Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Executive Director of the National Board of Education of Eritrea's 2013 report

Above and below: National Board for Higher Education building at the University of Asmara campus

Above and below: construction of Campus Facilities at the Eritrean Institute of Technology (EIT) Mai Nefhi

Above and below: the future Eritrean Institute of Technology campus, Mai Nefhi
Above and below: construction of campus facilities at Hamelmalo Agricultural College
The future Hamelmalo Agricultural College (HAC) campus, Hamelmalo.
Halhale College of Business and Economics campus, Halhale
College of Marine Science and Technology campus, Massawa.
College of Arts and Social Sciences campus, Adi Keyeh.

The  pictures above are from June 2013 report of the Office of the Executive Director of the National Board of Higher Education of Eritrea. See the entire report below.
National Board

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Book Review

  Solomon Tsehaye’s Massen Melqesn Qedamot: A Nation Narrates History of 250 Years

                                                              Abraham T. Zere

The publication of the first volume of Solomon Tsehaye’s Massen Melqesn Qedamot (2012), the highest poetic forms of Tigrinya, is a milestone in preserving, documenting and analyzing the rich Eritrean oral poetry in general and the Tigrinya oral poetry in particular. Although there were earlier attempts by expatriate scholars to document and publish Eritrean oral traditions, most of them had visible shortcomings. They were merely documented and published to serve the colonial interest; and the authors who took the initiative summarily discredit the oral poets and only focused on the content. As spontaneity is very crucial, the main feature of oral tradition, the context in which the material was recited, was neglected.

Tsehaye, however, conducted an extensive research and did the painstaking job of cross-checking the oral poems from different sources; gave short biographies of the oral poets, and contextualized the oral poems.

With the obvious sensitivity of oral poetry because of its changing and unstable nature, and being at the verge of death with the greater literacy rate, Tsehaye has done momentous job that nearly could not have been better done at this critical juncture. The book, as he notes in the introduction, is the first volume of a trilogy on Eritrean oral poetry. Massen Melqesn Qedamot takes the poet Negash (Sagla) Baira’u (1921-2008) as a point of departure and coverage of 34 other oral poets whom Tsehaye considers have greatly influenced Negash Sagla.

The book gives an extensive coverage on the types and nature of oral poetry (33-148). In a sequential manner it then starts with the oldest surviving oral poetry of Ayte Felesqinos who was estimated to be born in 1735. The section on Ayte Feleskinos attempts to contextualize his oral poems, gives brief biographical sketch and documents three of his oral poems.

In various sections and programs of the national media oral tradition has been given due coverage but never did it before was compiled and published in a book as Tsehaye did. Ghirmai Negash’s oral poetry research that was serialized in the national newspaper in 1995, Brother Solomon Ghebrekristos’ serialized articles on the magazine Timtsa’e Mengistke were among the significant works that attempted to give wider coverage, but Tsehaye’s book is the biggest share now.

As the Eritrean society is transferring from oral to written collection of such works is always done against time and Tsehaye did a very good job at the right time. Oral poets are being replaced by poets and the banks of the oral poets, the depository tellers are also at the verge of extinction. A similar attempt to document such work after few months will not have the same result as Tsehaye has already collected now.

The book also attempted to document the context of the oral poems recited, which is very crucial in oral poetry. By doing so the book also reads as an Eritrean history of the last 250 years. As historical document lacks in most events of Eritrean history, oral history in general and oral poetry in particular greatly help connect the dots and fills the gaps of the undocumented history of a nation. Therefore, Tsehaye’s book will be an important contribution for Eritrean historians, literary scholars and sociologists for further studies.

Tsehaye contextualized most of the oral poems and attempts to give a clear picture of the event behind most of the oral poems. In addition to that he documented oral poems recited in some context
and brought all the poems recited at the same event. The oral poems recited as back and forth after certain events also gives a clear picture of the nature of the oral poems and the talent of the poets.

With its recurrent themes of bravery and heroism, the book documents all kinds of oral poetry that attempted to capture important historical incidents.

