Amhara Spirit-Media

(The author used apostrophe as diacritic for "plosives" (p. xiii), aequivalent to retroflex [usually transcribed as a subscript dot] in S^emitic; [sh] for /s^/; and (in German style) [ch] for /h./, [ch’] for /h^/.)

p. 34 – 2.2.5 spirits similar to zar

[quoted from Torrey 1970:53 :-] "There are also several spirits which are said to be similar to Zar spirits but which are called by different names. Woukabi, Abokebre, Tenquai, and Wizard are the most common of these."

Torrey 1970 = E. Fuller Torrey : "The Zar Cult in Ethiopia". In :- PROCEEDINGS OF THE 3RD INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE OF ETHIOPIAN STUDIES, ADDIS ABABA 1966. Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Haile Selassie I University. Vol. III, pp. 51-9.

p. 40 -- 2.2.6 features of the spirit-possession cult

[quoted from H. S. Lewis 1984:422 :-] "calling the spirits, the drumming, and the dance and trance and jerking (gurri) which indicates the spirits’ presence; the dreams which foretell the coming of a spirit and call for the building of temples; the idea that a person is "caught" by the spirits; the enlistment of servants pledged to the service of the spirits."

H. S. Lewis 1984 = Herbert S. Lewis : "Spirit Possession in Ethiopia". PROCEEDINGS OF THE 7TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE OF ETHIOPIAN STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF LUND 1982. Uppsala : Scandinavian Institute of African Studies. pp. 419-27.

pp. 102-105 – 4.6 adbar (female tree-spirits)




"The adbar is a female, protective spirit, and She protects a certain neighborhood, its inhabitants and their land, animals and children from all sorts of ailments, if properly treated. In ... most places where trees are found, the adbar "is" {hath as abode} an old, huge t.ed [Juniperus procera] {cf. <ar. /t.wd/ ‘to soar’} with branches which stretch themselves out in a wide circle from the trunk, thus providing a natural "room" with a deep and high roof and lowered walls from the bowed branches. In other tracts of the country, stone adbars may still be revered. {cf. <ar. /t.adah/ ‘mullet’ (LA-L 3:77b), mullet being used to punish adulterers (Juv. 10:317; Cat. 15:19 – cited in LD s.v. "mugil"), much as adulterers were punished by Aztec god of stones Itztlacoliuhqui} ... The tree is referred to as the adbar, and it is ... able to take a mortal revenge on people who try to cut it. {Mortal revenge was likewise taken by Hellenic tree-nymphs (druades et al.) upon humans who hewed down their tree.} ... The wide branches of the old tree were therefore supported


with sticks ... when they became too wide to support themselves. ... The regularised "interaction" with the adbar is the coffee ceremony ... . People sometimes stress that the coffee ceremony is ... done for the adbar of the house."


"The personal adbar needs a bigger feast in its honour once a year ... in the generally dangerous month of Genbot, a feast called ya:-genbot bora:ntecha ... held ... in the evening, after dark." [fn. 178 : "Oromo ... genii loci or boranticha ... spirits, living "in or around streams, lakes ...""]


"the adbar’s property ... is ... a ja:ba:na (coffee pot) {with coffee-pot cf. Chinese (and Japanese) Tea Caerimony held in a garden of "sacred trees" ("JG")} and an umbrella. ... . ... suti [fn. 179 : "Suti are decorated, colourful, embroidered pieces of cloth"] ... were ... kept in the adbar".{ cf. the Hellenic custom of "hanging ... ribbons from the branches of sacred trees" ("VO")}

LA-L = Lexicon Arabic-Latinum. Librairie du Liban, Beirut, 1975.

LD = Lewis & Short : A Latin Dictionary.

"JG" =

"VO" =

pp. 122-124 -- 5.2 supernatural powers




"A secret herb, known by ta:mari, is used by the sa:labi to make themselves invisible and hidden for human eyes (es.a ma:sa:wer, "hiding herb"). [fn. 200 : "for (becoming a) sa:labi : "you take the left fore-foot of a hyena three times around the threshing-field and bury it". {In Mande belief, "The hyena ... has the power to make itself invisible." (WE, p. 65)}]


"the evil eye (buda ...)" : ""blacksmiths (man) and potters (women), are believed to be hereditary carriers of the buda power".


"spirits who are believed to have special attachment to water , especially rivers, may be ... having ... the assistance of a bahr ka:fach (lit. "sea opener") ... . People who claim to have made use of the services of such experts, allege that they could "hear the voice of the Devil" ..., and that large rocks came flying through the air at the riverbed."


