After a brief hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Eritrea Festival will be back in full swing this week. Prior to the pandemic, the Eritrean Festival used to be held annually in the last week of July and the first week of August inside the Asmara Expo ground for seven days and nights. The festival area is a location to witness the culture, tradition, music, and dance of all ethnic groups in Eritrea.
The festival which will be officially opened tomorrow will be attended by visitors from all walks of life. As this is a unique occasion for fostering national unity and the sole location will be embracing the culture, tradition, music, and dance of all nine ethnic groups in Eritrea, it is a must-visit event during the summer.
Kids wait for it with enthusiasm, Inventors toil for it the whole year, regional administrations prepare for it for the better half of the year, and tourists flock to Eritrea just because of it.
As a kid as each summer approached, besides having to play soccer and not do homework, the Eritrean festival was among the many other things we looked forward to. The festival gives you a sense of belonging, home is usually where you most feel comfortable and the Expo ground for seven days of summer is to a great extent, home to all nine Eritrean ethnic groups, inventors, different institutions, national associations, and many others who are eager to show their ethnic groups trait and in the process prove the harmony Eritrea possess.
In a world characterized by religious segregation and interethnic conflicts, Eritreans, despite their diversity, have managed to live in harmony for hundreds of years. The multi-ethnicity Eritrean society reflects different languages and cultures and as diverse as it may be, it is as harmonious as its marine biodiversity. The festival brings all aspects of the Eritrean natural, cultural, historical, and archaeological heritages to one place so all Eritreans, from home and abroad, can enjoy them in the spirit of unity and fervent patriotic feelings.
All six administrative zones accordingly are set in a regional pavilion of their own, decorated in all their splendor with images, exhibitions, and cultural programs. Each of the administrative regions which are homes to all ethnic groups, on top of their lifestyles and cultural shows, present their core historical and natural endowments. One needs only to visit a regional pavilion to learn everything there is to know about that particular region.
Outside the regional pavilions’ the scene is entirely different. Replicas of houses and tents of all Eritrean nationalities and their living patterns can be visited. Proudly presenting their lifestyles, women crouch by open fires cooking or churning milk in goat skin leather bags as men tend after farming tools. Each group also has its own group of performers who play and sing all day long.
Tigre women swing their braided hair, while Afar women dance with curved knives. The Rashaida girls in their finely embroidered traditional dresses welcome visitors to their huts, while youngsters from the Bilen group concentrate on the sword dance. The impressive dance styles of the Hidareb and Kunama should not be missed, last but not least Tigrigna ethnic group plays their famous long pipes, as women and youngsters with peculiar haircuts perform the typical round dance.
Speaking of haircuts and hair-dos, all nine ethnic groups have different hairstyles that differ from age to age and gender to gender. It is quite remarkable the significant meaning each haircut has within specific age, sex, and ethnic group.
This national festival, which one foreign visitor once rightly called Eritrea’s cultural bonanza, provides a ground not only for interaction between local communities but also for encouraging the articulation of local cultural traditions in terms of national integration.
Festival Eritrea which traces its roots to the early 1980s during the years of the armed struggle for liberation has had an enormous impact on Eritrean heritage conservation and national identity formation, while it has become a model influence for similar events held by Eritrean communities across the world.
For kids it is time to go out with their parents or older siblings to have fun, take a picture with Tom and Jerry, eat a bite of Eritrea’s finest food, and take a turn at the swing set or slide, for the elderly it is a moment to once again proudly witness Eritrea in continuous harmony, for participants it is a chance to earn extra bucks, for Eritrean foreigners it is a joy to be among their people and experience being Eritrean first hand, while for Eritrea it is simply a bestowed blessing to have its harmoniously diverse population in one place being what Eritrea is best at, celebrating being Eritrean.