Kateeny Gabbara (Kateeny the Great) is a legendary Assyrian hero who goes on many adventures and fights a monster named Shidda. In the mid-twentieth century, the Assyrian composer and writer, William D. S. Daniel, collected different Assyrian oral traditions about Kateeny to create a 3-volume epic poem about him. He even recorded himself reading the 3-hour epic aloud. Although Kateeny Gabbara is based on old folktales, some people believe that Daniel’s rendition of it is also an allegorical tale of the Assyrian people.
William Daniel was born in 1903 in Mahabad, which is located in a Kurdish area of northwestern Iran, not far from Urmia. His mother died when he was only 4-years-old. His father, Daniel Sayad Daniel, was a doctor. When the Assyrian Genocide took place, beginning in 1914, Daniel’s father helped protect the Assyrian village of Geogtapa during a Kurdish siege. He also treated the sick and suffering during that time, ultimately dying after contracting an illness himself. To add to the tragedy, one of William Daniel’s sisters ended up being kidnapped during that time, never to be seen again.
Despite the suffering Daniel endured as a boy, he did not allow himself to fall into despair. He began studying music. Prior to WWI, he had begun learning the violin after winning one as a prize. Therefore, when he reached the age to attend college, he decided to continue his studies in the violin. He ultimately attended music conservatories in both Switzerland and France. During that time, he also translated the French play, Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand, into Assyrian (neo-Aramaic).
William Daniel eventually returned to Iran and helped establish an Assyrian radio program there. He also composed and taught music. In 1952, he moved to the United States, where he continued to teach and compose music. Additionally, he served as an editor of the Assyrian Star magazine during the 1980s, and also wrote plays and poetry. He passed away in an accident in 1988 at the age of 85. Today, a beautiful monument of him sits over his grave in San Jose, California.
Written by Esther Lang
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