Ethiopian Culture / General


In August, this blog turned five years old. To commemorate the momentous moment, I thought I’d post about the blog post that has been read the most by you dear visitors in the past five years. Well, it turned out that this post took the gold every single year, but unfortunately I’ve written just about everything I know about hager libs in that post, so I had to switch strategy and look at the most frequently requested search term that led people to this blog, and it turned out to be about tattoos, Ethiopian tattoos, cross tattoos, etc. Apparently a lot of you out there are very interested in Ethiopian-themed tattoos. So this post has gotten pretty significant wear & tear through the years. I considered getting a third tattoo, just to have something to blab about on this anniversary post. Something meaningful, like a tattoo of St.Gabriel, the Ethiopian version, who is oft depicted thus…images

…but then I was advised that that’s rather a lot of men to have on any part of my body at once, not to mention that even though he’s my “godfather”, we haven’t exactly kept in touch. That left me with the other alternative for a tattoo-related blog post: to write about the different options for cross tattoos, based on all the different types of Ethiopian crosses that are out there. Without a doubt, the best resource for this is a nice coffee-table (not necessarily Ethiopian coffee) book titled Crosses of Ethiopia: The Sign of Faith. Evolution and Form by Mario Di Salvo, published in 2006. Considering the questionable nature of what I’m about to do, I feel obligated to encourage you to purchase an investment copy (hit the link and you’ll see what I mean) here.

In the meantime, until an apoplectic and threatening note floats my way regarding image rights and whatnot, let me give you the basics about Ethiopian crosses, so that when you do eventually get one tattooed on your person, you can sound informed about it.

You can thank me later for having barely managed to stay awake to read the book (which, a few paragraphs in, you’ll realize is intended for the stiffest of academics who are immune to mind-numbing boredom) long enough to boil it down to the basics. Basically they divide Ethiopian crosses into groups.

Of Group 1, which they classify generally as ‘Non-Circumscribed Crosses’, you have these subcategories: Crosses with Arms of Parallel Sides (which is your basic cross it seems), Patée Crosses (flared, curvy arms), Crosses with Naturalistic Accentuations (the arms extend or ‘flower’ like a tree, to represent the Tree of Life), Crosses with Intertwined Arms (which looks exactly as it sounds), and Texture Crosses (which are basically repeating patterns). Okay wake up, now time for visuals you can take to the tattoo shop.

Group 2 has Crosses inscribed in squares, possibly representing the four corners of the earth. For obvious reasons, the crosses within the square have to have arms of equal length.

Group 3 has Crosses inscribed in lozenges which fuses the design of the patée cross, but has not been proven to be a reliable substitute for actual lozenges for sore throats.

Group 4 has Crosses inscribed in circles. The circle can be taken as a ‘cosmic wheel’ of sorts, and each cupola as “a symbol of the celestial sphere: the sculpted sign of the cross seems to radiate outward, almost as a solar symbol.”

Group 5 has Crosses inscribed in arches. The bird like features have been interpreted as “the heads of doves, the symbol of the soul liberated from death and a sign of the Resurrection.”

Group 6 has Crosses inscribed in quatrelobe profiles. According to the book, “…each arm of the cross becomes the centre of a kind of aureole, and various elements with distinct, diverse features are added both inside and outside the circumscribing figure.” (Yes I got tired of paraphrasing.)

Now if this was a book report, I know I would get a D, and that only if the teacher is being kind. It’s a shame the book doesn’t spend much time on the ‘why’ of the crosses, but rather focuses almost exclusively on the ‘what’. I guess there is no way of truly verifying why a certain cross is designed the way it is, what each of the elements ‘mean’.

One theme that emerges, however, is that no cross stands alone. Each one is an embellishment of pre-existing designs or an innovation of new ones. In that spirit, and much in the spirit of diaspora, I think one should be free to create her/his own cross. The book inadvertently makes this quite possible, by breaking down all the different variations of crosses into neat charts. Here goes, mix and match away, and create the next generation of crosses! Who knows, maybe a snapshot of your skin will end up in volume two (Crosses of Ethiopia and Beyond, anyone?)


3 thoughts on “Cross-eyed

  1. Pingback: Deconstructing 2016 | Diaspora!

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