Reading and Writing
The Creation and Laws of God
The five Mysteries
The Ge'ez Language and Kine (Poetry)
Interpretation of the Scriptures
1(a) The Alphabet
According to the beliefs of our Church, it was the era of Henos that had witnessed the inception of the alphabet. Hence was a faithful and righteous servant of God. He was rewarded for his honest work through a divine gift of the alphabet so that this would serve him as an instrument for codifying the laws. That is, the heavens opened their gates to him and the scriptures were revealed to him. From then onwards, he had used the alphabet as a medium of literature. The script was named 'fidel', meaning writing.
There are 26 letters in the Ge'ez alphabet. All our ancient books and works of literature have been preserved in the Ge'ez language. Originally, the Ge'ez alphabet did not have vowel sounds but only consonant ones. for instance, one would only write the consonants to convey the sound of a word, with the reader guessing how O sound it. Until the introduction of Christianity into Ethiopia, this system of writing had been in general use, according to historical documents. The initiative for modernizing the Ge'ez alphabet by creating vowel sounds was taken by Abba Frementius or Kasate Berhan Selama and other Ethiopian scholars. By doing so they won a niche in the hall of fame in Ethiopia. The ancient Ethiopian script was written from A to P without the addition of any signs to indicate the vowel sounds. The revised alphabet is the one being still used in this country and starts with H and ends with P.
The consonant sounds like hebrew alphabet have small signs appended to their feet or sides indicating how they should read to provide a certain vowel sound. the Ethiopian vowel sounds are known as kaib, salis, rabi, hamis, sadis and sabi. The Ge'ez alphabet is known as such because it was originally made up at only consonants.
Until the 12 th century, all writing were being undertaken in these Ge'ez consonants. However, with the expansion of Amharic, manuscripts also began to be written in this language. Since then they were being known as Amharic alphabets because Ge'ez books, which were rare, were beyond the comprehension of the general reading public. The Amharic consonant has seven vowel forms.
the Ge'ez and the Amharic letters are not pure in character. There are four sounds of alien origin in the Ge'ez language. In the Amharic language, there are 18 of these.
The abughida is a simple scheme under which children are taught reading and writing more quickly. Under this scheme of alphabetization, the various letter to be learned are mixed up in such a way as to teach the various combinations with vowels with ease. The consonants of the alphabet are read sideways and downwards in combination with the vowels in such a way that children grasp the idea of reading more easily.
Ethiopian numerals were devised very long ago. These numerals have been existing contemporaneous with the alphabet for thousands of years. Many nations in the world are currently using the Arabic numbers. However, the Ethiopian people have not only their own alphabet but also their own numerals to this very day. Children learn these numbers along with the alphabet.
3. Reading and writing
The following are the books that the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church is using for teaching reading:
Alphabet of the Apostles (Epistle of John)
Epistle of the Apostles (In Praise of the Lord)
The Gospel of John
The Book of Solomon
The Book of Sirak
The Psalims of David
The Alphabet of the Apostles and the Epistle of the Apostles are learned by children after completing the Abughida. These are used as media of instruction following the completion of the alphabet in its various forms. The Alphabet of the Apostles and the Epistle of the Apostles are both self-sufficient books for teaching literacy. School-children are instructed in differentiating between the various forms and shapes of the letters of the alphabet. This is followed with the normal reading of books. According to the instructions of Yohannis Afework, one should teach children first the books of Solomon and Sirak and the Psalms of David.
(b) Learning Writing
The art of Calligraphy is a great profession among Ethiopians. As soon as children learn the alphabet, they also receive instructions in calligraphy.
Handwriting is one instructions given by teachers in church schools. These teachers take particular care in providing these instructions in such a way that the artistic forms of the letters of the alphabet are preserved.
The system of writing is as listed hereunder:-
Arist: This is open space on top of the page
Hidag: These are the margins of books
Ghilet: This is the empty space at the end of the book
Hilef: This is the middle of the page
Hawult: This is the space between columns
Amd: This is the column
Sirak: This is the binding line
Msmak: This is the edge of the book
Mahisen:This is the space between letters
Hisin: This is the space within a letter
Mesmer: This is the line of wiring
Colour: This is the shape
Lik Reading: This is the word in the writing
There are also several others.
At the same time also writing must obey certain etymological dictates. There are, for instance, three h's, two s's, two a's, two explosive t's and others. These have all their proper uses according to the original sound of the Ge'ez language now lost in Amharic. If these are not carefully used they can change the content and thus teachers give proper attention in their instructions.
