ENCYCLOPAEDIA

AETHIOPICA
Volume 4
O – X
Edited by
Siegbert Uhlig
Editorial Board
Baye Yimam
Alessandro Bausi
Donald Crummey
Gianfranco Fiaccadori
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2010

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th
cent. A.D.,
diameter 16 mm,
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361
Religion(s)
swt/w-bdh (RIÉ 185 ii.25, 185 bis ii c.44; RIÉ
270 bis.37: COTATE -c. BEAlE) that are offered
to the same deity.
Pre-Christian deities were often seen as protec-
tors to whom certain objects could be entrusted:
e.g., votive thrones (GéŸéz mänbär, Gr. o. 1cc:).
In one case, such a throne was offered to ŸAstär,
Béher and Médr (RIÉ 188.24–26), in the second,
to Ares or Mährém (RIÉ 277.42–43). Likewise,
a stone basin (zgl) was put under the protection
of ŸAstär and Médr (RIÉ 198 i). The “trilingual”
inscription was entrusted (GéŸéz ýbý, *ýabéýa ‘to
offer’ in RIÉ 185 I.20, 185 II:20–21, but ýmhìn,
*amahìänä ‘to entrust’ in RIÉ 185 bis I:22, 185 bis
IIC:34, Gr. c |- )n-c … -c. ¬cc-)- un|, ‘dedicated
… and offered’ in RIÉ 270bis.29–30) to ŸAstär,
Béher (Médr in RIÉ 185 II.21) and Mährém (to
Uranus, Gæa and Ares in the Greek version).
One can suppose that the essential elements of
traditional religious concepts in Ethiopia – such
as beliefs in the ÷spirits, ÷possession cults,
÷magic etc. – were also important features of the
pre-Christian beliefs of the Aksumites. This may
be reflected in oral traditions of the Ethiopian
highlands and in local historiography, where
the pre-Christian veneration of the ÷serpent is
a recurrent theme. However, evidence of these
aspects of Aksumite R. is scarce.
Some hints can be gleaned from the mon-
olythic ÷stelae of Aksum (Fattovich 1987; Phil-
lipson 1994). The stela (hwlt) at ÷Mätära, as its
inscription possibly suggests, may be connected
with the cult of ÷ancestors (RIÉ 223, cf. Drewes
1962: 67f.). Since at least the 1
st
–2
nd
cent. A.D.,
stelae were used for funerary purposes, marking
the elite tombs. The “false doors”, appearing not
only on the storeyed stelae but also elsewhere in
funerary architecture, were probably an essential
element in Aksumite beliefs concerning post-
mortem phenomena (s. Phillipson 1994: 208).
Funerary rites of the pre-Christian Aksum-
ite society remain obscure. The use of rock-cut
tombs and stone sarcophagi was not rare, but all
the sepulchres (cp. ÷Graves) have been looted.
The discovery of animal bones and charcoal in
some sites possibly indicates certain sacrificial
ceremonies on the occasion of death and burial.
Src.: DAE I–IV; RIÉ I–III.
Lit.: BrakKirche 37–42; DAE IV, 13; Abraham Johannes
Drewes, Inscriptions de l’Éthiopie antique, Leiden 1962,
65–70; Rodolfo Fattovich, “Some Remarks on the Ori-
gins of the Aksumite Stelae”, AE 14, 1987, 43–69; Maria
Höfner, “Die Semiten Äthiopiens”, in: Hans W. Haussig –
Egidius Schmalzriedt (eds.), Wörterbuch der Mytholo-
gie, I: Götter und Mythen im Vorderen Orient, Stuttgart
1965, 555–67; Jurij MikhajloviÓ KobišÓanov, Aksum,
Moskva 1966 [tr. Axum, University Park, PA 1979], 249–
68; MHAksum 125–43, 196–202, 221–27, 255ff.; RIÉ III,
5–15, 32–45, 47–52; David Walter Phillipson, “The Sig-
nificance and Symbolism of Aksumite Stelae”, Cambridge
Archaeological Journal 4, 1994, 189–210; Roger Schnei-
der, [Review of Kobišóanov 1979], JES 17, 1984, 148–74.
