Friday, May 23, 2014


Eritrea is a multi-ethnic country, and their cultural arts reflect the nuances between these groups.  Art is not merely for art’s sake but for everyday use.  Leather goods like jackets and shoes are commonly produced, as well as gold and silver works.  Practical-use items such as ropes, clay coffeepots, and baskets are made and used by locals.

Because coffee is such an important drink to Eritrean culture, coffee pots are vital to their cuisine.  Most of the pottery made here is fired using basic kilns.  (I looked into buying a kiln once. A cheap one costs as much as a used car.)   These clay coffee pots have a large bowl at the bottom with a long slender neck and a handle on it.

Gold and silver mines are part of Eritrea’s economic growth, and this gold is not only poured into ingots and based as currency, but a portion is also made into earrings, necklaces, rings, gold crosses, and other ornamentation. 

Basketwork is slightly different than some other areas in the world, whereas baskets do not only carry food and store food, but they also have baskets that are also used in preparing and serving the food as well.  Available in all sizes, colors, and designs, these baskets are practical and beautiful. 

Eritrean literature is primarily written in the Tigrinya language.  Early literature used the Ge’ez language, but later changed over to Tigrinya. The languages are very similar; in fact, the Tigrinya language utilizes the Ge’ez alphabet and a lot of its words.  Most of the types of literature included historical accounts, stories about the royal families (even the ancient Eritreans couldn’t escape it apparently), and religious poetry. 

Example of written Tigrinya language

The first actual published work in Tigrinya was a translation of the Gospels published during the mid-19th century after the Europeans arrived. While the Europeans may or may not have been exactly welcomed with open arms, they were instrumental with establishing and promoting local written works, including the first Tigrinya-language newspaper in 1909.  During the years of being run by the Italians under fascist rule, Eritrean literature practically was non-existent.  However, when the British kicked them out and took it over for themselves, literature was published once again: mostly poetry, fables, and folktales. 

It wasn’t until almost 1950 before the first novel written in Tigrinya was published: a book called A Story of a Conscript by Ghebreyesus Hailu, about a group of Eritreans who were required to fight for the Italians in Libya.  From this point forward, literature began to be written and published en masse in Eritrea. 

The man often attributed as the “father of Tigrinya literature” is Feseha Giyorgis.  An Ethiopian, he left his home country for Italy, where he wrote a pamphlet on his journey there and continued on to teach the Tigrinya language while he was living there. 

Another substantial poet worth mentioning is Carlo Conti Rossini.  His pièce de résistance is his three-part poetry called Tigrinya Popular Songs.  The first part contains 73 love songs; the second part is lover’s complaints; and the final section is a collection of long poems for special occasions, praise for tribal leaders, funeral poetry and praise for the deceased, and mourning songs.  Altogether, it was published over the course of four years and also includes notes and commentary written in Italian. 

Up next: music and dance

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