Mesob: the Symbol of Unity and Prosperity

About Eritrea - History & Culture

It is one of the Eritrean traditional handicrafts made of the palm straw, adorned in a diversity of colors and accomplished through efforts of creativity.

This beautiful household utensil, where food (injera – the sour dough flat bread) is kept or even a traditional Tigrigna dish is served is Mesob or the breadbasket.

Its name has been used for long as an idiom for prosperity and affluence as it is the hub of food security among the Tigrigna society in particular. Thus, describing Mesob as a symbol of Eritrean prosperity, unity and creativity would only be doing it justice.

When Eritrea presented its cultural objects at the 2010 World Expo in China, the Mesob was among the biggest attractions , which was beyond the expectations of the organizers. Undoubtedly, Mesob has the artistic touch and beauty.

Whether it has food or not the Mesob is always a sign of prosperity in its traditional beauty.

The way the Mesob stands straight impressively perhaps hints to its primarily intended design to stand as a perfect symbol of affluence. Looking at it with analytical eyes, it looks like a champion of artisanship.
Wide at its base, it is narrow in the middle, with the head appearing again to be the widest circular structure.

This gives it the structure of a woman with a small waist, giving the dexterity of art as though it was born out of a thoughtful attempt of a professional architect. The structure of Mesob also resembles the traditional dress of Tigrigna women, which stands as a token of beauty.

As you proceed from just seeing to looking, you can’t help noticing the secret symbol of the society: the circle.

Many house hold items are circular -- the Mogogo (clay oven), the Kitcha (the traditional bread), the Tsahli (traditional earthenware pot) and the Injera itself all feature a circular structure. It then dawns on you that this is simply the traditional invention of the Eritrean mother.

Many years ago, an Eritrean mother had to come up with something that would serve her as storage for injera, her most delicate food. And she had to do it with materials readily accessible to her. So she came up with the idea of using the palm raffia. She split it into tiny strands and made tiny bundles, wrapped them with a straw fiber, which she then wove together to make the beautiful Mesob.

Looking at the intricate process of making a Mesob, one can only imagine that it might have taken a very long time. A woman can complete one Mesob in around five months. This is taking into account the fact that the mother only does it in her spare time, after a tiresome day of domestic chores. But the beauty is worth the waiting.

The mother takes one stitch at a time understanding one of nature’s best secrets that time and patience always payoff those who endure.

It seems as though Mesob was deliberately made to denote the unity that Eritreans proudly boast about, as one discovers that Mesob takes part in the culture that incorporates harmony and togetherness: the Meadi. If a western invention provided us with the dining table to gather around for a meal, a traditional family of the Tigrigna society would use Mesob.

As everyone extends his hand to take his share from the food provided over the Mesob, it’s as if some sort of gravitational force draws everybody to integrate.

It is not an arbitrary choice then, for Eritreans to attempt to symbolize their unity and prosperity with this simple but ponderous invention.