Seen by their guardians as sacred, Ethiopia’s church forests are protected and cared for by their priests and their communities. Photographer Kieran Dodds has brought together his images of these oases and the story of the country’s spiritually driven conservation movement in a new book, The Church Forests of Ethiopia.
By Kieran Dodds
South of the Sahara, and just north of the Great Rift Valley in landlocked Ethiopia, the Blue Nile flows from Lake Tana, the largest lake in the country. Radiating out from the sacred source is a scattering of forest islands, strewn across the dry highlands like a handful of emeralds. At the heart of each circle of forest, hunkered down under the ancient canopy and wrapped in lush vegetation, are saucer-shaped churches – otherworldly structures that almost seem to emit a life force. And in a sense they do.
Ethiopia is one of the fastest expanding economies in the world today and the second most populous country in Africa. The vast majority of people live in rural areas, where the expansion of settlements and agriculture is slowly thinning the forest edge by cattle and plough.