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Chinese Spring Festival in Eritrea

Have you ever come across something you thought you knew so well but you actually don’t? Well, I did. It was on 25th of January 2020, the spring festival of China.

It is the lunar new year of the Chinese people and in addition to the celebrations held by the Embassy of China in Eritrea for its citizens, there were concerts organized by Eritrea’s Commission of Culture and Sports and the Confucius Institute at the National Higher Education and Research Institute of China in Eritrea, as an exchange of cultures between Eritrea and China.

Right from the entrance to the cinema hall, where the celebration took place, there were ladies dressed in Chinese and Eritrean cultural outfits. By the time we got in, the seats were almost full. The program began with an opening speech by the director of the Confucius Institute, Ms. Liu Liyin, which was followed by a speech from the Chinese ambassador to Eritrea, Mr. Yang Zigang. The Chinese New Year, Chinese spring festival, is the biggest and oldest festival in China with a history of about 4000 years.

Following the speeches, a list of programs was introduced and Eritrean students at Confucius Institute presented a number of performances. The first performance was Chinese dance, “Jasmine flowers”, which expresses the beauty and fragrance of the jasmine flower. The dances and karate moves were as impressive as a jasmine flower. A Chinese woman wearing an Eritrean traditional dress (zuriya) and the Confucius institute’s dance group, who are mostly below the age of 18, dressed in Chinese traditional clothes and their fluid movement were worth all of the audience’s attention. The beautiful young performers looked perfectly Chinese in their dresses and their innocent smiles.

In addition to the Chinese performances, an Eritrean dance group named Miras performed a dance show about the Eritrean traditional hairdo. Another band known as Kewakbti Rim (rim stars) sang the famous Eritrean song Fshk beli. Most of the dance performers were assisted by Chinese and Eritrean trainers who made the show spectacular.

The audience at the show was Chinese expatriates in Eritrea and Eritreans, mainly young people and family and friends of the performers. The hospitality of the Eritrean people, as noted by the Chinese ambassador and the director of the Confucius Institute, were clearly demonstrated in the celebration. The spring festival is one of the most important holidays in China when people get together and spend the day in union with their families to start the New Year wishing good luck and prosperity. The New Year’s wishes were further demonstrated by the calligraphy show, as the artistic expression of five good wishes for the New Year. The characters include fortune, prosperity, longevity, happiness and wealth, everything one person may wish for a fresh start. The calligraphy characters were handed out to the audience as an expression of the Chinese people’s good wishes and gratitude for the audience’s attendance.

For someone who has already celebrated a new year on January 1st, the occasion was another chance to start afresh. It is a privilege only the people present at the cinema last Saturday had have, and lucky me for being one.
The performance that attracted me the most was the song by Ms. Danait Afewerki and Mr. Li Zhiwen, a Chinese teacher. They sung famous Eritrean singer Haile Gebru’s “ab tsimtsm bereka”. Their moves and the Tigrigna pronunciation of Mr. Li’s demonstrate how far the Cino- Eritrean cultures fit each other.

For the program to come out so well, the good will of the Eritrean and Chinese people as well as the organizers of the occasion played a vital role.

Apart from the organization, the synchronization of the two countries’ cultures brought its own colorful side to the scene. Knowing multiple languages and cultures helps a person to have one body that can be flexible with as much as the languages the person masters. From the sound of it, Chinese sounds too difficult to master, but while I watched all the performers dancing and singing Chinese, I thought “Ow, this looks fine”. Being an Eritrean myself, I thought I knew what it means to be part of the society, but maybe I didn’t. It was after I saw those Eritrean students singing and dancing as if they were Chinese and the Chinese people singing as if they were Eritreans that I realized one can learn a new culture so long one has the will to embrace new things, which I believe the performers and organizers of the event have shown.

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