The Assyrian opera “Qateeni” to be performed in Modesto

Two years ago, The Central Valley Chapter of AAS-A took on the creation of the Assyrian opera Qateeni as part of its initiative to expand Assyrian cultural and art activities. This project now has come to fruition and on August 15th 2009, the first act of this opera will come to stage in concert style in the third Mesopotamian Night fund raiser concert in Modesto, California.

In order to familiarize our audience and supporters with this important cultural and art project, we will be posting informative articles in this blog periodically.

The first of these articles is a summery translation of the Epic Poem book Qateeni Gabbara by Dr. Arianne Ishaya.

By: Dr. Arianne Ishaya


The scene introduces Giliana (the revealer), an itinerary storyteller who travels from village to village bringing good tidings or recounting legends of long ago.

It is a winter night. Mountains, valleys, trees and bushes are all covered under a blanket of snow. Giliana appears as a dot on the snowy blanket slowly approaching a low laying village. He enters a house where petty disputes with neighbors over whose sheep are fatter, has dampened the mood of the family members. Guiliana advises them that it is better to forego differences of opinion with friends and “do what Qateeni did”.
“What did Qateeni do?” everyone asks.

“He forgot the anger he had towards his uncle’s family when he realized a stronger foe was threatening all.”

Thus Giliana begins to recount Qateeni Gabbara’s legend.

Book I
Chapter 1

The scene opens with the introduction of a mighty ruling family in the Assyrian country laced with high mountains surrounding green-carpeted valleys. The ruler is Malik (feudal lord) Tuma who is sovereign over both the mountain and lowland people.
His older brother is Yateevoo, the high priest, the power of whose cross penetrates every soul. The younger brother is Gouzmanoo, a friend of the poor and the oppressed.
Then there is the beautiful sister, Kurikmoo, coveted by the neighboring princes, and the topic of many poetic praises.

This family’s stately mansion is open everyday to distinguished guests who are entertained and fed with a variety of delectable dishes the aroma of which fills the air; not to mention the aged red wine which freely flows from barrels to smaller earthen jugs.

On some occasions Tuma raises his bowl of wine and offers a challenge to brave men daring them to rid the country of a grievous calamity in the form of a female demon, Shidda, who has built a castle on a high mountain from the skulls and bones of people she has snared and murdered. She has taken hold not only of people whether young or old, lord or pauper, but also of the land. She has diverted the rivers from their courses leaving man, beast, and green plants high and dry.

Tuma’s challenge goes like this:

“Who is the brave, the bravest of the brave, the bravest of all times, who is not afraid to climb the high mountains, squeeze through narrowest crevices, pass through plains and deserts, and speedily land, like an arrow soaring through the air, on Shidda’s green meadows, and while she is in her slumber of 40 days, pick from the green plant to bring home a specimen that will give sight to the blind, and life to the dead.”

Chapter 2

Qateeni’s Childhood

Qateeni grew up in a lowly village raised by his mother Kurikmoo (remember, this is the beautiful sister of Malik Tuma) who was banished by her brothers because she fell in love and married a poor miller instead of a rich prince that would bring wealth and honor to her father’s family. How dared she not to submit to the will of her elder brothers who had absolute power over the people and even commanded the air, the weather and the seasons!

Some said Qateeni’s father, Yossip, was himself from a celebrated family, the mighty Qateenis, in whose strong arms the leopard, clasped against his bosom, ceased to breathe.

When Tuma and his brother the high priest, with a hundred strong followers descended upon Yossip’s village for revenge, Yossip had to make a decision. He knew he was guilty of marrying a woman without the consent of her family. So instead of shedding the blood of his in-laws, he decided to retreat. He entered the mill and rolled the huge millstone over the opening. The attacking party stood in awe before such might. The two brothers did not have the heart to kill such a Herculean man; but banished the couple from the homeland. Yossip who was strong enough to withstand great trials, could not endure the weight of his guilt and the tears of his wife. He died leaving his pregnant wife alone.

Time healed the wounded heart of the widow by giving her a son who grew into a strong and beautiful child. “Your name is Qateeni, and Qateeni (a mighty hero) you will be. You will not let this great name die out. You will inherit your father’s strength three times over.” These were the blessings of a heart-broken mother who asked the almighty to “pave your path with success and to enable you to shame those who broke your father’s and your mother’s heart. The heart of those who hear your name shall tremble, and when they see Qateeni on their heels, they will bend down and bow their faces to the ground before your feet.”

