Sunday, August 26, 2007

The First and the Last Ethiopian Millennium

By Fikru Helebo

Before I go on to my rant I would like to wish all those Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia who will celebrate the Ethiopian millennium a happy millennium Ethiopian New Year! If you can read Amharic, I also would like to encourage you to read this part satirical and seriously polemical
piece on the Ethiopian millennium by Mitiku Adisu (though I have differences with his take on emperors Yohannes IV, Minilik II and Haile Selassie I in his concluding remarks). Mitiku pretty much says all that needs to be said about the Ethiopian millennium and I guarantee that you will laugh your heart out!

In a little over two weeks time Ethiopians all over the world (except for some like me) will celebrate
the first and the last Ethiopian millennium. Yes, this is the first millennium which is uniquely Ethiopian and, hopefully, if it is left up to people like me, it will be the last uniquely Ethiopian millennium. I am of the opinion that the current calendar should be discarded in favor of the Gregorian calendar which serves as the de facto world calendar. The current Ethiopian calendar is not really Ethiopian in its origins anyway. According to this web site, the Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar, which in turn is based on the old Egyptian and Julian calendars.

So, why stick to a calendar that is not Ethiopian in its origins and one which creates unnecessary separation of Ethiopians from the world at large? Besides there are many things that Ethiopians have adopted from the rest of the world for the better. Take, for example, our use of the Arabic numerals (actually Indian numerals) in favor of our own numerals which are used on Ethiopian calendars, like the screen shot for the current month from the Ethiopica Calendar which I posted above.

I am not sure when Ethiopians adopted the use of Arabic numerals, but I am glad we adopted them. The fact that we borrowed Arabic numerals did not bring about the death of our numerals. Ethiopian numerals have not disappeared
as evidenced by their continued use in the Bible as well as calendars. The fate of the Ethiopian calendar will also be the same if it is discarded in favor of the Gregorian one: it will not die! The Ethiopian and Eritrean churches will continue to use it, obviously, and this fact alone will ensure that the Ethiopian calendar will survive well into the future if its official use comes to an end as I think it should.

I will not celebrate the Ethiopian millennium because, with the exceptions of the building of the monolithic churches of Lalibela in the 12th and 13th centuries and the Adwa victory over the Italians in the 19th century, there isn't much to celebrate about Ethiopian history of the last millennium. I have no problem with Ethiopians celebrating the Ethiopian millennium, but I am very much turned off by the boisterous atmosphere which surrounds the celebrations, an atmosphere which Mitiku's article captures vividly. In my view, this millennium occasion should have been celebrated in a low key manner in which Ethiopians took the time to reflect on many of our shortcomings!


Anonymous said...

Politics of envy

It looks that your comment and that of Mr. Adisu’s “satirical and highly polemical” (I found it rather dull and tabloid grade piece of writing ) article is driven by envy/politics of envy. What is your problem if people celebrate what they think is an event worth celebrating? I see here similarities between the Islam fundamentalists who condemn the modern way of celebration culture (disco, night clubs etc) as infidel. It doesn’t make sense the poor and the people in Ethiopia are not entitled for celebration what they think is 2000th birth day of Jesus Christ. The politicians and marketing people can make the most out of it. But this is not unique in Ethiopia.

It is some thing to wave around your reservation on the over hyping of the Ethiopian millennium celebration and it is quit different to condemn the celebration with this much vigour and energy.

There is also one weirdo idea in your post. What do you mean when you say the “first and the last” Ethiopian millennium? Do you mean we don’t have a chance to celebrate the third millennium? Or you think the word millennium means only 2000 years? If it is the first one it’s very bizarre way of telling us the Armageddon is round the corner. If it is the second one I think you are wrong. Millennium means 1000 years. Do there was first a millennium, the one around the corner is the 2nd and the third will be after 1000 years and so on. Hope fully the universe will survive more than you expected it last and so is Ethiopia. By the way you can burry a millennium capsule with your thought of “first and the last” so that the future generation will judge your prediction. That is fun.

And finally we are all sad that to learn you are not joining the celebration. I am sure the celebration will go ahead with out your Excellencies presence. However we expect happiness will be in abundance on the new millennium eve, colourful light works, hugging and kissing to wish each other a prosperous happy new year and peaceful country where freedom, democracy human right will come out as victor. One thing is for sure that we all miss you dearly.

