“The Ethiopians were regarded by the Greeks as the best people in the world. Homer speaks of them in the Iliad as the ‘blameless Ethiopians’. He claims that they were visited by Zeus, the king of the gods, by the goddess Iris, who travelled to their country to participate in their sacrificial rites, and by Poseidon, the sea god, who ‘lingered delighted’ at their feasts. This theme was taken up, in the first century BC, by Diodorus of Sicily, who asserted that the gods Hercules and Bacchus were both ‘awed by the piety’ of the Ethiopians, whose sacrifices, he claims, were the most acceptable to the gods.”
Passage from ‘The Ethiopians, A History’ by Richard Pankhurst
“With faith, courage and a just cause, David will still beat Goliath”
The Library of Congress presented Ephraim Isaac, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University discussing his newly published book: THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TӒWAHΪDO CHURCH
“Not only are there strong Biblical Hebraic elements in the theology, political theory, and liturgical calendar of the Ethiopian Church but there is also a strong influence from Beta Israel and Ethiopian Jews. Besides these Ethiopian Jews and of course, the Orthodox Ethiopians and a few Protestant and roman Catholic Ethiopian Christians, there are in Ethiopia also very large numbers of Moslems and various native beliefs.”
February 27th 2014, By Cheong Kamei
The East African country may not be on everyone’s must-visit travel list, but it has a lot to offer
The first time I learnt about Ethiopia was when I watched the video to We Are The World, as images of starving African children with distended bellies flashed across the television screen. And it seems that Ethiopia is still haunted by those powerful images of famine and poverty. The country isn’t exactly on everyone’s must-visit vacation list. To top it off, the costly cocktail of vaccinations I needed — it’s compulsory to be vaccinated against yellow fever, and my doctor advised me to get the meningococcal vaccine and malaria pills — didn’t help put my mind at ease. At first.
As I later found out, giving the country a miss would be a huge pity. Ethiopia is eager to exorcise the ghosts of its past. It wants to show off its beautiful scenery, otherworldly architecture and gracious people. All you need to do is be there.
LIVING IT UP
After a 13-hour red-eye flight from Singapore to capital city Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines, it took another two hours by car to get to resort town and popular day-trip destination Debre Zeit, but it was worth the squeeze through the morning traffic.
Sitting at the restaurant of the Kuriftu Resort And Spa, overlooking Lake Kuriftu, watching people kayak and pelicans swim by, I couldn’t help but feel that Debre Zeit is every bit as gorgeous as vacation hot spots anywhere else in the world. The lush greenery, crater lakes and abundant bird-life are testament to the country’s natural beauty, while the luxurious resort I was at reflected Ethiopia’s current tourist boom.
The temperature at Debre Zeit hovers around the mid-20s (that’s Celsius) throughout the year and the tranquil scene was lulling me to sleep when I caught a whiff of a uniquely heady spice. It was berbere, an indigenous and bright red chilli and spice mix that’s traditionally used in dishes, from steak tartar to lentils and wats (slow-cooked stews). Sweet, fiery and addictively aromatic, it’s easy to see Singaporeans falling in love with it. The ubiquitous staple of Ethiopia, injera, on the other hand, takes some getting used to. This flatbread, made from a grain called teff, is light grey in colour and has a slightly spongy texture — similar to a peanut pancake — and a distinctly sour taste.
My next stop was the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lalibela. “Awe-inspiring” does not come close to describing how impressive Lalibela’s 11 cave churches from the 13th-century are. Built by King Lalibela to be Africa’s alternative to Jerusalem, the churches were not erected from the ground up. Instead, the main structure of each church — complete with windows, door and drainage systems — were painstakingly carved out of living rock.
Nobody knows how exactly it was done, although some scholars speculate it took about 24 years to complete. Seeing the churches, in particular Bete Giyorgis, which is built in the shape of a cross, or Bet Medhane Alem, the world’s largest monolithic church that’s 11.5m deep and almost 34m long, you can understand why the legend goes that angels helped complete this architectural marvel.
It was close to Christmas when I was at Lalibela (in the Ethiopian calendar, it falls on Jan 7), and tens of thousands were making their pilgrimage to this spot. Some perched on rocks to read their Bibles, while others prayed, kissed the crosses that were held by priests or broke down at the sight of the churches. At one church, I witnessed dozens of people tirelessly swaying to the beat of the drummers in their company and chanting hymns in an almost trance-like manner. At every corner were people who had walked for miles — sometimes barefoot — to Lalibela to renew, restore or celebrate their faith. The air of reverence was so intense, it felt intrusive to take photos — it was hard not to feel moved.
RICH IN HISTORY
A 30-minute flight away from Lalibela is Gondar, Africa’s Camelot, and Ethiopia’s royal and ancient historical city. Our first stop was Fasil Ghebbi, a complex of 17th- and 18th-century castles that marked Ethiopia’s first permanent imperial residence. Earthquakes and bombings during World War II damaged some of the buildings, but the Fasilides Castle is by far the best preserved. It was fascinating to hear about Ethiopia’s rich history, but what I really appreciated was how glaringly tourist-free this UNESCO World Heritage Site was. With plenty of space and time to leisurely stroll through the complex, and blue, open skies, Fasil Ghebbi felt almost romantic.
