Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creating Traditions & an Ethiopian Nativity Scene

(by Liz) I bought an Ethiopian nativity set while at the Toukoul orphanage. It was the last one in the gift store.

Made of crude earth colored ceramic, the simple scene was sweet and rustic.  I gave it to our parents that Christmas we returned. It was a lovely gift.
Ethiopian Clay Nativity set like mine. From seller Addisview on Ebay

Then, as we started to try and counter Santa's team of marketers with the real story of Christmas, I decided I needed a nativity set of our own for our little girl to enjoy. Although the Grandparents offered theirs back, I didn't think ceramic was going to last long with a toddler; so I thanked them "amesegenalu," and searched the web. And searched and searched.

"Pendant Icon [Ethiopia; Amharic] (1997.81.1)"Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ethiopian nativity sets are sure to be found on Ebay right? Isn't everything on Ebay? No luck at the time... now I've been updated that a seller named Addislive carries them (see above). I searched African shops, the international festival in Dayton, the culture camps (I even asked the visiting Ethiopian guests if they knew where to look). I was a woman on a mission. I emailed people I barely knew traveling to Ethiopia to keep an eye out for me. No one could seem to turn one up. Thanksgiving was approaching.

If you did a little search back there, you'll see that there are plenty of beautiful carved wood sets on Ebay from Africa... BUT I couldn't just buy an "African" one. . I was specific. It had to be, in some way, Ethiopian.  As if there aren't enough competing distractions for the holiday season, I decided that my best chance was to make my own set.

Of what? Why, closepins, ribbons and paint... in an Ethiopian style.

Ethiopian Closepin Doll by Barkhaus Design
So, I got to work; I researched Ethiopian ecclesiastical  art, I fretted in the trimming aisles of Hobby Lobby and Jo-Anns, I compared spray browns (Krylon Gloss "Equestrian") and figured out ways to spray without turning myself "Equestrian," I pinned, repinned and glued. I whiled away two 16 hour legs of a road trip, countless late night hours and stolen minutes too many to log... and then I had the start of the set. Enough to set the stage for our three year old for the first Christmas where the traditions will start to be recognized.

Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the three kings tilt their classic Ethiopian oval eyes and strong noses toward an angel in an Ethiopian kehmees. Crude, a bit comical, some inconsistencies in style...I can rip it apart... but the set was a hit.

By Barkhaus Design
Each day her advent calendar contained a slip of paper with something kind, giving or just nice that she could accomplish that day. Each night she put that paper into the baby Jesus' cradle to make it "soft" for him.  We hid the baby Jesus on the tree for her to find and place in the cradle on Christmas morning before we ate the "Birthday Cake."

Its not perfect, but I'm pleased, a little light-headed perhaps from the Krylon fumes, but we did start to make some memories with our little craft project.

Usually just one Wise Man is Ethiopian...

Happy Ganna!


Carrie said...

Beautiful! I love the faces. I found your blog through the Ethiopia Adopt group. I did happen to find a clay nativity in Ethiopia, in a shop in Addis, but the figures don't look distinctly Ethiopian as yours does.

Brenda Gray said...

check out Addisview on Ebay at the moment. Also

Brenda Gray

Brenda Gray said...

check out Addisview on Ebay at the moment, also

Brenda Gray said...

Glad you found one. The one I gave my daughter was a little cruder, but love them both, still waiting on mine. I love anything from Ethiopia, brings back memories.

Happy New Year