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ASHENDA, AN INDIGENOUS GIRLS' FESTIVAL IN NORTHERN ETHIOPIA: THEORIES ON ITS ORIGINS, ITS MATERIAL AND ORAL GRADITIONS AND THEIR GENDERED INTERPRETATIONS [Abstract ID: 0212-01]
Indigenous people's cultural traditions are embodiments of the philosophy of life of the community that holds them. Ashenda is a traditional and highly popular women's cultural festival celebrated during the summer season in the last week of the month of August in parts of northern Ethiopia, appreciated for its cultural and aesthetic beauty during the greenest of seasons. Despite its popularity, however, no attempts to analyze, popularize and internationalize the festival have yet been undertaken, with coverage limited to television and radio portrayals only, which fail to paint a detailed picture of the festival and its societal implications and values. This study is, therefore, undertaken to analyze the oral and material traditions of the Ashenda festival and to specifically shed light on the gendered explanations of the Ashenda songs and poems as well as their origins. While a theory of religious origin seems to be the most prevalent explanation, our evidence suggests that Ashenda might have originated as a Christianized form of Pagan traditional harvest festival or traditional match-making festival. Moreover, the Ashenda oral songs and poems can generally be divided into four categories, namely: 1. Freedom songs and poems, 2. Appreciation and compliments, 3. social criticisms, and 4. Identity and communality markers. In the first type of songs, which are the most common ones, young girls express their delight at the seasonal physical and mental freedom they get during the Ashenda festival. It appears a the time when girls become free of any gender-based discrimination and restrictions and become free to express and do whatever they want. The second types are these that are focused on the appreciation and exalting of community heroes. By singing such songs, young girls serve as a form of social recognition and encouragement for those who do good. The third type of songs is where young girls openly criticize societal misbehaviour, thereby practising their full right in community affairs. In the fourth type of songs, girls sing songs that express harmony, cooperation and commonality between themselves, thereby strengthening societal bonds. Our findings indicate that the Ashenda festival, though only for short-lived, empowers, inspires and provides freedom to women and girls in a society that traditionally subordinates women and girls. Therefore, the spirit and principles of Ashenda can be used to inspire women and girls to stand up for their rights and equality.