Ashenda is an annual festival celebrated in Nothern Ethiopia, especially the Amhara and Tigray regional states. The festival is more popular in the mentioned areas though it takes place in the capital Addis Ababa as well. It is particularly meant for girls and young women. Ashenda normally occurs between August and September. During the event, the target group participates in various fun activities such as singing, dancing and drumming. The participants would also get to socialize.
The people in attendance usually dress in traditionally-decorated clothing, jewellery and hairstyles. They usually tie tall grass around their celebration gowns as a form of decoration. The grass is called ‘Ashenda’, hence the festival’s name. Even though ‘Ashenda’ is the title that many uses for the festival, it has other names such as ‘Ashendye’, ‘Mariya’, ‘Shadey’ and ‘Solel’. The event takes place for a minimum period of three days but can as well extend to weeks.
In the tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahedo church, Ashenda is celebrated after the feast of Buhe (Bread Festival). Buhe takes place on the 19th of August and the day signifies the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ (Holy Savior) on Mount Tabor, according to the followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Culturally, households celebrate the festival with the baking of a special type of bread called ‘Mulmul’. They also make a small bonfire in individual places of residence or a communal one in the neighbourhoods. Children would move house to house chanting ‘Buhena Buhebelu’. With this, the households give them ‘mulmul’. If they have not yet baked the ‘mulmul’, they give the kids coins. Other reports reveal that Ashenda indicates the completion of a fasting period known as ‘Filseta’.
Ethiopia’s President, Sahle-Work Zewde joined the participants to celebrate the 2019 edition of the festival in Tigray regional state. The Tigray Regional State Deputy Chief Administrator, Debretsion Gebremichael, Senior Regional Officials and the girls participating in Ashenda ushered her in as she arrived at the Alula Aba-Nega International Airport in Mekele State.
The President promised the celebrants that she will see to it that the festival acquires a cultural heritage status under the United Nations Education, Cultural and Scientific Organization, UNESCO classification.
“… it is the responsibility of all to preserve these heritages from the impact of globalization.”
“Just like Meskel, Fichee-Chambalaalla and Gada system, I believe that Ashenda will be registered as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO.”
She also spoke about the need to channel efforts towards fighting child marriage and gender discrimination.
“The respect given to girls on the occasion of Ashenda needs to be for all women and throughout the 365 days of the year.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, did not attend the festival, but he sent his best wishes to the participants. The Federal Government Minister for Transport, Dagmawit Moges, attended the celebration in Addis Ababa.
The event, with the theme ‘Ashenda for Peace, Unity and Symbol of Development’, took place in Baloni Stadium. Tens of thousands of people and tourists travelled from different places to attend the festival.