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Eritrea Festival: A Cauldron of Many Talents and Diverse Cultures

The greatness and beauty of a nation can be found in its national festivals.


The Eritrean culture and history can be examined in the vivacious annual national festival which is being held at the Expo ground in Asmara. The festival was opened by President Isaias Afwerki on 16th August in the morning hours in the presence of government officials, diplomats, regional cultural troupes, and the general public who paraded past government officials.

Eritrea has a great history and diverse culture and tradition. Such diverse cultures, emanating from the varied ethnicities but under the name of a single country; such is the greatness of Eritrean culture. The wide spectrum of traditions in the country being the prime cause of such diversification, this festival is celebrated with sheer enthusiasm and devotion every year at the Expo grounds.

Festival Eritrea is an annual event with its origins in the days of Eritrea’s struggle for independence. It started in Bologna, Italy, during the struggle for independence. The festival, conducted annually, has contributed a great deal to the national unity of Eritreans at home and abroad. It has also become a model for other cultural events after independence.

One of the prime purposes of the annual festival held at the Expo grounds is to create a space for people to know the different Eritrean ethnic groups’ customs and traditions, to portray Eritrean development in different forms and to present Eritrea’s collective culture and history. The national festival presents a microcosm of Eritrea with its diverse customs and cultural practices of its ethnic groups.

In the festive environment, Hedareb singers, for example, sing about heroic hunting expeditions, Bilin or Tigrigna couples demonstrate courtship dances, Saho women gather for marital relations, Tigre musicians sing birth rite songs welcoming newborns while Kunama and Nara dancers demonstrate the importance of the harvest season. In this way, the festival is providing visitors, especially the diaspora kids and foreign tourists, an opportunity to learn about Eritrean ethnic groups without having to travel all over the country.

The live performances bring together different cultural groups who wear different costumes, display varied decorations, speak different languages, profess different religions and play a variety of musical instruments.

In his briefing about the festival, Ambassador ZemedeTackle, Commissioner of Culture and Sports Commission, said that though the general purpose and content of this year’s festival is not different from similar events held in the past, this year’s is being held when the people of Eritrea are rejoicing in their happiness with the peace and regional cooperation.

In the Expo grounds, the 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 theaters that reflect their respective regions. The regions that demonstrate outstanding presentation and preparations will be awarded at the end of the event. Other cultural and artistic performances and competitions will also be held among individuals and groups. The purpose of the contests is to encourage participants to present great work and help identify outstanding artists, products and performances.

Eritrea’s national festival is primarily an exhibition of the country’s diverse cultures. From the early years of its inception it has involved the presentation of traditional songs and dances of different ethnic groups and acted as a platform for ethno-cultural affirmation. In this event, different works of art have been produced. This year, there will be a lot of competitions and so much effort has been made to ensure audience satisfaction.

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 Eritrean ethnic groups, and provides raw materials for stage presentations of Eritrean cultural traditions through music and dance and the portrayal of life styles, costumes and bodily adornments that are fading away from public memory. In other words, festival Eritrea is, among other things, a live cultural collection and documentation of these memories in the wake of globalization. Thus, a festival is important because it draws attention to the need for cultural production and stimulates support for the preservation of “dying” or threatened cultural practices.

Throughout the festival days, some stalls or booths at the Expo grounds are devoted to the demonstration of various crafts, inventions, film shows and stage performances. The festival provides a platform for public and private organizations to promote their products and services.

To address complaints of visitors in the past about prices of goods and services set by shopkeepers, Ambassador Zemede said stricter regulations 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 related to the festival’s orderliness. The 2019 Festival which was opened on the 16th August will be closed on 22nd August.

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