Chapter 3

Qateeni’s Boyhood

In a little village adorned with water, green pastures, high cliffs, and fruit trees each boasting of its own virtues, [1] noisy children played and retold tales they had heard of giants and men, of battles and heroic deeds. Among them was a boy, the strongest of them all. Although the youngest, he stood a head and shoulder taller, and his arms and limbs were strong having walked through drifts of snow. So strong was he that when he leaned against a walnut tree, the tree moaned deep in its roots. In the pretend play with children, Qateeni would tie them up and fight with the imaginary monster dislocating one child’s arm here and another’s leg there. The parents complained to the village head that Qateeni was maiming their children and demanded to know who had invited this orphan and his mother clad in black (mourning clothes) to their village, and asked that they return where they had come from. But the village head was wise and reprimanded them. “We are mountain people, descendants of Assyrians. Isn’t it shameful to forget our values and throw out a guest out of our village?’ Instead, for the safety of the village children, Qateeni was made the village shepherd so that he would spend his days on high pastures. One evening Qateeni was very tardy in bringing the flock back from pasture. When he finally did return, people asked him the reason. He told them of the big headache he had with one of the “sheep” who would run away from the flock and climb the cliffs or hide in crevices. She was the reason for his delay. Finally he had caught her and had had to carry her on his shoulders. When they looked and saw the beast standing in the middle of the flock with her head high, and branched horns, they laughed and laughed until tears flew down their cheeks. Then the forlorn mother, who was standing by quietly, took the boy in her arms and amidst bursts of laughter and crying, explained to him that this was not a sheep but a wild deer and was probably being missed by her little ones. He was to return her the next day where he had first found her.

One day on his way to the pasture, the boy heard a voice calling: “Who are you Qateeni. Don’t you have a father?’ That evening the saddened boy asked his mother to tell him where they were from and who was his father. But his mother asked him to wait until he was older and more mature. Then she would tell him everything about the injustice done to her and his father. But Qateeni insisted he was already wise enough. To prove his point he told her about an event that had occurred three days earlier. In the evening when it was time to bring the herd back to the village, the spotted cow of Ashi, and her calf Bashi, stubbornly continued to stay behind grazing. So he had lifted the cow on his shoulders, and when the calf had seen the mother leave, she had obediently followed suit. “Now then, Qateeni asked, isn’t this proof that I am already wise?”

Chapter 4

A Mother’s Advice

The heart-broken mother tells her son about the events of the past. She assures him that with the passage of time, her anger against her brothers has subsided; there is just the occasional sting of pain of disrepute and lost honor. Her advice to her son is not to make revenge a goal in his life. “It is foretold in the book of the wise, there will be a hero from a certain mountain. Who will he be, you or another, I do not know. But he will bring hope to the people, will bring them light. Two desires tear me apart: one that you stay with me; the other that you go to the rescue of hundreds. Leave shepherding to others and exchange your shepherd’s staff with a sword. Go from good deed to good deed and from glory to glory.”

Chapter 5

Qateeni Arms Himself

Qateeni goes to a sly merchant to purchase a sword and a shield. The merchant shows him nine unworthy swords. He breaks them in two one after another. The tenth one he picks himself; a sword that can even cut through a rock. There seems to be certain strength in this sword like the power of lightening. It is said of Qateeni’s sword that when the lightening struck, the sword neighed like a horse. It was nicknamed “the son of thunder”. But, to no avail, the merchant tries to dissuade Qateeni from buying this sword.

Chapter 6


Malik Tuma has blocked the shipping passage to and from the big river. He does not allow merchant ships to either leave or enter the waters. He has assigned Gouzmanoo, his youngest brother, a valiant officer, to implement his order. Qateeni reaches the crossing and finds the ship merchants gloomy. When they see his Herculean gait, they promise him whatever he wants only if he would open the passage. Qateeni asks for only 10 pieces of gold, to pay the trader for the purchase of his sword. Without knowing Gouzmano is his uncle, he fights with him and defeats him.

