Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Conversation with author and poet Emilio De Luigi

Author and poet Emilio De Luigi

Issayas: Would you briefly tell us about yourself?

Emilio De Luigi: I had a rather complicated life. In 1933 my parents moved from Italy to Libya when I was 18 months old, then from there they moved to Eritrea in 1938. In 1942 I moved back to Italy with my mother. 1951 I was  back in Asmara. I moved to Addis Abeba in 1961. I left Africa in 1976, and from that moment I was on the move for 8 years: Libya, Nigeria, Perú, Chile etc. In 1983 I finally landed in Canada for good. During those 8 years of "diaspora" it helped both the fact that by nature I am a calm person (I hardly recall having ever lost my temper), and the fact that I had the "gypsy" example of my larger family, peppered around the world on five continents. I mean that for us moving around ended being a sort of family habit. As a person I have very simple habits: I love my work,  I love cooking, I must read or die, I have friends everywhere, and of course I have kept writing all my life. Last but not least, I have been blessed, so far, with good health.

Issayas: Have you been back to Eritrea since you left it in 1976.

Emilio: No, never.

Issayas: You escaped Eritrea illegally with the help of the EPLF  (Eritrean People's Liberation Front) in 1976. As an Italian citizen, why did you find it necessary to do that instead of leaving legally through Ethiopia?  No matter how long it took or tried?

Emilio: I had a business in Addis, they wouldn't let me leave. When I had to travel for business, Mengistu Administration wanted my family in Addis. When my family went to Europe for vacation, I had to be in Addis. No exception. My book has all the details of my long agony trying to get an exit visa.

Issayas: You mentioned that your Indian friend in Canada said that Eritrean people come out of the book with flying colors.

Emilio: He did! He told me that not too many people were so lucky to escape from a war and get such a disinterested support. And that is even more relevant because I didn't have any particular recommendation, nor was I an important person. As Italian, an invader, I could easily have found hostility. I found warmth and kindness instead. In Fil Fil I was even invited by a family for dinner! The fighters were always helpful, and as a group they showed a civility that is hard to imagine in the middle of war. Same treatment got another Italian that followed my example.

  The front cover of Emilio's excellent book

Issayas: Did you agree with him? If yes, would you elaborate?

Emilio: I did! In my book I described how I felt living with the Eritrean fighters, and how they didn't treat me differently from the way they treated all other refugees found in the fields.I hope to have  shown in my book how Eritrean fighters and Eritrean people alike, a socially heterogeneous mix of men and women, appeared to me as having already put down, may be unconsciously, the foundation of a just society. I don't want to repeat what I wrote in my book, but I mused a lot, for years, on what I saw. And it was not a show put up for the benefit of the ferenji!(foreigner) How much all that is reflected in modern Eritrea, I can't say. I fervently hope it is not lost, because to me that was the core of the Eritrean Resistance: a unique, admirable "society" with a universally shared aim: the freedom of the country. The real wonder, to me, was that such dream, in the territory the EPLF controlled, appeared to be already implemented among the fighters and the people that supported them!

Issayas:  What do you mean when you mentioned that "Same treatment got another Italian that followed my example”. Would you elaborate?

Emilio:In Italy I met one day an Italian guy that had a big mechanical workshop in Asmara, with lathes, large welding equipment, big drills, and dozens of well-trained Eritrean workers. When young, he had been a student in the school where I taught. During the war he kept his shop working, but then he decided to phase out his activity, because there were times that he had to make delicate mechanical jobs he couldn’t refuse, for retrofitting equipment of the Army and the Police, and he didn’t like that, because as all the Italians he sided with the Eritreans. He felt guilty. Also, it was very dangerous for him, because members of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) roaming around the city spying on the Military could report him as a collaborator. The EPLF could decide to kill him. At the time the EPLF was quite effective in eliminating collaborators! It happened frequently in Asmara.  But this guy soon discovered that he couldn’t get an exit visa. Months after me, he finally found a connection with the EPLF, and left illegally. He made the same itinerary I made. We chatted a bit about our trips. He told me that his trip took much more time than mine. In fact along the way he got stuck for weeks and weeks before reaching Fah, because of a big battle that was going on between the EPLF and the Ethiopian Army. To kill the boredom he managed to convince the fighters to give him a gun, and he went around almost every day, hunting gazelles and big fowls to feed the people of the camp.

Issayas:Have you ever thought of what your life would have been if you had not left Eritrea illegally with the help of the EPLF?