Tsehaye also did a tremendous work in creating access for the coming researchers. Towards the end of the book, he summarized his work in English for those who could not access the Tigrinya text;
documented the research works so far conducted in the area, and listed the names and addresses of the depository tellers, whom Tsehaye greatly depended for his research. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A conversation with Solomon Tsehaye.

Solomon Tsehaye has done it again. His latest book is a colossal work on masse and melkes: Tigrigna's highest form of poetry. Tigrigna is one of the languages of Eritrea. This is the first volume of an anticipated three volume work. The book needs to be translated into English so that the work gets worldwide exposure.Solomon Tsehaye is Eritrea's top poet. He wrote Eritrea's national anthem.

As an introduction, until I write a book review, here is what I wrote Solomon right after I finished the book: "Solomon, I read the entire book that you were kind enough to send me in a few days.You owe me some hours of sleep. Just kidding. Anyway, the book is excellent and one can judge and sense the time, effort, sweat, concentration and research that is poured into the work. Congratulations! Frankly, this is a kind of work that universities teach in their departments. It is not just an anthology but also an anthropological, sociological and historical work.

This is part one of my conversation with Solomon Tsehaye.

Issayas: Would you briefly tell us about your background?

Solomon: I was born in December 1956 in Addi Quitta, a village in southern Eritrea. Having received my elementary education in Eritrea, I went to Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, for my high school education at the then British-run General Wingate Secondary School. It was a boarding school.  I had won a scholarship to study at the school by passing its entrance examination. My education was affected by the coming to power of the military regime (the Dergue) which deposed the emperor in Ethiopia. Upon seizing power in September 1974 the regime declared that senior high school and University students be mobilized from their schools for the ill-intended and ill-planned  “students campaign to eradicate illiteracy”. Considering the chaotic and politically hostile situation surrounding the program I boycotted the students’ campaign like many Eritrean compatriots and came back home.  I joined the Eritrean independence struggle in April 1977.  I was assigned to combat forces and served as a combatant and later as what was commonly called “the bare foot doctor” until I was wounded in action and reassigned to the rear area of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). It was there in the second half of 1979 that I started to engage myself in cultural activities by writing plays, acting and composing poetry. I was attracted more and more into arts and culture to the extent that I was transferred in mid-1981 to work as a full time artist in the Division of Culture of the EPLF. I was appointed head of the Division in 1987 and served in that capacity until the liberation of Eritrea in May 1991.

Solomon as a young man.

Solomon as a young EPLF fighter.

In the post-independence period I was given a number of opportunities to travel abroad to attend conferences and training programs on culture and arts which helped broaden my scope of knowledge and experience. Though almost all of my poetic works and essays were either published in magazines and newspapers or broadcasted by radio during the independence struggle or after, I decided to publish an anthology of my selected poems on the Eritrean struggle. Hence my poetry book entitled Sahel was published in 1994, and the publication of the second edition took place in 2006. Since the book is now out of print, I have plans to make a reprint of the second edition soon.

Taking over from its founding editor, the distinguished writer Alemseged Tesfay, I also edited and regularly contributed to a dozen issues of Netsebraq, the arts and culture magazine published in Tigrinya by the cultural establishments of the EPLF and later the Eritrean government. I have always been concerned with my literary productions. For many years a conflict was going on inside me - a conflict between the performance of my administrative duties and my professional development as a poet and writer. My longtime assignment at the level of management denied me adequate time to pursue my creative writing as I want it to be. On a request to write and research free of administrative obligations, I was given a long leave which enabled me to conduct research on Tigrinya oral poetry with particular focus on masse and melqes. As a result of that research I have recently published a 544-page book entitled “Massén Melqesn Qeddamot” (Massé and Melqes of the Ancestors).

Issayas: As you said earlier you have been concerned with your literary productions.

Solomon: Yes indeed.

Issayas: Then, why didn’t you use your leave for writing poetry and fiction rather than shift to oral poetry - massé  and melqes - research?

