Philosophizing Qənes

1 – Philosophizing Qənes

Qəne as a genre enjoys the mysterious (cryptic) and philosophizing aspect.  Most of the experts in the field reach a stage whereby they try to hide their message in cryptic manner, whence the layman finds it difficult to understand what is being said. Qəne is also distinct in that even when someone understands the language it is composed in (Gəʾəz), one might not understand the Qəne itself. It seems that Qəne is unique for philosophizing on alternative aspects of life. The following Qənes corroborate the above statement.


a. Gubaʾe Qana [1] (4.)

በካፋ ኢትርሳ ዘተዋነይነ ክልኤነ፣

        እንዘ አበ አብርሃም አንተ ወብእሲተ አብርሃም አነ፡፡


                Bäkafa do not forget what we have discussed  

        When you were Abraham’s father and I Abraham’s wife

This Qəne cannot be deciphered unless we understand the use of the proposition እንዘ (which can be translated as when, while … etc) and we decode the words Abraham’s father and Abraham’s wife.  For example in another verse “እንዘ እንዘ እንዘ ካህን፣ አልቦቱ መጠን”, the three consecutive እንዘs are translated into Amharic as ሲ ሳ ሳ (when he is concerned) and the verse is translated as ‘There is no limit to the priest’s concern’.  So just as Emperor’s are concerned about their power, priest’s are also concerned a lot about the state of the priesthood.


The BaläQəne (some say it was Täwanäy), is reminding the Emperor Bäkafa not to forget what they have discussed earlier. But it is hard to decipher what they have discussed and there is a need for enjoying wordplay and biblical historical knowledge in order to decode the message.

The message is hidden in the second verse, where it says ‘when you were Abraham’s Father and I Abraham’s wife’. Abraham’s father’s name is Tarah and his wife is called sarah – thus in Amharic the verse becomes ‘አንተ  ስታራ እኔ ሣራ’ . The wordplay then produces a verse which translates to ‘when you and I were using the toilet’. Thus the BaläQəne and Bakafa were discussing something while using the bathroom next to each other, as it is common to this day in rural Ethiopia.

We also learn from history that the BaläQəne and Bakafa were friends at Qəne school. Bakafa recounts what he had dreamt to his friend while using the bathroom, and the friend interprets that Bakafa will become a king and reminds him not to forget him in the future.  Time passes and the BaläQəne while visiting the city finds out that the new king is Bakafa. Not recognized by the king, the BaläQəne composed this  Qəne in order to remind the king of their pact without the court entourage understanding their secret. After the Qəne, Bäkafa recognized his friend. Hence Qəne can be used to pass a cryptic message when one has a secret to tell in front of an audience.


Wazema of Täwanäy [2] (2ኛ መጽሐፍ ገጽ 13)

የአምን ወይገኒ

ኵሉ ዓለም በዘፈጠረ ለሊሁ፣

ብዙኃን እንዘ ይገንዩ ይሰግዱ ቅድሜሁ፣

ለነጽሮ ዝኒ ነገር ከመ እስራኤል ይፍርሁ፣

ሙሴ ፈጠረ ፈጣሪሁ፣

ወፈጣሪ ፈጠረ ኪያሁ፡፡



        Everyone believes and venerates

        The entity that one has created

        So that many can venerate and worship.

        By understanding this so that People of Israel can be terrified

        Moses created his Creator

        And the Creator created Moses.


In the EOTC, tabots are carved from wood to commemorate the Creator and Saints, whereby their images are drawn to honor the Creator and the tabots are shown respect by the act of bowing. Moses used his faith to inquire about the creator and was able to know him and love him. Seeing Moses’ zealous attitude towards his faith and the freedom of his people, God honored and loved Moses. Through Moses God was known to the people and thus was created. And through God, Moses was known as a prophet and was thus created. This is what Täwanäy was trying to tell us.





ሐ. Mäwädəs [3] (3ኛ መጽሐፍ ገጽ 148)


መገብተ አእምሮ ንጠይቅ ከመ ተወለጠ፣

ነገረ ተፈጥሮ ዘቅድም በዘዚአነ ዘመን፣

አምጣነ መሪራነ ኮኑ ጥዑማነ ፍሬ አውያን፡፡

ወኢኀልቀ ፍጻሜሁ፣

እዝነ ሰብእ እንተ ይሬእዮ ከመ ይስማ ዐይን፣

እስመ እንዘ ሀሎ በዐለ ቀርን፡፡

ለበዐለ ቀርን ወግዕዎ አዕዱገ ጽጋብ በእዝን፡፡

ይትርፍሰ ዘቀዳሚ ከመ ተነግረ በዛህን፣

ምውታን ይዘፍኑ እንዘ ይትቀበሩ ሕያዋን፡፡

ወአመ ያረምሙ አፈ ሊቃውንት ጽግም ወይምን፣

ለተርጉሞ መጽሐፍ በተዝሕሮ ተጸውዑ በሐማን፡፡


Intellectual officials let us observe the change

Of natural things of yonder in our time

Since sweet grapes have become bitter

And this is not all

So the ears can see what the eyes have heard

While the horned one is there

The arrogant donkeys gored him with their ears.

Even if we forget what has been told calmly

The dead will sing when the living are buried

And when the mouths of the learned on the left and right are silent

The dumb will be called to give commentaries on the bible with arrogance.




The Qəne tells us that through man’s progress ordinary things are changing. Grapes are producing bitter fruit; mankind is hearing through the eyes and seeing through the ears; and a lucky donkey is goring a horned-bull with its ears … . Things like this will happen when well-rounded intellectuals are relegated to the back and the unintelligent are allowed to teach and to adjudicate over others. This Qəne has an unusual outlook: seeing through the ears and listening with the eyes; donkeys stabbing with ears; the dead enjoying the suffering of the living; and the dumb taking over the learned. Qəne allows one to overturn the usual usage of language to widen the horizon of our outlook. Thus to see with our ears,  to listen with the eyes, to walk with our brain, to think with our muscles, to eat with our feet, to walk with our hands, to breathe with our tongue and to taste with our nose … etc become normal. 


[1] ከቅኔ ተማሪዎች የተገኘ

[2] የኢትዮጵያ ቋንቋዎች አካዳሚ (1984)፣ የግዕዝ ቅኔያት የሥነ ጥበብ ቅርስ፣ 2ኛ ክፍል ንባቡ ከነትርጓሜው፣ ብርሃንና ሰላም ማተሚያ ቤት፣ አዲስ አበባ፣ ገጽ 13፡፡

[3] የኢትዮጵያ ቋንቋዎች አካዳሚ (1984)፣ የግዕዝ ቅኔያት የሥነ ጥበብ ቅርስ፣ 3ኛ ክፍል ንባቡ ከነትርጓሜው፣ ብርሃንና ሰላም ማተሚያ ቤት፣ አዲስ አበባ፣ ገጽ 148፡፡