Emilio: No, I never do "re-runs" Why? I consider that kind of exercise a waste of time.

Emilio's two books could be purchased from :

                                                                             The back cover of Emilio's book.

Next, part two of my conversation with Emilio De Luigi continues.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

From Eritrea's Files

from Eritrea’s Files

Sometime in 1994, Eritrea Profile carried my columns entitled "From Eritrea's Files". With this post, I'm reviving the same columns with the same name on my blog. It'll be short notes and starts by asking "Did you know that...?"  It's not and will not be in any chronological order.

Did you know that ....?

  • After the defeat of Italy at the Battle of Adwa in 1896, Francisco Crispi, the authoritarian Italian Prime Minister, resigned on March 4, 1896. His successor, Prime Minister Di Rudini, had almost finalized the handing over of Eritrea to the Belgian King Leopold until it was rejected by Italy's King Umberto. 

Eritrea- (new country)?

                                        Guest Writers

TSEGAI Medin, (Ph.D candidate. University of Rovira I Virgili, Tarragona, Spain)

Eritrea - (new country)?
Part II

The Eritrean coastal environments revealed evidences of technological industries that belong to our direct ancestor, Homo sapiens. This Homo species conquered a wide paleoecological landscape, preferably, the coast of the Red sea around 125, 000 years before present. They adapted to survive at the coast of the Red Sea and used marine-life as a major diet. These coastal habitats played a major role in understanding the sustainability of Human evolution, sedentary life and dispersals of Humans. The technological evidences of this Homo species is evident from a number of sites along the coast of Red Sea (Abdur, Asfet, Gelàlo NW and Misse East…), dated from ca. 125, 000 to 10,000 years before present. The discovery of Middle and Late Stone Age stone industries, in association with varied type of shells are conspicuous along the coasts of the Buri peninsula in the wide coast of the Red Sea. 

Evidences of Holocene culture (from 12, 000 years go to present) is correlated to the first emergence of socio-cultural trophy- in our land. The evidences are found at extensive areas within the country. Recently, an attempt is made to understand the gap between the Pleistocene to Holocene culture in the basin to reconstruct the cultural continuity from the remote past to 10,000 years old society-the analysis is still ongoing and the result is promising.  

Proto-historic evidence (symbolic language), rock paints and engravings, roughly dated to around 5000-2000 years before present.  Generally, after twenty to thirty generation (according to ethnographic accounts) from the present, humans start to depict their symbolic arts in inaccessible caves in our region.  The emergence of symbolic behavior is associated with the first evidence of domestication of plants and animals, sedentary life, agriculture, trade and other cultural interactions before the introduction of writing. Evidences, of such symbolic representation is documented, in highlands and lowlands of the country. Among these are; Adi-Alewti, Iyago, Karibosa, Saro, Mai-ainei, Quarura…etc. The rock art paints and/or engravings are generally represented by figures of animals (zoomorphic), human (anthropomorphic) and geometric styles. These styles encode many levels of social information (resistance, agriculture, art, etc) and are securely tied to places unlike other archaeological materials. Even today these symbolic representations are practicing within the diverse ethnic groups in the country.

Sedentary life of complex agro-pastoral societies in our region was traditionally believed to be thrived around the 2nd millennium  B.C. This historic period portrayed extreme dynamics of societies in the highlands and even the lowlands of Eritrea. Lands were abandoned and even again inhabited by the same or different societies. Societies were living in higher lands for defense, to save marshy areas for agriculture and to avoid insect-borne diseases. The sedentary life of societies enabled to introduce agriculture, ceramic technology, trade (barter exchange), ritualization and building houses. This historic times covers a wide time frame since the eve of the medieval period. Evidences of sites that fall within this historic period are huge and are equally distributed within the country. To mention some; Harenay, Kokon, Greater Asmara Area (Sembel, Maitemenay; Maichehot, Una-Gudo, Weki-Duba), Dekemhare (Kurbaria), Dubarwa (Qelebes), Adi-Bari…etc. The trade between the indigenous societies played a vital role in promoting socio-cultural interactions.   This network soon went further towards the sea, probably with higher necessity of salt and obsidian materials in the hinterland. However, in return various products like, Myrrh, frankincense (Boswellia, and commiphera) elephant ivory, ebony, gold and animals (panthers, cheetah, monkeys and baboons) were exchanged with societies from the sea, within the region and further to the North with the Egyptian Pharaoh. Eritrea was considered one of the most exotic and mysterious places to the Egyptian Pharaohs. The geographical link was mentioned in the Egyptian inscriptions during the time of Amenhotep III. Furthermore, recently, the DNA analysis from mummified baboons in the British Museum has revealed the location of the land of Punt within the territory of Eritrea and some parts of eastern Sudan.

