Hundreds gathered Sunday at the site where Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed last March, killing all 157 on board, for a ceremony symbolising the country’s emergence from a year-long period of mourning.
The crash of the Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 MAX six minutes after takeoff on March 10, 2019, triggered the global grounding of the MAX and the worst crisis in Boeing’s history.
The traditional ceremony of the Oromo ethnic group — Ethiopia’s largest — involved prayers, songs and offerings to the dead.
It took place near the field southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, where the plane came down. Most of those attending came from villages near the crash site in the Oromia region, where the Oromo are concentrated.
Those killed in the disaster came from more than 30 countries.
But Shifaraw Hinsermu, who coordinated Sunday’s ceremony, said residents of nearby villages felt compelled to honour them, even if they didn’t know them personally.
“We believe human beings are created by God. God creates all equally. That’s why the Oromo people give respect to all humanity,” Shifaraw said.
“They don’t know anyone from the 157 deceased. They only know that they are human.”
As the ceremony started, men on horseback rode around the fenced-off point of impact. Some carried black flags signifying grief, while others carried white flags signifying renewal.
Later, women pulled white garments over their black mourning clothes, bringing the mourning period to an end.
‘We will never forget’
“Sisters, fathers and daughters died here,” one of the women mourners, Fantaye Desalegn, told AFP.
She had participated in multiple ceremonies at the site over the course of the year, she said. “Even if it’s the end of the mourning (period), we will never forget them,” she added.
“We’ll remember them in our hearts.”
Back in the capital, families of Ethiopian victims attended a prayer service at Holy Trinity Cathedral.
And the loved ones of foreign victims began arriving in Ethiopia ahead of a private ceremony at the crash site planned for Tuesday.
It is unclear what kind of permanent memorial might be constructed at the site.
Ethiopian Airlines originally intended to use the anniversary to announce the winner of a design competition for a memorial, but the plan drew pushback from some victims’ families who objected to what they perceived as a rushed timeline.
Abraham Sime, who drove from Addis to attend Sunday’s ceremony at the crash site, said he hoped the government would build better roads, schools and clinics in the area to reward local residents for the respect they afforded victims of Flight 302.
“From the moment the plane crashed they spent their days here, they spent their nights here,” he said. “They were hosting programmes related to the grief here for the last one year.”