4. Church Music (Zema)
Definition: Music (Zema) can be defined as pleasant sound that is mellifluous. In other words, music is the art of combining vocal and instrumental sounds to produce beauty of form, harmony and expression of feeling. there is a tonal expression between two high-pitched and low-pitched sounds. If the tone is clear, this could be written down and indicated with a sing or a musical notation.
Generally speaking, therefore, a church musical incantation is a song of praise and voice of joy. Music was created contemporaneously with the angles. That is why Yared - the father of Ethiopian church music gives priority to music above everything else in his book entitled Ariam.
Music is not only of pre-eminent importance but it is also great in the depth of feeling it expresses. This has been adequately explained by St. Yared by saying that all the angles of heaven sang the songs of praise to His resurrection.
church music became a subject being taught in religious schools beginning from the sixth century of the Christina era. This first happened in 550 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Gabr-Meskel and the composer of the music was St. Yared himself.
Music is a divine gift that both humans and animals achieve for expressing their feelings. Human beings in particular have been constantly improving their musical expression both for joy and sorrow with the assistance of various instruments. Music is inextricably bound up with nature. For this reason, it is only true to say that there are no people on earth who possess no music of their own. Besides going to the service of the church in songs of praise, music expresses a gamut of human feelings for joy and sorrow on various occasions. There are spiritual and temporal forms of music in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. They are not only different in name but also in the services they render. Spiritual music is the one being staged by the clergy both inside and outside churches on various religious occasions and church anniversaries. These musical performances are in praise of god in imitation of the angels who render their own devotional services to the almighty. St. Atnatewos the evangelist had put this more succinctly by saying that there are those who sing in praise of the Lord in this book (number 5).
This shows to what extent music is of great significance not only among people on earth but also among angles in high heaven.
There is also what is known as secular or popular music. This sort of music is being performed on special occasions in different places. For example, there are wedding music, harvest music, threshing music and others. The instruments being used for playing both spiritual and temporal music are the following.
Drums 7. Krar (form of guitar)
Sistra 8. Harp (bagana)
Staff (prayer stick) 9. Flute
Masenko (form of violin) 10. Lute (inzira)
bugle (meleket) 11. Cymbal (arganon)
All the musical instruments enumerated above have been created and/or modified by scholars of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This is, therefore, a matter of pride both to the Church and the society at large.
There are pentatomic notations of the disposal of Ethiopian church music.
Fundamentally speaking, a symbol is utilized for typifying representing and recalling something, in accordance with the dictionary definition.
That is to say that they are being used not only in Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church schools but also in many parts of the world. One is talking here of symbols in terms of music, interpretation, reading and others. In accordance with the system existent under the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, there are symbols of music, symbols of interpretation and symbols of reading.
For this reason, there are self-sufficient musical notations for religious chants of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church in praise of God no matter whether this be for expressing joy or sorrow. This national heritage can be considered to be the quintessence of art developed locally.
Forms of Church Music
There are three types of Ethiopian church music. These are knwn as Ge'ez, Izil and Iraray. Ge'ez music is named after the Father, Izil after the Son and Iraray after the Holy Spirit.
Ge'ez conveys the meaning of strength. It is being named after the father to show his spiritual strength.
Izil means invulnerable. It is named after the Son because of his spiritual under supreme trials and tribulations.
Iraray conveys the meaning of kindness. It is the Holy Sprit that mollifies the hear of man.
Varieties of Church Music
There are five in number.
Digua Tsoma Digua
The term Digua relates to the name of the books of music. This music was composed and sung by St. Yared in 550 A.D. Fundamentally, Digua embraces the songs of praise and sorrow and is divided into three part: Digua Yohannis, Astemiro, Fasika.
Tsoma Digua is an integral element of Digua that serves the fasting season. It was first classed together with Astemiro in Digua. However, something radical happened to it in the 14 th century. It is said that under the leadership of Abba Ghiorghis of Gastcha, the scholars of Debre-Egziabiher and Debre Negudgad took it out of the Astemiro and placed it under a department of its own.
During the Lenten season, Tsoma Digua is being observed in prayer and in song on the basis of the hour of the day, the day of the week and the week of the mongh.
The Miiraf chant is divided into two sections. The Chant is for everyday purpose and for a time of fasting.
(a) For every day purposes
This chant is in force on a weekly basis and whenever religious holiday justify it.
(b) The Miiraf of Fasting
This is observed on Fridays and a few other prayer days. The foundation of both happens to be the Psalms of David and digua or Tsoma Digua. The lessons are studied by heart, unlike the Digua or Tsoma Digua.
3. Zimare (Music)
Zemare means a song of communal praise and prayer. This is one of the five forms of church music sung when mass is being said. It follows the mystery of the mass. The form of the mass is Ge'ez and is sung in accordance with Izil.
