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Bulletin de la Maison des études éthiopiennes | Novembre 1993. N°3

 | 
Jacques Bureau

Ancient Churches in Tchaqata

A program of Historical Research in Tchaqata

Bertrand Hirsch et Tafari Abate

Texte intégral

1Tchaqata, a sub-Wäräda of the Boräna Region, in South-West Wällo (capital city Wägeddi) is a portion of the high basaltic lands (c. 2 300 m.), on the western side of the Abbay, between the rivers Abbay, Yäshum and Wäläqa, peopled by a dense agricultural population.

  • 1 S. Wright, “Notes on some cave churches in the province of Walo”, Annales d’Ethiopie, II, 1957, p.  (...)

2Tchaqata, which is probably a part of the ancient region called Wäläqa by the hagiographic and historical texts before the coming of Oromo, in the old Bétä Amhara area, is still quite a virgin country for the historians. After a short trip in the 50’s, Wright briefly described some cave churches on the border of the plateau, information used later by R. Sauter and F. Anfray1.

3As far as we know, no scientific study has ever been made of those cave churches after this survey: their exact descriptions and date, the oral and written traditions concerning them, are still unknown outside the region.

4In December 1992, with the support of the Addis-Ababa University, we made a first preparatory investigation of the historical background of Tchaqata. With the help of Wägeddi authorities and of some Tchaqata inhabitants, we visited four cave churches, that had already been explored by S. Wright, and made plans and photographs of them: Däbrä Kärbé (related by the local tradition to the activity of Abba Yaqob Tsadiqu), Däbrä Tsegé (Abba Tsegé Dengel), Yägäzaza Abbo (Gäbrä Mänfäs Qeddus) and the cave churches of the monastery of Gassercha or Däbrä Bahrey (Abba Giyorgis).

  • 2 They are sometimes dated of the Zagwé period: a mere hypothesis which requires confirmation; as the (...)

5Those cave churches are important because of their southern situation in the area of that phenomenon, their possible relation with the famous site of Lalibäla and their probable antiquity2.

6In this preliminary paper, we only want to present some orientations of our planned research in that area.

7Our first tasks consist in an inventory (the generous local tradition mentions 44 cave churches in Tchaqata), and in a complete description of the cave churches by drawings and photographs; this program has been started during our first trip. But for an historian this “archaeological” inquiry is a starting point, not an achievement: he has to understand the relations between those monuments, and their function in ancient times, particularly as centers of monastic communities. Today, only the cave church of Däbrä Bahrey is still connected with a monk’s community; the others are used for some liturgical ceremonies by the priests and the Christian community of the plateau.

8The history of those monuments has to be integrated in a larger history, a regional history of monarchism and of the Christianization of Tchaqata during “medieval” times (xii-xvi c.).

  • 3 In our quest of gädl, we saw interesting manuscripts, particularly the Gädlä Giyorgis, belonging to (...)
  • 4 It is surprising to see how the localization of ancient places and toponyms is sometimes achieved a (...)
  • 5 This is not unusual. The excellent study and maps of V. Stitz (Studienzur Kulturgeographie Zentral (...)

9For this purpose the study of hagiographic texts is a well established method of Ethiopian studies and has inspired many remarkable works for a century3 ; but it often lacks of spatial localization4 and of regional inquiries, being too rarely connected with the “material” history, that is the remnants of churches and monasteries, and also with the various references to the monastic properties which can be found in the manuscripts: as an example, it is quite impossible to find a precise map of churches and monasteries of the ancient Bétä Amhara, that used to be the core of the Christian power until the xvie century and place of the most important royal churches of that time5. In other terms, to illustrate the problem: a history of Däbrä Bahrey could present a complementary understanding of the religious work and of the gädl of the famous and controversial writer of the fifteen century, Abba Giyorgis.

10This gap between the critical study of texts and the field investigations is reflected in the present state of monastic history: an history of monk’s leaders, of their functions in the Christian community, of their relations with the kings and the court, which are of course very important matters, but are not history of the monastic communities: what was the role of monasteries and churches in the ancient space organization of the high plateau? How were monastic networks woven? What was the economic function of those establishments, their organization, their relations with the neighboring peasant communities, the status of their lands?

11These important questions are not new; and it will be presumptuous to find it easy to give an answer. But we think that a patient and precise study of a small region will give perhaps some indications.

  • 6 According to Tchaqata inhabitants, the cave church of Gäbrä Endreyas is located in front of Yägäzaz (...)

12The same remark could be made about the local living traditions which have been too often overlooked. The traditions preserved by priests, monks or inhabitants are like the ancient written one, reconstruction of the past, and must be analyzed with equal methodological care and seriousness. Thus it can offers very interesting informations; for instance, we realized that to the genealogical link of the texts, which consists in relating monks to the most prestigious and ancient monastic lines, the present tradition adds another type of reconstruction, a sort of spatial link between the churches and their hypothetical founders: Abba Tsegé Dengel is connected to Abba Giyorgis (cf. the story of the bridge in Ato Dämäqä’s paper) just as Gäbrä Mänfäs Qeddus to Gäbrä Endreyas6 because, in this two cases, their respective churches face each other (cf. Map).

13This is the reason why we have decided to quickly publish the study made by Ato Dämäqä, a learned man of Mäkanä Sälam, which transcribed part of those local traditions mixed with personal observations: as a first step in this historical study of the ancient sacred geography of Tchaqata, and as a sign of gratitude for that memory of the past, without which nothing would have been started.

Some Tchaqata cave churches

Some Tchaqata cave churches

Notes

1 S. Wright, “Notes on some cave churches in the province of Walo”, Annales d’Ethiopie, II, 1957, p. 7-13; R. Sauter, « Où en est notre connaissance des églises rupestres d’Éthiopie », Annales d’Ethiopie, V, 1963, p. 274 ; F. Anfray, « Des églises et des grottes rupestres », Annales d’Ethiopie, XIII, 1985, p. 7-54.

2 They are sometimes dated of the Zagwé period: a mere hypothesis which requires confirmation; as the stylistic study of the monuments is unsatisfactory for that matter, we intend to take samples for laboratory datations.

3 In our quest of gädl, we saw interesting manuscripts, particularly the Gädlä Giyorgis, belonging to Däbrä Bahrey not used by the editor and translator of this text (cf. G. Colin, Vie de Georges de Sagla, C.S.C.O., vol. 492/493, Louvain, 1987). We will describe them in a forthcoming paper.

4 It is surprising to see how the localization of ancient places and toponyms is sometimes achieved as a pure literary work.

5 This is not unusual. The excellent study and maps of V. Stitz (Studienzur Kulturgeographie Zentral äthiopien, Bonn, 1974) are exceptional.

6 According to Tchaqata inhabitants, the cave church of Gäbrä Endreyas is located in front of Yägäzaza Abo, on the northern bank of the valley.

Table des illustrations

Titre Some Tchaqata cave churches
URL http://books.openedition.org/cfee/docannexe/image/912/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 127k

Auteurs

University Paris 1-Sorbonne

University of Addis-Ababa

© Centre français des études éthiopiennes, 1993

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

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