The Eritrean festival creates a platform for an annual congregation of citizens who come from different corners of the country and abroad. Our national festival started in Bologna, Italy, in 1984 during the struggle for independence and endured Eritrea’s independence. The festival, conducted annually has had an enormous impact on Eritrean heritage conservation and contributed a great deal to the national unity of Eritreans at home and abroad.
One of the prime purposes of the annual festival held at the Expo grounds is to create for people to know the different ethnic groups’ customs and traditions, to portray Eritrean development and political activities in different forms and to present Eritrea’s collective culture and history.
During the years of the liberation struggle, the EPLF was organizing events in the liberated areas where the public could come to attend cultural shows. During this time, the EPLF introduced the idea of cultural troupes (Bahli Wdb) as a form of entertainment for fighters and, more importantly, as a way of promoting nationalist feelings, thereby adding vigor to the struggle for independence. Music and dance shows, theatre, camel races, and soccer games were some of the common scenes at festivals. In the diaspora, Eritreans from different parts of the world used to gather in Bologna, to attend the national festival and see cultural shows and learn about the liberation struggle and its developments. This was an important event for Eritreans to have clear understanding of the cause of the struggle and was also used as a means to lobby governments and introduce the liberation struggle to the outside world.
The annual festival at Expo is a continuation of the tradition that promotes “unity in diversity policy” of the EPLF and its strategy of political and cultural equality and representation embraced by the Eritrean government after independence. It was intended to portray the cultural traditions of the various ethnic groups and the presentation of local cultural material by the regional administrations. Thus, the festival offers a unique social platform that gives a glimpse of the larger Eritrean cultures.
Ambassador Zemede Tekle, commissioner of Eritrea’s Culture and Sports Commission, says though the general purpose and content of this year’s festival is known, the time under which it will be conducted is very important. We have entered a new era of peace in our region, necessary in our endeavor to create a developed country. This year’s national festival will be conducted under the theme “peace for sustainable development”. This atmosphere of hope adds importance to this year’s festival. Starting from its theme it will reflect the dawn of peace and cooperation between the brotherly peoples.
In the Expo grounds, the festive sequence of events are largely structured and accompanied by contests leading to national awards. The six regional administrations will compete in traditional and modern songs and dances, traditional musical instruments, exhibition of traditional housing and livelihood of the nine ethnic groups and regional theatres that reflect their respective regions. The regions that demonstrate distinguished presentation and preparations will be awarded at the end of the event. Other cultural and artistic performances and competitions will also be held individually and on a collective basis. The purpose of the competition is to encourage performers to present great work and help identify outstanding artists, products and performance.
Eritrea’s national festival is primarily an exhibition of our traditional cultural event. From the early years of its inception it involved the presentation of traditional songs and dances of different ethnicities and acted as a platform for ethno-cultural affirmation. In this event, different artistic works have been produced. The only difference to this year’s festival lies in the emergence of talented young performers and good artistic works that go concomitant with it. There will now be more competition and concern for audience satisfaction. Moreover, as part of the peace declaration agreement with Eritrea, cultural troupes will come from Ethiopia to attend the Eritrean festival. This is expected to forge cooperation in social and cultural arenas of both peoples.
Festival Eritrea constitutes the complexities of Eritrean identity and cultural continuity inherent in festivals. It disseminates cultural understanding in popular form, promotes the artistic and aesthetic values of the various Eritrean ethnic groups, and provides raw materials for stage presentations of Eritrean cultural traditions through musical and dance shows and the portrayal of regional livelihood styles, costumes and bodily adornments that are receding in public memory. In other words, festival Eritrea is, among other things, a live cultural collection and documentation of these memories in the wake of increasing globalization. Thus, the very idea of having a festival is also important because it brings attention to the need for cultural production and stimulates promises of support for the upkeep of “dying” or threatened national cultures.
Throughout the festival days, some stalls or booths in the festival grounds will be devoted to the demonstration of various crafts, invention and creativity, film shows and stage performances. The national festival is meant to serve all age groups. Sitcom and comedy, cosmic and canvas shows, oral poetry readings, children programs, book fairs, talent shows, and daily news of Expo activities are some of the programs of this year’s festival.
As usual, the festival will feature privately operated business booths such as local restaurants, bars and cafes. Different business enterprises will advertise their consumable products in order to attract customers, and offer food and beverage as well as some industrial products.
Regarding the festival participant complaints about the business exploitation of the event, Ambassador Zemede says, in the past, especially in the bazaar areas, there were undesirable activities that diverge from the general purpose of the festival. For example, service providing institutions usually seek to hike price of products, especially food and beverage. Stricter regulation will be applied in this year’s festival and a committee has already been established to deal with this kind of problems and other issues. The 2018 festival will be conducted from August 31st to September 8th in Asmara, at the Expo grounds.