Thousands of Ethiopian orthodox worshippers came together in the capital Addis Ababa on Thursday (January 19), to celebrate Epiphany, a festival that commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ according to the ancient Orthodox calendar.
The colourful festival, also known as Timket is one of the oldest and most important observed religious festivals in Ethiopia.
Church leaders carry representations of the box built by Moses to house the 10 commandments known as the Ark of the Covenant, as worshippers sing and dance in the streets.
Despite the festive mood, this year’s celebrations also came at a time of tense political climate in the country, after the government declared a six-month nationwide state of emergency in October, saying months of unrest threatened the nation’s stability.
More than 500 people have been killed in protests in the Oromiya region surrounding the capital, Addis Ababa and other areas since 2015, after anger over a development scheme for the capital sparked broader anti-government demonstrations over politics and human rights abuses.
Many local tour operators feared that the political unrest would scare away visitors, who usually come in great numbers during the festival.
“Of course we had cancellations because most of our clients cancelled because the rumours that were spread, but now, especially in January, the number is getting bigger and better. I hope for the coming season, we’ll have enough clients coming to Ethiopia,” said tour operator Girma Kebede.
Amongst the measures included in the state of emergency was that diplomats were restricted from travelling beyond a 40 km (25 mile) radius of the capital.
Some of the tourists who attended Epiphany this year say they were undeterred by the political situation.
“I visited many in the south and the middle of the country. I have experienced nothing but very friendly people, very happy people. I haven’t been affected whatsoever. I haven’t felt unsafe; everywhere I have been I felt safe. So it’s been a very good experience. It is a very good trip, I come every year. So I didn’t alter my plan, I knew there was a state of emergency, but I didn’t alter my plans,” said one tourist from England, Granch Rooney.
“Luckily we have not been affected at this point. Our bird guide who was with us, we ran into another group from the same company and they were affected. They were not able to go to a couple of areas. But luckily, we have been okay,” said American tourist, Robi Elia.
Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian nations in the world.
Despite the growing influence of Islam and evangelical churches in the country, the traditional Orthodox Church remains strong.