Ethnic group

poptime=Est. 172,000 in 1994 (of whom only 1,650 retain the language.)
langs=Qimant (an Agaw language)
related=Agaw, Beta Israel, [http://www.nacoej.org/falas.htm Falas Mura] , Qwara, Amhara, Tigrays, Jews

The Qemant are a small ethnic group in Ethiopia, who, despite their close historical and ethnic relationship, should not be confused with the Beta Israel.

The ethnicity's population is roughly 172,000 (according to the census of 1994). However, only 1,625 people still speak Qimant, and it is considered endangered, as most children speak Amharic; likewise, adherence to the traditional religion has dropped substantially, as most of the population has converted to Christianity. Converts often consider themselves to have become Amhara - which they see as a desirable goal.

The Qemant live along an axis stretching from Chilga to Kirakir north to Lake Tana; most remaining speakers of the language are near Aykel, about 40 miles west of Gondar. They are mainly farmers.


The Qemant traditionally practiced a religion which is often described as "Pagan-Hebraic," combining elements from both Judaism and paganism (Zar). According to the American scholar Frederic C. Gamst, their "Hebraism is an ancient form and unaffected by Hebraic change of the past two millennia". A recent sociolinguistic survey notes that the Qemant religion is in a very precarious situation since very few people still adhere to it. According to this study, the ratio of those who follow the Qemant religion vs. those who are baptized and converted to Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity is about 1% vs. 99%. [Leyew (2002), p. 8.]

Their religious observances include a literal reading of the 11th chapter of Leviticus ("see Kashrut"). As with mainstream Judaism, even permitted animals can only be consumed if they are properly slaughtered ("see Shechita"). Their practices include animal sacrifices, and the tending of sacred groves (called "degegna").

Worship is conducted outdoors, usually at a site near a sacred tree (called "qole"), wrapped in variously-colored strips of cloth. This appears to be an emulation of a biblical tradition::"Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there the name of God", Genesis 21:33.and:"..where the women wove hangings for the grove", II Kings 23:7.

Their name for God is Adara, who is regarded as omnipresent.

The Sabbath is observed on Saturday, when it is forbidden to light a fire. The extent to which other prohibitions, as are found in Judaism, are observed, is unclear.

The highest religious leader among the Qemant is their High Priest, called the "Wember" (also transliterated "Womber"), an Amharic term meaning "seat." The Womber is highly respected and considered the head of all Qemant people.

The Qemant belief system includes angels, of whom the most respected is Jakaranti. Next in importance after Jakaranti are Mezgani and Anzatatera. Other angels include Kiberwa, Aderaiki and Shemani.


The origins of the Qemant are unknown, for they lack a written history. According to oral tradition, the founder of the Qemant was a man called Anayer, who is said to have been a grandson of Canaan, son of Ham, son of Noah. After seven years of famine in his own country, he is said to have come to the area of Lake Tana, in Ethiopia. As he traveled with his wife and children, he met the founder of the Beta Israel, whom tradition states were traveling in the same direction.

According to Wember Muluna Marsha, they were from the same country (which they called Canaan).

A marriage was intended between the two groups (or between their founders), although this plan was apparently never realized. This could mean that the founder of the Beta Israel was a woman.

According to the early 19th century missionary Samual Gobat, their Amharic-speaking neighbors considered the Qemant "boudas", or sorcerors, along with "the Falashas or Jews [Beta Israel] , most Mussulamns [Moslems] , and some Christians." Gobat knew little more about this "small Pagan people inhabiting the mountains in the vicinity of Gondar." [Samuel Gobat, Journal of Three years' Residence in Abyssinia, 1851 (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969), p. 263]

Notes and references



* Gamst, Frederic C. (1969) "The Quemant. A Pagan-Hebraic Peasantry of Ethiopia". New York: Holt, Rinehart And Winston.
* Hancock, Graham (1992) "The Sign and The Seal" (pp. 241-249). New York: Touchstone Books.
* Leyew, Zelealem (2002) 'Sociolinguistic Survey Report of the Kemant (Qimant) Language of Ethiopia' (SILESR2002-031). [http://www.sil.org/silesr/2002/031/SILESR2002-031.pdf online version] (PDF)
* Leyew, Zelealem (2003) "The Kemantney Language". Köln: Rudiger Koppe Verlag.

ee also

*Beta Israel
*Jews and Judaism in Africa

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