Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

Man,hack and a mountain

In this world there is only one man who can carve twelve churches inside a mountain using only a wooden hack. Behind those ambitious cave churches is an old monk, Aba Defar. Despite his age of 76, he is still carving every day in the Ethiopian highlands. They don’t call him a miracle of the modern world for no reason.

Powerful clacks spread out from deep rugged mountains in northwest Ethiopia. Every clack sounds determined.
The booming comes from one carved hole on the side of a mountain. Everyone in the highland knows who is behind the sound. He is a monk, called Aba Defar.
It all started one night in 1966. While Aba Defar slept apprehensively, he saw a vision where he was standing near his birth place, in a valley of Checheho, but the place looked strange. The familiar chain of mountains wasn’t the only thing he saw there – the whole line was covered by churches.
In the morning Aba Defar did not know what to think of the dream. But when the sight kept repeating over 20 years, he didn’t have an option. He walked to his godfathers’ house and asked for a hack.
The place in the mountains where the clacking sounds is rough and naked, only few evergreen trees have lost their way and stay still on the shoulder of the mountain. The only visible marks of human beings is the carved holes on the side of the mountain and a Chinese built asphalt road.
The incomplete church is dark and dusty, but if you really want to see the face of the man behind the diggings, you have to lure him out of the cave. At first the booming stops and then he appears from the hole.
He is a medium built  man, with stern eyes that observe strangers calmly. He is draped in a burgundy cowl which is dusty due to carving.  A square hat rests on his head and his hair falls down like warm grey blanket.
Aba Defar tells a long story about his strong mission with churches. Sometimes he even has a feeling that someone else has been helping him to carve his caves while he sleeps. Over the past 20 years, he has been carving churches inside of mountain with no rest. He starts building every church upstairs and every fifteen days he starts a new room. Until today he has finished twelve churches and currently is nearly completing the thirteenth church. It’s quite an astonishing worksite for one man and one hack.
Suddenly Aba Defar stops talking. He takes his yellow robe and starts walking down the mountain. I follow him and see a small house at the foot of the mountain. A tiny funnel is billowing smoke as we walk towards the house. The door slowly opens and a woman comes out with a huge plate of Injera. Finally I understand where he gets his power.
(Mari Karppinen is a journalist for MTV 3 based in Finland Helsinki)