Islands are of course uninhabitable without a good water supply and this was emphasised on Vanuatu in its creation myth according to John Paton in his 1890s Thirty years among the South Seas cannibals records that springs figure in the folklore concerning the origin of the islands. It is said that local god Matshiktshiki fished the islands out of the sea:
“And they show the deep print of his foot on the coral rocks opposite each island, whereupon he stood as he strained and lifting them up above the waters. Then he three his great fishing line round Futuna, thirty six miles distant, to draw it close to Aniwa and make them one land; but as he pulled, the line broke and he fell where his mark may still be seen upon the rocks, so the Islands remain separated to this day. Matshiktshiki placed men and women on Aniwa. On the southern end of the island, there was a beautiful spring and a fresh-water river, with rich lands all around for plantations. But the people would not do what M wanted them so he got angry, and split the richer part of Aniwa, with the spring and river and sailed with hem across to Aneityum…To this day the river is called ‘the water of Aniwa’ by the inhabitants of both islands; and it is the ambition of all Aniwans to visit Aneityum and drink of that spring and river as they sign to each other: Alas for the waters of Aniwa
Being a geothermal area hot springs are found on the island One such is the hot spring at Efate called the Takara springs. These arise in channels which are stone lined with beautiful blue clear water with some algal growth filling a large communal pool. It is thought that the water mixes with salt water giving the waters an unusual property. However it is when the water flows into the mud pools that it is thought to be particularly efficacious. Here the watery mud is applied to the skin and then after being washed off it is thought that it has the powers to rejuvenate the skin. The locals believe it has considering healing. However, these healing springs have a dark past too. John Paton in his 1890s Thirty years among the South Seas cannibals records:
“We retired to a Native house that had been temporarily granted to us for rest, and there pled before God for them all. The noise and the discharge of muskets gradually receded, as if the Inland people were retiring ; and towards evening the people around us returned to their villages. We were afterwards informed that five or six men had been shot dead ; that their bodies had been carried by the conquerors from the field of battle, and cooked and eaten that very night at a boiling spring near the head of the bay, less than a mile from the spot where my house was being built. We had also a more graphic illustration of the surroundings into which we had come, through Dr. Inglis s Aneityum boy, who accompanied us as cook. When our tea was wanted next morning, the boy could not be found. After a while of great anxiety on our part, he returned, saying, “Missi, this is a dark land. The people of this land do dark works. At the boiling spring they have cooked and feasted upon the slain. They have washed the blood into the water ; they have bathed there, polluting everything. I cannot get pure water to make your tea. What shall I do?”
One wonders if those wallowing in its healthy waters know they could have had another fate there?
“Every morning, before six o’clock, a throng of men and women make their way to the edge of the ancient city of Gondar in northern Ethiopia. They are among many from across Ethiopia who have risen early to attend a holy spring in search of healing for their physical, spiritual and mental disorders. Some have walked for days from the remote countryside having heard of the power of this water at Ba’ata church. Others come from Gondar itself. Still more have taken the bus from the capital, Addis Ababa, 400km (250 miles) to the south. They believe that the cure they will find here will be more complete than any offered in the government hospitals in the city.”
Ethiopia: Washing away the demons Rachel Chambers 1999
Ethiopia is well endowed with notable springs. Many of them are simple springs such as Burkito where hundreds each day bath in the hot waters of the volcanic spring whereas others are developed into spas. Indeed the hot springs of Wondo Genet, Yirga Alem, where in 1964 it was developed by Haille Selassie by establishing a swimming pool and hotel
These springs are said to cure a wide range of medical issues. The list includes prevention of musculo-skeletal disorders (such as arthritis), chronic diseases of respiratory system (such as bronchitis, asthma), Chronic diseases of the digestive system, metabolic diseases (such as obesity, diabetes) and dermal diseases and allergies (such as atopic eczema, acne). Many claim these properties as spas other have a more spiritual sites such do the sacred springs of Gondar. Which at the break of dawn each day is a scene of religious reading, blessings, prayer, baptism and exorcism!
Unlike some other holy springs, the site is restricted site. The site, a walled around spring head is only accessible to the Ba’ata church’s priests who distribute the water, often sprinkling it to the pilgrims. Chambers (1999) notes that when she visited:
“An elderly woman is assisted by her two daughters. A young peasant girl stands to explain to those around her that she is poor and has travelled far. A few onlookers drop cents into her cup to help her pay for the treatment she will receive here. An elder from the community prays from a well-thumbed book of prayers and disturbs the flies with his horse-hair whisk. And a woman soothes the disabled child she is carrying on her back in a leather harness decorated with shells.”
The site is sacred to a tribal group called the Qemant who despite adopting Christianity still have pagan traditions. Gary R. Garner in his 2009 Sacred Wells states that:
“the Qemant are descendents of the Agaw and they continue many of the Agaw traditions including worshiping a sky god, and recognising personal spirits: genii loci, and sky spirits…the Qemant continue to annually sacrifice a white bull or sheep to the geni loci that are residing in…holy geographic places.”
These the author suggests are springs. Indeed, Lake Bishoftu remains a site of annual sacrifice by the country’s Muslim and Christian groups.
At the sacred spring of Gondor. During the ceremony the water is said to be purified by retelling a hagiographical story of the Life of Saint Teklahaymanot. A saint said to have stood on one leg for so long in prayer that it went gangrenous and was cut off. By retelling the story it is said that the demons are driven away! Once done the water can be utilised. Chambers states that once the reading was done:
“The old priest is now at liberty to offer his blessing to the people who are already clamouring for his attention. A young woman seeks a blessing for her first pregnancy, another brings her sick child to be touched by the priest’s iron cross. A man with gastric problems has his stomach rubbed with the cross and is recommended to take the holy water for seven days. Another man reports difficulty in walking and duly has his legs massaged with the cross. The reading continues for over an hour and is only interrupted when a small child swallows a cent and needs a hefty thwack on the back to bring it flying out, to the immense relief of his mother.”
There are two types of pilgrim to this water. Some come to receive baptism. Many unclothe. This is undertaken by a priest who holds a cross upon the supplicant whilst the other hand holds a hose which douses the person with baptism water. The other group seek its purging affects and ask for water to fill cans and bottles. The deacons present dutifully fill these cans with holy water and each attendee pays 50 cents, a recommended price for seven days of treatment. The water is potent stuff. It is recorded that once the water is collected the pilgrims disperse to various rocks to drink it. Why? It is because the water has strong purging effects – rapid diarrhoea or vomiting will result! This is good because it will cleanse the body of the evil spirits within or whatever is calling the disease. These evil spirits are drawn out by the priest, the water causing them to be shouted out. It is said that the priests makes a plea with the demon to remove themselves over the seven day treatment.
Perhaps the most noted Ethiopian ceremony associated with water is orthodox Timkat, itself meaning baptism being as it does on the 19th January celebrate Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan. Recorded by Author Donald N. Levin in his 1974 Greater Ethiopia: the evolution of multi-ethnic society it is noted that the day starts with the divine liturgy is celebrated near a stream or pool early in the morning around 2 am, this nearby body of water is then blessed and its water sprinkled on those present in a form of symbolic renewal of baptismal vows. Many jump into 17th-century Fasiladas’ Bath on the third day after the priest enters the pool at 7 am, praying and dipping his cross in pool.
Ethiopia has a rich water heritage to explore