Separate from the complex of castles is Fasilides Bath. The original use of the 50m-long and 30m-wide bath is not known for sure, but it’s now filled with water every Jan 19 to celebrate Timkat, the Orthodox Christian celebration of the baptism of Jesus.
From Gondar, it is a three-hour bus ride to the Simien Mountains, 3,000m above sea level. Its stirring skyline of jagged mountain peaks, sharp gorges and the undulating plateau have drawn comparisons with the Grand Canyon in the United States. Unlike the Grand Canyon though, the only activities offered at Simien Mountain National Park are trekking and cycling. As I was feeling lethargic from the high altitude, trekking seemed like an ideal way to start the day. The pace and trail were manageable and the guide showed us the best spots to take in — and get great photos of — the mountain scenery and rare animals such as Gelada baboons.
It’s amazing how much Ethiopia has to offer tourism-wise. In a week, I’d received a five-star spa treatment at Debre Zeit, experienced a spiritual awakening at Lalibela and marvelled at Ethiopia’s regal past at Gondar. And I’d only seen a teeny part of this country — it’s five times the size of Britain, by the way. And I’m already thinking of returning. I’d love to see national parks such as the Omo National Park (one of the most underrated wildlife sanctuaries in East Africa) or take in the surreal beauty of Sof Omar Cave. Now all I need to do is to get used to eating injera.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia promoting Ethiopia’s history and progress to +60,000 people in New York City at the 2013 Global Citizen Festival.
“In the North of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, one finds a church that was built in 434 AD. This church was the first of about 120 other churches built in the Tigray region. Its curved entirely from a rock and not a single stone block was used. The church is the hiding place of the Ark of the Covenant which is known to be sacred. Whatever is in the Ark is only known to the priests and no one even the president knows or has the authority to check. Hence the big question is, what is in this preserved Ark? We find out from the keepers of the Ark.”
May 17, 2013, by Kurt Davis Jr.
VENTURES AFRICA – The Sheraton Hotel is doing another good day of business on a Monday morning. The hotel, run by Sheik Mohammed Ali Al-Amoud, is Ethiopia’s most recognized hotel. It fills with business travelers from London and diplomats from all over Africa. It also offers similar services and accommodations expected from any major hotel in America or Europe. And for those who find the prices of the bigger international brands too expensive, Jupiter International Hotels, run by a young Ethiopian expat Benyam Bisrat, offers a quality local alternative.
The central parts—Kazanchis and Bole—of Addis Ababa resemble a construction site. New malls and hotels are being erected throughout these areas. These new constructions are mostly locally funded. Jupiter Hotels, as one of those locally funded constructions, has only been running for 5 years. In that time, the company has boosted occupancy rates above 80 percent to match international brands in the market.
Until recently, schmoozing with businessmen of all stripes and African diplomats involved sitting by the bar in the Hilton or lingering around the Sheraton lounge area. During the last African Union meeting, the lobby of the Jupiter Hotel in Kazanchis jammed softly with local Ethiopian jazz crowded out by Africa’s numerous local languages and the usual assortment of romance languages spoken on the continent.
This type of growth is usually the result of growing demand and stalled supply. But the supply of hotel beds in Addis has tripled in the last three years to around 6,000 hotel beds. Competition in this market could potentially push the number over 10,000 hotel beds in the next few years. Jupiter International Hotels will actively expand during this time to more than 1,000 hotel beds to capture approximately ten percent of the market, says Mr. Bisrat, who is also vice president of the Hotel Association of Ethiopia. International brands, including the Marriot, will also help the local hotel industry to reach that number.
Hotel groups are expanding in this capital because the amount of diplomats and corporate clients are growing. Yearly tourism, at approximately 500,000 tourists in Ethiopia, still has a ways to go before it matches other emerging African economies. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has stated its aspirations to make Ethiopia a top five tourist destination in Africa by 2020.
During this rapid growth phase, quality service-oriented business will win out at the end of the day, say Mr. Bisrat, or customers will walk out. He believes Jupiter International Hotels is positioned as top competitor in this space, especially as it plans to develop a value hotel chain. A hot shower, good mattress, and strong internet goes a long way to make a quality value hotel. But Jupiter International Hotels plans to also add a yoga studio, art gallery, and technological add-ons, including iPod docking stations and quality data and voice streaming capabilities in the rooms.
So many foreigners are coming now and more and more are not Ethiopian Diaspora, says Dawit, a local Ethiopian tourist operator. A sense of change has descended upon the country. Gone are filmmakers for aid videos on famine. Rather conference facilities and lobbies bustle with the growing presence of investors and government officials. Hotel groups, says Mr. Bisrat, still have a long way to go to meet the needs of a growing business and diplomatic hub. As Ethiopian Airlines expands its routes to meet the geographically diversifying clientele of the Ethiopia, expect the hotel industry to do the same.
“Three thousand years of history cannot not be wiped so easily”