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Finding the True Cross: The Social-Political Dimensions of the Ethiopian Mäsqäl Festival

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In this study of the Ethiopian Orthodox Mäsqäl festival, we have chosen to focus upon the multiple ways in which diverse and even contradictory social messages have been dramatized through this celebration throughout its more than five hundred years of recorded history. While portrayals of imperial power are perhaps the most obvious features of the festival, they were only one aspect of Mäsqäl celebrations. Other issues of rank and hierarchy were portrayed in various means including the construction, lighting and circling of the bonfire and the distribution and division of food. However, these images of a clearly organized and broadly acknowledged social and political order were challenged, not only by 'crises' which came to the surface at the time of the ritual, but also in clearly ritualized games and battles, which dramatized and expressed the tensions that were a constant feature of any social-political system.

Affiliations: 1: Humanities Faculty, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mt Scopus 91905, Jerusalem, Israel


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