Serguei A. Frantsouzoff
Traditional religions
A wide range of religious systems existed
throughout the history of the Ethiopian and Eri-
trean region and many still are practised. Here,
only a few examples can be mentioned within a
rough phenomenological framework. The tech-
nical term “traditional R.” is one of many possi-
ble attempts to categorize religions which cannot
be considered as universal world religions (such
as Buddhism, ÷Christianity, ÷Islam, ÷Judaism)
or other global religious movements (e.g.,
÷Bahai, ÷Rastafarianism). Alternative terms
may be “folk-religions”, “ethnic religions”, “lo-
cal religions”, “autochthonous religions”, “non-
Abrahamic religions” or combinations of these
terms. Most designations, including “traditional
R.” itself, are unbalanced or limited in their con-
ceptional perspective and may cause misunder-
standings. The words “traditional” or “local”,
for instance, are problematic because also Islam
and Christianity follow “traditions” and obvi-
ously have local dimensions and forms. In the
case of the ÷Betä Ésraýel, their relatively recent
self-definition of being part of Judaism, relates
this regional faith to a global phenomenon.
Christians and Muslims frequently despise
followers of Ethiopian traditional R. as “un-
believers”, “idolaters” or “pagans” (Amh. !:
x_, arämawi, Arab. kafir; for the Christian
Orthodox view on traditional R. s. also ÷Arwe;
÷Däsk; ÷Demons). Likewise, traditional R. are
subsumed under terms like “superstition”, “sor-
cery” or ÷“magic”. With a similarly one-sided
view, based on cultural evolutionism, scholars
categorized a great variety of different religions
under superordinate concepts, like “primitive
religion”, “animism” or “natural religion”. The
term “animism”, which today is sometimes used
in the context of African religions as a neutral
term, reflects an outdated 19
th
-cent. anthropo-
logical concept, first discussed by Edward Tylor
in 1871, which is not adequate for most of them.
There are practically no features which can be
exclusively found in traditional R. nor, at least
to some degree, in those world religions present
362
Religion(s)
in Ethiopia; this is due to reciprocal influences
throughout history as well as independently
evolved structural parallelism. However, in com-
parison with Christianity and Islam some peculiar
characteristics of traditional R. may be identified:
(1) traditional R. mainly rely on orality; (2) they
are less systematized or standardized and, there-
fore, (3) comparatively open to ÷syncretism and
co-existence with other religions; (4) they are of-
ten characterized by pluralism/parallelism of rela-
tively independent local cults rather than having a
unified church-like institution; (5) institutions of
traditional R. are not separable from the culture in
which they are embedded. They form an integral
part of the socio-religious system or holistic social
order (e.g., ÷Aadaa, ÷Seera) and their ethics are
inseparable from it; (6) in most cases they are exclu-
sively practised among members of a single ethnic
group (a prominent exception being some ÷Pos-
session cults, s. esp. ÷Zar and ÷Gäramango).
Religious experts
Although a great part of religious or ritual tasks
can be carried out by every member of a society
that meets the defined ritual requirements, such as
gender, age, initiation status, ritual purity etc., au-
tochtonous folk-religions in many aspects rely on
persons with special religious or magico-religious
skills, knowledge and charisma. Fields of exper-
tise may be, e.g., transmission of cultural knowl-
edge, blessing (and cursing), protection against the
“evil eye” (÷Buda) or magical attacks, ÷oracles
and divination, ÷rainmaking, spirit mediumship,
communication with the animal world (s., e.g.,
÷Hyenas, ÷Leopards, ÷Monkeys, ÷Serpents),
ensuring success in war or in hunting and ÷sac-
rifices. Many religious experts are also ÷healers
and practitioners of traditional ÷medicine. The
sources of authority and legitimation of religious
office-holders which in combination constitute
their “symbolic” or “religious capital” (Pierre
Bourdieu) may be magical or healing skills, tra-
ditional knowledge, the descent from a culture
hero or spiritual being as well as the possession of
magical objects or ownership of a holy place.
The spectrum of religious experts ranges from
persons specialized in very limited fields to those
who combine a broad range. While the fame of
some does not exceed the boundaries of their
village descent group, others can obtain even a
trans-ethnic following. Some religious office-
holders combine their religious charisma with
political authority while others fulfil merely
spiritual duties. Often religious experts serve as
arbitrators. Many socio-religious systems estab-
lish a division of “ritual labour” among differ-
ent segments of society in which specific clans or
moieties, occupational groups (cp., e.g., ÷Fuga,
÷Blacksmiths [÷Iron], the Mango of Dawro
etc.) and members of other ethnic groups pro-
vide specific ritual services.
