Ethiopia: Faraqasa – the unique pilgrimage site

The famous shrine takes its name from its location, Faraqasa, – a locality in Merti woreda of Arsi area, Oromia region. It is located 225 kilometers southeast of Addis Ababa. The nearest large town to Faraqasa is the town of Abomsa, about 17 km away.

As October draws to a close, this is where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims across the country and abroad gather each year. Although there is a recently constructed access road to the village, several pilgrims still reach the site on foot, possibly as part of the pilgrimage ritual. There are several days of remembrance in Faraqasa, including the Muslim holidays Mewulid and Eid al-Fitr. But the time of year with the biggest crowds in Farakasa is the last week of October.

More than two hundred thousand people converged in Faraqasa last week, especially October 29 which marks the anniversary of the death of the founder of the spiritual shrine, Momina, also known as The Lady of Arsi. For nearly a century, pilgrims have gathered in Faraqasa to pay homage and allegiance to Momina. The Qubba, Momina’s Mausoleum is the citadel of the Faraqasa spiritual shrine, one of Ethiopia’s most popular pilgrimage shrines.

Several characteristics distinguish Faraqasa from other spiritual pilgrimage sites in the country. First, it is an independent spiritual cult founded by a woman and which has come under attack from a communist government and extremist religious groups. Second, the Faraqasa pilgrimage is not exclusive to a single ethnic group or a single religion. Faraqasa is a testament to Ethiopia’s uniqueness as a nation where people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds sit in the same shrine worshiping the same spiritual power. Faraqasa symbolizes the tolerance and harmony that exists between the different religious, ethnic and linguistic groups in Ethiopia.

Faraqasa pilgrims consist of Muslims, Christians and people of other religious beliefs. Studies estimate that the majority of pilgrims to Farakasa are Christians. Pilgrimage ceremonies combine elements of several religions and traditional practices. Islamic influences, however, are dominant over other religions. The Faraqasa cult relies heavily on Islam and borrows several Muslim terminologies. The building where the main spiritual activities take place is named Mesjid [Mosque]. And the term Qubba refers to Momina’s burial place.

Likewise, words like Karama, kaddami are frequently heard in Farakasa, not to mention the name of the founder Momina. On the other hand, there is ample evidence for the existence of Christian influences on the Faraqasa. Of the eight natural springs used as sources of holy water by pilgrims, seven are named after saints mentioned in the Bible. In addition, the Faraqasa pilgrimage processions also involve spiritual activities recognized in the Christian and Muslim religions. Such styles of worship have their origin in the worship ceremonies of the indigenous religions practiced in Ethiopia.

The incorporation of Christian, Muslim, and indigenous religious elements into the Faraqasa Shrine could be linked to the heterogeneous family background of the shrine’s founder. According to initiates and leaders of the pilgrimage center, Momina had a Christian father and a Muslim mother. She is originally from Sanqa Wollo, Amhara region, and traveled and built shrines in various parts of the country before settling in Faraqasa as her main center for the spiritual services she provided to her followers.

Researchers say the Faraqasa Shrine, as a melting pot of various religions and ethnic groups, has a syncretistic nature exhibiting a variety of Islamic, Christian and indigenous beliefs and practices. Faraqasa is one of those pilgrimage centers that are not influenced by spiritual leaders loyal to specific ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. Thus, in Faraqasa, everyone, regardless of their language, religion or social status, is also greeted and greeted with the word Arhibu and becomes a member of Jemma. [the congregation].

“I cannot describe in words what it is like to be in Faraqasa the day before and the day of October 29th. It is just a fascinating experience. I have no illness or other problems, but I have always been there every year since the age of 12. to see and participate in the various worship ceremonies. The sounds of the prayers and the mass chanting, as well as the sight of the dancers dressed in various costumes, are amazing . That day [29 October], Faraqasa becomes the microcosm of Ethiopia as it has people from all parts of the country. Even foreigners are easy to find there, ”says a 40-year-old man who lives in Adama town on his way to Faraqasa.

Faraqasa pilgrims praise Momina’s glory and the miracle she performed with hymns accompanied by the rhythm of a small drum called Debe. The main singers who lead these hymns of praise by hundreds of pilgrims are usually called Fukuras. Dances and songs take place everywhere: in tents, open fields, and under trees all day and night. Beyond the hectic and electrifying scenes of Farakasa, there are also corners where solemn and deeply spiritual prayer ceremonies [Wadaja] usually performed by senior members of the cult.

The pilgrims ask the spirit of Momina to relieve them of their health problems, to bring them peace and fortune to their community. The pilgrims ask the spirit of Momina to protect them from evil spirits and evil individuals. Some pilgrims vow to bring various offerings if they have a child or if their business plans come true. Others came to pay their vows at the shrines, as they wished they had come true.

Even though Momina died almost a century ago, pilgrims congratulated her and mentioned her name as if she was still alive. Momina and her descendant who succeeded her as spiritual leaders are said to have supernatural powers to alleviate the earthly problems of their followers and even at the level of raising people and animals from the dead.

The veneration of the pilgrims of Momina runs so deep that they even consider the large old trees in the premises of the shrine to be sacred since, they say, Momina used to sit in the shade of these trees. Pilgrims paint tree trunks with butter and hold a coffee ceremony in the shade of the trees. A few minutes walk from the shrine, there are springs of holy water which are said to have healing power for various ailments. The pilgrims drink the holy water or bathe in it.

There are many myths surrounding this exotic place capturing the imaginations of generations. Besides the majority of the devoted devotees of the spiritual leaders of the shrine, a considerable number of travelers come to the shrine to prove with their own eyes all the mysterious stories and wonders they have heard about Faraqasa from their friends and relatives. As is the case with other religious sites, Faraqasa pilgrims also include a large number of business travelers who temporarily transform the sleepy village into a bustling little town overnight with their hundreds of shops and restaurants. in makeshift tents.

The local community benefits from the business opportunity created by the influx of pilgrims across the country and abroad. Several members of the local community-run mini-shops offer food and drink as well as transport services to pilgrims year-round with motorcycles and tuk-tuk.

The Faraqasa Shrine has spiritual and socio-economic benefits for the local community. Besides the economic benefits, the shrine funded the construction of a primary school and a road connecting the village of Faraqasa with the nearest large town, Abomsa. The pilgrimage site has contributed immensely to maintaining the peaceful resolution of disputes and conflicts and in doing so has maintained the peaceful coexistence of ethnically and religiously diverse people in the surrounding communities. The researchers say the ecotourism potential of the pilgrimage site is still untapped.

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