Thursday, August 03, 2006
የኢትዮጵያ ጥንታዊ ታሪክ የአርኪዮሎጂስት ጥናት እምብዛም አልተመለከተውም:: አሻራቸውን ይዘው የተቀመጡት እንደ አክሱም ላሊበላ ና የፋሲል ግንብ የመጀመሪያና የመጨረሻ የጥንታዊት ኢትዮጵያ ብቸኛ ምልክት ሆነው ይገኛሉ:: ነገር ግን የብዙ ሺህ አመታት ታሪክ ያላት ሃገር ኢትዮጵያ የህዝቦችዋን አንድነት የሚያንጸባርቁ ምስክሮች ብቅ ማለት ጀምረዋል:: ከዚህ በታች የሰፈረው መጣጥፍ የሰሜኑ የአክሱም ሃውልታት ደቡብ ኢትዮጵያም እንድነበሩ ያመላክታል::
Stones of Tiya
Ethiopia offers myriad archaeological sites for the adventurous tourist to visit. Philip Briggs reports on one of the lesser-known rock stelae fields, south of Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia’s claim to be the richest archaeo-historical treasure trove in sub-Saharan Africa is difficult to dispute. From the myriad ancient hominid fossils that have been unearthed in the eastern deserts, to the Biblical-era giant stelae of Axum and medieval rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia’s overwhelming sense of history invites a response that is equal parts wonderment, disbelief and delighted speculation.
Only a handful of Ethiopia’s historical riches have drawn serious attention from the tourist industry, which means that independent-minded travellers are faced with an embarrassment of exciting and accessible off-the beaten-track options. A visit to one of the hundred-odd rock-hewn churches scattered around Tigray, or any of the country’s dozens of remote island and cliff-top monasteries, makes nonsense of the current media debate, prompted by the release of the film The Beach, about the way in which guidebooks and thronging backpacker trails have practically destroyed genuinely independent travel. Pack the whingers off to Ethiopia for a month, say I, forbid them from going anywhere near the country’s half-dozen semi-established tourist sites, and they’ll return home imbued with the sense of genuine discovery that is supposedly lost to the modern traveller.
A mere 100km by road from the capital Addis Ababa, and only 500m from a public transport route and local guest house, Tiya is the perfect example of the sort of accessible yet practically unvisited gem I’m talking about. Marking the northern limit of a belt of engraved obelisks that stretches right across southern Ethiopia, the Tiya stelae field consists of roughly 40 stones which stand between one and two metres high. Recent excavations revealed that the stones mark mass graves of both males and females who died between the ages of 18 and 30 and were laid to rest in a foetal position. Three engraved symbols predominate: circles, swords, and what appear to be podgy leaves rising on a stem from a rectangular base. The circles might represent the sun or moon, the swords speak for themselves, while the twin-leaves look like so-called false bananas, a type of plantain grown widely in the area. If the symbolism behind all this is open to speculation, so too is the nature of the people who erected the stelae. Local people associate the stones with the 15th Century Muslim leader Ahmed Gragn, but the non-Judaic symbols and greater age of the stones makes this unlikely. Like the much older and larger stelae at Axum — the only comparable constructions that I’m aware of in sub-Saharan Africa — the Tiya stelae appear to pre-date the local arrival of Christianity and to have been erected as grave markers. The southern stelae belt passes through the heart of the modern territory of the Gurage, whose language is closely affiliated to Tigrigna (the language spoken in Axum). This tempts one to ask whether these might be relics of a forgotten offshoot of the pre-Christian stelae-building tradition at Axum.Only 30km north of Tiya lies the most southerly of Ethiopia’s rock-hewn churches, Adadi Maryam, a subterranean monolith excavated in the 13th Century at about the same time that Tiya’s stones must have been erected. Visiting the two sites in conjunction creates the strange feeling that one is crossing the medieval boundary between pagan and Christian Ethiopia. But where Adadi Maryam is very much an active site of worship, the stones of Tiya stand mute and mysterious, neither revered nor feared by the local children who treat the stelae field as a playground. These are simple constructions, it is true, and yet the repetitive intent that lies behind the crude engravings is deeply haunting.
Perhaps it is the sense of discovery I referred to earlier, but Tiya’s impact on me was every bit as powerful as that of the more famous and grandiose stelae of Axum.
Philip Briggs is a regular contributor to Travel Africa. He is the author of eight African guide books.
Tiya is about 30km from Melka Awash, a village 60km or more south of Addis Ababa. Cars can be hired (with drivers) in Addis but are expensive. There is direct public transport to Tiya. This leaves from the main Autobus Terra in Mercato before 9am. After that it is necessary to pay full fare on the Butajira bus and ask to be dropped off at Tiya.
The engraved stelae lie about 500m from Tiya. Coming from Addis Ababa the turn-off is on the left side near the telecommunication signpost. Follow this for about 200m, turn right. The stelae are enclosed behind a fence on the rise ahead.
The rock-hewn church of Adadi Maryam lies west of the Butajira road on a small hill five minutes walk from the village of Adadi. The important stone-age site, about a 20-minute walk from Melka Awash, is also of interest.
The Awash River gorge, with its three low, but powerful, waterfalls, is worth exploring if you have time.
There are dollar-a-night hotels in Butajira, Tiya and Melka Awash and a slightly smarter establishment on the main road. However most visitors, other than backpackers, return to Addis Ababa.
Published in Travel Africa Magazine
Edition Twelve: Summer 2000
This edition and subscriptions are available via the Travel Africa Magazine website.