Thinking of Axum – Ethiopia

Holy Week in the historic town of Axum, in Ethiopia’s mountainous Tigray region, offers an extraordinarily mesmerising opportunity for reflection.

Pre-dawn processions by the town’s devout orthodox Christian community make their way daily to the home of the Ark of the Covenant. It’s a spellbinding ritual in which celebrants observe the events leading up to Jesus’s death. Sombre yet magical, it has roots stretching back to the Aksumite Empire in 400 BC.

I was fortunate enough to witness it ten years ago, when I recorded this short film.

In addition, I have previously reflected on the experience in my blog Sub-Sahara Easter Procession.

This year however, the images of candlelit worshippers are even more vivid and poignant.  Reports in November 2020 of hundreds of Axum’s unarmed civilians being massacred by Eritrean and Ethiopian troops has plunged the traumatised local community into an abyss.

The film now feels a far cry from these recent events. An Amnesty International Report examines what may amount to a crime against humanity, in the name of ‘a response’ to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)’s bid for independence.

It’s hard to understand how such events could take place in such an apparently peaceful part of the world, previously more famous for its UNESCO World Heritage status, and one of Nomadic Thoughts’ most exciting African destinations.

In addition to this terrible event and the ensuing suffering it caused, this mountainous region is ‘off the tourism list’ for the foreseeable future, despite the local community so desperately needing to return to their comparatively calm and peaceful existence.

Whilst, like so many on the other side of the world, I feel utterly removed from what in normal circumstances would be an excited engagement with Axum and Tigray tourism, I am thinking of the people with whom I shared the pre-dawn processions.

As my film shows, the hope is that during this year’s Holy Week, the collective feeling of compassion and calm is all-pervading and may assist those so desperately trying to recover.

Community candlelit procession.

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