Origin & Source of Qəne Subject Matter

         5.   The Origin of Qəne and the sources for the Qəne Subject Matter 

How did Qəne start?

It is believed that Saint Yared is the originator of Qəne. Since most of Saint Yared’s works are based on the Bible, thus it can be assumed that the Bible is the original source of Qəne composition. Some parts of the Bible such as the Psalms and the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) are written in poetry form. Some books of the Bible such as the Song of Songs and the teachings (sermons) of Jesus use a lot of metaphorical and allegorical language similar to the Säm əna Wärq mode of Qəne.  Saint Yared’s non-sparing use of the content and style of the Bible helped in making his compositions acceptable and popular.  Most of his works were composed in poetic form(?). Some of his compositions are still used as prayers in their original form:       

For Example:

ሐዋርያቲሁ ከበበ፣

እግረ አርዳኢሁ ሐጸበ፣

ኮኖሙ አበ ወእመ ወመሐሮሙ ጥበብ፡፡

        He appointed his apostles

        He washed his disciples’ feet

        Becoming their parent, he thought them wisdom.


Some of Saint Yared’s compositions, in addition to not rhyming, were not classified as present day Qəne according to their metrical pattern as Gubaʾe Qana, Mäwädəs … etc. There are some compositions in the Dəgwa which are still sung as hymns before Qənes are presented during religious holidays. Some of his compositions did not employ the Säm əna Wärq mode and just conveyed the message. For example, in the Mäwädəs of the Resurrection, it says

                ክርስቶስ ተንሥአ እሙታን፣

                በአብይ ኃይል ወስልጣን፣

                Christ rose from the dead

                With great might and authority.

But this does not imply that Saint Yared was not familiar with the Säm əna Wärq mode. To thrust aside this notion, one need just to look at his composition called ʾaryam,

እምፈልፈለ ብዕል ገነተ ንጉሥ ሰቀዩ፣

እምነቅዐ ወንጌል ገራህተ አርወዩ፡፡

        Using the fountain/riches, they watered the King’s Garden

        From the Spring/New Testament they satiated the farm

This is a comparative type of Säm əna Wärq mode. This Qəne clearly juxtaposes the Säm (wax) and Wärq (gold). The Säm is indicated by the servants that water their master's garden and field from the fountain or the well - ensuring a rich harvest. The Wärq refers to Jesus' apostles and disciples feeding the Christian masses with the Gospel - ensuring salvation.


Another early composer of Qəne is the prolific author Abba Giyorgis of Gassecha. For example,


        ዝብጥኒ ..


        Strike me ...



Although Saint Yared was the earliest composer of Qəne, he does not appear to have set the forms and meters for the genre. There are, in fact, several possible candidates deemed responsible. One possibility lies with Qəne scholars during the reign of Emperor Eskender (1478-1494) - Hawira, Menkera, Eskendera, Poeskenedera and Abidira. Another explanation - commonly referred to as the Wadla claim - attributes it to an early 15th century scholar from Wadla named Yohannəs Geblawi. And then there is the Gonj claim - attributing the deed to a certain Täwanäy who flourished after the 15th century. Täwanäy is alleged to have learned his Qəne alongside Wäldä Mariam from a certain Eliab, who in turn learned it from alongside Lehib from Sämrä Ab, who in turn learned it from Yohannəs Geblawi.


Oral traditions also mention a certain Däqä Est’ifa as the scholar responsible for setting the meters for Qəne. Däqä Est’ifa is alleged to have acquired seven crafts from Greece - six having to do with magic, and the seventh Qəne - and returned to Ethiopia during the reign of Emperor Bä'edä Mariam (1468-1478). He is then said to have taught the seventh craft to Prince Eskinder, Hawira, Menkera, Behur, and another Eskinder.


Däqä Est’ifa was quite popular at his former pupil Emperor Eskinder's court. One tradition claims he seduced the Emperor's wife and used one of his other crafts to vanish with her. One poet alluded to her whereabouts in the following way,


እጇን ተሰብራ ከማህሉ፤

ደቅ አለች አሉ፡፡


        They say, she has broken her hand in half,

        Indeed, she is shattered. (She is at Däq ).



The Emperor, realizing his wife was at Däq  Island along Lake Tana, marched there with the full force of his army. Däqä Est’ifa, taken by surprise, is said to have then composed the following Qəne,


ይቤ አጋግ ከመዝኑ ሞት መሪር፣

በጊዜ ረገዞ ሳሙኤል መምህር፡፡

ወሰራቄ ንግሥት አነ ደቀ እስጢፋ ኅሡር፣

አንበሳ እስክንድር፣ ዕጓለ አንበሳ እንዘ ትጥህር፣

እምእርአይከ ተኀጢኒ ምድር፡፡


        "Oh is death so bitter," said Agag,

        When Samuel the Prophet speared him,

        And I, wretched Däqä Est’ifa, seducer of the queen   

        Instead of seeing you, brave Eskinder - son of lions - roar

        Oh, I would prefer the earth swallow me.



His former pupil then replied thus,


ምንት አገበረከ ቁንጽለ ገዳም አንተ ቤተ አንበሳ በዊአ፤

ኢትሰምዕኑ ጥኀረቶ በአፍአ፡፡

እስመ እምኔየስ ተጋንዮትከ ጠፍአ፡፡

አንበሳ በኃይሉ እምድኀረ ሞዓ፡፡

ህድግሰ ዘለከ ብጽአ፡፡

ጽንሖ ለእሳት ከዊነከ ብርአ፡፡


        How dare you, a wild fox, enter the lion's den?

        Did you not hear his roar at the entrance?    

        As what bound us in friendship has been severed,

        Do stop making your usual visits,

        And after the lion has vanquished with his might,

        Better to remain a stalk, and be engulfed by the flames.



