The people of Eritrea have gone through a series of ruthless colonialism and suppression, which led to the struggle for selfdetermination. The 30 years of struggle for independence claimed lives of thousands of heroes and heroines. After independence was achieved in May 1991, the people and government of Eritrean turned their swords into ploughshares to build the newly freed nation and raise it from the brunt of war. However, the effort to build a nation was faced with a handful of challenges. Yet, the resilience of the people and tenacity of its leadership made sure the obstacles were broken and the nation building process was on track.
Every year on May 24, Eritrean nationals within the country and abroad celebrate their Independence Day with great zeal. The day marks the end of chain of colonialism on one hand and the beginning of building a resilient and prosperous nation on the other. This year, Eritrea’s independence was celebrated with different activities including carnivals, artistic exhibition, stage performances in cinemas and the streets, sports competitions and community gathering among others.
Eritreans are known for their culture of reverence and hard work, standing together for their rights against foreign hostilities, and sharing their happiness together. The Community gathering is one way of celebrating the Independence Day with a festive and family manner. Every year over the past 27 years, district administrations host a community gathering celebration in their respective areas, where inhabitants of all ages come together. The communal gathering is one way of displaying their decent culture. It is also an event in which the elders use to bequeath Eritrean values to the new generation.
Although every administration had its own beautifully decorated makeshift halls and outstanding communal gathering, I was only able to visit a few of them to serve as an example. I went to the Semble, Tiravolo and Tsetserat administration gatherings and made my independence celebration a day to remember.
During my out and about to the community gatherings, I made time to meet some residents of the respective administrations who were having fan and cheering in their white traditional attire. Mr. Yemane Gebremeskel is a resident of the Sembel administration. Sembel, being one of the places in the outskirts of Asmara, the man compared the area before and after independence. He said, “I don’t have words to explain, but I can simply say that the Sembel I am living at this time is a whole different place from the one I knew before independence”. There was no good infrastructure, social service rendering institutions, and above all, the area was vulnerable to the reserve colonial army camps in the area, which made the inhabitants live their daily life in fear. “For me, independence means finding a favorable ground to work hard and develop our capacity”, he added.
Mr. Yemane Gebremesqel on to say that the communal gathering is a perfect example of defining the meaning of independence. He said, “My son was martyred during the struggle for independence and I am very proud of him. I am happy because I know that all the happiness that I am enjoying today and all the development our nation is registering is because our freedom fighters paid their lives”.
Ms. Tsga Mehari is another resident of Sembel administration. She said that the communal gathering is going very well; the old and the young chatting together; the old bequeathing the history of the Eritrean people to the young generation and the young serving the older ones with different activities. She added, “The community gathering showcased the culture of reverence to one another and with great love we are celebrating our Independence. On this special moment, I would like to say congratulations to the people and government of Eritrea”.
Mrs. Zebiba Mahmud, also talked to me on how deeply patriotic and enthusiastic the community gathering were being held. She said “It is really heartwarming. This year’s Independence Day celebration has coincided with the month of Ramadan. We, the Islam faith, are fasting but we cannot fail from joining this national gathering. This is the day we remember as the day of our freedom from suppression and colonialism. Today, we are happily celebrating with our Christian brothers and sisters and after 7 pm we will continue our celebration with them. I consider us, Eritreans, unique because we take religion individually and nation collectively. We eat together, dance together, face good and bad times together and above all we stand together. Celebrating our independence anniversary is one good example of our unity. I am proud that I’m an Eritrean”.
Sembel administration was fan and the people I talked to were joyful beyond compare. But I had to go to Tiravelo administration, which I was surprised to see no deference with the earlier. The communal gathering was carried out with deep patriotic zeal and active popular participation. I noticed that most of the children and the younger ones dancing and playing around, while the elders used the event to reminisce the hard times they passed during the colonial times”.
Mr. Gebrebrhane Tesfamichael from the Tiravolo administration was the first participant I talked to know how the communal gathering in administration was going. He said, “Every single one of us is celebrating Independence Day very happily, because for us, our independence day is our rebirth. We celebrate not just the day, but the whole month with the people from different corners of Eritrea and today is where we get together with our community members”.
“In fact, our young generations do not wait for directions, they know what to do to make Eritrea’s independence complete. They have worked hard for the nation’s development and ensuring its sovereignty. But as I am getting older, I can say to our young generation that they keep on learning from their elders and maintain the noble Eritrean values”.
Speaking about the participation of the inhabitants of Tiravelo in the success of the community celebration, Ms. Mbraq Mehari, member of the Tiravolo committee, said, “First and foremost, I would like to say congratulations to the Eritrean people and its leadership. My deep respect also goes to our heroes and heroines who are protecting our security and the borders. In our administration, everything is going very well and the celebrations are being undertaken as planned”.
Mrs. Zewdi Kahsay also shared with us her memories about May 24 1991. She said, “During the struggle for independence, valiant Eritreans held fast to their principle of making our nation independent. Their cause was inevitable. I remember the day our freedom fighters freed Asmara on May 24, 1991. Every Asmara resident was out in the streets, it was like a dreams come true”.
Born of freedom fighters, Yasmin Ali explained to me how she feels about her parents being fighters and what independence means to her. She said, “My family were freedom fighters and they tell me about the life of Eritreans before independence. They also tell me the hardship they went through during their life in the trenches to bring Independence. They tell me Eritrea got independence by paying dear values. So for me, it is like getting a favorable ground to get educated and develop our nation”.
The emotions and the happiness of the people I witnessed in the community gatherings were incredible. Every year, new kinds of decorations and preparations, but the same spirit and valor are seen to celebrate the day colorfully. Self-reliance and unity of the people, which was a great weapon in achieving Eritrean independence, still continues to contribute massively in the nation-building process and make May 24 the most important day in the Eritrean calendar.