Solomon: As a person who worked in the field of culture for quite a long time, I was always aware of the fact that our oral traditions were in danger of disappearing with the passing away of our wise and knowledgeable old people. But I have to admit that this particular issue was brought to my attention when the late oral poet Negash Baira’u (Negash Sagla) approached me to help him publish his massé and melqes expressing his fear that his lifetime contribution will be forgotten for ever if his oral poetry is not retrieved from his memory and documented. He said great works of massé and melqes of his predecessors are getting less and less remembered and will eventually be forgotten because they are not published. His concern was that his massé  and melqes would face the same fate. I absolutely shared his fears and concerns and having made preliminary studies on the subject, I decided to embark on researching and collecting massé  and melqes all over the Tigrinya culture in an effort to rescue the long accumulated literary heritage and pass it on to future generations. If it were not for the inconvenience created by the present strained relations of Eritrea and Ethiopia the research would have definitely taken me to Tigray, the northmost region of Ethiopia, because being Tigrinya culture poetic art forms, massé  and melqes were also practiced at least in some parts of Tigray. Taking the urgency of the task into consideration, therefore, I postponed my creative writing and fully concentrated on the research. Paying tribute to the late Negash Baira’u, I would like to express my highest respect and appreciation for him for bringing forth the idea of collecting and publishing his massé  and melqes, because it is that idea which developed into this wide ranging massé  and melqes research and publishing project in Eritrea. Alas, he did not live to see the book (Volume I) in which his collected  massé  and melqes are published. The course of life and the time consuming nature of oral poetry research could not match up to enable him to see the book come out.

Issayas: What is massé? Melqes?

Solomon: Massé (awlo) and melqes are related art forms which constitute one of the genres of Tigrinya oral poetry. Massé is performed on happy and festive occasions where, most of the time, specially prepared food and drink are served. Weddings and a number of other celebratory events are appropriate occasions for massé. On the other hand, melqes is performed during funerals and similar moments of sadness. Though different in the way they are presented, massé  and melqes have the same poetic structure. They are also composed and recited by the same people. With the exception of a few who either make massé  or melqes, the overwhelming majority of oral poets who perform massé  also perform melqes.

Solomon doing field work.

The cover of Solomon's book on masse and melkes. Vol. I

Issayas: What is the significance of massé  and melqes in Tigrinya society?

Solomon: As is briefly explained (in English) in my book, Massén Melqesn Qeddamot Volume I, on pages 540-541, massé  and melqes are highly valued oral poetic forms in Tigrinya society. They are highly valued because the ideas and concepts they transmit have depth and relevance. Massé  and melqes are source of guidance to society from which people draw all sorts of lessons. They are useful in resolving conflicts. They present social critique which helps solve social problems and correct mistakes. They enhance society’s knowledge on history, culture, language, politics, religion, etc. by discussing various aspects of life. Last but not least, massé  and melqes are also very entertaining. Because of the happy occasions on which it is performed masse’ is particularly amusing with a lot of humor connected to it. The events in which massé  and melqes are presented were the mass media of traditional Tigrinya society. They were platforms where the real opinions of the people were heard from the voice of its great minds - the oral poets. Whenever such events took place attending audiences were very eager to know what the oral poets had to say. There were even times when people travelled long distances merely to hear massé  or melqes, particularly when it was known that renowned oral poets would be present for the occasions.

Issayas: One would be curious to know what type of people the oral poets are to create poetic works of such significance.

Solomon: The oral authors of massé  and melqes, called masségnatat  in Tigrinya, are talented people who develop the skill of composing poetry as spontaneously as they recite it. To acquire such a skill they cultivate the faculty of thinking fast under high level mental concentration. They are the most enlightened elite and creative cream of the society with broad knowledge of various aspects of social life and human experience. They are highly observant critical thinkers. Because of their imaginative power and vision, masségnatat are sought after for new ideas and intellectual guidance. Some of them are even considered to have prophetic abilities. One such talent was the master poet Weldedingl Gedlu who lived in the 19th century.

Issayas: So they earn their living by performing oral poetry on respective occasions?

Solomon: No, they earn their living mainly as farmers. Though they occasionally receive gifts or honorariums from their hosts, masségnatat, unlike contractual performers, do not present their poetry for payment. They don’t perform for financial or material gains as such. Performing massé  or melqes is just honor for them and they do it only if they are invited respectfully.

Issayas: Your research goes a couple of centuries back, how was it possible to track down all these oral poetic works long after the death of their composers?

