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Keeping the Eritrean Culture Alive

As said by anthropologist E.B Taylor, “culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by a man as a member of society. Culture is an identity that separates people from one another. ” Culture holds to all the meanings of how humans became to be in their own ways and customs.

At a time when the world is overtaken by a technological tsunami and is becoming a small village, it is fair to say that only few people are interested in their culture and in keeping it alive. As such, one of the leading reasons for the annual Eritrean Festival is to showcase and embrace the nine ethnic groups’ culture. With a diversity of programs that took place at the grounds of expo this year, the cultural shows were prepared and presented professionally which won over the audiences’ hearts.

Today, Q&A talks to Mokonen Kidane, aka Shabai, an anthropologist. Mr. Mokonen is the Director of Research and Documentation for the Cultural Affairs of the PFDJ. He is also the coordinator of the cultural shows for this year’s National Festival.

  • Thank you for joining us Mr. Mokonen. How was the National Festival?

The National Festival gets better every year. I specifically want to talk about the cultural shows. It has got even more competitive and powerful. All the regions have prepared well and preformed dynamically. They all did their best to win over the audience’s and judges’ hearts, which I think they did. The national Eritrean festival mainly focuses on showcasing the Eritrean cultures and customs of the society. That way we can promote culture, dig deeper to explore it, and, most important of all, we introduce and remind the younger generations about the values and importance of the culture’s principles. The festivals are where people celebrate their identity in unison.

The festival is planned in cooperation with all the regions. The regions are presented with all the requirements that are qualified at the competition. There are four pillars in the contest; the display of cultural houses and way of living, traditional music and dance, the hall exhibition of the regions and oral tradition, which unfortunately was not part of this year’s festival due to technical reasons. However, we were able to compensate it with another department, a traditional musical instruments competition.

  • How fierce were the competitions?

In comparison with the previous years, the competitions have elevated the scale. It was an amazing performance in all the departments. All the divisions were led by a strong and professional team and all the performances were supported and studied well.

For every competition we had five judges who were chosen for their professional prominence. The judges weren’t allowed to give more than 50% of the scores because we want to avoid biased that could have occurred. The other 50% was given through discussion between the judges.

Also, what was surprising was the traditional musical instrument performers. They have shown skillful talent. The competitions have also allowed us to see that our traditional musical instruments can be used in various musical styles.

  • Would you please give us an insight into the winners of this year’s festival?

I want to be clear that all were winners. However, they had to be separated since it was a competition. So, Southern Region won the traditional music and dance competitions followed by the Central and Gash-Barka regions. The Central region performed well and won the traditional musical instruments competition. For the display of traditional houses and way of living, the Gash-Barka region was exquisite. Anseba region presented greatly at the hall exhibitions and was the winner. Again, prizes were given to best individual performers.

  • Can you say something about what can be done to preserve our culture?

Culture is a vast subject to get in to. Generally speaking, it is something that defines our identity, who we are and where we came from. Eritrea has a beautiful diversified culture which hasn’t been explored as much. Culture is something we get from our ancestors and give to the next generation. Undeniably, culture changes with time; some things are lost and some are added.

For instance, Oral tradition is one of the many aspects culture holds. Basically, any information we get verbally is an oral tradition. I don’t think we did well in that department. As I said, culture is told by the elders to whom we have to talk to before it is too late because people forget and people die. When an old person dies, it is almost like we have lost a big library. The history and culture dies with them. Books haven’t been written about the oral traditions, except for that one Solomon Tsehaye, a renowned writer and researcher, wrote. That book is just a drop in the ocean. We can do much more.

In my opinion, cultural institutions should be established. That way, we can manage to organize campaigns to explore the cultural diversity we have.

  • Anything you want to remind our readers about?

Culture is an identity. If you don’t know who you are and where you came from, it is challenging to move forward. We are people who have a rich history and beautiful culture. Let’s work to embrace it and teach the younger generations who they are. At the end I would like to add a remark on festivals. I think that it would be a good idea if thematic festivals were organized. We can have a festival just for kids, a cultural festival or a musical one. People would get to enjoy and experience those different departments in many ways.

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