This form of music is reserved for occasions when requiem mass is being said. For the rest, this form of church music is for special occasions related to the observances of Sundays and those of anniversaries regarding our Lord, Our Lady, Saints and others.
Mewasiit was composed along with the music by the great Ethiopian scholar, St. Yared. School-children are being taught this form of music by their instructors when they are receiving their lessons. Those who perfect the musical art graduate in Zur Amba Monastery, Gaint province, Southern Gondar diocese.
5. Liturgical Music
Although books of liturgical music were published regularly by various churches scholars, the source of the music is St. Yared.
Education regarding the liturgy of the church was being given together with Mewasit from the time of St. Yared in Zur Amba. People were then also graduating from that very place. In due course of time, however, this had undergone some change. The source of education in this field was for a long time now the monastery of Selelkula.
However, since the time of Emperor Menelik another addition had been made and students in church liturgy were graduating since then from Debre Abbay too. This was achieved through the instrumentality of master Gabre-Selassie. He himself had first gone to school at Selelkula. He was a great cantor. This had helped a great deal in the choice of the place to serve as academy of music.
The incantation of the music for mass is - like chanting and Mewasit - somewhat different from others. It is also longer in character.
St. Yared has given us 14 musical compositions. These are the following:-
Kidasse Hawariat (in praise of the apostles)
Kidasse Igzi (in praise of the Lord)
Hiriakos (in praise of Mary)
St. Ghorghorios alias Bassilios
St. Yohannis Afework
St. Yacob of Sirug
St. Ghorghorios of Armania
The following liturgy is observed before the mass is celebrated:-
These forms of church liturgy that differ in the form of incantation were all composed by St. Yared. At the same time also Abba Ghorghorios of Gastcha had happened to be the spiritual son of St. Yared, whose works were inspired by the great master. This great scholar had also composed several chants known as Saetat (hourly) to be sung at night and by day. These compositions differ slightly in their musical forms. However, they are no different from Digua and the liturgy of mass.
Sources for St. Yared's Music
Books of Scholars
Books of Monks
Literary works and others
The foregoing constitute the foundation for the church music composed by St. Yared. The lyrics were composed in such a way as to conform to the music so that there would be no fundamental change in the original structure of the liturgy. They were not certainly whimsical in character but divine revelations.
Something different from pure liturgical music is aquaquam conducted with the assistance of staffs (prayer sticks), sistra and drums. This form of religious musical performance is known as music of Mahlet, which is of ancient origin handed down to us as a heritage of St. Yared, who is the originator of the form. There are historical and graphical illustrations of the fact that he was practicing it for praising God.
The Ge'ez Language and Qine
(a) The Ge'ez Language
It is to be remembered that following the collapse of the tower of Babylon people had begun to speak different tongues and to use different alphabets. That had marked the creation of nations, tribes and clans with conflicting tongues. At first the Ge'ez language was no different from Sabean. Inscriptions preserved on rocks and monuments prove this beyond any grain of doubt. The Ge'ez language was originally spoken by the generation belonging to the grandchild of Abraham, Yacob, and had entered Ethiopia through the port of Bebel-el-Mandeb. Ge'ez ia a Semitic language.
The word Ge'ez means 'original'. This originality refers to the combination of consonants with the vowels. Its originality as the first language alludes to the fact that following the destruction of Babylon, it was the most important Semitic tongue spoken first by Adam. It is to be recalled that the Semites were inter-marrying with the Cushitic people and had succeeded in inheriting their kingdom under the name of the Agazians. The country they had conquered through a process of cultural and ethnic assimilation had begun to be known as the Nation of Agziit. This had witnessed the progressive flowering of Ge'ez until the 12 th century when it eventually assumed a national status.
It was in the 12 th century that Amharic began to rear up its head for the first time. However, to that day, Amharic has not been a working language in palaces and churches. It was only the language of a particular nationality that was serving as a lingua franca.
For instance, prayers were not being said in churches in Amharic. Neither were praises being sung to God in that language. Church liturgies were not going on in Amharic. Secondly, the administration was not being carried out in Amharic; neither was justice being dispensed in this language. The history of kings was not being recorded in Amharic.
Therefore, all the relics of antiquity in the form of books and works of art belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church found either here or abroad are all written in the Ge'ez language.
Today, Ge'ez assumes the character of the private property of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. The Old Testament, the New Testament and scholarly works were all first translated into Ge'ez. This ancient language provides also the medium for addressing prayers and praises to God.
It is common knowledge that Ge'ez is known as an ancient language in Ethiopia. Both in palaces and in public places it had served as a medium of communication. People had been also recording their temporal and spiritual values through the intermediary of this ancient language for centuries on end. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church is a living testimony of this immutable fact of life. Scholars both here and abroad testify also to the truth behind this statement.
