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Trenches of the struggle for independence: Symbols of Eritrean resistance

When we talk about the Eritrean struggle for independence what comes in mind is the endurance, perseverance and belief for a cause of the Eritrean people. Enduring the hardship, brutality, cruelty, and indiscriminate killing perpetrated by the enemy soldiers and security forces, and that for over thirty years, and ultimately coming out triumphant is the trade mark of the Eritrean people. We could confidently claim that, in terms of longevity and severity, the Eritrean people’s struggle is unique and there are very few liberation struggles that took so long without not giving up, resisting all sorts of brutalities with one thing in mind, determination that after all the crimes committed one day Eritrea will be free in which its people will walk their head up.

The Eritrean people from the onset knew that they are dealing with a strong enemy backed by the superpowers of that time. They also knew that the struggle would take time and would demand heavy human and material scarifies. And that needs mental preparation to go on for what ever it takes and reach the desired goal, the liberation of the people and country. One living example of the preparedness has been the weighty trenches built by the liberation fighter in a bid to save their lives with their sweat and carry on their struggle for an unforeseeable time. The Nakfa trenches are vivid examples that the Eritrean liberation fighters have been dug in and wait for the massive and consecutive enemy invasions and with their sweat save their lives and break the back bone of the enemy and disable its fighting spirit and to its final submission.

The June 20, Martyrs Day, has its root from the martyrs that gave their lives to the cause of the Eritrean revolution in the trenches of Nakfa. And when we remember our martyrs, it is not coincidental, to remember the trenches of Nakfa. Had it not been for their existence one could imagine how many lives could have been sacrificed.

The trenches have been carefully built and with belief that they would stand even the heavy artillery bombardment of the enemy. More over, the stone structures, dug deep underground, served not just as the protective shelters for the fighters, but became places where friendship were cemented, commitment and courage displayed, pain and hurt shared, and where the fate for Eritrea and her people was laid. From here the Eritrean freedom fighters have gone through trying times, endured and fought and clambered up a steep slope to prove themselves strong. The endurance they have displayed coupled with perseverance in the face of conspiracy has helped Eritreans outlast subjugation, dependence, indecency and other ignoble human qualities.

What is interesting is that each trench has been baptized with unique names characterizing the situations that have been going through there. Every trench was given a name depicting the ferocity of the struggle in and around them. Rigole, Volleyball, Fernello, Globe, Letter P, Testa, Nakura, Sembel were some of the names of the trenches around Nakfa.

Rigole is an Italian word meaning penalty kick like that of the football game; and the name was given to indicate how close the trenches of the enemy were to that of the EPLF combatants. In some places the trenches were some meters apart that both sides could listen to every word uttered by all sides. With time even both sides could call each others with their names. Could any one imagine staying for months some meters away from the enemy trenches with all the grenades and hand bombs falling on you? Only those who happened physically there could explain the ferocity of the struggle and the endurance that was displayed.

Volleyball as any one knows is a kind of a game where two competing teams are separated with a net in between and play the game inches apart. In the game of Volleyball from the six players there is one a play maker and one smasher. The ball coming from the smasher is very hard to deal with by the opponent and the name given to this particular trench was to indicate the hard part of the situation there during the war for independence. In this trench when the enemy throws hand grenade on the EPLF fighters it was common for the fighters to catch the hand grenade, before it reaches the ground and explodes, and throw it back to the enemy like that of the Volleyball ball. What a Volleyball game!

Fernello is also an Italian word meaning a kind of zinc corrugated stove Eritrean women use to boil coffee or sausage. The process is done by putting charcoal on the Fernello and the charcoal burns creating red fire enough to boil the coffee or the sausage. The combatants who have been in that particular trench, Fernello, recite that the trench was being turned into a hell with the continuous heavy artillery and aerial bombardment of the Derge regime and it needed unswerving endurance beyond imagination.

The combatants had to face all the hell on earth with the bombardment and their unflinching determination and will power did not allow the enemy forces to succeed and advance even an inch.

Testa is a kind of head to head fight where individuals use their physical heads to hit each other on the head. It is a kind of collusion of two individuals’ heads. With this kind of fight there is physical contact between the two sides. This trench what they called Testa was very close to the enemy position and no one could stand for a second to stretch his/her body. No movement what is so ever. One movement means the end of ones life.

Testa was later replaced with Globe. It was designed in a way that from the trench, unlike the other trenches, one could control the enemy movement from every angle. And the name Globe was given to it to indicate its round shape formation as that of the earth.

The long trenches circling the enormous and proud Denden Mountain are among the first trenches the EPLF fighters built to hold the advance of the Derge forces during the fourth offensive. All other trenches in the area have their peculiar names upon which they tell their own stories of the struggle for independence.

These trenches and the others that I didn’t mention have been the strong holds of the liberation fighters that played a great role to undo the consecutive enemy invasions to over run the liberation fighters and ultimately to recapture the town of Nakfa that have been the symbol of Eritrean resistance and a place in which a number of liberation fighter paid their dear lives. Hence, announcing that June 20 to be observed every year as Martyrs Day emanate from this reality.

It is every one hope that the trenches of Nakfa that that have special place in the history of the Eritrean people’s struggle for independence would be kept intact and become the living archives of the struggle and visited by scholars, researchers and other visitors who would like to have the understanding of the real situation that has been going on there especially the dedication, endurance, perseverance and strong nationalism that has been demonstrated by the Eritrean people and especially the liberation fighters. The seemingly unbelievable history of Nakfa trenches could be turned into tourism destination and that would have dual importance.

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