A characteristic feature of many socio-reli-
gious systems in Ethiopia is the institution of
divine ÷kingship in which a priestly king is
symbolically placed at the centre of the “socio-
cosmological” order. In a similar way, in many
polycephalous societies high-priests of tradition-
al R. are venerated as homme fétiche. Their cults
in many aspects (esp. ÷Taboos) resemble the
rites and the symbolism centred around a sacred
king. This is true, for example, in the case of the
÷abbaa muuda and other religious experts of the
÷Oromo traditional R., such as ÷qaallu. Similar
features shaped, e.g., the cults of the Hawzulla
spirit medium of ÷Kambaata (BrKam 261–66)
and the priests of the Gurage deities (s. below).
Among the ÷Surmic-speakers, a rather egalitar-
ian society, ritual leaders, called ÷komoru, com-
bine religious and political functions.
As mediators between the human and spiritual
world (or as representatives of certain spirits, such
as the gäramango of ÷Käfa and the saýamär dam of
÷Éndägañ), religious experts in exchange for their
blessing or other services often receive regular or
occasional ÷gifts from their adherents. Before the
Ethiopian Revolution, these gifts often took the
form of quasi-tribute in cattle, butter, honey etc.
For those religious experts who were exempted
from agricultural work by the taboo regulations
connected to their office, this income maintained
their large households and shrines as well as per-
mitted a redistribution of goods during ÷feasts.
Rituals
While the cosmological and philosophical ideas
of traditional R. in most cases do not develop into
doctrinal systems but are encoded in myths and
folk wisdom, ritual practice can be very elabo-
rate. Main ritual occasions are seasonal feasts and
ceremonies connected to the life cycle. Such rites
de passage are ÷birth, ÷initiation (s. also ÷Cir-
cumcision), ÷marriage (s. also ÷Weddings), and
death (÷Burials).
A common feature of religious rites is the ÷sac-
rifice in which something, e.g., a twig, solanum
fruits, coffe e, a slaughtered animal or ÷incense
363
Religion(s)
etc., is dedicated to, and then often symbolically
shared with, the spiritual sphere. Examples from
the Oromo cultural context are the ÷dibaayyuu
and the ÷buttaa qallaa ceremonies.
Many rituals are based on the concept of bless-
ing, i.e. the distribution of a kind of subtle super-
natural principle that heals, protects and brings
fertility. However, when employed with destruc-
tive intention or by unauthorized or ritually im-
pure persons, the very same principle can be dan-
gerous. Blessing may be interpreted as a medium
in which supernatural power can be possessed
and transmitted by humans. A typical blessing
ritual is the Oromo ÷muudaa ceremony in which
blessing is transmitted by anointment. Other
important ritual practices are (1) formal and in-
formal prayers (i.e. reflection, asking for things,
praising), (2) ÷fasting (s., e.g., ÷Fandanaano)
and the observance of ÷food avoidance rules,
and (3) ÷pilgrimage to holy places (for Oromo s.,
e.g., ÷Giila), which allows participants to receive
blessings and to express their religious devotion
as well as their social identity.
The human and the supernatural spheres
The belief in and the communication with spir-
itual beings is one of the basic features of tra-
ditional R. There is no sharp dividing line be-
tween the supernatural, the natural and the social
spheres. The supernatural interferes directly into
human affairs by the forces of nature and fate.
Spiritual beings express their will by way of spirit
possession, prophesies and signs. They may also
intervene directly, which is especially the case in
myths of origin, were they often act as creators
(e.g., the deity Zabi of the ÷Ubamär) or as cul-
ture heros (e.g., Ulawada, a venerated ancestor of
the ÷Banna, VSAe I, 316ff.).
The typology of spiritual beings, deities and
÷spirits is complex; often a differentiated, but not
clearly systematized pantheon exists. The (lower)
spirits are believed to roam near or amongst the
people or in the wilderness. While some of them
are directly connected to individuals or specific
descent groups (e.g., the spirits of martial “heros”
or ÷ancestors), others are connected to certain
animals, natural phenomena or magical objects.
