10 Apr 2024

Ashenda Women's Festival, Tigray, Ethiopia, third week of August


Ashenda is a unique women’s festival, which takes place in Tigray around the third week of August, although there are similar festivals in Lalibela and north of Lalibela in Sekota, and northern Wollo, where it is called Shaday.

Its origins probably predate Christianity, but in the Christian era it came to mark the end of the two week filseta fast, and the ascension to heaven of Saint Mary, but the festival has grown way beyond that in recent years, and reflects the change in girls’ and women’s status in society.

The name of the festival “Ashenda” comes from the name of a tall grass that the girls make in to a skirt, and wear it around their waist as decoration.

The feast presents a great opportunity for girls and young women to plait their hair in fantastic styles, to dress up and hit the streets with a hand drum, singing and dancing with friends and peers for up to a week. They chant songs and show off their dance styles to their hearts content, attired with eye catching costumes. Parents know this is their time and they let them free of any household work.

There is a unique carnival atmosphere, as the groups of girls walk throughout the town, circling and dancing around the men they encounter, asking for a payment before the men are allowed to proceed. There is no set fee, it is symbolic more than anything else, and there are songs for both those who pay, and those who don’t.

Young boys in traditional dress accompany the Ashenda girls, supposedly as “body guards”, but actually as an excuse to join in the fun.

In the evening at night, there are concerts and bands playing in night clubs and bars.