 Qohaito, Eritrea

The ancient Port city of Adulis is mentioned as a gate way to external influences and prosperity in various classical sources. For example, it is well known in the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (1st c. A.D.) and the Christian Topography (6th c. A.D.) as important port of trade in Antiquity.  It was serving as hub of trade between external domains (Romans, the Egyptians, Indians, Greeks, Arabs…etc) and the hinterland of Africa. The sites of Qohaito (tentatively listed in UNESCO World Heritage List), Metera, Keskese, Tokonadaè and further to Axum are among the most prosperous cities having strong ties in trade and administration to the Adulite kingdom. Scientific studies are not significantly conducted in this site apart of the two phases of field works organized by the National Museum of Eritrea, the University of Asmara and Southampton University in 2004 and 2005. However, recently (in 2010), after a successive colonial destructive excavations,  a five years research plan was already commenced under collaborative agreement of the Eri-Italian Museums and Universities. This research project is expected to prosper the scientific importance of the port city and reveal its mysterious connection to other external entities in a scientific scrutiny.

Excavation cite at the ancient port city of Adulis

Medieval part of Eritrea has a tremendous and complicated history covering ample range of time. This period is represented by the introduction of leading religions in our region, ca. 4th and 7th century AD. Evidences of ancient Churches (e.g. Kidane-Mihret church, Senafe) and Mosques (Sahaba, Massawa) along with new theological doctrine, religious cultures and comprehensive scientific knowledge were flourished at its peak. The kingdoms (Bahri Negestat) in the highlands of the country were successively engaging in hostile battles with the Ethiopian kings, the Islamic power from the lowlands and other external colonial powers. There are evidences of raided Monasteries and churches during this time. Based on present ethnographic accounts followers of these major religions were cohabited peacefully at the same region up to today. However, like any other periods of history, this part of Eritrean history is not widely understood even to date. 

The recent history of Eritrea is primarily linked to the unprecedented struggle for liberation preceded by the awful and successive colonial times. Traces of colonial vestiges (e.g. Asmara architectural parameter) are evident in extensive areas of the country (The historical parameter of Asmara is in the Tentative List of UNESCO world heritage list).  Eritrea was in the dark part of colonialism for centuries and the impact was colossal. After successive colonial oppressions, Eritreans started to oppose, first in individual or limited number but later in an organized demeanor for freedom.

The generation of that time fought for liberation (as of our forefathers) for about thirty bloody years. The struggle became feasible through mass participation of people at all range of age and gender. The EPLF (the only and ruling power), struggled without allies and overthrown the giant Ethiopian power from the sovereign land of Eritrea in 1991. The secret of the success of the long and genuine Eritrean struggle could be because of strong culture of solidarity, progressive resistance to oppression, martyrdom, self-reliance,…etc.


The trenches built during Eritrea's long liberation struggle. Nakfa, Eritrea.

At last the strong unity and/or harmony of the people brings the long lasted colonial times to an end and this was secured after the successful referendum conducted in 1993. Eritrea becomes independent once forever. However, after seven years, of peaceful times, a sudden and insignificant war emerged with the neighboring country of Ethiopia. This war was fabricated by the US administration and physically operated by the Ethiopian Government. The overall hidden agenda was to control the sovereign land of Eritrea, exploit its resources and throw-down the people in eternal hardships of immigration, hunger, illiteracy…etc.  Nowadays, the American government is engaging in repetitive attempts to pass punitive sanctions against Eritrea to agitate the economic boom in the country and to create unstable political ambiance in the Horn of Africa.

Eritrea´s series evolution of history flows through intense difficulties in time to arrive in the present juncture. The present Eritrea and its diverse culture (language, lifestyle…etc) is not a one night creation, it is happening after a long process of time. The cradle of humankind site of Eritrea is keeping the fossil legacy of our ancestors from Millions of years. This process witnesses the historical evolution of societies through time, the hardships and resistance and solidarity in millions of years. The current political instabilities in our region are part of these historic endeavors. Nowadays, the Eritrean people are reluctantly traveling through enormous political hardships; however, like always no retreat.  The Eritrean´s history making process is still continuing and the current resistance to giant political realm is part of our modern history. This is a small part of the intense historic facts about Eritrea`s antiquity. Eritrea´s history i as old as humanity; rather than an overnight created account.