The hierarchical pyramid of spiritual beings, in
many cases, is headed by a single, often celestial,
deity (e.g., Magano in ÷Sidaama traditional R. or
Ana in ÷Kunama) or, as is wide-spread in Ethio-
pia, by a dichotomy of a sky-god and a god(ess)
of the earth. Examples are the Oromo male deity
÷Waaqa and his female counterpart Lafa (‘earth,
land’; cp. ÷Ateetee; VSAe II, 561–65) or, in Käfa,
the sky-god Yero or Šima tato and the Earth or
Šowo tato (cp. Lange 1982: 286). The Konso re-
ligion recognizes the male sky-god Waga, who
is linked to rain, thunder, social order and war,
and a female chthonic deity associated with fer-
tility (Hallpike 1972: 222–304). The traditional
R. of the Gurage is centred around a divine triad
consisting of the protecting spirit of the female
sphere ÷Däm
w
am
w
it, the thunder spirit and
guardian of social order ÷Boïïä and the spirit of
war, ÷Waq; the latter venerated in various local
forms. Above this triad is a deus otiosus by the
name of Égzer (from Christian ÷Égziýabéhér).
The pantheon of the Ubamär traditional R. in-
cludes Zabi, the sky-god and creator, Beri, the
earth- and fertility-godess, and Sosi, who pun-
ishes wrong-doers and represents the forces of
destruction (VSAe I, 177f.).
Soul and afterlife
Concepts concerning the soul and the afterlife
are manifold. Among the Konso, for example, it
is thought that when common people die, their
breath (nesa) is taken by the sky-god Waga, their
vitality (lupoda) ends, but the ‘shadow person’
(katiliida) becomes a ghost (kareeya) that dwells
on earth (Hallpike 1972: 160). The traditional
soul concept of the Kambaata is centred around
the life principle foole which leaves the body
when the heartbeat stops and then enters into
the hereafter, which is paradise for some and hell
for others (BrKam 274f.). The Oromo locate the
soul in the ‘throat’ (lubbo) or in the heart (onnee).
Death is defined by the end of ‘breath’ (afuura)
and by onne leaving the body. Ideas of an after-
life varied and are diffuse (VSAe II, 571).
Modern situation
The strong influence of the various Christian
missions and Islam but also, after the Revolution,
the “anti-superstition” policy of the government
inspired by Marxism-Leninism as well as the
ideological dominance of modern scientism has
considerably weakened traditional R. This the
more so, because modern development has led to
a still ongoing, profound culture change which
often has a disintegrating effect on “traditional”
socio-religious systems. In some cases this proc-
ess has resulted in their complete disappearance.
According to the 2007 Ethiopian Census, 2.6 %
of the entire population professed one of the tra-
364
Religion(s)
ditional R. (CSA 2008) but a higher percentage
of occasional practitioners can be assumed.
However, some ethnic identity movements
(÷Ethnicity) choose traditional R. as markers of
ethnic distinction and sources of pride; a limited
revival can be observed. Furthermore, t.R. survives
as a strong element in new syncretistic cults estab-
lished by local “prophets” or ÷qalléóóa and mod-
ern religious movements, such as, e.g., the aqaat
qaal of the ÷Aari (s. Alexander Naty 2006).
÷Eqo; ÷Time and Space
Src.: CSA 2008, 17.
Lit.: Alexander Naty, “The ak'aat k'aal Movement among
the Aari People of South-west Ethiopia”, Aethiopica 9,
2006, 49–63; BartOrom; BrKam 247f.; Jan Brøgger, Belief
and Experience among the Sidamo: a Case Study towards an
Anthropology of Knowledge, London 1986; Dirk Bustorf,
“Some Notes on the Traditional Religion of the Éndägañ”,
in: VarAeth 12–34; HabKön; Christopher R. Hallpike,
The Konso of Ethiopia, Oxford 1972, 222–304; Werner J.
Lange, History of the Southern Gonga (Southwestern Ethi-
opia), Wiesbaden 1982 (SKK 61), 286; Id., Gimira (Rem-
nants of a Vanishing Culture), Ph.D. thesis, Johann Wolf-
gang von Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main 1975,
104–17, 147–58, 236–62, 290–307; VSAe I–III, s. indices.
Dirk Bustorf
Rema
R. (>x, also >zU Remha) is an island situated
near the eastern shores of Lake ÷Tana (for loca-
tion s. map for Q
w
äraìa), known for a church and
a monastery dedicated to the Savior of the World
(Mädòane ŸAläm).
