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Pilgrimage to Nakfa

By Bsirat Tesfay

For Eritreans, Nakfa is the most significant place of resilience, love, devotion, ingenuity and determination. It was the stronghold of the EPLF and a haven of freedom fighters for justice and dignity. It is a sacred place where our beloved freedom fighters’ spirit rests in eternal peace.

Once liberated in 1977, Nakfa was never captured by the Derg army despite several attempts. The principle of self-reliance was incubated in Nakfa and it flourished there.

It was in 1998, during the TPLF invasion, that I came back to Eritrea for the first time and visited Nakfa with my niece, Selam. At the bus terminal, I came across a veteran freedom fighter, Botul Adem, who was born and raised in Nakfa. Botul curiously asked me if I came from Asmara. Then, she looked at me with sympathetic eyes and asked me if I had a pledge. I momentarily run out of words and only smiled. Indeed, that was the purpose of my visit to Nakfa: to pay respect to our martyrs, including my beloved brother, Menghsteab, relatives and many who lived in my neighborhood who are resting in peace in Nakfa,

Like many Eritreans who grew up during the armed struggle for liberation listening to Dimsi Hafash radio station, and after liberation in the diaspora, reading the remarkable history of the struggle, published under the title Meswati waga Harinet (Martyrdom, the price of Liberation) and other similar publications, I came to the conclusion that Nakfa is a holy place that deserves a place in the heart of every Eritrean. Nakfa’s place in the hearts of Eritreans is so great that people should go on a pilgrimage to Nakfa just like religious people go on pilgrimage to Mecca or Jerusalem.

Freedom fighters have a lot to share about their personal, social, political, economic as well as spiritual experiences. From their narrations about Nakfa, many of us learn the significance of the struggle, the freedom fighters and the liberation front. And by looking at the wounds of survivors, one could read into the extraordinary resilience and endurance of freedom fighters.

The extensive interviews, books and short stories as well as the revolutionary songs are excellent references that help to appreciate the significance of Nakfa and the ultimate sacrifice paid by freedom fighters.

Visiting Nakfa in person brings one closer to those who gave their lives for our freedom. One feels it deep in the soul and a communion with all the spirits of the martyrs — the cream of the society who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Eritrea.

Pilgrims who visit Jerusalem or Mecca believe in the blessings they receive by going to the holy places, and I know many Eritreans go on pilgrimage to Mecca or to Jerusalem. I would like to suggest that as an expression of our love and reverence for our martyrs, we need to develop a national tradition of making Nakfa a destination for pilgrims.

Nakfa is an important place to visit for any peace, justice and equality loving people anywhere in the world. Nakfa and its miracles belong to all regardless of faith, gender or ethnicity as our martyrs were men and women from all ethnic groups and social and religious backgrounds of our society.

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