Ethiopia marks Epiphany with water, colour and prayer

Aboard canoes, motorboats and kayaks fashioned from papyrus stems, the faithful converged on a lake in central Ethiopia to celebrate the Orthodox holiday of Epiphany, known

locally as "Timkat". Lake Ziway, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Addis Ababa, is at the heart of annual celebrations in this region to mark the baptism of Christ, one of

the holiest days on the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar.  The festivities began Wednesday afternoon, as high priests of the church departed from monasteries situated on five of

the lake's islands, flanked by clergy draped in red, blue, white and gold. The priests held aloft the "tabot", replicas of the tablets on to which Christians believe the Ten

Commandments given to Moses were inscribed. From the islands, the priests boarded boats laden with crosses and other icons and journeyed to the centre of the lake, where

they performed rites surrounded by the faithful. Devotees dressed head-to-toe in white, crammed into whatever vessels they could find, including traditional boats crafted

from papyrus known as "tankwa". For two hours, the boats circled the "tabot" as those aboard sung and clapped their hands, before the procession returned to shore of the

lake, also called Tembel. There, a loud celebration began with songs, drums, bells and horns, before an all-night prayer vigil. - 'It is unique' - On Thursday,

the priests returned to the lake to bless the water and on the banks, the fervour and meditation of the evening ritual gave way to smiles of joy. Devotees rushed to the

shore where a priest sprayed the crowd with now-sanctified lake water using a hose.