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Heaven & Earth: Church Education & Monastic Culture in Ethiopia


>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, DC.>>Good afternoon. Good afternoon everyone. And I’m really delighted
to see you all here. Especially with the circumstances, with the Jefferson
building being closed. And it really is, and
with our speaker coming from London to be with us. So, I’m delighted to see
such a large audience. I’m Mary-Jane Deeb, chief of
the African-Mid-East division, and I want to welcome you to
our division, and to invite you to return as often as possible. We are a division made up of three
sections, as most of you know. The African section, the Hebraic
section, and the Near East section. We cover 78 countries, and
we cover of them in the sense that we are responsible
for collections, and for serving those
collections in this room. And we don’t simply
collect books and journals and newspapers and so forth. But we also like to invite people
to do research in this reading room. And we use our collections, and
we consult with our specialists, all of whom are scholars
and specialists in the region that they cover. We like to have them come here
and share with us the product of their research, the books that they have done,
that they have written. The articles and others. And other products. We also like to invite
people from outside, who have not necessarily
used our collections, but who like the gentleman
today, Mike Mackonen, can give us an insight into
the culture of the societies from whose collections,
this division, this division’s collections
is made up of. So, we invite people who bring
in films, who have photographs, who have artwork, that
illustrate and that speak to the culture of our 78 countries. So today we have Michael
Mackonen, and he’s the director of a wonderfully beautiful
type of film, Heaven and Earth. And we are very much looking
forward to his, to the film. There’s a special aspect
of the Ethiopian Society, and here to introduce
him is our own scholar and specialist, Fentahun Tiruneh.>>Thank you, Mary-Jane. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you
for coming to this program today. Before I introduce our
special guest today, I would like to make a
couple of announcements. First, the forms that you see,
the survey forms that you see, that are placed on your seats,
please make sure that you fill them out and leave them when you leave. Give them to me, or you leave
them on the information desk. This event is being videotaped
for subsequent broadcast on the library’s webcast
and other media. There will be a formal question and
answer period after the screening, during which the audience
is encouraged to ask questions and offer comments. But please be advised that your
voice and image may be recorded and later broadcast
as part of this event. By participating in this
question and answer period, you are consenting to the
library’s possible reproduction and transmission of your remarks. I will now introduce our guest,
Mike Mackonen, Mikhail or Michael, is a British Ethiopian
independent documentary filmmaker, and BBC World Service
freelance regular art reporter. Mackonen completed his
high school diploma at the [inaudible]
Vocational School in 1988. He has his BA Hons in Communication
and Cultural Studies, late 1990s, from Middlesex University,
London, and a Master’s degree in African Studies from
the School of Oriental and African Studies,
University of London. His post-graduate dissertation,
Ethnicity and Nationalism in African Context, was published with Cambridge University
Press in 2007. Mackonen is a recipient of
BBC’s skill set millennium award for his radio broadcasting
project called Bridging the Gap. A program designed
to focus on the life of African immigrants
in the United Kingdom. In his radio broadcasting career
with the BBC World Service, Mackonen produced and
presented a number of programs such as Shakespeare in Amharic,
Bridging the Gap, [inaudible] Jazz, biographical documentary, and
interviewed numerous Ethiopians and other African musicians
and artists. Mackonen made three
documentary films, including the Ethiopian
Thinking, a 22 minutes documentary on the brief history of
Ethiopian philosophy, in 2009. In 2011, Secret Art, a history
of modern art and art education in Ethiopia, from the
perspective of the biography of Aller Felagasalam
[assumed spelling], founder of the Modern
Arts school in Ethiopia. And Heaven and Earth,
Church Education and Monastic Culture
in Ethiopia, in 2015. Mackonen at the moment
is doing research to make a two-hour documentary
on the political history of Ethiopia from 1900 onwards. Mackonen is also a qualified
youth and community worker, who involves in different
ethnic minority community and youth projects in London. Mackonen Mikhail is married
and is a father of three. Please welcome Mackonen Mikhail. [ Applause ]>>Thanks very much for your
generous description of me. Wonderful. Thank you very much. My experience in the visual
media has started since 2005, when I was involved with the
different youth community projects, video projects. And after that, I was involved
in lots of community projects, video projects, in London. And that was the beginning. But I came across with
the African cultures, I’m a cultural documentary filmmaker
at the moment, independent. Mainly focused on northeastern
African history and culture. This particular documentary,
Heaven and Earth, is a fifteen-minute documentary
on the philosophical aspect of Ethiopian history,
which is church education and monastic culture. The reason why I call it Heaven
and Earth, on my research, when I travel around, to the
northern part of Ethiopia, the highland Ethiopia,
the landscape, the beauty of the country, the
color, the society, and the devotion of the people who lived in the