Take care for your self brother. Maybe you are on your own.

Yours Concerned

Anonymous said...

Anon 2

I think anon 1 should go back and re-read the two articles. "The First and the Last Ethiopian Millennium" seems to advise a moment of reflection and NOT outright rejection of the celebrations; "last" denotes the end of the second and beginning of the third millennium. Mr. Adisu's article is a "satire" to provoke reactions similar to the one we got from anon 1's comments. To drag in "Islam fundamentalists" "envy" is, however , a stretch and a spin on reality.

Good job, Enset, for allowing anon 1 into the forum. We need such views out in the open for all to see and learn from.

enset said...

Hi Anon1,

By using the word 'unique', I thought I was making myself understood. Apparently, I did not.

What I meant by this millennium is the "first Ethiopian millennium", what I meant was this is the first time Ethiopia is celebrating the millennium by herself. Ethiopia (or the nation that was a predecessor nation to modern Ethiopia) marked the first millennium after the birth of Jesus Christ alon with other nations since most of Christendom was still under the same (Julian) calendar.

What I meant by the "last Ethiopian millennium", I am stating my wish that this millennium will be the last time Ethiopia (or its successor nation) will observe the next millennium by heself.

As to your reference the politics of envy, I do not practice that kind of politics and I do think my views, which have been on the record since my EEDN days, reflect that.

Anonymous said...

Hello anon 2, thank you for your counter comment on my previous posting. I also do compliment your praise of the editors of this Blog.

Well, I do accept bringing Islamic fundamentalism to this mini-exchange of ides is out of proportion. Please accept my apology for that. But the envy is there to be seen vividly. There is an enthusiastic group of people out there to make this special occasion full of events and enjoy it to the full. What is wrong with that. So, why is the hard feeling? I really don’t care if they are using this for commercial purpose or a political gain. It’s up to the audience, the participant to choose what ever is good and nice during this celebration. I know the present Ethiopian rulers are up for it. But this doesn’t put me off to celebrate on my style if not their way.

Actually there is another interesting thing anon 2, which I didn’t mention on my previous comment. It goes like this: “I will not celebrate the Ethiopian millennium because… There isn't much to celebrate about Ethiopian history of the last millennium”. It is rather childish to say that. Don’t you think so Anon 2? This celebration is all about Ethiopian New Year. The extra spice comes from the fact that it is the second millennium since we start counting the date after the birth of Christ. And also every one ceases this opportunity to capitalize and progress their interest. I have no problem if ones creativity makes him multi-million profiteer as fare as he is operating within the rule of low.

Politicians of all persuasions and the current Ethiopian rulers can bit the dram of celebration loudly. Moreover they promise an extra ordinary celebration that country has ever seen. So what? Does this all put me off from celebrating Ethiopian Millennium? Not at all. Does the fact that Ethiopia hasn’t contributed that much technology, science, education and lows of civic society to the development of humanity stops me to celebrate the Ethiopian Millennium? Not in my wildest imagination.

There fore; the “no history no celebration” reasoning from Mr. Helebo is a hard logic to follow. It is hard because millennium celebration is not there to reflect on the achievements and failures of the by gone eras. May be historian can use this date to make sense out of historical events from the past 2 millenniums. It doesn’t necessarily mean that their reflection is solely on all the wonderful things, which are achieved by this generation or the past. They can talk, write and analyze about the misery and painful events of this nation too. History is not all about the great and the goods. It should be able to accommodate the tales of the weeks, the failures, and the ordinary people.

It is perfectly understandable (and acceptable) that the writer (Fikru Helebo) celebrates Ethiopian millennium provided that serious events have happened in the past. I am afraid the chance for Mr. Helebo to celebrate such a millenniums is statistically very slime. It is slim enough that one can confidently say the probability is null.

Anonymous said...

Hi Fikru,
A very courageous idea from Fikru if they do not stone you down for your ideas. I totally agree that we should forsake the existing Ethiopian calender and use only the Gregorian calender. But when it comes to new year I would always have a problem. Meskerem will remain always the begning of a new year for me.

enset said...

