Asmara Eritrea - September 27th 2005
Many thousands of followers of
the Christian faith, priests, monks, children and a few tourists are
gathered on Bahti Meskerem Square in the center of Asmara, to observe the celebration of
Meskel, one of Eritrea's most significant religious holidays and spiritual
events, marking the discovery of the True Cross (on which Jesus was crucified)
by Queen Eleni (Saint Helena) in the fourth century.
I am a bit late. I join the
camera men of ERI-TV, staying close behind them, to prevent hindering them
in doing their work, and in a perfect position to witness all events: the
speech of the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the drama, the prayers,
and the rituals.
The Asmara police and some
military men make sure that the public will not enter the circle around
the 'Damera', the bonfire at the center that is blessed by a group of
priests, circling in a procession around the Damera three times. the
massive wooden construction is sprinkled with kerosene, and set on fire by Semere Russom,
administrator of the zone around Asmara.
The burning of the bonfire is based on the belief that Elena
followed smoke from burning incense to the location of the True Cross. Once she found it, she notified her son
by lighting a large fire on a mountain.
The direction in which the
Damera collapses is also said to predict prosperity or adversity, good or
bad harvests after the rainy season.
Both the public and the
priests come forward, in an attempt to have their picture made with the burning
Damera on the background, while the police is hunting groups of children,
coming to close to the fire, some even trying to grab a still burning
'souvenir' from the pile of wooden poles.
Using sign-language, I ask the
police if I can enter the circle, to picture the Damera, when is is about
to collapse. It is ok. I make my pictures and politely withdraw, to allow
others to make some nice pictures as well.
Afterwards the charcoal from
the remains of the fire is collected by the faithful and used to mark
their foreheads with the shape of a cross.
Religious participants. Celebration of Meskel -
Religious rituals. Celebration of Meskel -
Ornately robed priests carrying
gold plated Coptic crosses .
Celebration of Meskel - Bahti Meskerem Square Asmara.
Chanting spiritual songs. Celebration of Meskel -
Celebration of Meskel -
Religious drama. Celebration of Meskel -
Ritual and religious music. Celebration of Meskel -
Blessing of the Damera by the priests. Celebration of Meskel -
Being pictured with the
Damera. Celebration of Meskel -
The Damera collapses. Celebration of Meskel -