The Ethiopian Calendar

Introduction

Time is a mysterious dimension. Everything that happens in our world occurs within time. Yet, what is time? How much do we know about it? When did it begin and will time end? These and other similar questions regarding time are studied and computed in Ethiopia’s oldest church, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, in a mathematical system called Bahre Hasab(ባሕረ ሐሳብ). Bahre Hasab is formed from two words in Geez- “Bahre” and “Hasab”. It means time that is numbered. In its literal translation to the Amharic word, Bahre Hasab means sea of thoughts, which church scholars use to represent the vastness and depth of the concept just like the sea. This concept- that time can be measured in numbers -is evidenced from scripts in the bible[1].

Bahre Hasab is a highly regarded level of knowledge in church theology and only people who have acquired great theological education are able to study it. It is an important key to so many mysteries of the church. Bahre Hasab is also called Abu Shakir, after the name of the Egyptian Deacon, Abu Shakir Ibn al-Rahib, who made use of the existing Egyptian calendar to fit the Coptic church. Under its umbrella astronomy, mathematics and other fields are studied in the Ethiopian Church[2,3].

One of the concepts of Bahre Hasab is the computation of calendars, or the calculation of days so that holidays and festivities of the church fall on the exact days according to biblical history, i.e., Easter holiday is always celebrated on Sunday even if the date changes.

Days and Months

In the Ethiopian Calendar there are 13 months, with the 12 months having 30 days and the last month Pagume having 5 or 6 days. One unique feature of the Ethiopian calendar is the naming of days of the week and the months of the year. The naming of the days is in accordance with the sequential events in Genesis so as to be reminded of how God created the world in 7 days.

The first day of the week is called Ehud which has its roots from Geez word “ehid;ehidot” meaning one, first or beginning. This is to indicate the first day of God’s creation. “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” (Gen 1:1). It is to mean God started his creation on this day. The second day of the week, Segno, comes from a Geez root word meaning second. This is to indicate the second day of God’s creation. The third day of the week is called “Selus” (ሠሉስ)in Geez meaning third. In Amharic this has been called Maksegno-shortened from-“Mageste segno”(ማዕግስተ ሰኞ-ማግሰኞ-ማክሰኞ) meaning the day after Segno. The fourth day of the week is called Rebue coming from Geez which means fourth indicating the fourth day of creation. Hamus which means fifth, shows the 5th day of creation. The sixth day of the week is Arb which means to set down, or where the sun sets. This is because God made the last of his creation on this day. The first man Adam was created on this day[4].

Arb marks the end of God’s creation. It is the eve for Sabbath-the holiest of days which God blessed- the day God is said to have taken his divine rest. Sabbath is a Hebrew word which gives the origin to the Amharic word Senbet. The word Kidame comes from Kedamit senbet. Kedamit senbet means the former Sabbath, the first Sabbath. Nowadays, senbet lies on Ehud( Sunday). This is the holiest of days because this is the day of Christ’s resurrection[5].

The names of the months also have original names with their own roots. The word month in Geez is werha or wer in Amharic. It means moon, signifying the first calendars were lunar. The first month of the year is called Meskerem. It has a Geez root “mes-kerem” from “Misete Kiremt” (ምሴተ ክረምት) or “ye kiremt memsha “(የክረምት መምሻ) which means the end of the rainy season. Meskerem (August-September) is the first month of the year and it marks the transition from the gloomy rainy season to new beginnings with good weather and flowers booming etc… Meskerem epitomizes good weather and new beginnings after a long rainy season

Tikmet is the second month of the year. It has its roots from Geez meaning erected root. In a less poetic explanation, it means a month of hard work. On this month, the farmer must work hard to protect his seeds and harvest and so it is called a month of hard work. It is also believed that God created the world in this month.

Hidar comes from the Geez word “Hadere” which means- to spend the night-letting people know that it is the season of harvest yield, showing that on this month of the year farmers spend the night out in the wild protecting their crops.

Tahisas (“hasis;hasisot”) meaning- to search for- in Geez. It is to let people know that the three kings searched for the place of birth of Jesus Christ on this month. The birth of Jesus Christ rests on Tahisas 29 in Ethiopian calendar. And so, the name is derived from the actions of the kings in the bible.

Tir has its root in Geez and it means to elevate, to rise or the act of towering. On this month the people of Babylon started building the famous wall against God. Hence, the month was called Tir to denote the tallness and elevation of the wall.

Yekatit comes from the Geez root word meaning to store, to tuck, to pack. This month indicates that the season of autumn is ending. Hence,harvest has to be collected and assembled on this month.

Megabit comes from Geez root word meaning complementary. This is to denote that the time of the day is equal with the time of the night during this month. 12 hours for the day and 12 hours for the night. Only Meskerem and Megabit have equal daytime and equal nighttime. The rest of the months have either the daytime shorter or the nighttime shorter.

Miyazia comes from Geez root word meaning to get close, to accompany, to celebrate, to circle.  It is to show that weddings are common and so it is called the month of grooms, brides, best men and bridesmaids (የሙሽሮች ወራት፤ የሚዜዎች ወራት).

Ginbot comes from Geez root word which means to build. This is because in the bible, two of the temples of Babylon were built on this month. Ginbot is also the last month before the rainy season starts.

Sene has its root in Geez meaning beautiful, pleasing, good. This is to symbolize the month of good seeds, as Sene is the month when the rainy season starts, and seeds are scattered on the earth.

Hamle from its root word, means to be green, leafy. On this month, trees and plants are more greenish due to the rainy season.

Nehase from its Geez root word means strictly held, tight. This is to mean that the seeds sown on the ground will grip strong because the roots start to grow and are held tightly to the earth.

