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.
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.
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.
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.