Rend Thy Chains

About Eritrea - History & Culture

Xom Arba’a or the Lent as it is known is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days. All churches that have a continuous history extending before AD 1500 observe Lent. The ancient church that wrote, collected, canonized, and propagated the New Testament also observed Lent, believing it to be a commandment from the apostles.
As to the scriptures, “There is a time for everything” Ecc 3:1. In the Orthodox and Catholic Church there are seasons set for fasting. One of these seasons is the Great fast; also known as “Abi Xom”.

Here and now we welcomed this great fast, February 20th 2017. Great fast is a fasting time set for self examination through a devout time of prayer. It is a time of contemplation and repentance. It is such an important time we set to invite God to our heart for conversation.

Literary speaking fasting is abstaining from food (eating and drinking) as a religious duty that is required of all believers. During Lent, the Church is open every day, for longer periods (4 am-22:30pm) with the church service held at noon. Followers fast during the 55 day Lenten period. No dairy products, meat, fish or eggs are eaten. Fasting is an act of sacrifice, which means an act of self-denial and humiliation under the hands of God. It is denying comfort to our flesh, and feeding strength to our spiritual personality. As St. John Chrysostom put it, “fasting implies not only abstinence from food, but from sins also. The fast, he insists, should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all the members of the body: the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, the hands from acts of injustice.”
After 55 days of abstaining from siga( Meat) and dairy products, Easter arrives with the glad tidings of Jesus’s resurrection and with the pervasive smell of siga and tesmi(Ghee).
Enqua stome l’guam fethehalkum (roughly translated as: We thank you Almighty God for declaring open season on sheep and goats.)

But unknown to many of those who fast, animals such as cats and dogs have also been indirectly fasting in spite of themselves. Some domestic animals do greatly suffer during the fasting season. Victims of collateral damage!

Imagine a dog or a cat eating dried bread for the whole duration of the Lent just because its owner is fasting. And then one fine morning in the month of May, a sheep or a goat is slaughtered right before the unbelievable eyes of Simba, the dog. A piece of bone stained with blood is thrown at him, while Lili, the cat, is invited to partake of a chunk of non-kosher meat. Both are very happy. Of course, they don’t know it is Easter, but somehow they feel that there is something special about the day.

Easter rituals start with Hossanna (Palm Sunday). People are accustomed here to craft rings from palm leaves. You need special skill to make it.

And then we have H’mamat (Passion or the Suffering of Jesus Christ from the Last Supper until his Crucifixion). Many people abstain from worldly things like dancing and boozing. The days after Hosanna are a bit gloomy. However, Hamus Stegbo (Maundy Thursday) seems to brighten things up a little bit. Boiled legumes are given to children and adults alike. One can eat as much as one likes.

All this time, mothers are busy buying new clothes and footwear for the children. The more children you have, the more you worry. Sometimes you wish you had used birth control pills. The nine children you brought into this world are going to cost you a lot of money. Now you have to take anger control pills.

And then comes Arbi Siklet (Good Friday). Again, back to square one. Gloom takes over. Some people wear the Christ’s thorn or Spina Christ, a spreading shrub belonging to the GABA, around their head. Women go to church and repeat Kyrie Eleison until four or five in the afternoon.

Of all the days of H’mamat, Saturday is the most mysterious. To start with it doesn’t have a special name like Good Friday or Maundy Thursday. And you don’t know what to do with it the whole day.

Anyway, it is the day when people go to the cattle market and haggle the whole day with diehard merchants who don’t give a damn to how people feel about the astronomical price they quote. Some buyers prefer to ambush the peasants who come to town to sell their livestock.

But even these are no less crafty than the experienced sheep and goat dealers in the sheep market.

“How much?”

“2000 Nka”

“Tell me frankly, young man. Did you really bring your sheep to town to sell them?”

“Well, what else do you think I brought them here for? To show them the Liberty Avenue?”

The father who goes to the sheep market has come back home with something that bleats even if it looked like a sickly wolf. And then how to get it home is a problem. He paid 2000 for it, and he has to pay another 100 or 200 Nfa for transport. Well, he says, I will carry it on my shoulders. But he came to the market on a bike. He has now to think fast. He has never been to a circus before. How can you balance a goat or a sheep on your shoulders, while cycling? You simply carry it piggyback, get its front and hind legs and tie them right in front.

Drum rolls and the spectacle is to begin. Clickety-Click……. Riiiing…..Riiing…..Baaaaaaa…… baaaa.

“Mom! Daddy has come with a goat” shout the children.

“Thanks God,” sighs the wife.

“It is highway robbery.” groans the Father.

The next morning it is Fass’ga (Easter) officially known as Tinsa’e (Resurrection). Fass’ga (from Greek paskha, via Aramaic, from Hebrew pesa) is the meat-day par excellence. Good-bye hamli (greens) till we meet again and good morning siga weddi axmi (meat and bones).

But the ritual doesn’t end here. We will start with panettone (a tall Italian yeast cake flavored with Vanilla and dried and candied fruits, traditionally eaten in Christmas).
Buying panettone during all kinds of holidays has become a must in this country. There are now several brands with varying tastes raging from wood to sugar cane. Although some can compete with Italian products, the rest are simply packaged himbashas. Shop owners put up fights to get them from bakeries. A holiday without panettone is like Christmas without Santa Claus.

Noontime and the boys are still playing outside. The father is downtown probably washing his guts with beer for a heavy lunch. The ladies are busy putting the last touch here and there.

To make a long story short, the whole family, including relatives from far away villages, do justice to the food and drink.

“Nice meat. Surely it was a healthy sheep, “Says the father slurping, munching and gnawing like a lion.

The children tear up meat from pieces of bones like lion cubs. The mother takes her time to eat like a real lioness.

“I bought it for 2000 nka,” boasts the father.

The children are waiting for the time to have their share of panettone. The women are waiting for the time to drink their coffee in peace.

Everybody is happy.

R’hus Tinsa’e! Happy Easter!

Last Updated (Saturday, 15 April 2017 06:15)