St Mary Church Entoto: The Man in Chains

Addis Ababa has one of the most beautiful landscapes I have had the opportunity to see in Africa. It is truly breath taking: Lush forests leading all the way to the original site of Emperor Menelik II’s first palace, the first St Mary Church and the Museum. My spirit rejoiced as we drove up the winding hills of Entoto covered on both sides with trees. It was a truly typical African scenery as I saw people with water jugs probably going some distance to fetch water and women carrying bundles of wood on their backs as they struggled down the hill. I pondered for a moment why only women were involved in that task but the few hours I spent as a tourist could not have provided me all the answers to my questions. It did not stop the pain in my heart especially as I considered the amount of wealth and affluence I had witnessed in other parts of Addis.

When we reached the top of the hill, we saw that it was bustling with people as they visited the historic church located at the site. Our first interest however was the museum. We wanted to see the historical artifacts and all the relics that told the story of a glorious Ethiopian past. Indeed, we marveled at what we saw: the clothes of Emperor Menelik II and his Queen, his sword, his royal crown and throne. Most fascinating was the hand written bible. I felt like taking it in my hands and smelling it but I was not allowed. Not even a picture was permitted for me to keep the memories. I guess in a way, they are correct. If I exposed the pictures of these wonderful sights, then fewer people would want to go there and see for themselves.

After the museum, we visited the church. The first church was very small covering a space of just about four by six meters, resembling a local round hut but built with block. I imagine only about fifteen people could have comfortably sat in it. One thing I noticed was the absence of chairs. Apparently, orthodox Christians sit on the floor during worship. The reverence I had for that church compelled me to go inside. I removed my sandals, went inside and said a short prayer. I felt that God was present in that place.

Then we visited the King’s first palace, which he built when he came from Ankober to assume the throne (that is a story for another day). I saw true humility in a monarch. A simple abode overlooking Addis Ababa. The history of Ethiopia as a modern state found form under this Emperor. It was under Menelik’s command that the Kingdom of Italy met their Waterloo at the battle of Adwa against Ethiopia. Menelik’s ancestry goes back to King Solomon and Ethiopians remember him for his generosity and forgiving nature. When I look around the hills of that palace, I get a picture of a man who lived in tune with nature. Verdant forests, fruits and all sorts of trees mark his passage. The very first Eucalyptus tree that was imported from Australia and planted on that land is still standing till date. I also got to enjoy some delicious Ethiopian fruits from the Emperor’s grounds. It however remains only a touristic site, in much need of renovation.

The purpose of this account however was not about the emperor, but a simple man that I met on the church premises. He was seated at the entrance to the church beneath a flight of stairs. On entering the premises, I saw that he was chained and I quickly concluded based on experience from my country that he was probably a prisoner who had requested permission to come to church and pray. I would have left as ignorant as I got in, if not for my very inquisitive Ghanaian friend, Philomena, who would not leave without knowing the whole story. So, we learnt that the man was on a rehabilitation trip. Apparently, he was an alcoholic and in Ethiopia, as a way to quit your addiction, you are encouraged to come to church and compel yourself to stay away from whatever causes your addiction. It is hoped that time, prayer and counseling from the priests will break the addition. I found it fascinating: A truly innovative method that allows the patient to choose their treatment and still be comfortable among the people; no stigma whatsoever.

The account of this man you will not find in any accounts of Entoto, probably because most often, tourists want to see Africa without Africans. They want to see the old structures and the new structures. The history, the present and a possible future, but none of these can happen without the people. As Africans, we already have the land: we only need to share its beauty, its history, its culture with people who understand where we come from and where we are going to. Ethiopia as a country is what Africa may have been, but they too did not go completely unscathed from colonial interference. Though they were not colonized, they however suffered because the rest of Africa was colonized and they had no brother or sister to support them against the economic and political tyranny of the West. Yet their evolution is testament that without any form of interference, it would have been an oasis in the desert.

I love Africa. A place where people are valued

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(2) Comments

  1. Gladys Foncham

    Whao! Manka, this is a lovely write up with amazing experiences! Africa is truly a beautiful place. Thank you for the warm words you used in describing our beautiful place of origin. At least, despite the upheavals and humanitarian crisis that are raging some parts of Africa, we do have numerous aspects about Africa that make us proud. I am proud to be an African.

    1. Manka

      Yes, my dear. We all should be proud to be African

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