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Official nameAshenda Ingicha
Also calledGirls' Day
Observed byTigray, Agew, Amhara and Tigrinya people of Eritrea
Begins22 August[1]
DateAfter ending of Filseta feast

Ashenda is a yearly Tigrayan festival that originated in Axum region of Tigray and has been adopted by other regions in Ethiopia and Eritrea,[2] which celebrates women and girls. It happens every August, mostly in Tigray State where it is treated like a national holiday. The festival comes after the two weeks of Filseta. During Filseta, people fast, or do not eat, through the day. Filseta and Ashenda honor the Virgin Mary.

In the festival, young women and girls wear white cotton dresses. These dresses have colorful embroidery, called tilfi. They also wear a lot of jewelry. They weave ashenda grass into a bunch, and wear it on their backs, or as a skirt.[3] Ashenda, in the Tigrinya language, is a tall green grass that grows on river banks.[4] Girls often wear five cornrow braids in their hair. The hair is natural. They wear Kohl eyeliner.[5]

On the first day, the girls gather at the middle of the town or village. Then they break up into groups, and walk through the town. They sing and dance for the people in every house, and also in the village square. The people in each house give them money, food, drinks, or other gifts. The women and girls give these gifts to poor people. They sing and dance all day until sunset. This festival may last for a week or more.

Ashenda is thousands of years old. It existed even before Ethiopia became Christian, in the 4th century AD.[4] as the Tigrayans migrated down south they brought the culture to the southern part of Ethiopia it was adopted reflecting the spirit and culture of the locals developing new name E.g in Wello region it's called Shadey, Agew Awi Zone they call is Ashendye, in Gojjam and Shewa region they call it Solel, or Mariya.

[6] Some Ethiopians are trying to get Ashenda listed by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.[7]

Story[change | change source]

According to old stories, King Menelik I of Ethiopia was the son of the ancient Israelite king Solomon. He traveled to Ethiopia with other Israelites in the 10th century BC. In modern times, Jews lived in Ethiopia: the Beta Israel people. Researcher Timkehet Teffera thinks that Ashenda started as an ancient Israelite celebration.[3] Other people think that Ashenda was once a pagan festival. They think it started to celebrate the harvest season, or as a time for women and men to find partners for marriage.[8]

Ethiopia became Christian in the 4th century AD. The meaning of Ashenda changed to focus on the Virgin Mary. It is mainly celebrated in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. This church says that after Mary died, the Apostles fasted for 14 days. On the 15th day, they buried her. So Ethiopians fast for the first 15 days of Nahase, a month in the Ethiopian calendar. On the 16th day, Mary rose from the grave. God carried her to Heaven. This event is called the Assumption of Mary. Ashenda starts on Nahase 16th, in honor of the Assumption.

The story says that Mary rose from a glowing field of tall grass. Some say that the ashenda grass represents this field. Others say that it is related to the story of Moses. When Moses was born, the king of Egypt said to kill all baby Israelite boys. Moses' mother had to hide her son to save his life. She hid him in a basket in the grasses by a river. The king's daughter found Moses and raised him in secret. One popular Ashenda song is about Moses.

Clothing and fashion[change | change source]

Another group of girls at Ashenda

Girls usually wear a white cotton dress. People weave these dresses by hand, without a machine. They put colorful embroidery patterns on the dresses. However, now some girls wear colorful cloths from other countries. Girls usually tie a band of cotton cloth around their waist. They often wear plastic shoes. The girls' hair is braided. A few days before the festival, girls go to local hairdressers. They can braid hair in many complex ways. The girls wear many types of jewelry. It can be made of gold, silver, brass, copper, seashells, coconut shells, beads, or twisted threads. They often wear necklaces, bracelets, and ankle bracelets.[3] They traditionally wear Kohl eyeliner on their face. Today, they also wear other kinds of makeup, or cosmetics. Many girls paint crosses on their forehead.[9][8]

Many families buy new clothing and jewelry for Ashenda. If the family does not have enough money to buy clothing, neighbors or relatives will lend it to them. Each group of girls plans what they will wear for Ashenda, so they can all wear the same style.[3][6]

Celebration[change | change source]

Ashenda involves singing, dancing, and playing drums. Older family members, especially mothers, teach Ashenda traditions to the girls. Most Ashenda groups have at least one boy with them. Traditionally, boys walk with the girls to protect them. During Ashenda, girls meet many different people. So it can also be a time to find a husband.[6][9]

On the first day of Ashenda, girls go to a church and pray. They then sing songs of praise to St. Mary. After this, they go to houses and sing and dance. The people in each house usually give them gifts. Some common gifts are chicken stew, honey wine, local beer, and money. Then the girls sing a special song to thank them.

Some Ashenda songs are about political topics. They may criticize people in the village, or in the government. The girls are free to say anything they want in their songs. Tradition says that nobody can stop them from talking. Girls in Ethiopia do not usually have this freedom. So Ashenda is a special time for them. Ashenda songs may also say nice things about people in the town. Girls may sing about unity and belonging. They may sing about the joy of the celebration.[8]

The songs are usually sung in two parts: the group leader, and everyone else. They are often sung as an antiphon, or call and response. The drum and hand claps keep a rhythm.[10]

References[change | change source]

  1. "Ethiopians gather to celebrate the Ashenda Festival - in pictures". The National. 23 August 2022.
  2. Teffera, Timkehet (2019). "Ethiopian Magnificent Holidays: A Case Study of the Ašända Feast. Chapter I".
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Teffera, Timkehet (2019). "Ethiopian Magnificent Holidays: A Case Study of the Ašända Feast. Chapter II Part I".
  4. 4.0 4.1 "ASHENDA: Ethiopia's Multihued Intangible Heritage". ENA. 26 August 2019.
  5. "Ethiopians from war-ravaged Tigray celebrate holiday in Sudan". Al Arabiya English. 7 September 2022.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Nunoo, Ama (11 October 2019). "The Ashenda festival of the Ethiopians where girls parade their beauty to get suitors". Face2Face Africa. Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  7. Hailou, Sesina (31 August 2019). "A holiday just for women". The Reporter (Ethiopia).
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Balehey, Selam; Balehegn, Mulubrhan (August 2019). "The Art, Aesthetics and Gender Significance of Ashenda girls' Festival in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia".
  9. 9.0 9.1 Teffera, Timkehet (2019). "Ethiopian Magnificent Holidays: A Case Study of the Ašända Feast. Chapter II Part II".
  10. Teffera, Timkehet (2019). "Ethiopian Magnificent Holidays: A Case Study of the Ašända Feast. Chapter III Part I".