Pagume is a Greek word-Epagumene. In the Coptic church it is called the little month because it only has 5 day or in leap years 6 days. The early Ethiopians took the word Epagumene- meaning left behind. This month serves as a bridge between the old and new year[6].

Historical Significance

Calendar comes from the Roman word “calends” which means to ‘call out’. The term  referred to the first day of the month in the Roman calendar, announcing that the new moon was just seen. The earliest calendars are said to be that of the Sumerian Calendar in Mesopotamian civilization. The calendar was based on the sighting of the new moon and consisted of 12 months with 29 or 30 days. The ancient Egyptian calendar, also said to be one of the earliest, is based on solar year. The year consisted of 12 months and additional 5 days used to be added to the intercalary month, outside of the year[7].

The ancient Egyptian calender is similar to the calendar the coptics and the Ethiopians use. And it is believed that the Ethiopian calendar derives its origin from the Coptic traditions of Alexanderia. Furthermore, Bahre Hasab contains the knowledge of Abu Shakir denoting the name of the Egyptian deacon[8]. Saying that, the Ethiopian calendar is truly Ethiopian. The days and months of the year have Geez origin, a language still used in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church. The early fathers added their knowledge and words to maintain the unique Ethiopian identity.

Some books have been written to introduce and familiarize the concept of Bahre-Hasab to the common people [9]. But for anyone who wants to understand its concept in detail and arrive at the mathematical calculations, each new year in every Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, after mass, priests go through the explanations of Bahre Hasab describing how the dates are calculated and when the holidays and feasts will be celebrated for that specific year. It is customary to give explanations of Bahre Hasab on New Years Day in Church.

It is remarkable that Early Ethiopians strictly adhered to make even the naming of the days reminders of the Lord’s creation.

The Gregorian calendar precedes 10/11 days from the Ethiopian calendar because of the decree made by Roman Pope Gregory the 13th. The aim was to subtract the 8 days which accumulated from mistakenly added minutes and seconds on the Julian Calendar [10]. Even though, the Pope received severe opposition then, the Gregorian Calendar is now adopted and used worldwide. Ethiopians continued to use the Julian calendar and that is the basis for the difference created in days. At the time of the adoption of the Gregorian calendar,Emperor Atse Tserse Dingil [1563-1597]successfully resisted the attempt to replace the Ethiopian Calendar to Gregorian by Portuguese missionaries [11].In this regard, Ethiopia is admired that it has preserved this ancient tradition of computation which passed down from generation to generation and continues to do so. It is not only depicted in books portraying the past, but also on the ground, where people still practice it.

Economic Significance

A few other countries truly have their own calendric system like Ethiopia. Regarding economic and social significance, some scholars have suggested that the unique month of Pagume be used to engage the public to participate in common activities. “The month of pagume can be separated and institutionalized with legal backing as a tool to unify and mobilize the Ethiopian people toward a national action movement on a yearly basis” wrote one economist in an article post[12]. Since the Ethiopian calendar has persisted for centuries, in June 2008 a conference was held to herald the Ethiopian millennium where various scholars from around the world were present to discuss the Ethiopic calendar which predates even the Julian Calendar[13].

Conclusion

Calendars show a way of life. The Ethiopian calendar is an indicator of what great heights the Ethiopian Civilization had reached at one point in time. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo church has rich knowledge and wisdom. For anyone who wants to gain this wisdom, to anyone who wants to admire this wealth of tradition,it is open.

Responsibility falls on the future generation to know and preserve this wisdom.

References

[1]ባሕረ ሐሳብ የቀመርና የስነ-ፈለክ ሚስጥር በአለቃ ያሬድ ፈንታ ወልደ ዮሃንስ

[2] Bekerie, Ayele. “The Ethiopian Millennium and Its Historical and Cultural Meanings.” International Journal of Ethiopian Studies 3, no. 2 (2008): 23–31. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27828890.

3 ባሕረ ሐሳብ የዘመን ቆጠራ ቅርሳችን ከ ታሪክ ማስታወሻ ጋራ በጌታቸው ሀይሌ 1993ዓ.ም

[4] የኢትዮጵያ ድንቅ የዘመን አቆጣጠር በመጋቤ ሐዲስ ሮዳስ ታደሰ https://youtu.be/iaSFmcYAj8w

[5] Tamrat, Taddesse. “Ethiopian Calendar & Millennia Highlights.” International Journal of Ethiopian Studies 3, no. 2 (2008): 177–88. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27828897.

[6] የኢትዮጵያ ድንቅ የዘመን አቆጣጠር በመጋቤ ሐዲስ ሮዳስ ታደሰ https://youtu.be/iaSFmcYAj8w

[7] wikipedia.org

[8] Bekerie, Ayele. “The Ethiopian Millennium and Its Historical and Cultural Meanings.” International Journal of Ethiopian Studies 3, no. 2 (2008): 23–31. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27828890.

[9] ባሕረ ሐሳብ፤ አቡሻኽር እና ሌሎችም መፃህፍት

[10] ባሕረ ሐሳብ የዘመን ቆጠራ ቅርሳችን ከ ታሪክ ማስታወሻ ጋራ በጌታቸው ሀይሌ 1993ዓ.ም

[11] Bekerie, Ayele. “The Ethiopian Millennium and Its Historical and Cultural Meanings.” International Journal of Ethiopian Studies 3, no. 2 (2008): 23–31. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27828890.

[12]Feasibility of Aligning Ethiopian Fiscal Year with Calendar Year by Belayneh Begajo  www.borkena.com

[13] Ethiopian Millennium – Unique Calendar that Endures the Test of Time By Hailegebriel Biniyam www.ethiopianreview.com

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