Discoveries of the past found in Eritrea are “gems of humanity and Eritrea will strive to safeguard them while sharing them with the rest of the world,” Says Mrs. Azieb.
Knowledge sharing is something Eritreans strongly believe in and work for. Because growth depends on shared vision and work, the Eritrean Research and Documentation Center (RDC) keeps its archives’ doors open to researches, scientists and students from the country and abroad. The ultimate goal is to make Eritrean heritage known to the world as a contribution to the larger chronicle of humanity. The intertwined history of human beings is a mosaic of so many pieces. We look in today’s Q&A at how RDC is making ancient manuscripts found in Eritrean monasteries gems of humanity.
- Thank you for your time, Mrs. Azieb. Let me first give you a chance to pass on your greetings to our readers.
Pleasure! I am Azieb Tewolde and I am the Director of the Eritrean Research and Documentation Center. Since its establishment in 1996 the center has been an independent office that works to ensure the preservation, cataloging and digitalizing of Eritrea’s historical gems in collaboration with local and international organizations. RDC is also a gigantic archive which serves as reference for students, researchers, historians and other interested people who want to go back in time and study past civilizations in our region.
RDC has worked closely with local monasteries for almost twenty years now with an aim to preserve manuscripts. It has made the preservation of manuscripts its top priority. It also works to fortify the Eritrean identity.
- RDC is known to have carried out several workshops in collaboration with international organizations and research centers. For example, in the last week of August, RDC held a workshop in collaboration with the Research Center of Hamburg University of Germany. Can you tell us about it, please?
The recent workshop RDC coordinated alongside the Research Center of Hamburg University was attended by 25 experts from the Adi- Keih College of Business and Social Science, the newly established Debre Sina Theology College, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church as well as from RDC itself. A renowned Professor in the field, Alessandro Bausi, Director of the Research Center at Hamburg University, came, along with a group of experts he led, here to give training.
The training had two phases. In 1996, amongst other ventures, RDC started its mission with manuscripts, which, fortunately, are found in a big number scattered across numerous monasteries of our country. We have conducted many workshops and have carried out successful training and research sessions which have certainly encouraged us and other parties to further enhance our endeavors every time. Most of our projects were initially conducted using our local capacities. Our work began to make greater impact soon after we opened up to international expertise. And, of course, the recent collaboration with the University of Hamburg demonstrated an intensive participation, with a good outcome.
We have had surveys regarding our workshops and how well they have been and are being carried out. We wanted our approach to be scientific. Therefore, being updated with related advancements in the field has been a focus of our interest. I can say that the work carried out so far has been conducted with diligence and will certainly be a solid foundation for future research undertakings.
The second phase was encouraging local expertise. It is an important factor as a matter of fact. We’ve worked on it and are still working on it. Cataloguing, s a f e g u a r d i n g and digitalizing m a n u s c r i p t s are proficiencies that need to be constantly appraised. To this end what pleases me most is that this specific workshop has been vibrant thanks to the participation of young graduates from different colleges. They have grasped the instruction provided by the experts in a meticulous way and have made us extremely proud.
- What stage has this specific venture reached?
It is only the beginning. Raising a wareness and earning the trust of the monks at the monasteries, with their long-kept treasures, was not an easy task. The time to educate and build up an Eritrean expertise will take time. Which is why I’d rather not boast about what we’ve done so far. We need to educate our young graduates further. We need to provide them with opportunities to study for their MA degrees and PhDs. We need to invigorate their passion as well as reward their education. Eritrea will definitely benefit one day from its own doctors and professors considering that what is waiting to be unveiled is immense. So far we have done well but the coming deeds won’t be easy.
- What criteria does your office use in inviting international experts to work with?
We have our own standards but they are not fixed as the field is immense and has a wide spectrum of internal fields within. But we certainly look in to their past experiences and their genuine interest to shed light on a heritage that is of common interest to the local and international community.
- To what extent do you believe the importance of manuscripts stretch to, not only for the country but also as a heritage for the global community?
It is a heritage of paramount importance. According to our survey, the latest one dates back to 1896. This one is linked to the advent of Christianity in our region. Not all manuscripts contain religious texts. Some manuscripts are on literature, some on law, some others on economics. Therefore, they are mirrors of a whole civilization covering the society’s customs, education and scientific advancements. They are, indeed, an amazing inheritance that will serve local communities and beyond. These are gems of humanity and we will strive to safeguard them while sharing them with the rest of the world. As the common saying of the Eritrean people goes, “Our Heritages are Our Identity.” We can assure you that we are working not only to explore and enrich our archives but we are also working hard to add further vigor to the Eritrean Identity.
- Thank you again!