Here are some more of the photos I shot when I was visiting the ancient monasteries out on the isolated islands of Lake Tana.

This first shot is the typical tourist shot, I know. The murals and tapestries here date back to about the 16th century, although there are earlier paintings and artwork.

dave lafontaine posing with the crutch-chairs in the bahir dar monasteries

Yeah, I know I kinda look like Long John Silver here, being stared at by all the little angels painted on the walls. The Ethiopian Orthodox churches do not allow you to sit, so the congregation has to lean on these sort-of crutches.

The artwork here shows the influence of all the cultures that have touched Ethiopia over the centuries.

You can see very clearly the influence of the great Indian empires, as well as some of the western European crusaders and the styles copies from illuminated manuscripts. The paints were apparently quite difficult to manufacture – although the blacks were made by roasting and then fermenting barley and mixing the tint with egg whites.

weathered artwork in bahir dar monastery

In some sectors of the monastery, the roof leaks. Unfortunately, that means that the water has ruined some priceless art. Here we see some of the paintings made over the shutters for the windows; the nativity scene on the right is still in pretty good shape, but the papyrus on the left is pretty tattered.

Seeing the familiar Christian/Biblical stories through an African cultural prism is illuminating; the effect is kind of like listening to a remix of a gospel song done by an AfroBeat orchestra.

Still, there must have been some cultural cross-pollination, because of the familiarity of the costumes that the painters put the Virgin Mary and Christ into. The flowing robes and the headdresses show that there was at least some artwork that made it to Ethiopia – as well as the way that the painters depicted the halos around the various saints and angels.

crowns of ancient emperors

These are some of the brass crowns of the Emperors, collected and preserved in the cases underneath the monasteries.

The locals that live on the islands are selling off their cultural treasures – as well as a lot of other hand-made tchotchkes.

There are all kinds of necklaces, guaranteed to save you from bad dreams, mysterious fevers, evil spirits, demons, and the effects of too many St. George beers. There is also some of the rarest coffee in the world – grown on the islands and apparently reserved for the monks and the locals only.

locals sell ancient bibles and religious artefacts

The carved wooden statues of the monks praying are fairly recent. The little bibles and paintings are anywhere from a couple of hundred years old, to who knows? They are done on lambskin, which has held up pretty well.