There we were observing and celebrating the Meskel Festival with thousands of Ethiopians in Gondar's town square. As with any public/religious celebration of this type and on this scale, there was ritual movement, singing, and of course preaching.
As we arrived in the square, the celebrants were engaged in a set of ritual movements. No one gave an explanation of what was happening—but for me they didn’t have to explain. As the celebrants began to chant and sing, I closed my eyes recognizing that the songs and vibrations that enveloped me in that square resonated with the songs and vibrations that my ancestors used to sing in America’s cotton fields and in churches. Ohhhh those songs!!! Always starting slow and moanful, but often ending in transcendence and celebration! Little did I know that on this day I would soon take that same path. Take a listen for yourself. Careful if you’re in the office when you listen to this—you just might be shoutin’ and pattin’ your feet by the time you get to the end of the second video!
Ethiopian Orthodox Church Singing in Gondar
African Americans Singing in America
At the center of the square stood a 15 foot cross that was planted in a bed of brush and kindling wood. At the height of the festival, Priests from the Church set the kindling on fire. As the flames and the smoke began to rise, the cross would eventually catch on fire too.
Cross Burning at Meskel in Gondar
As the cross began to burn I looked around and wondered if anyone else among us was seeing what I was seeing. A strange and peculiar irony was at play in this moment. I thought to myself, how is it that a slave descended African American whose ancestors were terrorized by crosses that burned in America’s deep south, could now be standing in the middle of Ethiopia, the mother of humanity, celebrating at the site of a cross on fire?
In a single moment, joy and pain (Thanks Frankie Beverly and Maze).