Ethiopian Dabtara: The Musician and Transmission of Religious Tradition

Kay Kaufman Shelemay

Among the Beta Israel and in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churches, a debtera (or dabtara) is an itinerant religious figure who sings and dances for the congregation, and who performs exorcisms and medicinal magic.

The world and praxis of musicians often extend beyond musical performance into other realms, transcending narrowly circumscribed boundaries. The Ethiopian dabtara provides a striking example of the manner in which Western notions of specialization have served to limit our understanding of these African religious practitioners.

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Originally published in the Journal of Religion in Africa, XXII, 3 (1992). Republished with thanks.