Business is booming.

Eritrean Art: An Art of Resilience

By :- Simon Weldemichael

In this conversation, we welcome Efriem Habtetsion, a poet, photographer, and critic, to delve into the world of poetry. His poetic journey is marked by three distinct collections: “seb dika” (are you a human being) in 2014, “Hara mkuan” (to be liberated) in 2022, and “dhri znab” (after the rain) in 2023. Efriem’s creative process is akin to a spider at the center of its web, weaving intricate connections between events, emotions, and life itself. Through his carefully chosen words, he constructs a community of emotions, intertwining hope, despair, love, anger, and more. As a poet, he channels historical themes, awakening a deep historical consciousness within readers. His poems are woven with traditional elements, echoing Eritrean society’s indigenous rhythms, proverbs, and oral traditions. Often recited during national occasions, such as Martyr’s Day, his verses console, remind, and invite reminiscence. Below, we share an excerpt from our enlightening conversation with Eritrean poet Efriem Habtetsion.

  • What does poetry mean to you, and what drives you to write poetry?

Poetry defies rigid definitions; to me, it’s a medium for expressing inner emotions. Within us reside a multitude of feelings: hope, despair, happiness, anxiety, longing, anger, love, and dreams, among others. Poetry provides a concise and precise means to convey these human emotions. It’s the most refined art form, employing heightened language to succinctly communicate experiences, feelings, conditions, and states of consciousness. I write to communicate with both people and myself, expressing what remains unsaid through other modes of communication. My poems are not crafted merely for the sake of art; they mirror reality and existence.

  • Could you share your journey toward developing a passion for writing poetry?

My upbringing played a pivotal role in igniting my passion for poetry. During my time as a student at the Revolutionary School of the EPLF in Kassala, Sudan, we would recite revolutionary songs and poems. I would even jot down song lyrics in my textbooks. I found inspiration in magazines like Sagm, published by the EPLF. The turning point was when I heard Asmerom Habtemariam’s poem on Radio Dmtsi Hafash in 1990, dedicated to the Fenkil Operation. From then on, I began crafting poems in high school to commemorate Women’s Day, Independence Day, Martyrs Day, and First September, which marks the start of Eritrea’s armed struggle. My first significant poem, “Meytu zeymete,” was published in Haddas Ertra in 1997 as a tribute to the renowned singer Yemane Gebremichael.

  • I understand you wrote a poem about Mogadishu. Can you elaborate on that?

My travels to China, Germany, Russia, and Sweden exposed me to various cultures, architectures, and beauties. However, my visit to Somalia in 2018 deeply impacted me. Witnessing the devastation in Mogadishu moved me. Eritrea and Somalia share historical ties, standing together during the challenging times of our struggle for independence. The sight of Mogadishu affected me profoundly. The hardships Somalia faces serve as a lesson for developing nations, including us. I wanted to be a part of Mogadishu’s renaissance. The poem aims to inspire the city to rise from the ashes, echoing the sentiment: “Wake up Mogadishu, Asmara is on your side.”

  • Your connection with Eritrean singers seems quite remarkable. Can you tell us more?

I have strong connections with both veteran and emerging Eritrean singers of diverse languages. I’ve penned lyrics for various artists, like “fanwa bxot” by Dawit Shilan, “hdmona abay aderash” by Saba Andemariam, “bxay” by Beraki, “Reyeka” by Rezene Alem, “seb eyu hayli” by Merhawi Tewelde, and “Sawa” sung by four artists, among others. I also composed the Somali-Eritrea song performed by the Somali military band during President Isaias Afwerki’s visit. My collaboration with musicians continues to evolve.

  • Could you elaborate on the themes that drive your writing?

My books predominantly delve into Eritrean history, past struggles, present challenges, and prospects. Martyrs Day holds a special place in my heart, and I’ve composed numerous commemorative poems for this occasion. Nakfa, a symbol of Eritrean resilience, particularly resonates with me. Writing about Nakfa felt like chronicling the entire history of Eritrea. I’m also captivated by societal ideas, exploring themes of existence, death, yearning, and human imperfections. My writing revolves around fostering a collective and strong Eritrean national identity, reflecting historical and cultural narratives.

  • How does poetry intertwine with Eritrean national identity?

Eritrean art is an art of resistance, deeply embedded in our identity. As an Eritrean, I’m naturally drawn to this reality. My poems contribute to this narrative of resistance; failing to do so would be a disservice to the spirit of resistance. In embracing this ethos, I align with those who resist external pressures and those who stand up against them. Ultimately, my poetry reflects the essence of Eritrea’s collective spirit and resonates with the aspirations of its people.

  • We appreciate your insights and time. Thank you for joining us.

I’m grateful for the opportunity. Thank you for having me.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More