The annual ‘Ashenda’ festival has been celebrated colorfully in Mekelle town starting from 21 August and continuing until 24th of August 2017. Now again the ‘Masqal’ holiday (Finding of the True Cross) is to be celebrated on 26th & 27th of September 2017. What makes this year’s celebration of ‘Masqal’ different is the inauguration, by His Holiness Abune Mathias Patriarch of EOTC, of a new 52 m tall Cross constructed from steel structure and standing at the top of one of the highest mountain peaks in the town, i.e. Chom’aa mountain. These celebrations have cultural as well as religious dimensions.
It is a commendable job that has been done by the Regional Government of Tigrai and concerned civic organizations to revive the cultural and spiritual life of the people. I think the strength of the cultural and spiritual life, by and large determine the strength of the society that uphold it.
There has been a tradition of celebrating the eve of ‘Masqal’ holiday, i.e. ‘Demera’ celebration whereby a sizable number of people go up to the top of Chom’aa Mountain and light up torches there and come down in line while the torches are still burning and lighting. This creates a wonderful event of the ‘Masqal’ eve (‘Demera’ day) evening celebration which I think is remembered by many people who had been residents of the town at one or the other time. In this year’s celebration, the traditional way of ‘Masqal’ holiday celebration has been wound up with the construction of the huge Cross looking down at Mekelle town. It has some similarity to the statue of Jesus Christ (Christ the Redeemer) in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).
Some facts/information about Chom’aa Mountain are:
- Legend has it that Chom’aa was a transitional resting place of the part of the Wooden Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified (‘Gimade Masqal’) on its way en route to its current resting place of Gishen Mariam Church in Wollo.
- It was a temporary staying place for Emperor Yohannes IV until the completion of the construction of his Grand Palace in Mekelle down town. In the meantime the Emperor had established the Church and Monastery of MedhaniAlem Church in the village of Mai Liham that is located at the foot of the mountain.
- It has been the place of the tradition of celebrating the ‘Masqal’ eve day (‘Demera’ day) on the mountain top since the time as far as I can remember.
The two neighboring and yet competing mountains of Mekelle are Chom’aa and EndaYesus. Although there is the church of Eyesus at EndaYesus Mountain, EndaYesus has always been more of political and military center, vis-à-vis Chom’aa which is a cultural and religious center.
The history of EndaYesus tells us that
- It was a place of one of the significant Pre-Adowa war military victories against the invading Italian army. The victory at EndaYesus was achieved based on the brilliant military tactic of Empress Taitu.
- It was the second battle place where the peasant army of ‘Qedamai Woyane’ got military victory against the army of Emperor HSI consecutive to the battle of Quiha.
- During the time of Emperor Haile Selassie, it served as the training center for new recruits and headquarters of the Police force.
- During the Dergue era, it was used as a military barrack and also as one of the detention centers for political prisoners of the time.
- At present, it has become the location for Mekelle University main campus.
Now that it is the time of ‘Masqal’ celebration, thus our attention will be on Chom’aa Mountain. Considering the tradition on and history of the mountain, Chom’aa mountain peak is a truly historic place to be chosen as the site of installing the huge Cross that winds up in a miles tonic way, the tradition of the ‘Demera’ evening celebration in the town. It has become a meeting place of culture, technology and religion.
Such miles tonic tasks and events have several tangible and intangible benefits:
- It connects the past generation & history with the present & future generations
- As a good event & idea in its own right, one good idea has the capacity to trigger, initiate and pave the way for other good idea(s)
- It reinforces the sense of identity and history of the people
- It reinvigorates the spiritual life of the society
- It represents our thanks to our ancestors, our love of life for the present and our commitment to our children, thus passing the torch of life & history to future generations
- It has the potential for tourist attractions and paves the way for further related investments
- As a mountain that is very near to the town center and the village of Mai Liham, and as high place with clean air, it may also serve as one alternative outing place during weekends for the residents of the town.
Finally, as a citizen, I express my gratitude to
- The Regional Government of Tigrai region and Chom’aa Masqal Association for facilitating the event
- Sur Construction PLC and Winner Industrial Engineering PLC for realizing the erection of the 52m tall Cross at the Chom’aa mountain peak
I wish a happy ‘Demera’ celebration and happy ‘Masqal’ holiday to all followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church!!