In each and every tradition there always has been a ceremonial way of accepting a season or letting go of the current one. And now as rainy season has run its course fully satisfying everyone, one of the most celebrated holidays is expected: Kudus Yohannes (in Tigrigna Saint John). We praise St John differently and deeply because the day in which we commemorate the day is also the New Year day in the geez calendar, so the rainy season is actually the last season of the year according the geez tradition. This is when people pray for Kudus Yohannes to help their crop grow well because right after “Kudus Yohannes”, people start harvesting what they cultivated during the past months.
Not that it’s an easy thing to forget but still as a reminder starting from this days till the next three weeks kids in every neighborhood gather up in little groups of 10 or so singing for anyone that walks by. As a tradition the girls would sing going from house to house and in return the women would give them some food, mostly: butter or a bit of flour or even eggs, it could be any kind as long as it is something you could put away for a few days. While the boys stop people on the streets and do the same. Afterwards the day before the feast with all the food the girls gathered around and the things bought by the money the boys gathered they all have a little party of their own. They would cook the food and after dinner they would gather around the fire and play around the whole evening.
In time a lot of the details changed but the singing remains the same. The first one, which is the most common one praises St. John, it starts off saying “Yohannsey Nugusey, Yohannsey Nugusey, Nzelalem Nugusey, Yohannsey yiato atiluwo baito”, it’s a traditional rhythmic song that eulogize St John as the king of spring and literally translated it means once this day gets here St John will reward us with an entire season of prosperity. After this one they practically just praise and compliment the people they stopped so they can get a fat tip. It’s one of the most adorable things that the children of Eritrea do every year… and it’s obvious we all like hearing compliments especially from kids.
Anther exciting habit is the “Hoyena Hoye”, honestly there are no literal meaning to the name, its simply a rhyme of the ritual. It’s held on the eve of Kudus Yohannes, when children and mainly teenagers light up torches and sing running around the town making people cross the fire three times, since three is a divine number. Its believed that it brings good luck for the coming year, in fact there is a saying we repeat every year while crossing the fire: “amet ni amet yedghimena” and it means that we hope to stay well and healthy till the next year comes so that we could warmly celebrate this holyday for so many years to come with all those who are dear to us.
The women and young ladies during the last week of the year in big groups they go down the river near by, cheerfully singing traditional melodies and dance to it as they spend a fun time playing with the water, it’s definitely the time of the year in which the women in-between families and neighbors strengthen their bonds. This week is known as “Pagumen”: unlike the western one in the geez calendar we have 12 months of 30 days each, so in the end of the year the remaining days are traditionally gathered up in the week of Pagumen. Right before the holy day of St John.
Even though time went by, surprisingly enough our tradition it’s still holding its ground, even in the cities. And for my people regardless of how technology has influenced our lives, it’s amazing how the Eritrean customs are still remaining to be the most essential things.