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The history of art and culture in Eritrea

The nine ethnic groups of the country provide Eritrea with a variety of lifestyles and cultures. The sea is central to the people of the coast, while the lowlanders’ lives are oriented around camels, and the farming communities of the central highlands gear their lives to the constant passing of the seasons. Style of dress, customs, decoration and art all reflect these variations.

Eritrea’s craft objects are not manufactured for the tourist market alone but from a part of the daily lives of the local people. Every thing that we see as an art form is, in fact, a functional item for every day use. Leather work such as jackets, shoes (sandals, loafers and elegant dress shoes), gold and silver-smiths and handcraft items such as clay coffeepots, hand made ropes, charcoal braziers, baskets and cosmetic containers are some of the many locally made souvenirs.

Eritrean basketwork differs from its worldwide counterparts in that the baskets are used not only to carry goods but also in the preparation and serving of food. The baskets available in the markets vary in size and design and in the hues used to decorate them. In fact, the basket-makers of Eritrea have a full-time job weaving their wares of sale as food covering, jewelry boxes, breakfast plates, bread baskets, table mats, laundry baskets, coarse sieves and wall decorations.

A lot of pottery in Eritrea is fired in very basic kilns. Coffee pots with slender necks, brightly painted holders for incense sticks and various-sized bowls for food which can also double up as plant pots are the usual items in general use. Water containers of different sizes are also popular.

Gold and silver body-ornamentation has a rich history in Eritrea. Finely-worked earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings in both precious metals are sold in the numerous jewelry shops, as are the famous Christian crosses, which are also available in brass. With precious metals being rare, unavailable or unaffordable in the rural areas, women in the rural areas usually wear jewelry made from many varieties of beads, strung together and worn around their heads, necks, wrists and ankles.  

Source: Tourism Information Booklet 2013

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