Fundamentally speaking, Ge'ez is a language with its own particular characteristics capable of conveying different messages with one word alone.
There are many people who aspire to carry out meticulous research into ancient Ethiopian history. Such a healthy aspiration can only be fully realized when one is well versed in the Ge'ez language. At the same time also Ge'ez is rich in a vocabulary that can be of great service to the resent technological development of the country. This is to say that Ge'ez can considerably enrich the language that we are at present using. In other words, why go all the way to the West, indeed, for borrowing certain words when they are already plentifully available at home? That is to say that we can take pride in oru own heritage.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church teaches Ge'ex together with Kine (Poetry) after giving instructions in church music. What one learns first in Ge'ez grammar is known as 'Ghis'. Before delving into the intricate field of literary self-expression through Kine, the student makes a thorough study of Ge'ez grammar.
(b) Qine (poetry)
Qine is a potent figure of speech for expressing feelings. There are different kinds of kine for example:- Qine Debtera, Qine Mahlet and Musho. Through these forms of Qine one can express religious sentiments of joy or grief.
Ancient people, particularly Jews, were praising their Lord through the mysterious words provided by the poetry of Qine. In particular, this was being practised by the prophet David who was imploring others to do also likewise. Later, the outstanding Ethiopian scholar, St. Yared; has said much the same thing with respect to addressing a song of praise in Qine to the Lord.
The originator of Qine is, undoubtedly, St. Yared. However, beginning in the 14 th century, scholars like Hawira, Menkera, Iskindir, Piskandra, Abidira, Deke-Estifa Twenty and Yohannis Gebilawi had been the masters of the various poetic forms of Qine like 'Wax and Gold'. All of these were an expression of divine mystery in a hidden language.
The poetry, mystery and linguistic excellence of Kine are so popular in the country that many Ethiopians learn them and become proficient in the art. History tells us that Ethiopian rulers, including the late Emperor Haile-Selassie, were some of the students of Kine.
Art in Ethiopia
What we say Ethiopian art includes creative works like painting and sculpture. Ethiopian artistic achievements in the field of painting and sculpture, which have been systematically developing over the years, ware ample tribute to the cultural development of the Ethiopian people and the ancient history of the country and below some of the achievements in this field are listed.
In times of yore, learned leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church had been proficient in the refined art of hewing huge buildings our of rocks in hills and mountains. At their service were masons and artisans who were gifted in carrying out such artistic tasks at the behest of church leaders. Thus, obelisks and churches built out of a single stone were fashioned out of rocks as a highly refined work of art. It is with wonderment that one contemplates today these awe-inspiring works of art.
When one considers the fact that most of the monumental structures were put up over 2,000 years ago, it is inevitable for one's mind to be plunged in an ocean of further confusion. There are hundreds of rock-hewn churches and temples in Ethiopia. One can, for instance, cite the cases of rock-hewn churches in Tigrai, Wollo, Showa, Gondar and Gojjam.
The beautiful rock-hewn churches mentioned above are embellished with the cross the durable symbol of Christianity and other works of decorative art. To comprehend this more thoroughly, one should read the book entitled "the Ethiopian Cross". Over and above this, there are also numerous other architectural heritages in the life of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Most churches in Ethiopia have murals and stained glass windows of great artistic quality. These paintings are illuminated with the lives of saints - like Our Lord, the Virgin Mary, the Angels, the Apostles, the Saints and the various martyrs. This is to commemorate the good works of the various religious figures in the service of humanity. It is also to keep the memories of their works constantly in our mind and to provide some sort of a pictorial religious education to the public.
At the same time also manuscripts are decorated with paintings and rubrics placed in various strategic places in books. Great Ethiopian artists have been at the service of the Ethiopian people for centuries on end since the advent of Christianity in the country.
The works of ancient Ethiopian church artists were not confined solely to the painting of the pictures of Our Lord, the Virgin Mary, Saints, Martyrs and others. They were also portraying the cultural life of the Ethiopian people both in joy and in sorrow. The victories, patriotic deeds, cultural values, the destitution and the triumphs of the people were being also depicted and preserved for posterity in traditional paintings.
This form of art was being perfected in Ethiopia for centuries on end. Even today, it is undergoing a higher stage of development. There is a saying in Ethiopia that what the father has preserved is of great use to the son. Our worthy forefathers have handed down to us a worthy heritage of church music, religious literature, poetry, architecture, paintings and others. Adequate education is being provided today on these immortal heritages by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. For this, thanks be to the Almighty who is the source of all power, knowledge and art.