The fact that Yaahode Masqala shares one of its month-long celebration days with Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Cross Day is purely accidental.
There is a tendency in the dominant culture in Ethiopia to associate Yahode Maskqalaa with the “finding of the cross of Jesus” of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. This is a completely inaccurate understanding of the most cherished, month-long, new year celebration of the people of Hadiya and many other groups in the southern part of Ethiopia. (I will mostly use Hadiya in the rest of this article as a representative.)
That is not to say that the Church crated this myth. We can attribute this to the lack of knowledge about history, culture, and values of the people of Hadiya and that of other southerners who continue to face marginalization at the country level. It is not surprising that their histories and cultures, too, continue to face marginalization.
For the church that meaning is valid, but the conflation is inappropriate when it comes to what this holiday means for the Hadiya. It is tantamount to re-writing of history of the people. More than that, it is equivalent to creating new history for the people.
There is no issue with Hadiya followers of Orthodox Tewahido, Protestantism, Catholic religions celebrating these two holidays together, but with the knowledge that they are two different things historically and culturally and with a deep understanding that the proximity of dates is just a matter of accidental coincidence.
By assigning the Yahode Masqalaa religious meaning rather than the cultural one, Ethiopia’s dominant culture somewhat successfully excluded Muslim Ethiopians from the cultural aspects of the celebration and their ancestral heritage. On the day of ‘Mesqel’ ETV, Walta, Fana, and other outlets open their broadcast by saying something like “ለክርትና ሀይማኖት ተከታዮች እንኩዋን ለብርሃነ መስቀሉ አደረሳችሁ”, roughly translated as “Happy Mesqel holiday for all Christians” This is an absolute outrage for the people of Hadiya coming from the tax payers supported (includes the Hadiya) national media.
Because of this and other misrepresentations being repeated endlessly for many years, I have observed some Muslim Hadiya trying to distance themselves from this great celebration. I have observed this nationwide as well.
I grew up in a Protestant immediate family, but my family converted from Islam when I was only 2. Most of my extended family members are still Muslims. I have familiarity to both traditions because they are both part of our family, “abaroosa”, in Hadiyysa.
Yahoode Masqala was just as sacred to the Islam part of our abaroosa as it was to the Christian part. And thankfully it still is in our abaroosa. I fear that this may not be true for other families because of Yahodee Masqala’s false association with Christianity alone in the mainstream culture.
Mistaken association has profound consequences
- it is exclusionary without historic justification to Islamic Hadiya, southerners, and Ethiopia in general. It is separating them from the holiday that their ancestors cherished for countless generations. And this is damaging for the Hadiya, other southern nations, and the country as a whole
- history will be distorted for good for generations to come in Ethiopia
- it trivializes people’s cultures, traditions, and ways of life. Yahode Masqala is part of the identity of the Hadiya
- if this goes unchallenged and uncorrected, it will be a case of dominant culture successfully dispossessing cultural asset from the minority communities.
Evidence that Yahoode Masqala is not the same as Mesqel
What are the evidence that Yahoode Masqala, most sacred of annual celebrations, is not the same as Mesqel observed by Christians around the same time of the year? Here are a few:
- Orthodox has never been a dominant religion in Hadiya and most southern communities, not even distantly. Is it is impossible for Yahoode, the celebration that has the biggest value for the people, to arise from a religion that has never been dominant in the cultures concerned
- Yahode predates any Christian influence ever touching the Hadiya and other southern communities. Orthodox Christianity’s history in the southern Ethiopia relative to Yahodee Masqala is a short one. Protestantism even shorter
- for the Hadiya (and other southerners), Yahode is regarded as the beginning of new year among other things. That is not true for Orthodox Christians
- while the biggest of holidays for Hadiya (and other southerners) is Yahode, Fasika is the biggest for the Orthodox Christians. That will not be possible if Yahode had Orthodox Christian roots for Hadiya
- the fact that the followers of both Islamic and Christian faiths fully cherished and celebrated Yahode for generations by itself leads one to concluded that this holiday has no association with a particular religion for Hadiya and other southerners
For these reasons, journalist need to be willing to learn and teach the people rather than spread ignorance. Anthropologists, historians, and other scholars need to start correcting myths in Ethiopia, including this. They need to get out of the ivory towers offices and teach the true origins of these holidays in popular media. People of the Hadiya and other southern nations need to start fighting these distortions of their cultural assets. They have a special obligated to do so.