Hi Sewore,

You brought up a very good point I failed to address in my starting piece - the holidays. I share your sentiment that the Ethiopian New Year as well as dates for celebrating Cristmas and other religious holidays should be preserved even if the country adopts the Gregorian calendar. For example, the Chinese have their own calendar which they use to celebrate the Chinese New Year and other traditional Chinese holidays, but the Chinese now use the Gregorian calendar for official purposes. The Russians have done the same.

Why Ethiopia is still stuck in using her own caledar for official purposes at this point in time is mind boggling to me! Could this be just another symptom of our national pyche which is known to be resistant to progressive ideas?


Anonymous said...

It is interesting reading different view points. Before i turned on to this blogg page, i was reading a CNN report on how Ethiopia is preparing to cellebrate "the Millennium." Does anyone think it is worth to have a party worth of $10 million while millions and millions are starving? Malnurished?... We have a beautifull country that could self-sustain if good farming practices, health facilites and everything is done right. I know everyone would agree with me that there is no place like home, but is this how we cherrish our home? Is this the way to show how we care about our country? I am not against partying or agianst having a good time, it is fine, but i feel a little embarrased reading that the government is getting ready to kick some 90,000 beggers from the streets of Addis in preparation for "the Millenium".


Anonymous said...

I think the author's response to Sewore appears to defeat the purpose of his article. If his concern is on the official use of the calender, then it should have nothing to do with the millenium celebrations. Chinese, whom he uses for his counter-argument, also celebrate their own new year. The millenium celebration takes place in one of those new years, but just happens to be after every 1000 years.

Anonymous said...

I do recommend to you guys to read the article in bu Minga Negash titled as:

"Kosher, Haraam, Renaissance or Just a Feel Good Time?"


and the writer concludes "... a feel good moment, however short it may be, so long as it is affordable, does not harm anyone.


enset said...

Anonymous of 8/30/2007 2:52 PM,

No, I do not believe my response to Sewore defeats the arguements I made prior. If you are some one who thinks the Ethiopian calendar should be replaced by the Gregorian calendar, what better time is there to make your case than this? After all, this Ethiopian millennium is based on the Ethiopian calendar which I would like the Ethiopian nation ditch and join the rest of the world in using the Gregorian calendar, not because the Gregorian one is better than the Ethiopian one, but because it is the practical thing to do!


It seems to me you got the wrong impression that I am against Ethiopians feeling good and partying to celebrate this millennium. I am not! What I am advocating is that the partying should be less pompous while, on the other hand, there should be a lot more emphasis on national self-reflection and self-examination, which does not seem to be the case right now.

I was talking to some friends last night and one of them suggested that the millennium celebration would have been better served if it was spearheaded by civic groups rather than the highly unpopular regime in power. The occasion demands this, but I am afraid the celebration that is planned is not fit for the occasion.


Anonymous said...

Hello Fikru:

I think the dust is now settled and happy New Year mate.


Anonymous said...

Have you read this?

Anonymous said...

If you honestly think that the Ethiopian people will drop a calandar that they have used for millennia to adopt one that is completely foreign, then you are truly out of touch with who and what Ethiopians are. Thankfully I don't think anyone would even seriously consider such a preposterous idea. Why should we drop our calandar? What damage is it doing? Why do we need to drop what is uniquely ours in order to ape what the West deems is correct? I call this mental and intelectual colonialism. It is "agool seletenin" type of thinking that is so unbecoming.

Anonymous said...

I dont know why it is becoming a common thing to abondon our traditional ways in favor of the european ways specially among many ethiopians living in america and europe the use of a diffrent calender does not effect our reletionship with other nethions or it doesnt make us stupid if anything it just spice up our cultures and traditions .
I also belive the European way of telling time and the Gregorian Calender are too faulty and confusing for example they will say 7 in the morning when its 1 in the morning.To make some sence when God created the earth he first said let there be light which was the first day,we cant start a new day at mid night we start a new day when day light breaks.So lets not say we are wrong when we are dong the wright thing.

Ras Allula said...

Mr Fikrus decision not to celebrate the millenium with his compatriot is dissapointing but understandable. Unfortunately, the celebration went very well with participating headstates from other African countries. In the Diaspora, the same festive was celebrated with great ferver. All this because we are unique thanks to our CALANDER.
Somewhere in the bible it says "would a lepord change his spot nor an Ethiopian change the color of his skin?"
sorry, the last thing I want is to confirm to the so called western standard......which is nothing but full of decadence.