Heritage and Society

About Eritrea - History & Culture
  • “Heritage is an essential part of the present we live in and of the future we will build.”

Heritage and society are inseparable. Heritage shapes the social make-up of a society. Heritage is simply “memories” and refers to the selective recollection of society’s significant cultural values and practices. It represents and reflects individuals’ and collective memories of a society formed over time.

The definition and concept of heritage has been debated over several years by researchers because it is a complex subject. Usually heritage is defined superficially and most of us associate it simply with one’s place of origin, (locality, village…) or ethnicity. This ordinary understanding fails to grasp the soft and cognitive context gluing heritage to society.

It is vital to comprehend society’s view of heritage and the benefits it gains from engaging with it because heritage is interpreted and/or consumed through the unique values, attitudes and experiences of the individuals involved. Nowadays, the best way to understand heritage is through community-based plans, that is via assuring the active involvement of society and/or community.

Some researchers suggest that heritage cannot be divorced from its highly multivalent nature because of the values people give to the heritage they engage with. Others think that groups across society filter heritage through often different value systems. These two insights help us to better understand the concept and theorization of heritage.

In this context, although the definitions of heritage may differ, it is generally related to features associated with the culture of a society, such as languages and buildings that were created in the past and still have historical importance. Heritage usually refers to the full range of our inherited traditions, monuments, objects, and culture. Most importantly, heritage is the range of ancient and contemporary activities, meanings, and behaviors that we draw from them.

Whether it is Qohaito cultural landscape, Sahaba mosque, Naqfa military trenches, a rural landscape or a town center, the values and meanings they represented are central. These values are strong across the heritage contexts.

Heritage is both tangible and intangible in the sense that ideas and memories of songs, folklore, recipes, language, dances, and many other elements that tell who we are and how we identify ourselves are as important as historical buildings and archaeological sites.

Heritage is, or should be, the subject of active public reflection, debate, and discussion. What is worth saving? What can we, or should we, forget? What memories can we enjoy, regret, or learn from? Who owns “the past” and who is entitled to speak for past generations? Active public discussion about material and intangible heritage — of individuals, groups, communities, and nations — is a valuable facet of public life in our multicultural world.

Heritage is a contemporary activity with far-reaching effects. It can be an element of far —sighted urban and regional planning. It can be the platform for political recognition, a medium for intercultural dialogue, a means of ethical reflection, and the potential basis for local economic development. It is simultaneously local, global and shared.

Eritrea’s historic environment, despite its vivid nature, is still not yet studied and enjoyed. The Eritrean people are literally living within a listed heritage asset and the historic environment is within reach of us all. For example, the Sembel and Maichihot archaeological sites are found within Asmara; Qohaito is near the city of Adi-Qeih and Metera is found on the outskirts of Senafe; the historical mosque of Sahaba is found in the heart of Massawa city and Adulis is only 50kms away from Massawa. These heritage assets represent not only a daily presence but also act as tangible connections to the past, telling the story of local places and the nation as a whole.

We deeply value our historic and cultural environments because they inspire passion and fascination. This stems from the extraordinary past of our society and a deep emotional connection we have to it, helping us to make sense of our place in the world and creating a sense of belonging and attachment to places.

Visiting historic environments is important for our health and well-being. There is a growing evidence and recognition that the historic environment has a role to play in maintaining and improving our mental and physical health. This is true for individuals as well as communities. In this case, visiting a natural or cultural landscape, historical sites and museums (domestic tourism) should be practiced in order to understand and promote our heritage.

A historic environment creates a strong sense of place. This means it is used to describe the ways in which people attach meaning and values to specific locations. It is a characteristic applied to places where the environment evokes positive feelings such as belonging, identity and pride.

The historic environment influences how we perceive places. Eritrea’s built heritage is renowned for its antiquity, aesthetic value, its beauty and character. The local diversity of styles and their compelling sense of longevity make historic buildings and structures attractive parts of the built environment. Their presence in our rural and urban landscapes has an attractive power that draws people and impacts their quality of life.

Historic environment has the notion of bringing people together. The historic environment has an important role in bringing people together, whether it is through providing attractive places to meet and relax together or by forming a common cause to gather around.

Moreover, the historic environment inspires learning and understanding. Cultural engagement can help shape reflective individuals, facilitating greater understanding of themselves and their lives, increasing empathy with respect to others, and an appreciation of the diversity of human experience and cultures.

Eritrea’s unique and diversified heritage is the result of millions of years cultural evolution and social dynamics. This unique heritage has been evolved from generation to generation and still is vivid within our society. The cultural and historical evidence are found across the country. We strongly recommend for immediate and sustainable investment on preserving, studying and promoting this priceless cultural heritage. Because, preserving heritage means maintaining society’s collective memories alive – hence, preserving heritage, developing economic industry, and maintaining identity and continuity in a fast-changing world for future generations.