Solomon: To be more accurate my research covers some 250 years. The lapse of so many years was covered by the transfer of memory from generation to generation.  When we speak of this process of transfer we speak of a talent crucial to the preservation and passing down of the oral poetry to future generations - the talent of keeping memories through learning massé  and melqes by heart. People who are endowed with this capacity store the knowledge of the oral poetry and transfer it by telling. These depository tellers are therefore the custodians of massé  and melqes. It should also be noted that the most gifted among the depository tellers learn by heart instantly memorizing the poetry as it comes out from the mouth of the oral poets or the tellers, once and for all like the audio recording machine does. According to my research, so far, the earliest massé retrieved from memory was composed by a great oral poet Feleskinos around 1765 and was told by a great depository teller Teame Desta in 2008. The late Teame Desta , who passed away in September 2012 at the age of 88, was the only person among my informants to have kept the memory of that two-and-half centuries old poem along with the contextual information surrounding the poetic piece.

Issayas: Coming to another basic question, why do we need to study massé and melqes?

Solomon: As has been partly explained above when discussing the significance of massé and melqes, we need to study them to understand who we are searching for the true meaning of our past. Massé and melqes are expressions of identities, values, ethical behaviors, psychological makeup and world outlook of the society. They are expressions of culture in general. Moreover, they are a portrayal of history. We also need to seriously study massé and melqes for their literary and aesthetic merit. The imagery and fine language with which massé  and melqes reflect ideas, philosophical concepts and social reality makes them impressive. The impact of the vivid and at times subtle artistic expressions they employ is very strong. They are always appealing with powerful educational and entertaining effects. Hence the massive information embodied in massé and melqes deserves careful research and analysis for us to fully understand the period covered by the massé and melqes. But we should not limit ourselves to just studying them. We should disseminate the outcome of the study by all means possible. Most importantly, the study needs to be systematically integrated into the school curriculum up to the level of higher education.

Issayas: The idea of integrating the study into the Eritrean educational system being very important, how do you think it should be implemented?

Solomon: Of course, it is up to the Ministry of Education and institutions of higher learning to decide if the study should be part of the relevant school curricula, but I strongly suggest that massé and melqes be taught in schools as part of Eritrean literature. Consistent with the Eritrean policy of mother tongue education, the inclusion of this study, I believe, can certainly have commendable results in cultural education as a whole. And yet to achieve the desired outcome the training of highly qualified teachers is crucial.

Part two to follow.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Guest Writer: Abraham T. Zere


                                    Beyene Haile’s Mezghebe Enters Wider Readership

 Beyene Haile’s first novel Abdi do Tibluwo (1964) is now translated and published in English by Huriy Ghirmai under the title Mezghebe: would you say he was mad? (AZAB publishers, 2013).


With its excellent translation and universal theme, the book is expected to bring more attention and critical studies of the literature produced in indigenous African languages. Eritrean literature, being mostly produced in indigenous languages, has been least read and never assumed its proper place in the study of African or world literature in one facet, but greatly helped production of original works on the other. As the great critical thinker Ngugi wa Thiong'o proposes it is only through translations that such original works could reach wider readers.

When first published in 1964, Abdi do Tibluwo was summarily neglected for its complex narration and its thematic concerns by most of the Eritrean readers then.Only after its re-publication in 2003
did it start to have wider readership and critical acclaim. The book holds important place for its thematic concerns,complex style of narration and its transnational spaces.                                            

Mezghebe narrates the life and times of a bohemian painter and cum-sculpt named Mezghebe. Set in Adi-Girat of Ethiopia and Asmara-Eritrea the book, through four main narrators shows how the enigmatic Mezghebe lived his life until his early death. Mezghebe, who showed interest in sculpture and painting at very young age slowly immerses in his world until he “got to such a point that he took to demanding that people enter his house through the window”(152). Mezghebe’s unique passion, considered as madness by most people, diverts him slowly from all regular interaction with people. He drops his studies, secludes himself in a distant house and lives an aloof life. The book shows an absolute dedication and readiness to pay the highest prize for art.

