Symbols and interpretation of Ethiopian musical instruments in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church
Mesenqo (The Ethiopian Single String Violin)
The name “Mesenqo” is derived from the Geez word “Senqewe” meaning “to sing” or “to beat”. Like the other musical instruments, Mesenqo has its origin in the Old Testament (Isaiah 5:12, 23:16 and Job 21:12). The Orthodox believers symbolize Mesenqo with St. Mary. The horse tail strings of Mesenqo must be rubbed with incense to produce the sound. According to the believers interpretation, the incense is the example of Jesus Christ. The strings produce sound after rubbed by the incense; St. Mary is known to be the most respected Holy Lady after she has given birth to Christ. The incenses are also related with the incense that the three wise men delivered to Christ at his birth with gold and myrrh.
The straightness and singleness of the string exemplifies the Orthodox Tewahido Faith. In Greek, “Ortho” means “correct/faultless” “Dox” means “belief” and “Tewahido” represents unity. Accordingly, “Orthodox” stands for one belief that is correct or faultless.
The rainbow like handle of Mesenqo also symbolizes that God showed Noah as a promise not to punish the world again with water, and the cross at the top reminds believers the cross on which Christ was crucified.
The box of the Mesenqo, which is made up of leather is also the example of Noah’s boat in which he saved himself from the storm. Here, Noah’s boat in turn exemplifies St. Mary and the storm exemplifies the hell. This has a very profounding lesson to the believers that Noah’s boat saved him from the storm, St. Mary saves the world as she gave birth to Christ.
Meleket (The Trumpet)
Meleket has its origin dating back to the Old Testament (Genesis 4:21, 10:1 and psalms 60:30). People used Meleket to announce both good and bad news, meaning happiness and sadness. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church relates this with the Day of Judgement (i.e the second coming of Jesus Christ for the last Judgement). According to this interpretation, the good news is the call for those who fulfilled His orders to be saved in the heaven forever while the bad news is for the sinners to be thrown to the everlasting hell.
Meleket is also used to declare war. Likewise, the believers relate this with the declaration of the closeness of the Day of the Last Judgement for the Christians to prepare themselves for the heaven fulfilling Christ’s orders. In other words, it awakens them to fulfill Christ’s orders and be ready for the heavenly life.
Begena (The Ethiopian Harp)
The name Begena is derived from the Geez word “Deredere” meaning “to beat”. Its origin also dates back to the Old Testament (Genesis 4:21 and Psalms 32:1-4 and 91:3). Begena has ten strings made from horse tail, which symbolize the ten commandments of Jesus Christ. The two wooden standings (one on either side) are interpreted as the notifications of the old and the New Testaments. The horizontal one that connects the two stands represents the Holy Bible that consists of the two Testaments.
The classical sound of the Begena is believed to be reminiscent of St. Mary’s prayer to her child, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of the signers’.
Embilta (A pipe-like, wind instrument)
Embilta has also been used to praise God beginning from the Old Testament (Psalms 150:4, Chronicles (1) 15:28 and Job 21:12). Regarding the symbolic interpretation, Embilta and Trumba (another Trumper) have the same interpretation as Meleket.
Washint (The Flute)
Washint also has its origin in the Old Testament (Daniel 3:5). According to the Orthodox believers, Washint represents the Gospel, which is declaration of the coming of Christ. The four holes of Washint are examples of the four Evangelista: Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.
Though they are not parts of the above mentioned traditional musical instruments, the writer would like to interprete the sysmbol of Qeshmara (The Tingdereb) and Maharam (The hand Kerchief)
Qeshmara is an embroidery uniform garment that the clergymen wear around their waist while chanting during the celebration of holydays. They do this to sysmbolize the rope that the Jews used to fasten Christ at His waist to pull forward and backward on his way to Kerena carrying the cross to be crucified on it.
Maharam (The Handkerchief)
It is a piece of decorated cloth that priests use to hold their hand crosses and professional crosses. Its symbolic interpretation is related to the piece of cloth that St. Mary was shroud at her death and also believed that she gave it to Thomas (The Apostle) at her ascension. This was to show to the other Apostles as a witness to persuade those who might doubt about her ascension. It is also related with the hand kerchief that a Jewish lady, Solomie gave to Christ to clean His sweat at His suffering before His crucifixion.
Desta Teklewol . Addis Amargna Mezgebe Kalat (Artistic Printing Press, Addis Ababa, 1990)
Abba Haile Gebriel Girma, Emnetna Sira’ate Betechristian (Addis Ababa (1991)
“Hamer”, A Journal of Ethiopian Orthodox Church (Megabit/Miazia and Ginbot/Sene) 1990 E.c
Kidanewold Kifle. Metsehafe Sewasew we Ge’ez Mezgebe Kalat (Addis Ababa 1955
Kesate Berhan Tessema Mikael. Yamargna Mezgebe Kalat, (Artistic Printing Press, Addis Ababa, 1958)
Liqe Kahnat Tiume Lisan Kassa. Yaredina Zemaw (Tinsaye Zegubaye Printing Press, Addis Ababa , 1989)
Source: Kirs Megazine, June 1994 E.C