August 24, 2016

Ethiopia's festival for women

Image by Rod Waddington

Celebrating the "tall green grass"

Ashenda, also known as Shadey festival is celebrated in Northern Ethiopia, namely the Tigray, Amhara and some parts of Eritrea regions. They commemorate this festival after Filseta—a two-week fasting observance by the orthodox church to honor the ascending of the Virgin Mary. In some regions it also honors Jehphttah's sacrifice of his only daughter. The celebration is mostly for the girls and women. Ashenda means "tall green grass." The girls traditionally collect grass along river banks, swamps, wetlands; each grass measuring at least 80-90cm in length. Merchants also sell some grass in the marketplace in preparation. The grass is made into an ensemble garment worn on top of their traditional cloth known as the Tilfi. They also adorn themselves in jewelry and their traditional hairstyle.

"Never pick your wife during Ashenda"

©Rod Waddington
The women are all gorgeous and charming during the celebration in their adornment and makeup. They swarm the men like bees who must give them money before they leave them alone. The women divide themselves in groups for the parade. They sing, dance and beat drums from the city square traveling in packs, visiting homes and collecting donations. It's like American halloween, only for women. The men know to have in their possession wads of cash. The celebration go on as long as 1 week in some parts of the region.

This time of year is especially exciting for women and young girls as they eagerly anticipate it. They get to show off and make some money. Some are of the opinion that it objectifies women. In true African fashion, there's a feast to follow a fasting observation, with dishes painstakingly prepared well in advance. There's also a coffee ceremony.

Ashenda's significance

The celebration is significant to the people of Northern Ethiopia and has gained popularity over the years attracting tourists that flock the region. Although the festival is for women and girls, the men also participate on its major days, playing admirers and bodyguards. It has religious, cultural, economic and political importance in that it fosters strong ties amongst the group and it's preserved and passed down the generations.
Image by Heejoo

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