Shortly thereafter, the Emperor set fire to the house Däqä Est’ifa and the Empress were hiding in. However, Däqä Est’ifa allegedly used another of his crafts to again disappear with his lover - and is said to still roam the island. It is worth pointing out here that the Qəne cited above does not adhere to present-day meters and forms.


Yohannəs Geblawi, in contrast to Däqä Est’ifa's worldly crafts, is said to have acquired his Qəne during a spiritual meditation. Yohannəs was born at Geblon in Wadla (Lasta), and flourished at the time of Emperor Zar'a Yacob (1434-1468). He and is said to have taught near Mount Tabor at Amara Saynt. Yohannes taught Qəne to the monk Aba Wäldä Gabriel, who in turn taught Sämrä  Kristos (Sämrä  Ab). Sämrä  Kristos (Sämrä  Ab) is said to have given Emperor Be'ede Mariam (1468-1478) Qəne lessons. He also taught Lehib and Eliab, the latter of whom taught Qəne to Täwanäy and Dədəq Wäldä Mariam.


Emperor Be'ede Mariam was so taken by the art of Qəne that he is said, on the advice of his teacher Sämrä  Kristos, to have went into a week-long meditation to determine its origin. The answer was revealed to him on the festival of the changing of water unto wine (Qana ZeGelila), when he composed the following Qəne by divine inspiration,


        ድህረ ተሰብረ አጽንኦ ለሰብእናን ንሁክት

        ለብሃዊ ክርስቶስ በማየ ሃዲስ ጥምቀት፡፡


        After man's strength was shattered with grief,

        Christ the potter remade him with baptism.



As Be'ede Mariam's Qəne was composed during a gathering (Gubae) at the festival of Qana ZeGelila, its form and meter has been known as Gubaʾe Qana. Sämrä  Kristos was then said to have composed a Zäʾämlakəye Qəne, after which the Emperor composed a Mibäzhu Qəne - the tradition claims.


One tradition also claims Täwanäy as Däqä Est’ifa's student. However, Däqä Est’ifa flourished during the reign of Emperor Eskinder - a period when third generation disciples of Yohannes Geblawi also taught. This casts into doubt the alleged role of Däqä Est’ifa as the originator of Qəne - as the line of Yohannes Geblawi would have precedence. Furthermore, the more than fifty years that span between Däqä Est’ifa and Täwanäy would make it hard to take the latter as a disciple. Moreover, other accounts put Täwanäy's time at the early 18th century.


Accordingly, along the Qəne line of Yohannes Geblawi, Sämrä   Ab taught Lehib and Eliab. Eliab, in turn, taught Dədəq Wäldä Mariam and Täwanäy. Tradition also holds that due to unfavorable conditions caused by the wars of Ahmad Gragn (mid-16th century), Dədəq Wäldä Mariam and Täwanäy formed two separate Qəne styles - the Wadla and the Gonj schools, respectively.


Another interesting tradition holds that both disciples made the trip to Däq Island to further their knowledge. While Dədəq Wäldä Mariam chanced upon mystical teachers that helped him further his Qəne, Täwanäy had no such luck. Instead, he fell into the carnal snares of mystical women who thwarted his many attempts to escape.


When he turned into an eagle and tried to fly away, they would turn into pebbles and stone him. When he turned into a worm to wiggle his way off the island, they would turn into chickens and peck at him. He finally managed to escape by turning into a flea and attaching himself to a sack of Gesho leaves destined for sale on the mainland! Perhaps the notion of Täwanäy as the disciple of Däqä Est’ifa stems from his legendary exploits at Däq  Island.


The same tradition claims that by the time Täwanäy escaped from Däq, he had only retained a fraction of what Eliab had taught him. Hence, the Gonj school of Qəne associated with Täwanäy stresses Qəne composition, but only fleetingly covers Ge'ez verb conjugation and syntax - whereas the Wadla school associated with Dədəq Wäldä Mariam teaches all these elements.


The Wadla school was led by a succession of seven teachers - all with the title Dədəq - the last of whom was also named Dədəq Wäldä Mariam. He was succeeded by Ma'ibel Wäldä Hiwot (MeCha), who was then succeeded by Aleka Getahun (Gete Amoraw).


The other disciple of Sämrä  Kristos, Lehib, taught Qəne to Zetre Wengel - who was succeeded by Zikri. He was in turn succeeded by Bekuru, and followed by Yonathan, who taught ZeNebiyat and QaleAwadi. Qale Awadi was succeeded by Aleka Maru of Amhara Sayint, who then taught Aqabe Se'at Kabte of Gonder.


In summary, while one has little on the teachers of Qəne that succeeded Saint Yared, the line of Qəne transmission after Yohannes Geblawi can pretty much be mapped in the following manner.


Saint Yared



Yohannes Geblawi (Filsuf)


Aba Wäldä Gabriel

Sämrä  Kristos (Sämrä  Ab)


Lehib                                      Eliab


                ZetreWengel                 Täwanäy      Dədəq Wäldä Mariam

                Zikri                             (Gonj)           (Wadla)

                Bekuru                                                7 Dədəqs

                Yonathan                                     Dədəq Wäldä Mariam

        ZeNebiyat    QaleAwadi                           Ma'ibel Wäldä Hiwot (MeCha)

                        Aleqa Maru                          Aleka Getahun (Gete)

                        Aqabe Se'at Kabte




Nevertheless, the multiplicity of Qəne lines of transmission does not imply multiple origins for Qəne. Saint Yared remains to be held as the founder of Qəne. Moreover, the many schools of Qəne can be seen in parallel to the various types of musical notations (such as Bethleheme, Qome, WenChere, AChabre, Wadle and Tegulete schools) that developed out of Saint Yared's Deggwa.