Brief History of Tekle Aquaquam

June 15, 2015

By Kassa Nigus

Tekle Aquaquam is a unique style of chant and spiritual skip by church choir using sistra and prayer sticks. This chant system was instituted in the 19th century by Aleka Gebre Hanna, an Ethiopian Church scholar, and the hermit Tse’ada Gebre Meskel.

The church believes that the two fathers were led by the Holy Spirit when they composed the chants at Rema Medhanie Alem, one of the monasteries on the Lake Tana islands. The Tekle Aquaquam chants are composed in line with the hymns of St. Yared, the great composer of Ethiopian Church melody.  

Aleka Gebre Hana was born on November, 18 14 E.C at Nabega Giyorgis in Fogera district, east of Lake Tana. His father is Desta Tegeng, and his mother W/ro Sahilitu Tekle. The renowned scholar lived until 1898 E.C.

Currently, the garden at his home in Nabaga Giyorgis is covered with coffee and bamboo trees. Christians in the locality had built Bethlehem, the chapel where the Holy Communion is prepared, on his sepulture as a memorial for his name. His relics have been found in different parishes where he served.  

During the reign of Atse Tewodros, when the priests opposed the king’s land tenure reform which affected the church, Aleka Gebre Hana was blamed for coordinating the opposition. He then fled to Rema Medhani Alem church at one of the islands in Lake Tana, where he found Tse’ada Gebre Meskel, the hermit. That’s when the two worked together to compose the Tekle Zimame, a distinct system of spiritual chant and choreography based on the Gondere Aquaquam. They had drawn inspiration from the way bamboo trees in the area moved as wind blew through them. Then, the hermit Tse’ada said to Aleka Gebre Hanna, “I will not return to this fleeting world but you yourself shall go and teach this chant system.”

Arefe Ayne Hagos, 1979 E.C stated the invention of Tekle Zimmame by Aleka Gebre Hanna as follows:

“His life was strongly connected with the Lake Tana in various ways. One day when he was sitting on the beach of Lake Tana, he observed an amazing scene that the wave of the lake caused bamboo trees on the shore from right and left side as if the movement was carefully choreographed. He drew inspiration from the scene to create his composition known as Tekle Aquaquam.”

Many church scholars also agree that Tekle Aquaquam was invented by Aleka Gebre Hanna. After the death of Emperor Tewodros in 1864 E.C and the succession of Emperor Yohannes, Aleka left the monastery and went to Tigray where he lived at Axum Tsion church interpreting Fitha Negast (law of king). That perhaps explains why Aleka Gebre Hanna’s name is mentioned in some manuscripts in Axum Tsion Church. (Face bookpage: zekere teklie)

After Emperor Yohannes was killed in a battle at Metema, Aleka Gebre Hanna returned to his birth place, Nabega Giyorgis and started to teach the chant system he composed to the priests in the neighborhood. Through time Tekle Aquaquam expanded its reach to Gondar as it became more and more popular among church fathers. However, church fathers in Gondar banned the Tekle style of chant as it is accompanied by fervent bounce system. They considered the prance system inappropriate for church service as those who perform the choreography usually drop their attire as they prance passionately. Students in Gondar were also banned from learning the Tekle Aquaquam. (Ibd)

Aleka Gebre Hanna faced serious opposition from the clergy, and was warned not to teach his chant system to any student. He and his wife, Weizero Mazengia had two sons named Tekle and Sinu and a daughter called Tirunesh. As the children grew up, he secretly taught Tekle and Tirunesh his style of melody and choreography. Tekle excelled at his studies and finally became a famous scholar at an early age.  Aleka Gebre Hanna passed away on February 24, 1898 E.C at the age of 84 and was laid to rest at Nabega Giyorgis, his birth place. (Ibd)

During the invasion of Mahdist army (Dirbush) of Sudan during the reign of Yohannes IV, Tekle went to Ras Michael in Wollo where he performed a chant at the inaugural ceremony of Tenta St Michael church. The clergy and the congregation marveled at the sight of his chant style, and he was hired by Ras Michael to serve in Tenta St Michael church and to teach the chant there.(Deacon Danel Kibret…)

Later on, Ras Gugsa brought Tekle to Debre Tabor Iyyesus church through the good will of Ras Michael and appointed him to the chief of the church. Tekle spent the rest of his life there serving in the church and teaching his unique chant style which he got from his father.

