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Posted on Sunday, October 22 - 2006

Bet Giyorgis church, Lalibela

Copyright © Montreal Gazette

Ethiopia's northern highlands are a window on a land that time has forgotten. Over the course of two millennia, kings and emperors created a legacy of palaces, churches and monasteries.Many of the sites are found in and around Lake Tana, Gonder and Aksum. However the jewel in Ethiopia's north is the poor, mountain village of Lalibela, set in a rocky and arid landscape dotted with groves of twisted olive trees.Its churches constitute the most remarkable part of what Ethiopians call "the historic tour" - a several-day circuit through ancient Christian kingdoms that flourished in the northern highlands beginning in the 4th century.According to legend, Syrian monks crossed the Red Sea then and converted the Aksumite king, Ezana, from paganism to Christianity.

Over the following centuries, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church spread throughout the country.
For decades, however, access to the historic sites, and to Ethiopia in general, has been subject to the vagaries of politics, war and famine. In the five relatively calm years since the end of a savage war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, its former territory, tourists have returned to Ethiopia. Lalibela has remained essentially unchanged for a millennium, and its ancient Christian churches, carved out of reddish limestone by royal craftsmen at the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th centuries, remain one of the world's best kept secrets. The largest of these churches, the 33-metre-longrock-hewn Medhane Alem (Saviour of the World), is roughly one-third the size of the Parthenon in Athens. Inside a priest clutches a 900-year-old processional cross. This national treasure, believed to have healing powers, belonged to King Lalibela - the ruler who is thought to be responsible for building the 11 spectacular churches in this mountainside town. The priest shows me biblical texts written on goat-skin parchment as old as the cross. I'm struck by the detail and colour of the illuminated pages. There are images of Christ, the Virgin Mary and martyred saints. In other countries, these ancient relics would be off limits to the public, but at Medhane Alem church, visitors come into direct contact with history. Lichen-spotted Bet Gyorgius, named after Ethiopia's patron saint, St. George, is Lalibela's most impressive monument. Thechurch,......

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Posted on Saturday, September 30 - 2006

The Dogan people of west of Africa have a detailed knowledge of the universe that is astonishingly accurate. was it as they claim, passed on by Ancient astronauts? Like many African tribes, the Dogon people of the Republic of Mali have a shadowed past. They settled on the Bandiagara Plateau, where they now live, some time between the 13th and 16th centuries. For most of the year, their homeland - 300 miles (500 km) south of Timbuktu - is a desolate, arid, rocky terrain of cliffs and gorges, dotted with small villages built from mud and straw. Although most anthropologists would class them as 'primitive', the two million people who make up the Dogon and surrounding tribes would not agree with this epithet. Nor do they deserve it, except in the sense that their way of life has changed little over the centuries. Indifferent though they are to Western technology, their philosophy and religion is both rich and complex. Outsiders who have lived with them, and learned to accept the simplicity of their lives, speak of them as a happy, fulfilled people whose attitude to the essential values of life dates back millennia.

Visitors From Sirius: The Dogon do, however, make one astounding claim; that they were originally taught and 'civilised' by creatures from outer space - specifically, from the star system Sirius, 8.7 light years away. And they back up this claim with what seems to be extraordinarily detailed knowledge of astronomy for such a 'primitive' and isolated tribe. Notably, they know that Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, which is small, dense, and extremely heavy. This is perfectly accurate. But its existence was not even suspected by Western astronomers until the middle of the 19th century; and it was not described in detail until the 1920s, nor photographed (so dim is this star, known as Sirius B) until 1970. This curious astronomical fact forms the central tenet of Dogon mythology. It is enshrined in their most secret rituals. portrayed in sand drawings, built into their sacred architecture, and can be seen in carvings and patterns woven into their blankets - designs almost certainly dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years.

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Posted on Monday, July 17 - 2006

News coming out of Zimbabwe has been surreal for quite some time, but from this month it could become even more so, as witchcraft and wizardry are legal again after a 107-year ban. But if President Robert Mugabe's new legislation is applied humanely then only good witches will find any solace in it, as the act prohibits the practice of witchcraft by people who use their supernatural powers to harm others.The 1899 prohibition which made it illegal to accuse anyone of being a witch or a wizard was perhaps a wise colonial decree because to this day throughout sub-Saharan Africa people accused of being witches are killed unpleasantly in traditional ceremonies which bypass national laws.Among the most recent recorded mass burnings of witches were thoseorganised by Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, who killed scores of women – and their children – on public bonfires after tapping into deeply held tribal beliefs about witchcraft.

In reality, the victims tended to be women who had refused Savimbi's sexual advances.But with inflation now at 1200% and a loaf of bread costing more than one million Zimbabwean dollars, some agree that you need a bit of magic to keep body and soul together.Professor Gordon Chavunduka, a former vice-chancellor at the University of Zimbabwe and chairman of the 50,000-strong Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers' Association, were delighted at Mugabe's thumbs-up to wizardry. “Witchcraft and tokoloshes are making a comeback, he said.Tokoloshes, familiar to anyone living in southern Africa, may stretch the imagination of even JK Rowling devotees, but Google has nearly 20,000entries devoted to these tiny demons who cause havoc out of all proportion to their size. First-time visitors to the region are often puzzled by the fact that so many Africans have their beds raised high on piles of bricks to prevent tokoloshes getting into bed with them. Women have a particularly good reason to fear tokoloshes as sleeping partners. The creatures arrive naked in the dead of night, though sometimes covered by a cloak which makes them invisible, and try to impregnate women. Vendors of muti (traditional medicine) all over southern Africa sell and advertise products for protection against tokoloshes.

user posted image View: Full Article | Source: Sunday Herald

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Posted on Tuesday, January 03 - 2006

The Axum Obelisk in Rome.

Ato Gebrmedihin, who estimates his age at about 90, remembers when Italy's invading army in 1937 looted this ancient city's 1,700-year-old, intricately carved obelisk, on the orders of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who wanted to mark his brief occupation of Ethiopia."Their van kept breaking down as they tried to rush to the airport with our heavy monument," the gray-bearded Gebrmedihin recalled with a chuckle. "But they eventually fixed the truck. Then they took our stele away."Earlier this year, the 180-ton, 80-foot granite obelisk — a tombstone and monument to ancient rulers — was returned from a square in central Rome andflown in three parts to this northern town.

A national holiday was proclaimed.
It was a triumphant moment, a belated boost to historical pride on a continent where antiquities were often plundered by colonial powers. But today, the dismembered obelisk still waits in two metal shacks, covered with blankets and a tarp, while residents debate how much of the present they are willing to disturb to recover Ethiopia's distant past. While investigating a proposed site to erect the obelisk, archaeologists using high-tech imaging discovered a network of underground royal tombs. The discovery of more ancient artifacts has launched renewed interest in Aksum, a powerful kingdom that ruled the Horn of Africa from the 1st to the 6th century A.D. and was one of the four great civilizations at that time, alongside Rome, China andPersia. But the historical finds have led to a confrontation with modern community concerns. In recent weeks, community meetings have been held in which residents were asked whether they would agree to vacate their property so historians could dig under their huts and through their farms. Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest and least developed nations, is believed to contain some of civilization's oldest archaeological troves under its rocky soil. Experts estimate that less than 7 percent of these artifacts have been found, meaning that Ethiopia could be on the brink of the same kind of major archaeological discoveries that began in late 19th-century Greece or 1920s Egypt. In 1980, Aksum was proclaimed a world heritage site by UNESCO, which called it "one of the last great civilizations of antiquity to be revealed tomodern know......

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