“History teaches us that unity is strength and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals…”
H.I.M. Emperor Haile Selassie I
MELKAM ENKUTATASH dear avid readers! It’s 2013…finally. And though we haven’t completed the Julian calendar year of 2020, the Ethiopian New Year gives us a glimmer of hope on the horizon and the possibility of a new cycle in which we can rise stronger and certainly cleaner than we were last year this time, considering the copious amounts of hand sanitizer and washing we’re doing. This actually is one thing I hope we resolve to continuing. To ‘wash hands’ is a metaphor I first heard as a child, growing up in the Catholic religion, about Pontius Pilot who infamously “washed his hands” of the destiny of Yeshua the Christ. Basically, the idiom refers to releasing one’s self of all responsibility in a particular issue. While we want to continue washing, the figure of speech is diametrically opposed to the popular western New Year’s resolution.
According to historical accounts, over 4,000 years ago the ancient Babylonians were the first to engage in making New Year’s resolutions, mid-March, the time for planting crops. Akitu was their 12-day religious festival where a new king would be crowned or loyalty to the reigning king would be reaffirmed. Promises would be made to their gods to satisfy debts and settle outstanding issues with the hope that their gods would in turn grant them favor. No one wanted the volcano god for instance to erupt due to an unpaid bill, not to mention avoiding foreclosure on your ziggurat centered sandstone home.
Romans followed suit after their emperor, Julius Caesar, tweaked the calendar claiming January 1 as the beginning of the new year circa 46 B.C. January was an homage to Janus, the two-faced god whose domain was doorways and arches. Naturally, good ole Roman sacrifices were offered in exchange for deals of good conduct for the coming year. I wonder what was “good conduct” considering the Pontius Pilot washing of the hands and well-known Roman debauchery, but that’s another story. This practice would become a mainstay in Europe and an official practice by 1740 when founder of the Methodist religion, English clergyman John Wesley, created the Covenant Renewal Service. This event was mostly held on New Year’s Eve commonly called “watch night” which included prayer services to reaffirm faith and conviction. Now popular in evangelical Protestant churches, particularly in African-American denominations, watch night services are held with congregants praying and making resolutions for the coming year throughout the night. Despite the religious root of resolutions, statistics say 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, of which 8 percent fulfill. Yes, Americans poll everything, but THAT’s another story.
Ethiopian traditions for the New Year are just incredible, inviting and invigorating. The early morning sights, smells and sounds regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof, are best distinguished as family time. As the buna boils creating an aroma that is best enjoyed with eyes closed for a moment; and while the wots simmer creating a mouth-watering reaction leading to an internal discussion between eyes and stomach as to serving size; and as the Elders enter so elegantly in national dress, wearing classical white shamas bordered with the bandera, red gold and green…OMG…it is beyond awesome. It is the warmest most genuine and loving holiday of the year when your faith, social status, and any other demographic matters not, and we share. We share hope, we share food, we share laughs, we share all the good news of the sefer as we give thanks for living to see a new year.
I will miss being home this year, as I am in the USA with family for an unexpected visit. But I will not miss many of the aforementioned as this Kingston born Kazanches Sistar travels like any other Ethiopian mama, with overweight bags filled with berberi, shiro and mitmita to prepare our family feast in Florida. You see, it’s extremely important to be in a space where you feel safe, strong and solid, my Ethiopia. But sometimes it’s about simply about being. I would be disingenuous to say what I “learnt” in this 2012/2020 cycle. Its more about what I choose to reinforce which is the importance of family and how no matter the time, space or circumstance we must strengthen our sense of loyalty and commitment to being better and rising to a standard which we have never known before.
Qadamawi Haile Selassie said, “History teaches us that unity is strength and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals…” The human family has been pushed to every imaginable limit from Accra to Addis, Cape to Cairo, Zurich to Zanzibar, no one has been spared. So it’s my prayer for 2013 that Ethiopians, wherever we may be, resolve that 2013 will be ‘our year’, a year of healing, a year of humility, a year of listening, a year of courage, a year of creativity, a year of power, a year of support, a year of productivity and year of prosperity… a year of unconditional love that provides for patience ensuring Ethiopia’s protection; promoting all constructive possibilities. From my lips to Jah’s ears, I wish ALL Ethiopians Melkam Enkutatahs!
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.