monastery, the nuns and the priests and all that, is very heavenly. And their day-to-day life
and hardship is also earth. So, I tried to just
make some comparison. Heaven and Earth, so all
together in that part of the land. Traveling to do this documentary
in Ethiopia is very easy, because the roads are now really
really good, especially when you go to the mountains and to the remote
part of the church, the monasteries. But it is life-changing, and
such a privilege and wonderful. I am privileged to
involve with such kind of amazing documentarian journey. And I met very, very interesting
individuals, spiritual people, priests and nuns and
monks, and Ethiopianists, Ethiopian historians
and intellectuals. And with all that I have
privileged to involve in such a wonderful project. So this particular film,
Heaven and Earth, as I said, dealing with the factual
account of the Church education, which is the quality in Amharic,
and the monastic culture, which is back to 2000 years. And it is very difficult to
compile everything in 15 minutes, the architecture, the
literature, the music, all together to make a
15 minute documentary. All this together is very difficult. But it is an introductory,
very informative, and give some very
selective ideas what is going on in the past 2000
years in Ethiopia. And the fundamental education
and the fundamental philosophy. You will see on the
documentary that it can show that which is a continuation. So I’m going to have a plan to
make Part 2, and then Part 3, probably apart from
focusing on the literature and choreography and the language. Part 3, I may go to the deeper
understanding and research on the Ethiopian music, from
Yared [assumed spelling] to today. That’s my next project. I hope you will enjoy the film,
and we are going to have a question and answer after the session,
and thank you for coming. Thank you very much. [ Applause ] [ Inaudible video ] [ Applause ]>>Hope you enjoyed it. It’s — before we go into the
question and answer session, I just want to give a little
appreciation to people who help me when I do this documentary film. As you can see, I travel a lot, because to make different
captures from different areas. And I didn’t really
made it as I want, because as an independent
filmmaker, I fund myself. Most of the funding come from
my own, and my family money. And my wife is here. I’m sure she really
appreciate this now. And it’s a struggle at
the moment, at the time. I really thank the Habitat
Preservation Authority in Ethiopia. It’s a brilliant team there
with [inaudible] my good friend, the former director, and Yonas
Distat [assumed spelling], his successor, and some other people who actually helped
with this documentary. And little funding from the UNESCO. I really appreciate that. And the Ethiopian Airlines. They been through help me
even for my trip today here. They give me travel, they
cover my travel costs. And they are willing to use
this film to their in-flight, in negotiations at the moment. That’s brilliant stuff. And I already talked with
Dr. Johann [inaudible], without our time I
couldn’t come here. A fellow brother and an academic. We have a plan to do
more work on this, because he has more
content knowledge. I’m a filmmaker. I’m an artist. But with the collaboration
with both of us, I hope, together to more documentary
to count. And I am really, really humbled
and honored to show my film in this prestigious
center, [inaudible] and my [inaudible] as well. It is a privilege and I
hope our relationship will, and this kind of work
will be continued. And my friend Mat Andreas
[assumed spelling] also here, photographing me. And never know if I look
good or not for you. Show me later. That’s brilliant. I’m so privileged to
do this documentary. Although it’s my own idea. I wrote it and directed
it and produced it. But lots of people — I can’t
name everybody, call everybody — but lots of people helped
me to do this documentary. My cinematographic technician
is a wonderful cameraman, and the soundtrack music made by
Terry Mack is an Ethiopian composer, and I really thank him as well. He’s been there with me throughout. And thank you. So I’m here to answer
any question you have. Thank you.>>I just wanted to
thank you [inaudible].>>Thank you.>>So I have just a
general question, but I thought it might
capture [inaudible]. And he said something which
I thought was striking. He said, those traditions
[inaudible] ancient times, but there’s always something new. And I was wondering
if there’s something that will come again and again. It’s all a tradition, but
there’s also something new.>>Yes.>>I wanted you to elaborate
on the old and the new.>>Yes. As you can see, when I — from the lake and cut to these
small cottage student houses, and you see this door, when it
is shut down, you see that tells that the religious
school, in English. Never been there before. It was there. That’s one of the modernities. And Amharic — it used to be
but it is now, even on liturgy in the church ceremony,
on the worship also. They are now Amharic also take over. So, people now learn
English in very fast paced. Youngsters in that area are
speaking very, very good English. Probably better than me. That is also a sign of modernity. And of change. And on that particular premises,
when I talked to the teacher, he explains in details about
the levels, the criterias, of being a colo tamani [assumed
spelling] or traditional student. So it is very, very
fascinating, because I stayed about three four days
there with the students. And I didn’t put lots of pictures,
because I kind of put everything for forty-five and
fifty minute film. But it’s so fascinating
how they are really, the system by itself is very
fierce, and then you have to really prepare yourself,
read every day. Every second. So with a very strong
