Sunday school children. Way back to their respective churches. The elders walk solemnly, accompanied by singing, leaping of priests and young men and beating of prayer sticks in an ancient ritual.

On January 20, the feast of the Archangel Michael is colorfully marked in much the same way organized for the other. The tabot is returned to its church, again accompanied by singing and dancing of priests. This marks the end of the three-day celebration.

Timket is also colorfully celebrated in Lalibela with close proximity to the rock hewn churches.

The faithful men and women in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrate Timket garbed with entirely white traditional outfits. Apart from its religious significance, Timket is an occasion of cultural dating day for young men and women who are trying to choose their future spouses. This is done in a special ceremony of throwing lemon on the chest of the girls by young men as an indication of their future partner. Sometimes girls also take part in such ceremonies.

On the days of Timket, men, women and children celebrate the occasion in their best cultural attire. Women save money or sell different kinds of handmade artifacts to get some money for buying traditional cotton dresses usually worn at church or only on special occasions.

People enjoy the afternoon of Timket by watching feres gugs or traditional horse race. This event, held on many feast days, resembles medieval European jousting. Participants wear capes made out of lions' manes and headdresses made from baboon hair. Colorful brocades, velvets, and tassels adorn their horses. The game itself may have developed out of the military maneuvers practiced by the mounted warriors of past eras. One band of horsemen armed with bamboo lances tries to knock the members of the other band off their horses.

Gzehegn Girma, Cultural Anthropologist at Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, said efforts to inscribe Epiphany in UNESCO were started in January 2016 in cooperation with Ethiopian Orthodox Churches and Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Abune Aregawi said Timket is among the ancient religious festivals celebrated publicly with cultural wears and songs beyond its religious commemoration.

"Our church is working to inscribe Timket at UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage like Meskel," he said, adding that the church could serve sufficient evidences on it for pertinent authorities related to the culture and heritage issues, Abuna Argawei said.

According to Gehezgen the Ethiopian government has already submitted all the documents and audio and video materials organized as a prerequisite to the registration of Timket as an intangible world cultural heritage.

As one of the most important religious occasion, Timket sets the opportunity for friends and family members to meet and make festivities that fit to the occasion.

Ethiopia, therefore, expects the registration of Timket at the 14th annual meeting of UNESCO for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage that will take place from 9 to 14 December 2019 in Bogotá, Colombia.

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