While most of his contemporaries compromised their art because most took the stand of an educator, Haile took a different position and portrayed that it is only through arts that a society could heal its wounds. He made his stand very clear right in his preface by stating that “most of the current writers seem to naively believe that they should primarily educate, admonish and even lead their readers.” As a result, as Haile puts they “veer away from the idea of pure beauty.”

Mezghebe’s very complex narrative technique is another angle that needs further scholarly research. The book is narrated by four different narrators associated with Mezghebe, including one chapter
by himself. All the narrators, except of course Mezghebe, the rest three are ‘I-witness’ narrators who have some role in the story and tell their perspectives of Mezghebe.  Very focused, the story starts
when Mezghebe was bedridden during his final days and the police detective asks Mezghebe “Do you remember?” In the first chapter, Captain Berhe simultaneously addresses the reader and Mezghebe as “you.” Told against the traditional suspense stories, the story comes to full-circle at the end and connects with the first chapter.


I found Mezghebe’s narrative technique very similar to Nuruddin Farah’s Maps (1986) that was published 22 years later. Both the books are narrated through different narrators and the main protagonists are implicated with deaths for bigger causes. Askar of Maps is implicated with the death of his foster mother, Misra, for national cause and Mezgebe with Hagos for arts. Only at the end of the two books do readers learn that the whole story was narrated orally to police detectives. At the end, Farah’s Maps tells the story was told by Askara to ‘himself, by himself’:

And that was how it began -- the story of (Misra/Misrat/Masarat and)Askar.
First he told it plainly and without embellishment, answering the police  officer’s
questions, then he told it to men in gown, men resembling ravens with white skulls. (259)

Similarly, Mezghebe ends:

     He had risked life and limb in order to destroy all evidence of its existence,
     yet now here it was in his hospital room, and instead of a doctor, there was only
     Captain Berhe, a famous police detective standing by his bedside. The captain,
     a close acquaintance of Mezghebe’s parents who knew him from childhood,
     implored him to tell him all that he remembered.

     Without a single hesitation, Mezghebe began to tell the captain the whole
     story openly without leaving out a single detail. (159)

The book transcends different established traditions in Eritrea. For example, Mezghebe’s view of school and education is different than  most people. He does not see formal education as an ultimate end and the only means of success in life. He tells Ti’be:

       “Haven’t you realized that I’ve had enough education now? School took up
        a lot of my time and distracted me from work -- I remained in school because
         I thought it would make all of you happy. It’s enough now, that’s it, it’ll be enough for me.
         I can’t afford to let my dreams go unrealized because of education.” (137)

Similarly, Haile’s representation of women not only transcends his contemporaries, but also perfectly meets the current feminist literary view. All the women characters are strong, independent and educated. Kidsti for example, goes beyond her physical disability to achieve higher goals.

Haile’s main characters do not also fall on the traditional track of education that was common in developing societies. For example, Kidsti and Tekali went to Columbia University in US but chose
different field of studies than most of their contemporaries would choose. Unlike most of Eritreans of that period and to a great extent now, they did not pursue their higher studies in engineering or
medical schools. Kidsti studies General Education and Home Economics while Tekali studies archaeology.

Mezghebe’s works go beyond limited geographical and cultural spaces. Never did he care to sell any of his works and earn more money, but some of his works end-up in museums in Italy. Mezghebe’s stand as a true global citizen is articulated in Tesfay’s letter (162-165) to his sister after Mezghebe’s death.

Huriy Ghirmai’s translation gives glossary of terms at the end of the book. He did not try to find their equivalent meaning to most of Tigrinya terms which carry greater cultural contexts. It was an excellent decision to give the English readers the cultural contexts of most of the terms.

Beyene Haile, the leading literary figure in Eritrea, has published other two novels --Duquan Tiberh (2003) and Tsbit Bahgu (2006)-- that are also considered milestones in history of Eritrean literature.
Similar initiatives to translate the other works can help Eritrean literature assume its proper place and introduce Haile’s works.

For the works of the late Beyene Haile, check out the following website:


Saturday, September 7, 2013

A conversation with Luwam Thomas

Issayas : Would you tell us about yourself?

