Tuesday, November 9, 2010

History of Eskesta - The Traditional Ethiopian Dance

With recent interest in our up close and personal live Music and Eskesta Dance event at Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant of Montclair, NJ, we wanted to share some history and background about the Ethiopian dance that is gaining much attention recently.  We want to thank Martina Petkova for her research in helping us to answer this question for you

The Ethiopian term “Eskesta” means “Dancing shoulders.”  It is often practiced in the Northern parts of Ethiopia (Amhara group) where the indigenous tribes of Amhara, Wollo, Gondar etc. are still performing the dance of Eskesta. The motives and characteristics of the dance are often interchanged during the dance by the performers of the variety of war songs, hunting songs, Shepherd songs, love songs and work songs. The best dancer is appointed to the leader of the group and respectively the best singer.

The eskesta dance transmits ideas, religious beliefs, historical events, ancient stories, emotions, thoughts, through a ritual of shoulder dancing and body movements performed on a certain musical background. One of the main dance motives and movements that are implemented in the ritual of performing of Eskesta are as follows: the Shepherd and his herd, religious commitment and praying (Coptic dance, Jewish roots) and as a matter of meditation.

The extraordinary diversity of dances is a result of different cultures and people, often organized horizontally (grouped in space) in comparison to the European people who are vertically stratified. According to some analysis, the Ethiopian dances are not divided according to their function, but according to their uniqueness and individuality. Therefore, there are over 150 unique dance movements across Ethiopia and its regions.

The theme of Eskesta can be described as follows – expressing certain emotions and impressions from the life through a typical body movement dating back to an Ethiopian tribe (Amhara region), performing these mainly with their heads and shoulders. These significant movements are having a great impact on the Ethiopian indigenous society as a whole. Some of the ideas and themes in this dance are actually inspired from the relations between the genders, work life and religion.

It also is said that this dance was invented because of the snakes. Ethiopian people were often observing the “dance”/movements of the snake, shaking in the same way their neck. On the other hand, in the sphere of indigenous Ethiopian music the influence of the rattlesnake while shaking its tail (the sound it produces) has created a certain way of singing as well.

Furthermore, other symbols and rituals that can be described are these connected with the costumes which each dancer wears. They are often made of woven cotton called “gabbi” or “netella” and painted with different colors depending on the gender of the dancer.

Eskesta is a dance performed both from men and women with their head, neck, chest and shoulders, shaking in specific ways; the music played during the dance is often produced with the traditional Ethiopian instruments like krar, flute, drums and mesenko. The dancers sometimes sing or in some places of the dance utilize the silence in order to stress out some prevailing moments of the dance. There are however some variations depending on the areas in which this dance is performed – Wollo, Gondar or Gojjam.

Historical context – Ethiopia is a widely diverse country with over 80 unique rich ethnic, cultural, custom and linguistic groups. One of the most significant areas in Ethiopian culture from which actually the other spheres developed further is the literature, representing Hebrew and Greek religious texts into the ancient Ge’ez, modern Amharic and Tigringa languages. This cultural heritage shaped some of the Ethiopian dance motives. However, the unique step and rhythm creates a certain motive of “mosaic culture”.

Similar dances can be found in Western Africa, where indigenous dances are performed with head (with sort of tie on it) and arms, especially in the tribe of Conakry, Guinea.

The dance Eskesta brings the dancer into a certain role of history and story-teller, who actually expresses and draws with his/her body the cultural traditions and life. The dance, as well the music and singing are serving as symbolical messages and influences on the Ethiopian society.

Interpretation ethics – while enjoying the Eskesta dance accompanied by the music one can truly start travelling back in the time. These music and dances are dating 3000 years back in the African history – so unique and undiscovered from us, the Europeans. In this context, one can think of the religious variety implemented in the dances and music in Ethiopia as a whole – Orthodox Christian and Muslim motives playing the role of shaping the culture and traditions of this nation.

Eskesta is very interesting to be observed – dancing in the beautiful Ethiopian nature, within the herds of animals making Eskesta an very expressive type of dance. Eskesta itself is providing positive emotions to the public and in the same time creating deeply spiritual atmosphere in which the observer cannot find his/herself easily. Namely this cultural confusion serves as the one that hinders us exploring the dance fully. Ethiopian dance is not something we, the Europeans can understand. Behind the apparent body shaking there are situated deeply cultural and hereditary connotations.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Winners Announced in Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant’s “7 Words for 7 Years” Contest

We are excited to officially announce eight winners who created inspiring quotes for our 7 Words for 7 Years contest!

