Festival politicised after power shift

Celebration of the annual Ashenda festival has just finished in Ethiopia. It’s an Orthodox Christian tradition in the north of the country connected with Mary’s ascension. The festivities follow the end of Lent, ahead of the Ethiopian new year.

Women wear traditional clothing, braid their hair and sing and dance in the streets late into the night – without men. So the celebration has always been associated with a temporary increase in freedom for women.

This year Ashenda took place against a backdrop of a major political power shift in the country, away from the ethnic Tigrayan elite to a more centralised structure dominated by the other, larger groups.

Previously, the festival was widely seen as belonging predominantly to the Tigrayans, but this year’s celebration was bigger than usual and spread to several other regions, sparking lively debate, especially on social media. 

Some Tigrayans claim Ashenda belongs to them, and that the spreading of the celebrations is a thinly veiled attempt to erase the importance of their culture and history.

Many Ethiopians, however, see a more inclusive festival as a way of strengthening peace and community in a time of increasing ethnic and political tensions. People I met in the capital, Addis Ababa, viewed the festivities as a celebration of national diversity.

For example, 21-year-old Arsema Tsehaye took part for the first time and hopes that future Ashendas will be widely and proudly enjoyed: “I’m happy about the possibility of learning more about Ethiopian culture and making contact with people from different traditions.”

//Hiwot Abebe, Etiopien

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.