"the t.a:t[.]a:r t.ay (lit. "gravel investigator", from t.a:t.a:r, gravel, pebble, and t.a:ya:qa:, query, ask, question). ... The pebbles have to be collected from a river (probably in the Afar region, e.g. Robi Adawi), and knowledge of how to "throw the pebbles" is also ascribed to the Adal (Afar), from whom some of the Amhara t.a:t.a:r t.ay have learned it. The small stones, thirty-four in number, are black {cf. black pebble in Ka<bah of Makkah} and rounded ..., ... and when they are "interrogated", they are thrown at a small straw plate with a pedestal (erbo)."

WE = Adama & Maomi Doumbia : The Way of the Elders. Llewellyn Publications, Saint Paul (MN), 2004.

pp. 126-129, 132 – 5.4 spirit-possession by weqabi




"confirmation of weqabi means that the patient from this point on has to cultivate his relation with one or several spirits, which until now have caused sickness and suffering but which can be turned into a benevolent relationship if properly cultivated and respected. The relationship ... is impossible to break ... and thus may last until his death; only weqabi has the power ... to decide the terms by which they are to "live together". Neither the possessed person nor any other human agent is able to exorcise a weqabi from its host."


[statement by female bala: weqabi :] "He put me at the top of a big tree. He made me stay there for three days. ... He put me at the top of the house for three days. ... He told his name. He said "I will explain it all, and I will make erect what is bent. I will cure the sick, and I will give solution (ma:ftehe`) for the people"."


"The weqabis and the zars have their own "spirit language" (glossolalia, or rather an "argot" of Amharic ...), and some bala: weqabis claim that their spirit speaks all kinds of languages (xenoglossia) ... . [The female spirit-medium who was taught reading by God] even claimed to understand the languages of animals, and she explained that she did not eat chicken or goats, "because I understand their language"! Morton (1973:289) may well be right in that "glossolalia is one of the main signs of possession by a wuqabi." In Ga:na:t, the weqabi language is known as ta:gori."


[statement by an "elderly woman, who practices as a bala: weqabi" :] "I was taught by God [infra : "I do not know who"] for nine months, using books, I was not able to read before that. After that, I became able to understand all the languages, except the language of the monkeys. ... I do not know who taught me. {not knowing the name of the specific deity} He did it in my dreams. I’m praying, standing on one foot {Goddess Sati stood on a single foot in order to prove herself worthy of marrying S`iva.}, and He is telling he to my ears ... . ... He taught me how to calm down people who have gone mad, and how to cure sick persons. ... I was not able to talk for one year ... . The sickness was when I was fourteen years old, that time I returned from death. ... The wa:ge`sha (a woman) gave me medicine from stinging nettle (sama) and I became cured. ...


I went to the cliff because I heard a kind of music there, I climbed and I found a cave." ...

(Her husband adds): ... He [the deity] made her stand, looking at the stars for hours in evenings and mornings." {cf. Siddha-artha’s attainment of Buddhahood by observing the morning star.}


[important weqabi of a particular male bala: weqabi :-]

"Gragn Wa:rqu ... : "left-handed Wa:rqu".

Galaw Wa:sa:n Ga:fi : "The Gala who is pushing the border". [Galla = Oromo]

T.a:qwar ... : "the black one"."

Morton 1973 = Alice Morton : Some Aspects of Spirit Possession in Ethiopia. PhD diss, U of London.

p. 142-143 –6.3 communication with spirits




"A haja ... is any session involving weqabi ... possession".

"he serves coffee from the big ja:ba:na (coffee pot) which is reserved for the haja sessions ... .


After all have been served the first round of coffee, the session may start, and the second and third round of coffee may be done parallel to it ... . [fn. 229 : "all three rounds of coffee (abol-, ba:ra:ka-, and sosta:gna buna respectively) have to be served, and one should accept a cup from each round".] ... After the initial prayers, part of which may be in weqabi "language" (ta:gori) and unintelligible for others ... the session soon starts, and clients are called one by one to the fence, where they start their dialogue with the spirit."

pp. 146-147 – 6.4 clients & servants of the weqabi

p. 146

clients of the possessed spirit-medium : "When they have their turn to address the spirit, they greet Him ..., kiss the ground outside the fence, and stand erect ... . Both men and women may wet their faces with their tears, and several times during their spiritual dialogue ... with an exclamation of respect ... : ... ("OK Lord", "that is truth, Lord", "that is correct, my Lord")."

p. 147

description of function of servant of the spirit-medium : "the zar spirit, speaking through His possessed medium ..., described the function of the agafari, which was to "treat the participants in the reception room and give a sort of seminar ... to them before they join the hadra.""