There is a First Prize winner and 7 Runner-up winners in our first-ever creative contest today.  The contest, which ran for 2 weeks, celebrated the our 7th birthday, when we first opened our doors on October 28th, 2003.

Entrants were asked “How much can you express about your Ethiopian food experience in just 7 words?”  Over 200 7-word creations were received via entries that included both e-mail and in-store written entries. The creative entries varied between prose, poetry, modified haiku, alliteration, and acrostics.  All demonstrated creativity, sentiment and connection to the restaurant.

The restaurant contest winners were selected by a committee comprised of Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant staff members, including owners Berekti and Akberet Mengistu.  The winner received a $25 gift certificate for Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant, and notoriety as the first-ever and only Mesob “7 Words for 7 Years” contest winner. Runners-up received $10 certificates.

The Winner
“Essence of love is Mesob’s secret ingredient.”

Deborah Kanter, a holistic wellness educator from Montclair, NJ, who submitted the winning entry says, “From the first time a friend took me to Mesob, a positive energy permeated the physical surroundings and the food as well, I knew that the energies came from the love that those who created and served the food brought to their work and subsequently to those dining there…What a wonderful dining experience—as if the excellent food…weren’t enough!”

The Seven Runners-up
1. “Come Hand Feed Your Soul at Mesob”
D. Excelsior Kutney, customer since 2004, and also a haiku poet, says inspiration was immediate.  “The Mesob dining experience inspired my seven words by going beyond merely nourishing the body, and beyond simply feeding the soul.  Mesob leaves your soul feeling hand-fed, which makes perfect sense since you eat with your hands at Mesob.”
2. “Anticipation Beckons Savory Succulent Homemade Handheld Deliciousness”
Jennifer Smith-Miller, an active fan in the Mesob Facebook community, who also reintroduced a new item to the restaurant menu with her requests and correspondence e-mailed her entry. “When I think of Mesob, my palate starts to get excited, begins to water in anticipation of the deliciousness to come.” says Ms. Miller. “I already can imagine holding those tender morsels in my hand, that were just freshly made, and can't wait for the food to arrive!”
3. MESOB… Many Ethiopian Specialties on Bread...yummm”
Leslie Debbas submitted this entry, a creative acrostic spelling the restaurant name and says, “From the first day that I ate at Mesob I have been a truly devoted customer! There is nowhere else in the area to enjoy such a unique dining experience as well as such exotic flavors.”
4. "Mesob - Visit Ethiopia without leaving Montclair NJ!"
Runner-up Dr. Audrey Longson, submitted multiple entries, as the restaurant did not want to limit participant creativity.  She says, “My husband and I are major foodies and love to travel the world together in search of new and exciting cuisines.”
5.  “Tasty stews on porous bread - hunger absorbed”
Runner-up Karen Gooen says, “I love the injera at Mesob--it's spongy and light, and it absorbs the flavor of each of the delicious stews…it absorbs my hunger as well, leaving me perfectly sated.”
6. “Mouthwatering Ethiopian Succulent Outstanding Blissful Wonderful”
Kier Bowers was chosen among multiple hand-written restaurant entries.  He says, “I enjoyed my first Ethiopian dining experience. The food, service and ambiance are pleasurable as well as memorable!”
7.  “Mesob Yum!  Palate Loves Aromatic Cloves. Exotic!”
Catherine Brown was not available for comment on the inspiration for her winning creative acrostic for “My Place.”
Vickie Smith-Siculiano, Marketing & PR Manager for Mesob created the first contest for this small, suburban local restaurant that she has also been a fan of since they first opened their doors.  “I know the deep connection that a patron can have with a favorite restaurant because for Mesob, it was also within me.  I am also thrilled to engage restaurant patrons in social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, the restaurant blog and News and Events on the new recently redesigned multimedia website.”
Berekti and Akberet Mengistu, owners of Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant who are also sisters, feel that sharing Ethiopian culture is very important to enhance the dining experience and charm of their eclectic art-filled restaurant.  A new art display soon to debut will contains all the words of all entries to this contest.  Berekti Mengistu says, “We loved reading what people think not just about Ethiopian food, but also the experience you can find at Mesob.  We did not realize the power of just 7 words.”