The death of Aleka Tekle came as a shock to all those who knew him and especially to Ras Gugsa, the local governor. As Ras Gugsa heard the news of Aleka Tekle’s death he said he would rather see the church collapse, because while a shattered church can be rebuilt in a better way, the death of the scholar was irreversible.

When he was at Debre Tabor Iyesus church, Tekle had many disciples. Since his days there, Dabre Tabor Iyesus became the center of Tekle Aquaquam (Tekle Aquaquam Gubae bet/school) where many people were trained in the chant system and served in church choirs.

Genealogy of Tekle Aquaquam professors  

Name of Teachers                      Name of successors

Aleka Gebre Hanna    succeeded by   Aleka  Tekle Gebre Hanna

Aleka Tekle                          »                Aleka Mekonne and others

Aleka Mekonnen                 »                Aleka Keleme werk and others

Aleka Keleme werk             »                Aleka Mahitem

Aleka Mahitem                    »               Re’ese memhiran  Mersha

Currently, head professors (Re’ese Memhiran) Mersha and Mergeta Zewde are the custodians of the Tekle Aquaqum which they are teaching to their students at Debre Tabor Iyyesus church.

The parish council of Dabre Tabor Iyyesus and Mekane Birhan Holy Trinity Church is preparing to celebrate Aleka Tekle Gebrehana’s Centenary in a special way under the theme ‘Zikre Tekle’ (the memorial of Tekle).

The event will be marked from May to Pagumen (the shortest 13th month, 5 to 6 days in the Ethiopian calendar), 2007 E.C through different programs:

  •  Presentation of research papers, documentary, exhibition;
  •  Panel discussion;
  •  Visit to the historical birth place of Aleka Gebre Hanna, i.e. Nabega Giyorgis and Rema Medhane Alem;
  •  Procession to Debre Tabor Eyesus Tekle Akuakuam Gubae Bet;
  •  Sermons, songs, Tekle Zimame, Ge’ez poetry recital , etc  

A main purpose of this program is to discuss, with relevant stakeholders, solutions to the problems the Tekle Aquaquam School is facing so that this unique chant system can be passed on to the next generation.

Organizer of the event: The parish council of Dabre Tabor Iyyesus and Mekane Birhan Holy Trinity Church


• Deacon Daniel Kibret’s View: Reflections on Ethiopia’s History, Culture, Religion, politics and Tradition on May 7, 2015)

•  የእንጦጦ  ደብረ  ኃይል ፻፳፭ አመት  መታሰቢያ  መጽሔት

•  ዐረፈ ዓይኔ  ሐጎስ  አለቃ  ገብረ ሐና  እና አስቂኝ ቀልዶቻቸው አዲስ አበባ ፲፱፻፸፱  ዓ.ም

•  አዲስ  ዘመን  ጋዜጣ ታኅሣሥ ፲ ቀን ፲፱፻፸፰  ዓ.ም ምን ሠርተው ታወቁ  ?  በመንግሥቱ ለማ

•  አለቃ  ለማ  ኃይሉ  መጽሐፈ  ትዝታ  ዘአለቃ ለማ ኃይሉ ወልድ ታሪክ አዲስ አበባ ፲፱፶፱ ዓ.ም

•  ኅሩይ ወልደ ሥላሴ የሕይወት ታሪክ አዲስ አበባ ፲፱፻፲፰ ዓ.ም

• Face bookpage: zekere teklie : ( retrieved on May 7, 2015)