p. 148 – 6.4.1 intermediators between bala: weqabi and the spirits

"For ... everyday matters ... the medium needs somebody to communicate with the spirit on his behalf. ... such matters may be to ask the weqabi’s permission to travel, even short distances, to beg Him to foregive him minor faults he might have made himself guilty of ... . [The bala: weqabi] has a group of ... persons who can act as his intermediators and who are related to him as his shemagele` ["lit "elder", "old person" (fn. 235)]."

p. 149, fn. 236 legal adoption

"Ya:-t.ut lej" is a adoptee. "The sweet finger symbolises the breast or nipple (t.ut); hence ya:-t.ut lej means "breast child"." {cf. Indra’s pointing his finger at the moon in order to extract amr.ta thence.}

pp. 150-152 – 6.4.2 cult-officials






"to receive ... sela:t ..., to ask clients who bring such gifts about their case, and to inform the weqabi about them. They will bring the gift before the spirit and He will bless it."


ga:ra:d (‘woman servant’)

"to make wa:t." [wa:t is a "stew, usually made of pulses and red pepper" (p. 245)]


balte`t (‘elderly woman’)

"In Ma:saka:ra:m they bring fresh flowers. On Ma:sqa:l they clean the weqabi be`t using cow dung". {In India, cow-dug is likewise used to purify sacred places.}

pp. 154-156 – 6.4.3 servant for coffee caerimony




"The Ethiopian church was very much opposed to coffee drinking, and especially so in Sha:wa." {Likewise, the Mormon church is very much opposed to the drinking of coffee (and of tea).}


"The spirit may demand a house built for his ja:ba:na [cf. <ib. /gibben/ crookbackt/] (coffee pot) ra:ka:bot [cf. <ib. /rkub/ ‘chariot’] (coffee tray) as a token of deference and honour. ...


The most central act in serving weqabi is the kedmiya – to prepare and serve coffee in His honour. ... It is the weqabi who also appoints this specialist assistant; ... a kadami ... . ...


It is tempting to suggest a parallel between the kadami, whose responsibility it is to prepare the coffee in the spirits’ honour, and the aqabit of the church, who also prepared a central and symbol-loaded element : the wine and the bread which is consumed ... . The coffee ceremony may thus be viewed as a ... version of the Holy Communion, ... which ... replaced ... pre-Christian ... coffee".

p. 171 – 6.4.5 distinct ["when they get korma, they need different colours."] Weqabi spirits

"The upper are :



Moti Rabi.

The lower are :

Adagn Wa:rqu,

Adal Moti,


p. 173 – 6.4.5 non-public sessions, attended only by cult-adepts

"night sessions ... during which only close adepts (shemagele`woch) and other bala: weqabis ... have participated" : "Such night sessions are the events of the cult adepts, where ... the demands and cravings from the spirits are communicated and discussed between spirits and humans. Such sessions involve the use of drums (debi) ... . Hand-clapping by non-possessed and frantic dancing by the possessed are normal elements in such sessions."

pp. 175-180 – 6.4.5 sections of the weqabi be`t (weqabi-house = temple)




"Inside, the house is divided in three sections, each separated by ... rather high fences made of bamboo poles and pieces of cloth. ...


The sections of the house are :


p. 176 alga kefel (alga ‘throne’ + kefel ‘room’)

p. 177 "the room for ... the ashka:r/ga:ra:d, and the balte`t ... sitting ... at the right wall."


p. 178 sa:q:ala kefel (sa:qa:la ‘hanging’)

p. 178 "with ... bench ... for ... the sagle`n ... and the weqabi abat". decorated with branches from the wa:yra tree, which are (p. 179) replaced annually.


h^alqa kefel

sacred objects (including "ceremonial costume") are stored herein.


"The getera is immediately behind the ch>alqa. ...

The sida is ... apparently a borrowing from Oromo, where it is "a place of worship, usually a pile of pebbles ..."". {cf. Mongolian sacred cairns}

pp. 181-182 – 6.4.6 cult-objects




"the two umbrella (t.ela), ...

the fly swatter (ch>era) and

the spear (t.or). The spear symbolises ... the hunter ... (... Ada:gn Wa:rqu – "Wa:rqu the Hunter" ...)."

182, fn. 257

[quoted from Morton 1973:611 :] "wuqabi ... Birr Alenga ("silver whip") to whom the whip belongs."


"two more elements in weqabi sessions" :

"One is butter, which is anointed on the bala: weqabi’s forehead before the session ... . ...

The other ... is perfume or eau de cologne. Before ... sessions, household members and guests sometimes get generous doses of perfume or eau de cologne from spray bottles."

AETHIOPISTISCHE FORSCHUNGEN, Band 58 = Harald Aspen : Amhara Traditions of Knowledge : Spirit Mediums and their Clients. Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2001.