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A pilgrimage to the valley of Sycamores

Trees in Eritrea, in addition to providing suitable environmental conditions in dry areas and serving as shades for human beings and livestock, play an extra role as sources of ritual or ceremonial services. Be it in the highlands and lowlands, each community has therefore a big tree that is regarded as the foundation of its cultural values and governing laws. The tree devoted to such symbolic functions in the Eritrean highlands is the Daero or the Sycamore Tree.

Although there are many big trees in the highlands, there are none with a span as great as the Sycamore’s. With its remarkably dense foliage and the grateful shade it affords, the sycamore has for generations been regarded as the ideal venue for village assembly gatherings where community elders discuss on social matters and issues of pertaining to land resource management. It is also under the shade of the sycamore that they elect their leaders and community judges.

People feed from its fruits and quench their thirst from the clear water welling up from its roots while animals make their homes in it.

The valley of Sycamore just outside the town of Segenity in the Southern region is one of the areas where such trees are found in abundance. The big trees have been there for hundreds of years and have been part of the inhabitants’ lives for generations.

The Adgna Tegelba, one of Eritrea’s rich of customary laws, collectively known as Highin Sir’aten Endaba and by which its people have been governed and disciplined, is said to have been drafted under these trees over 500 years prior to the Italian colonization.

The importance of the sycamores as long a long standing relic has earned it great respect. Not only has it been figured in one of the bills of the national currency, (the 5 Nakfa note) but it was also honored with a session on African languages during the “Against All Odds Conference” in 2000.

The sycamores in this area have all different names, each name being given according to particular characteristics. For instance, Daero Hatsaro (a variation of short sycamore) takes its name from the fact that it is short but wider than its neighboring trees.

The inhabitants of the area have always had big respect for the sycamores. Legend has it that whoever cut such a tree, he would end up cursed with bad luck. In fact, to this very day, no one dares to cut a sycamore for building houses or other purposes.

Italians had plan to cut the trees for carpentry purposes but the inhabitants stood up against them, firmly asserting that the trees were source of food for their children and livestock as well. Such protection has definitely played a vital role in their preservation.

This historical aspect of sycamores, on top of their proximity to Asmara, could be of significant importance to the development of domestic tourism. To sit and enjoy the shade of the big tree, especially if the famed Eritrean coffee ceremony was included, would surely be an exhilarating experience.

Countless tourists have been visiting the Valley of Sycamores and there is no reason why it shouldn’t soon see Eritrean pilgrimage flocking to see its beauty in the very near future.  

Source: ‘Tourism’ special edition 2012

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