repetitive reading, then you start reciting by heart. So that’s one of the criteria. So difficult. That didn’t change till then. There’s no much difference. But the system, a little
bit changed. I don’t know to some
extent, they said that back in the days it was
very, very difficult. It was very strong. The life, the daily
life is still the same. Very difficult for them. Even back in the days [inaudible],
everybody, all the students, youngsters, all are
surviving with begging and supported by the community. That’s the same. But now and then, there are
elements of things are really new. And still the same for the
past 1,500 years as well. And in my next project,
which I am already prepared, is to focus in detail
on the education system, and the [inaudible], and
the very, very fascinating. And mind-blowing investigation
we’re going to do when we do that. This is as an introductory. The beginning, the first
part of the whole content. So that’s the way. Thank you.>>[inaudible]>>Thank you. [ Inaudible comments ]>>Yes, a very good question. It is declining. I’m the witness. Because on my — from research till
I travel all this magnificent places and film and talk to the people
who live there, it is declining. And my film is not only informing
the heritage, the African heritage, the identity we have, to
the rest of the world. Or those stereotypes, the
Eurocentric ideologies. Africa is rich in knowledge. It is not always telling us that without external agents,
we cannot move forward. That’s not really right. That’s not true, and
we have to show that. These documentaries as an
internalist approach — I am an Ethiopian,
although I live over 23, 24 years in England,
since my young age. I’m an Ethiopian. So such kind of documentary
in detail never been done by an African filmmaker,
or documentary filmmaker. So for me, is a kind
of research as well. This documentary, or the idea
behind this documentary’s identity, is not of showing all the
beautiful landscape only. But look, we have this for the
past 1,500 years, or 2,000 years. And we should promote that. We should embrace that. We should show to the
rest of the world. Identity is a key, I
think, in my concept. We should know where we come
from, to know who we are. And that is why I am
doing this documentary. It is — as you can see, I
didn’t really emphasize it is just Ethiopian. It is Africa. It is black. And we have country,
and we have philosophy, and we have education system. And that should be the
center for our existence. And to move forward. And we should come
together and work on that. I am always baffled when I
see that it’s no a single, not a single feature film made
about the Battle of Accra. We always say that we’re
black, we have culture. We have to fight. We have to research. We have to do that. Why would it show that? That is the beginning. You did so many things in the world. The British made so many things,
including the colonialism. The colonial fight. Their fight, as a positive
acknowledgement. A single thing didn’t do —
all this production companies and big black producers didn’t do
anything about the Battle of Accra. It’s a shame. I’m so angry, and I’m so really,
really baffled about this. So this documentary is nothing
but to create awareness. Let’s get together. Let’s show this. Why do we always talk about the —
the Battle of Accra is a triumph of black people against imperialism,
against the racism, probably. And Fascism. And everybody work for that. If we see the past history, the
number of black African-Americans who registered to go and fight
with Emperor Highness is amazing. If we go and check the
history about this. So I am always baffled about that. So this particular film
is to create awareness.>>Any more questions? I was very intrigued by one section where you showed the monastery
[inaudible] participating. And these kids have [inaudible]
very strict segregation in monasteries and convents. And so I’m just wondering
how that comes about, and if there’s an intention
in traditional, where there is that segregation by sexes, and
this one particular monastery where this seems to coexist.>>Yes, well-spoken. I did it deliberately. Because I select places,
when I do my film. For example, people who know
the prestigious centers, and people who knows that the,
the well-known priest and monk. They say that why you
didn’t go there? Why you didn’t go here? Because they know where
is it the best. But my film is for
the wider audience. And I see things in a way my
camera sees, what is nicer and how I’m going to put or
give my message on the screen. But as you said, yes. I selected that particular
both sexes coexistence. And they have no problem. They live together in peace,
and they pray together. There’s no problem. Of course there are some monasteries
that are very, very divided and only for men and only for women. Yeah. There are as well. But this is my personal selection,
just to show the harmony. [ Inaudible comments ]>>What? It’s been there. [ Inaudible comments ]>>Yes. [ Inaudible comments ]>>Yeah. Well. Thank you for your comment. Now as I see, on my research
as well as my filming, more than education is
now a universal thing. I’m not advocating to change
everything in the educational system of Ethiopia to bring
it to the quality. That is impossible. That is just, you will know. But what I’m trying to do, advocate,
is as a classical language of peace, should be at [inaudible]
tried to mention that. We should really give
just a subject, because it is history,
culture, identity. We should really preserve that. That is the main thing
we have to rethink. Like Greeks, they preserve
their language, you know? We should do that. That language is the same classic. So my point is that not to
change to the high school level. No, it’s not. But I understand your comment.>>Okay, I think we
have to close it here. And thank you all for coming.>>Thank you very much. [ Applause ]

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