The brief introduction to qene by Gebre Eyasus Gorfu is a detailed description of “an Ethiopian style of speech, where one says one thing while implying a different meaning at the same time and in the same sentence.”
Qene can usually be expressed in a poetic form or in a prose, containing the two parts of sem and werk (wax and gold), all within the same expression. The wax and gold analogy comes from the craft of the goldsmith during the making of jewelry. The image is first formed in wax, because wax is soft and pliable to carve. The wax is then covered with clay, plaster, or porcelain, which hardens. When the molten gold is poured into the plaster or clay, the wax melts away, leaving the gold, with the desired image. Thus, encrypting a hidden message in Qene is an ancient art of creating more than one meaning, where the apparent wax and the hidden, gold, are intertwined in the same sentence.
It’s a tradition going back to the fifth century, and was used against Ian Smith of Rhodesia in the ’60s:
That was when a certain Ethiopian cleric took up his Begena to express the following Amharic Qene in a song, as a form of solidarity with the people:
Ian Smith Teseyeme alu Kesiss
Be Englizu papas
Ejun zerega le-nechochu…
The Qene is hidden in the word meskel. It means cross: the cross on which Jesus was hanged, or the symbol of a cross priests usually carry, and would often use when blessing the people. But the same word, without any changes in stress, also means: to hang with a rope. The meaning of the poem then becomes clear:
Was appointed a priest
By the English Bishop (Ex Prime Minister Harold Wilson)
He stretched out his hand to the whites,
And his cross/his hangings to the blacks…
I recommend the whole article, and I thank Pat Hall for the link.