Luwam: My name is Luwam Thomas and I graduated with a BSc in Nursing Degree from Ryerson University. Currently I am working as a registered nurse in Canada. Along with my love for nursing, I have a passion for music, arts, and my country Eritrea. Music has been a part of my life since I was young, starting piano lessons at age five. I continued my lessons for 14 years and currently wish to pursue my studies at a university level, with a focus in music composition. My dream is to compose classical-cultural Eritrean music to then one day see the Toronto Symphony Orchestra play our music on stage.

At age 14, I began playing Eritrean music as solo piano shows at Eritrean local community events. In 2006, I produced an Eritrean Instrumental CD of which I played popular/cultural Eritrean music. The total proceeds of the sale of the CD was donated to the Eritrean Martyrs Children Fund. In my late teens I started a journey  in search of young Eritrean artists in Toronto to create a band; 2007 Bahli Tesfa was formed. We performed at various Eritrean and non-Eritrean events for 3 years  promoting our culture through music and dance. In promoting Eritrean culture, I participated in the Miss AfriCanada 2009 Pageant in which I was awarded 2nd  Runner-up and best talent (http://missafricanada.ca/2009-pageant/). In addition, I wrote an essay for a university course titled, “The Role of Music in the Eritrean Struggle for Independence” (http://www.academia.edu/280600/The_Role_of_Music_In_the_Eritrean_Struggle_for_Independence). It was featured in a local ommunity newspaper,eritreancompass.com, and recently in shabait.com.  

Recently, I have begun sharing my work to the cyber world through my YouTube channel Hade1Hade (www.youtube.com/hade1hade). In the channel you will find  my work in Eritrean music, Eritrean cuisine cooking tutorials, how-to-play the kirar tutorials, and of course the Eritrean Mass Online Music Collaboration Project of 2013.                                                    

Issayas:  When I first saw your solicitation for your project, I thought it was a brilliant idea. For people who didn't see the pledge, what was it that you wanted  to accomplish and did you succeed in what you set out to do?

Luwam: As a young kid I remember watching the Eritrean cultural group, “Sbrit” perform a group song called “Hibue’ Werki”. For the first time I saw an Eritrean orchestra with several kirarists, wata players, flutists, and more. I said to myself, “I want to create an Eritrean orchestra here in Canada!” Looking back, I realized it was a kiddish wish.

Early this year, I watched a YouTube video called "Little Symphony" where 106 young artists from 30 different countries collaborated online to play a classical song, Canon in D Major. Rekindling my kiddish memories of an Eritrean orchestra, I thought to myself, "What if we did this in Eritrean music?" I brought it up in conversation with a fellow friend and multi-talented young artist Minasie Haile (who is the music producer in EMOMCP2013) and from there the idea blossomed. As I started to see the massive responses from Eritrean youth all over the world, the support, the encouragement, and the desire to participate, it started to become clear the objectives of the project: cultural awareness, youth empowerment, and most importantly unity.

Issayas: What did you learn from this experience about the Eritrean youth?

Luwam : Spirit of the youth.

We are “weresti hager”. Through this project I was able to see the desire and willingness of Eritrean youth to learn about their culture, the desire to connect with their brother’s and sisters all over the world, and to be in touch with their identity. The youth in this group, with enthusiasm and dedication, encouraged each other in the development of their talents, teaching each other what they know, communicating ideas, and helping each other to network. For example, the initiative of the organizers
taking ownership of parts of the project in the field of their talents.


Regardless of our differences, where we live, our political views, or our religions, this project has showed that together as Eritreans we can do great things. As a group we have come across some challenges including persons or audiences questioning or attempting to politicize the project. What really enlightened me was the maturity level and how progressive-minded these young smart Eritreans were; showing the world that we can set aside our differences and work together,
focusing on a common goal.

Issayas: What surprised you the most about this project?

Luwam: The magnitude of undiscovered Eritrean young talent in this world! Each application I went through, I felt like I found a pot of gold, or a gem. "I play kirar". "I can rap in English or Tigrigna". "I am a painter". "I can dance with the areki bottle on my head". It was a wonderful experience to go through these applications, to get to know these young artists, and finally to have the pleasure of working with them.

This project took 5 months to complete (which isn't a short time), starting from April to August. The second thing that moved me was that each and every single person involved in this project was extremely dedicated, committed, and passionate about the project from day one all the way to the final days of completion.