The alleged foundation of Rema Mädòane ŸAläm
in the early Solomonic period is ascribed to abba
÷Nob. Ase ÷Yéshaq ordered the commemoration
of his brother Nob, as confirmed by records in the
monastic libraries of the Lake Tana islands (Fiac-
cadori 1998: 46ff.; HamTana II, 168). Thanks to this
royal connection, the foundation enjoyed an impor-
tant status in the 15
th
cent., as witnessed by grants
by Yéshaq probably from 1419 (CrumLand 41).
Later, the neighbouring monasteries ÷Tana
Qirqos and ÷Daga Éstifanos gained more promi-
nence. R.’s importance increased again when, at
the beginning of the 17
th
cent., the nun ÷Wälättä
Petros came to spend the last period of her life on
the island, which was accessible for women, at least
temporarily. Wälättä Petros was buried close to
the church of Mädòane ŸAläm. About 20 persons,
including her close relatives, such as her father, her
brother who held the title of ÷däggazmaó and her
mother, were laid to rest either in the mäqdäs or
in the qéddést of the church. Ase ÷Íärìä Déngél as
well as the monastery’s alleged founder Nob were
also buried there (Bosc-Tiessé 2000: 233f.).
The close relation to the royal court is also
testified by the possession of a wooden panel of
the 15
th
-cent. painter ÷Fére Séyon representing
St. ÷Mary with Child (Heldman 1994: 29ff.,
168f., 173, 186). In the church three large panels
representing the ÷Evangelists Mark and John
and St. Mary in the style of the Second Gondärine
school of ÷painting are also preserved.
The church was restored by ras ÷Gugsa Märsa
at the end of the 18
th
cent. It is probably from
this time that the church murals date. In the am-
bulatory of the church, one can see carved stones
reused from a Portuguese building.
Nowadays the community of R. has moved to
the mainland opposite but on festive days believ-
ers visit the church for the liturgy.
The 25 manuscripts of the library of R. were
microfilmed and described by Hammerschmidt
(HamTana II, 122–66). He also compiled a pre-
liminary and incomplete list of the abbots of the
monastery (ibid. 168).
Src.: HamTana II, 112–66, 168; Carlo Conti Rossini –
Carl Jaeger (eds.), Vitae sanctorum indigenarum. I. Acta
S. Walatta Petros. II. Miracula S. Zara-Buruk, Louvain
1912 (CSCO 68 [SAe 30]); Lanfranco Ricci (tr.), Vita di
Walatta Petros, Louvain 1970 (CSCO 316 [SAe 61]).
Lit.: Claire Bosc-Tiessé, “L’histoire et l’art des églises du
Lac Tana”, AE 16, 2000, 207–70, here 233–37; Ead, Les îles
de la mémoires. Fabrique des images et écriture de l’histoire
dans les églises du lac Tana, Éthiopie, XVII
e
–XVIII
e
siècle,
Paris 2008; ChTana 168ff.; CrumLand 30, 41; Gianfranco
Fiaccadori, “Ripristino dell’omelia etiopica sull’arc-
angelo Afnin”, in: Delio Vania Proverbio (ed.), Studi
orientalistici in memoria di Emilio Teza, Venezia 1998
(Miscellanea Marciana 12, 1997), 45–51, here 46ff.;
Guida 381; HamTana I, 62–66, 90; Marylin E. Held-
man, The Marian Icons of the Painter Fre Seyon: a Study in
Fifteenth Century Ethiopian Art, Patronage and Spirituality,
Wiesbaden 1994 (Orientalia Biblica et Christiana 6), 29ff.,
168f., 173, 186; Carlo Conti Rossini, [review of Riccardo
De Santis, Il Gadla Tadewos di Dabra Bartarwa, un con-
tributo allo studio della letteratura agiografica etiopica, Città
del Vaticano 1942], RSE 3, 3, 1943, 335–40, here 338.
Veronika Six
Research
I. Ethnological and ethnographical research
II. Historical research
a. Historical research in early times to the 19
th
cent.
b. Historical research in the 20
th
cent.
c. Arabic studies on Ethiopian history
III. Linguistic research
Philological research ÷Philology
Archaeological research ÷Archaeology
Palaeontological research ÷Palaeontology
I. Ethnological and ethnographic research
Ethiopia and Eritrea, ethnically and religiously
diverse countries at the historical crossroads of

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