A messenger with an unfamiliar dialect comes to Mallik Tuma, and tries to recount Qateeni’s stature, his fight with, and victory over Gouzmanou. A hilarious dialogue ensues that is very hard to do justice to in translation.

Qateeni who has broken the heavy chains across the river is described as a man who hops from one end of the big river to the other in two steps; one who crumbles rocks in his hands; and who takes the lion by his mane like it was a pussy cat; and when he leans against a marble wall to rest, the wall crumbles under his weight. Malik Tuma loses patience and wants to know what has happened to his brother. The messenger rambles on. There is no one of that boy’s stature and size in the country. His hair is long like gals; but there is no hair on his face. Must not be older than 17. Malik Tuma stops him and again asks about his brother. The messenger: As to his features, he has teeth like the spikes on a plow; each of his ears is the size of a quilt; and his nose is like a trumpet that when blown sounds like thunder. Malik Tuma is beside himself with anger, and wants to know about his brother. The messenger: He overpowered Gouzmanoo in a matter of seconds. First Gouzmanoo’s sword flew out of his hands, then Gouzmanno himself was lifted into the air like a light feather and thrown down to the ground like heavy metal. Gouzmanoo begged for mercy and asked the hero to have pity on him for the sake of his children.

Kateeny’s heart melts particularly when he finds out this is his uncle and spares his life, promising that his mission is to rescue his people and not to kill his mother’s kin. Now he has sent a message to Malik Tuma requesting an audience with him.

Chapter 7

In Malik Tuma’s Castle:

The dinner table is set. Around it sit many dignitaries from different cities and from the countryside. It is a gloomy atmosphere. The old men are quiet, lost in thought; the young braves, head downcast, appear very depressed. Even the wine jug, which used to fly from mouth to mouth lewdly, giving her lips to be kissed, sits solemnly like an old cat by her master. What malady has struck them all?

Have you not heard of the new devastation Shidda has inflicted upon man and beast? Water was not enough to satiate her thirst; now blood is what she wants, that of young men and maidens. Hundreds of braves have gone to fight her never to return leaving wives and children in mourning. Again Malik Tuma lifts his wine bowl and sings his song:

“Who is the brave, the bravest of the brave, the bravest of all times, who is not afraid to cruise through plains and deserts, pass through hills and valleys, climb the high mountains, and fly like an arrow through frightful crevices; speedily land on Shidda’s stronghold surrounded by the most fertile fields, and the greenest meadows; find the sleeping Shidda, aim his arrow at her, and throw her dead body into the deeps, into the hell from where she rose. Open the waterways, and bring life to the parched land. Let me see that brave, the bravest of all times to drink from this wine with me knowing that leaving, he might never come back.

Malik Tuma’s song hardly over, the crowd pours out into the yard in wonderment saying:

Look at this Assyrian descending from the mountains, each of his shoulders a yard wide; where he steps, the earth caves in. He is Qateeni, the one who splits mountains, his chest that of a mirror; the one who drinks wine by the barrels. Is there any hero who can challenge Qateeni? If there is one who can climb the perilous mountain to confront Satan’s daughter Shidda, he is the one!
Qateeni enters as crowds hale; the gate collapsing before his Herculean stride.
-“Do I come in peace or war, my uncle Tuma? Let’s end the family feud this very day.”
-“Peace be with you nephew. Good will my son, come forward.”
-“Before you welcome me, I want to hear your decision about your banished sister.”
-“Let’s first talk about the calamity that has brought us together; then we will discuss the honor of my sister Kurikmoo.”
-“Sugar-coated words are not enough to heal wounded hearts. I will restore the stolen honor, and end the life of the guilty party, let God be my witness.
-“I know now the truth about my honorable sister. I was misled by an evil stranger.
-Stranger: “You are sly like a fox, Malik Tuma. Trying to kill the offspring through deception; or could it be that you became afraid of his strength and want to even the score by flattery. Know that strength alone is not a sign of worthy character.
Having identified the culprit, Qateeni then and there smashes him to the ground with one strike.
Resumption of Malik Tuma’s Invitation:
The sad Tuma raises his bowl of wine and sings:
Who is the bravest of all, turning back, he never learned;
To drink the drink I drink, to take the stride I take; my pledge not to break.
To leave this thirsty land, climb the forbidden rock whose summit is hidden in the clouds; find the sleeping demon, aim at her his arrow, and throw her dead body into the deep. Break her dams and fences, open the floodgates, and saturate this parched land with water, returning life back to the desert; pick from her field an armful of aromatic grass to give sight to the blind and life to the dead. Who is ready to drink from this drink knowing going forth, he may never come back.

