Tehuti News

Highlights from Ethiopia 2003-04

Volume 2, Issue 1 -  January 2004

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      Historical Lion Monument, Addis Ababa



A few tour members at Tissisat Falls, Bahir Dar


             King Fasilidas' castle, Gondar



     St. George's rock cut church, Lalibela



   Priest at one of the 11 rock-cut churches, Lalibela



       Reba at Tekenu (monolith), Axum




St. Mary of Zion, the building that houses the Ark of the Covenant, Axum




Dr. Jon Yasin at King Fasilidas' castle, Gondar


By Reba Ashton Crawford


Salemta! (Greetings).  Our educational tour to Ethiopia, led by Dr. Clinton Crawford,  left an indelible impression on the slate of our memory.  The capitol city of Addis Ababa, which means new flower, was our port of entry.  One of our first visits was to the National Museum to see the remains of Dinknesh, (a.k.a. “Lucy”) dating 3.5 million years old.  She is our African ancestor whose DNA courses through every human creature on this planet.  In addition, we saw the magnificent thrones and regalia of Ethiopia’s royalty including emperors Menelik II and Haile Selassie.  Our city tour also included an excursion to see Addis Ababa's many historical monuments and to a wonderful site on the edge of the Mount Entoto that provided a breathtaking view of the Ethiopian landscape.

Our next stop was Bahir Dar to see the spectacular Tissisat Falls.  The long arduous trek across rocks and hills to get to the falls was well worth it.  En route, we crossed the 17th century Portuguese Bridge, which was also the subject of many striking photographs.

In addition, we stopped to enjoy the beauty of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile.  On our way back, our interaction with some of our Ethiopian brothers and sisters in a local village garnered us some wonderful traditional handcrafted items.  Our flight from Bahir Dar was slightly delayed and our airline carrier graciously offered us lunch at their expense at the airport cafeteria.  That is where we discovered a traditional entrée called shiro.  I believe we all asked for shiro throughout the entire trip after that. 

Gondar was absolutely beautiful.  People usually associate castles with  Europe, but Gondar is home to a compound of spectacular 17th century castles built by King Fasilidas and his successors, particularly his son and grandson.  Yes, as a monarch, the king kept the power and wealth in the family.  We also visited the site of the Timket festival.  It is considered the greatest festival in Ethiopia as it commemorates the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River (the dominant religion in Ethiopia is Coptic Christianity).  Believers from far and wide come to be submerged in the sacred pool that has been blessed by the priests. 

One of my personal highlights of Gondar was a visit to the Church of Debre Berhan Selassie with the painted angels and frescoes on the ceiling and walls.  We were lucky enough to go during a Christmas ceremony and one of the priests invited us to join in the service. Members of our group were given resting staffs and we watched as the administering priest cited prayers and invocations.  Smoke from the incense container he swung back and forth filled the sanctuary with a feeling of complete reverence and peace. 

Everyone looked forward to Lalibela to visit the mid-12th century rock-cut churches; considered part of the wonders of the African world.  We had to take off our shoes before entering each edifice and the priests were gracious enough to greet us and display their crosses, sacred holy books and staffs.  Stoic would be an accurate description of the priest, but it was rather amusing to see one of them break character when he shared a laugh with bro. Clinton.  The priest was shown his image in the screen of  Clinton's digital camera.  One of the churches had a small chapel where women were forbidden to enter.  Well… we sisters weren’t mad...we totally respected their religious tenets.  We quipped however, that one chapel should be for women only.  As visual artists, the paintings and frescoes were a real treat for Clinton and me.  The cruciform-shaped Church of St. George was the most magnificent of the 11 churches.  It stood alone as a sculptural work of art.  Being inside it was a lot like being transported back in time.  The rolling hills and beautiful landscapes of Lalibela was a constant reminder that this was truly God’s country.


Axum, the once capital city of the Axumite rulers was also an important location as we got the opportunity to visit the tekenus (obelisks) that served as landmarks for royal burial sites.  The carvings on the tallest one, standing at about 70 ft., is believed to be a vertical representation of the royal palaces as it depicts doors, windows and celestial symbols. 

History tells us that Axumite rule began with Menelik, the son of the legendary Queen Makeda (a.k.a. the Queen of Sheba) and King Solomon of Jerusalem.  When Menelik was about 22 years old, he went to visit his father and brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Ethiopia.  We stood at St. Mary of Zion Church, the edifice where the Ark of the Covenant is said to be housed.  Women weren’t allowed inside, so while the men went inside, one of priests who guarded the sacred crowns made of precious metals and a sacred book (800 years old) outside of the building displayed them for us.  The vivid illustrations of religious icons was no less than amazing.

Our last stop in Axum was a visit to the remains of Queen Makeda’s palace.  Though it is in ruins, one could still discern how magnificent it was.  It had multi-levels, grand rooms, baths, etc., with all the amenities a queen required.  Just being in her space gave one a sense of the queen’s greatness and historical significance. 


Our entire tour included many activities and experiences not chronicled here.  We shared school supplies, toys, and first-aid supplies with many of our Ethiopian children in the different cities/villages we visited; we shopped and bought some wonderful cultural items; and we took time to experience real Ethiopian culture. After our evening lectures, some of our tours members would go out to enjoy Ethiopia's night life.  One thing we observed was that social venues like dance/music clubs were used to maintain and perpetuate Ethiopian cultural traditions instead of Western artistic genres.  One of the dancers even pulled me up out of my seat and invited me to join her in what we called the Ethiopian “shoulder dance.”  It was great.


A word about Jon:  One of our most memorable tour members was Dr. Jon Yasin.  His personality was so gregarious that everybody (including the Ethiopian locals) was attracted to him like bees to honey.  A world citizen, there probably aren’t many places on the planet that bro. Yasin hasn’t already visited (he has even lived in a few countries).  His wit, earthiness and genuine appreciation for people made it truly a joy to have him with us.


We returned to Addis Ababa to enjoy our last day in Ethiopia.  Jared, a  local college student, took some of us on a final city tour.  We will always remember the owner of the Asian restaurant who opened his place up during non-business hours (twice) and called his head cook to fix us a sumptuous meal.  Jared also made sure we got to the right shops to take advantage of any last minute bargains. I am in love with my traditional Ethiopian stools.  It was wonderful.  We invite our friends, family members, educators, students, and all who are interested in taking these unforgettable educational tours to the Motherland to join us on our next exciting tour. 

For more info, call (718)756-8904 or e-mail us at sankofa.c@gmail.com 

Photo credits:  Reba & Clinton Crawford (except Fasiladas' Castle)