In the past 26 years of independence one of Eritrea’s major undertakings has been educational advancement and so now from one university there are eight colleges of several disciplines.
It has been 20 years since the department of Anthropology and Archeology was introduced in the Eritrean Higher Institution system. It produced many graduates of whom some are contributing to the discovery and conservation of historic wonders while some others are teaching and nurturing young future professionals. Eritrea is located in the intersection point of three ancient civilizations it acclaims its substance in connecting the history of several civilizations: Africans, Arabs and maybe Europeans.
In celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Dept. of Anthropology and Archeology we speak today to the department’s former student and today’s instructo: Dr. Robel Haile.
- -How did you end up studying archeology?
The passion started when I was very young. My history teacher in high school (Mr. Alem Gebrekal) was a big inspiration. His history classes were so fascinating that every student would end up being a history enthusiast. And then when I joined Asmara University, in the first semester of the freshman year, we had a common course of anthropology and there I came across another great inspirational man. If you are an Eritrean student then you would know Professor Abebe. You know how his classes are; he literally reminds every student that there is so much to be done in Eritrea and of the paramount importance Eritrean anthropology and archeology hold. Therefore Professor Abebe’s class made me ardently want to be an archeologist and, in some small way, make a difference.
- -What about the biggest impact of them all; I know you have an experience related to your filed, which is worth sharing.
I am sure you have heard about Metera. It is an important monument with inscriptions dating back to safely some 2000 years, and that’s the least. I was still a teenager when the Ethiopian offensive broke on May 25th 2000. For the 3rd offensive I enrolled in the military while I was semester of my freshman year. My unit had been deployed in Senafe for the 3rd offensive in 2000. I was 19 years old then and I had already sat in Professor Abebe’s class. So I realized that we were in one of the historically rich zones of Eritrea. Of course it is a luxury to even think of archeology amidst the war but often times some classes would flash in my head as we moved around Senafe. Like everyone else there, and the people of Eritrea in general, we were so angry that a new era of invasions was instigated when we just had come out of a long armed struggle for independence. Anyways, as we were the last unit to withdraw from Senafe I walked close by the famous monument of Metera and I was so excited to have walked so close to Metera. We reached Adi Keih, and then I heard on the news that Ethiopian soldiers destroyed Metera. I was so sad. I was one of the last people who saw Metera standing for the last time. I did not know whether I was going to get out of the war alive but I thought “if I ever do, I will make sure I will tell people about how history was bestially destroyed.
That move made me want to learn archeology and stand for the remnants of humanity. I mean, Ethiopia does have knowledge of the importance of archeology. Haile Selasie was the one to set an archaeology institute for the preservation of cultural heritages in collaboration with many French professionals, and yet again, they just blew a TNT bomb and destroyed something that could have been a link to their own heritage. In few words I was angry but mostly sad.
- -What happened to the monument?
There is an international norm for UNESCO to protect such heritage, so it did protect it, but it was kind of late because it took them some two or three years. The reason was that the Ethiopian soldiers had planted bombs in the surrounding area.
- -And what happened to you?
I went back to school and joined the Department of Anthropology and Archeology; I graduated with the 4th batch. My dream job was to be a member of the junior faculty, sort of a GA, and teach. In 2010 I went to Japan, studied in the Osaka University and got my PhD. I want to mention another professor I admire greatly, Prof. Eisei Kurimoto and JICA office in Asmara. Now, I am back home teaching archeology in the college of Arts and Social Sciences of AdiKeih, CASS. Every time I teach I fill full filled. After all, I came a long way, and a big part of my life is connected to the Department of Anthropology and Archeology. An emotional journey, no doubt.
- -Now give us a hint of how your department handles the teaching learning process.
Every college in Eritrea is located strategically; our colleges are located in places that are pertinent to the fields of studies housed in them. Location is a smart lead for students to incorporate theory with what they see and experience on the ground. Likewise, CASS is situated in Adikeih, one of the archeologically rich areas of our country. There are two ethnic groups there, which is a plus to the students of social sciences and history, while students of geography can benefit from the marvelous topography, landmarks and the vegetation of the place.
I represent the Department of Anthropology and Archeology, which I love so much. I would say that it is one of the thriving departments of Eritrean Institutions of Higher Education. The department was founded in 1997. It started so small and the good news is that it has stood successfully for so many years. We celebrate this September its 20th anniversary. Speaking of its current state, I would say that, the potential is immense. In other departments the faculty members are mostly expats. Differently. In our department we mostly are Eritrean nationals. The fact that gradually the number of Eritrean faculty members is growing gives me pleasure.
The students are extremely brilliant. I think we have to work harder in triggering their curiosity because I believe that in comparison with foreign students, the curiosity of our students is a bit lower. However, they are extremely committed to their studies and are very responsible. The way our department handles the teaching learning process is rather fascinating. We have camps outside of the campus; we receive invitations from communities to live with them for a couple of days and experience the life style, and we have expeditions to excavated areas and archeological sites. In general, we have so much more to do outside of the class room, and that really boosts the enthusiasm of our students.
Eritrea’s geographical location makes it important factor to understand the Nile civilizations, the Axumite civilization. In the coastal area all the way across the sea there is the link with Arab civilization. Other factors would be the excavations so far attained pinpointing us back in time to the prehistoric era. We are in an important location and we need to work in enhancing our own capacities and work on international relations because archeology is also about partnerships and academic linkages.
- -Anything you want to say at the end Dr.?
Well, first of all congratulations to my professor, instructors, my colleagues and my school mates from the old days. I wish that in the coming 10 years the Dept. of Anthropology and Archeology grows to match international standard and be a center of communication with universities around the world. My thanks to my mother Tsigeweni Berhe, my two older brothers Tedros and Girmatsion, my wife and five children.
- -Thank you!