Symbol and significance of Nakfa Trench

About Eritrea - History & Culture

Throughout the 30 years of Eritrean armed struggle for independence Nakfa was the strategic center for the liberation movement. Following a six-month fierce battle Nakfa was liberated by Eritrean freedom fighters in March 1977, and once liberated it remained a stronghold of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (E.P.L.F.) throughout the struggle for Eritrea’s independence. The Derg regime was not ready to let go of Nakfa because of its elevation and strategic location and conducted a series of counter attacks that lasted 10 years. After the strategic withdrawal of the E.P.L.F. Nakfa became a vital frontline of the freedom fighters for about 10 years. Nakfa has very deep, long, complex and wonderful underground trenches and houses, remnants of shattered bombs, armored vehicles and tanks.

Trenches and underground Houses

It is essential that we know our history. The Eritrean armed struggle for independence is indeed exceptional in the world. It was a struggle against Africa’s largest army, armed to the teeth with support from the world’s powerful nations. The struggle was long and bitter. The secret for the success of the revolution was the determination of the freedom fighters, the unity of the people of Eritrea with the E.P.L.F. and the trenches of Nakfa. The trenches of Nakfa are remarkable. The average estimated length of a trench is 180 kilometers in the north-south direction up to Ararb. The overall length of the trenches is estimated to be more than 600 Kms. There are more than 1000 underground houses within and around Nakfa. All E.P.L.F. fighters participated in designing and making the trenches and houses, which still stand as important examples of Eritrean fighters’ resilience, determination and sacrifice that resulted in victory.

The trenches were made with raw materials brought from the surrounding environment and farther locations. Large trees were cut and brought from remote areas of the Sahel region. At times the fighters would leave their base area in the morning in search of wood and would come back at night. Also, the mountains are so rocky it was often difficult to dig the ground to make trenches.

Nakfa is also known for its underground hall, where the historical 3rd E.P.L.F congress was held in 1994. The most befitting attribute to Nakfa is perhaps the naming of the Eritrean currency after the town.

Some of the names, classification and meaning of the well-known Trench

In general, Nakfa trench is classified in to two wings -- the right wing and the left wing.

The trenches on the right wing include:
Fidel ‘ pe ’ 1.
Taba Selam, 2. which means ‘peace hill’
Glob ‘having a round 3. structure’
Rigole 4. ‘penalty area’
Wancha 5. ‘cub’
Denden 6.
Galdenden 7.
Endanepal 8.
Farnello 9.
Testa 10.
Sewra 11. ‘revolution’
Semble 12.
Afncha 13. ‘nose’
Teatek 14.
Kubub Baray 15.
Siega 16.
Some of the left wing trenches extending to the left direction over a chain of mountains were also given the following names.
Merkebna 1. 10. Medat
May Kelashin 2. 11. Arew
Temamen 3. 12. Nahra
Anda Sga 4. 13. Otolo
Sulfur 5. 14.Volley Ball
Aguadu 6.
15.Enda Krbit 7.
Tikhs 8. 16.Spartaces
Hamukushti 9. 17. Abre
kubania 10.

The trenches were given names that are meaningful and reflect the prevailing situations of the times.

‘Rigole’, which means a penalty kick in football, is meant to signify how close the freedom fighters’ frontline was to the enemy’s side.

‘Fidel pe’, a reference to the Tigrinya alphabet ‘T’, is a name given to the undergrounds and canals that looked like the alphabet.

Volley Ball was a name given to the trench where the fighters and enemy soldiers were based not far from one another that they would throw back and forth hand grenades.

Nakfa is a source of history of the Eritrean struggle for independence and the turning point and gate way to the bright light of independence. We must jealously guard it, preserve it and pass it onto the next generation.

Northern Red Sea region Museum