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“Church Forests” of Ethiopia

Posted by addisethiopia on March 2, 2011

 

The image on the video shows a typical Ethiopian hillside “Church-Forest” – one of the symbolic reconstructions of the Garden of Eden that surround most Christian churches in the Northern part of the country.

The year 2011 was declared the International Year of Forests by the United Nations to raise awareness and strengthen the sustainable forest management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests for the benefit of current and future generations.

In most parts of Northern Ethiopia, forests have been completely destroyed and converted into farms and grazing lands over centuries. Hence, when a traveler sees a patch of indigenous old-aged trees in the northern highlands of Ethiopia, he/she can be sure that there is an Orthodox Church in the middle. They are visible from a great distance, with a majestic appearance, usually built on small hills overlooking the surrounding villages. The local people call these churches with the surrounding trees as “Debr” or “Geddam” is seen by the followers as the most holy place religiously as well as a respected and powerful institution socially.

The following reading is taken from a fascinating post on the PLoS blog network:

In America, some fundamental Christians believe that man has a God-given right to use the earth and all its resources to meet their needs. After all, Genesis says so. But across the Atlantic, a different attitude prevails among followers in Ethiopia, which has the longest continuous tradition of Christianity of any African country. Followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Churches believe they should maintain a home for all of God’s creatures around their places of worship. The result? Forests ringing churches.

There are some 35,000 church forests in Ethiopia, ranging in size from a few acres to 300 hectares. Some churches and their forests may date back to the fourth century, and all are remnants of Ethiopia’s historic Afromontane forests. To their followers, they are a sacred symbol of the garden of Eden — to be loved and cared for, but not worshipped.

Most church forests are concentrated in the northern reaches of the country, especially in the Lake Tana area. Here, most of the Afromontane forests have been cut down to make clearings for agriculture, pastures for livestock and settlements. It is said that if a traveler to the area spies a forest, it surely has a church in the middle. Many also have freshwater springs.

These spiritually-protected woods, also known as coptic forests, comprise a decent chunk of the 5 percent of Ethiopia’s historical forests that are still standing. Massive deforestation has rendered these church forests as true islands — green oases peppering a land laid bare.


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