Room 66: Ethiopia and Egypt
'The object reminded me about a religious procession in my country. I also remembered about a story my dad told me about the cultural ceremony that his great grandparents used to do; a procession where everyone has to take part. It happened once a year. The priests carry a processional cross, sing and dance in procession to the place of worship. The only thing I don't like about the picture is the rifle. I don't know the meaning of the rifle in the picture.' Antoinette M. Kanyako, of Sierra Leonean origin
This nineteenth-century painting vividly recalls the rich pageant of religious procession in Ethiopia. It shows priests carrying hand crosses, a processional cross and a censor. They sing and dance in procession with a sacred Tabot, the symbolic representation of the biblical Ark of the Covenant. Every Ethiopian church has at least one Tabot which sanctifies the building in which it is placed. Only certain priests are allowed to see the Tabots and when they are taken outside the church to celebrate festivals they are concealed beneath richly decorated cloths, as shown here.
The painting may show the festival of Timkat, Epiphany or perhaps the feast day of St George, as the saint is represented riding above the procession on a white horse. St George is one of the most important saints in Ethiopia. Paintings of St George were taken into battle ahead of the Ethiopian army to ensure the defeat of their enemies. He is seen as a protector and was closely associated with Ethiopian royalty. The scene is completed by the image of an angel in a cloud of blue, representing the Holy Spirit and signifying the presence of God.
The painting seems to reflect the description in the Bible of King David's triumphant return with the Ark of the Covenant. Processions like this can still be seen throughout Ethiopia today.
B. Burt, Africa in the world: past and (London, British Museum Press, 2005)
J. Mack (ed.), Africa: arts and cultures (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)