Melaka Tsehai burns the oil off of an addition of nug (an oilseed) to the carbonized grains, leaves, and earths that serve as the base for black ink. Various implments of the scribe’s crafts are on the ground beside him. Also, lest any one accuse me of having done the opposite–I have actually *de*-saturated his spectacular neon orange hat. A truly one-of-a-kind hat.
An inhorn with black ink, a small bottle of red ink, a bamboo pen (ba’ar), and a piece of tile used for rubbing the parchment surface before scribing all sit in their places on a wooden inkstand, in the home of a scribe in Adgrat, Tigray Province, Ethiopia.
Ashmelas WoldeGabriel writes a small sample book in the traditional way, using a bamboo pen and resting the parchment quire against his knee, while seated on a short stool.
An eremite watches the celebrations outside of the church compound of Maryam Tsion (St. Mary of Zion), the holiest church in Ethiopia, and supposed resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. The yearly festival of St. Mary is the premiere holiday in Axum.
A nun rests upon her staff while watching the celebrations in honor of St. Mary of Zion, Axum’s high holy day, and the celebration of the patron of Ethiopia’s most important church.
A cat sits leashed to its stand, at the prouduce section of the main market in Mek’lele.
A bike leans against a mural depicting traditional outdoor teaching in the courtyard of a cafe in Mek’ele where I spent a fair amount of time.
A priest’s cat sits on some news-sheets, patiently waiting for her master’s interview to be completed.
Zewchoas is one of the chief instructors at the St. Yared Theological Academy in Axum, and has a reputation as a däbtära, a magician (he is also properly a däbtära in its original sense of liturgical specialist). A dwarf, he was picked upon, and learned magic in order to gain respect, notably a method for causing people to fart in public, which is considered extraordinarily rude in Ethiopia.
Having achieved his aim, he later gave up the magician’s craft and focused more on his teaching work. He may often be found behind the school, leading students in the recitation and memorization of liturgical songs, and is a thoroughly respected member of his community, having overcome the prejudice traditionally associated with dwarfism.
He is photographed sitting on a throne on top of the stairs in front of the old Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion (Maryam Tsion).
A wooden tablet inscribed with a magical formula, when kept in a household, it is supposed to bring wealth into the household.