Priests and worshippers at the Hamere Berhan Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, are working to preserve ancient texts and artwork by replicating them by hand. The materials, including parchment, pens and ink, are prepared at the institute, which was founded four years ago to help prevent the disappearance of ancient parchment manuscripts from Ethiopian culture. The works are often kept in monasteries, where they are used for prayers or religious chants, and the institute’s workers recreate them for individual customers, churches and monasteries. The institute is located in the Piasa district in the heart of the Ethiopian capital.
According to an article in Al Jazeera, the Hamere Berhan Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is working to preserve an ancient tradition by replicating centuries-old religious manuscripts and sacred artwork by hand. Priests and lay worshippers use goatskin parchment, bamboo ink pens, and homemade ink to carefully copy text in the ancient Ge’ez language from religious books. This painstaking task brings them closer to God, According to an article in priest Zelalem Mola, who is 42 years old.
The Hamere Berhan Institute began this project four years ago because ancient parchment manuscripts were disappearing from Ethiopian culture. These precious works are mainly kept in monasteries, where prayers or religious chants are conducted using only parchment rather than paper manuscripts. Yeshiemebet Sisay, who is in charge of communications at Hamere Berhan, said, “This custom is rapidly fading. … We thought if we could learn skills from our priests, we could work on it ourselves, so that is how we began.”
To prepare the goatskin parchment, workers immerse the skins in water for three to four days. They then make holes on the edge of the skin and tie it to metal frames so that it can stretch. Once stretched, they remove the extra layer of fat on the skin’s inside to make it clean. After the skins dry, they are stripped of their goat hair and then cut to the desired size for use as pages of a book or for painting.
Most of the manuscripts are commissioned by individuals who then donate them to churches or monasteries. Some customers order small collections of prayers or paintings for themselves to have “reproductions of ancient Ethiopian works,” According to an article in Yeshiemebet. Small books can take one or two months, while large books can take one to two years if it is a collective work. If it’s an individual task, it can take even longer.
The manuscripts are adorned with brightly colored illuminations and religious images. The books are clad in red leather, making them a beautiful addition to any collection. The Hamere Berhan Institute is doing important work in preserving an ancient tradition while also providing opportunities for individuals to have reproductions of ancient Ethiopian works.