Qateeni accepts the challenge:
Malik I will drink the drink with you; will take the stride you take; will fulfill your pledge. Neither swamps nor waterways, burning deserts or evil spirits will dampen my spirit. I will climb the mountain of calamities. Shidda will not escape my sword, Will throw her dead body into the deep; will break her dams and fences.
Fill my empty bowl with the most aged wine to drink in honor of the great love, which is stronger than all ties and that has preserved us throughout time: the love of our forefathers. But tell me uncle, what was this twinkle in your eye? I wished I could know the secrets of your heart before I left.
Prior to his departure, Qateeni asks his uncle to bring his mother back home and restore her position in the family.

Description of Qateeni’s weapons

Qateeni’s shield was of one piece metal. It was so heavy that five strong men could not move it from the ground. But Qateeni could lift it upon his shoulders with one move.

The voices of cheering crowds reach high upon the frightful mountain top where Shidda slumbers. Shidda trembles as do the foundations of her camp. Her heart tells her that her days are numbered.

Kateen’s strongest weapon was not his shield, nor his sword “the son of thunder”. It was his heart, bleeding for the sufferings of his people. It was his devotion to serve his people. His uncle knew Qateeni was his only hope. Many brave men had gone before never to return. Some were killed; others enslaved. He also knew by sending his nephew to this perilous mission, some would say that he was trying to get rid of him; that having mistreated the parents, he was afraid of his nephew.

People surrounded Qateeni the Great; some encouraging him; others warning him not to go alone. Among them there was a woman who had lost two of her sons on this mission. With a bleeding heart she knelt before him and stared at his face as she song this song:

Retreat from this path Qateeni,
Great is the power of the foe.
Let some years pass by
Until you grow in power.
On your face, that of a lad,
There is no trace of a beard yet.
The loss would be immeasurable,
If this valiant stature is cut down;
Innumerable are the brave and valiant ones
Who died on the black altar;
The altar of the cruel Shidda.

In answer Qateeni shows his unwavering resolve:

Do not fear mother
Do not look at my age
Could be I’m not a famous brave
But it has never happened
That in the face of a challenge,
Qateeni step back.
Listen to this promise,
That I make in the memory of my dead father.
The last day of Shidda is at hand.
Before the sun sets,
Before the moon rises,
Her death she’ll meet by this hand.

The Widow:

Blessed be the mother who deserves to be honored for raising such a son, the deliverer of his nation. With prayerful hearts we will always be with you asking that your path be laid with success. You are the one we’ve been waiting for from long ago. There is no hope for those languishing in prisons without you.


By the truth of my soul,
By the light of this day,
I give you a sacred promise
Before the God of night,
Sets up his tent,
The enemy will lose its head.
No longer will it pass,
That Shidda seeps blood.
Wipe the tears off your eyes.
Before the sun sets,
Before the moon rises,
You’ll embrace your sons in your arms.

The angel of grace, on his powerful wings, took that song to the castle of demons. The song chimed in the heart of the innocent slaves. It’s echo returned to the ears of Qateeni.

The song of the enslaved:

Oh, how heavy is the yoke; unending is the suffering. Is there no light to shine on our bitter lives? Where is the one who would come to save us; break the chains that tie our hands and limbs? Long-awaited hero, come and put an end to this evil kingdom with your strong arms.

The widow:

You heard the wailing song brought on the wings of the wind. All are waiting to be delivered. They are calling your name with one voice. Bring them freedom lest their hope dies completely.


Our men and maidens
She has stolen from us,
Their lives are entombed,
In mountain cliffs;
If Shamiram could hear,
Bitterly would she weep for her kids;
Captive in their own land;
Rage is swelling in my chest,
It enflames my body;
It burns me like a fire ablaze.
If I do not put an end to Shidda,
Then it’s best to lie down and die
As I would not be,
The son of Gilgamish, the Ninevite.

[1] Actually there is a charming scene in the book depicting a debate between different trees each boasting of being the greatest.

End of Book I