Issayas:  What was the volume of the response? How about the demographics?

Luwam: We used various Internet outlets to share our project idea: Facebook, Email, Twitter, and YouTube. We released an information/advertisement video, which received 40,000 views. On Facebook we created a group called Eritrean Mass Online Music Collaboration Project. In a matter of weeks, the group grew to include 500 members consisting of supporters and participants from all around the world. The participants you see on the final video are living in countries Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,USA, Canada, Germany, Rwanda, UK, and Israel. The final video was released on YouTube on August 27, 2013 and in 3 days totaled over 10,000 views and endless positive feedback from YouTube users, Facebook users, and shared by many all over the Internet. It was featured on raimoq.com, dehai.org, paltalk forums, the Abraham Afewerki Facebook Fan Page, and others.

 Issayas: The end product is beautiful. Did you have to select the finalists? What was the process?

Luwam: One of the goals of the project was to encourage and empower young Eritrean talents. Having said that, there wasn't any competition or any selection process of finalists. Everyone was welcome to share their talents as long as they performed it to the best of their ability. Being the first of its kind in Eritrean music, when we first released the idea of the project to the cyber-world, we did not know what to expect in terms of youth response. It ended up that we received a very large amount of interest from Eritrean youth all over the world wanting to participate. This made us decide it was best to begin an organizing process by creating an application form for interested youth, and asking to submit by a deadline. We then formed an organizing committee with representatives from different parts of the world to assist with each category of artists, advertising, and music and video editing. We received over 70 applications with various talents in less than 3 weeks. Each applicant was sent an
information package via email including a description of the objective/goals of the project, the instructions or steps they would need to take, and necessary tools they may need to complete their part (i.e. instrumental, lyrics). From then it was endless back and forth communicating with artists and organizers, sometimes assisting with the Tigrigna lyrics or pronunciation, assisting with tuning their instruments via Skype, helping them find creative ways to perform their art...etc. It was a group effort of Eritrean youth helping each other develop and fine-tune their talents in Eritrean music; all completely over the Internet.

Keep in mind that this project was completely voluntary. The majority of the participants took time out of their busy lives from school, work, many asking for extensions so that they can finish their exams (which of course we granted). Finally, we ended up with a total of 34 official participants (musicians, singers, painters, dancers, photographers, artists).

Issayas: Would you do it again? What would you change or not change?

Luwam: It was a memorable experience. Since the release date, to this day I still don't have words to express my happiness and appreciation to everyone that was involved either actively participating or supporting us. It took a lot of hard work, sacrifice of time, problem solving, learning new technologies, dedication, teamwork, and perseverance to complete this project. I really do believe this was a stepping-stone in the development of Eritrean music using technology as a vehicle. I learned nothing is impossible if we put our mind to it and have belief in what we are doing and trust in the people we are working with. At the moment, I am pursuing other pending projects but if the opportunity arises and if the youth are interested in an EMOMCP Part 2, I am more than happy and willing to do it again. This project has sparked a new network of young Eritrean artists, evident by some of the artists already working on mini-collaborations with each other online.

I must express my gratitude to my parents and the Eritrean community of Toronto whom since my early days supported me in my journey in arts and music. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all those involved in EMOMCP2013. Lastly, thank you Issayas for inviting me to your blog.

Issayas: The pleasure is mine.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Update on lhwfoods


Congratulations are due to Living Healthy World Company's (lhwfoods) co-founders Orsalem Kahsai and  Pheo Martin.

Supermarket Guru reviewed  Flax n Chia Stix (Living Healthy World's products), and not only gave them a high score (96), but also honored the product with "Hit of the Week".

check  out supermarket guru's website and the review video link at the  2: 30 mark.



This review also appears on almost 25 other websites including Supermarket News, IGA, Food Institute, AWMA, Kentucky Grocers, National Grocers Association, You Tube, AOL, Google, Yahoo.

Check out my previous conversation with Orsalem at:



Also check out lhwfoods website at:


Again, congratulations Orsalem and Pheo.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Guest Writer: Tsegai Medin

Tsegai Medin
PhD candidate
Tarragona, Spain

What do we know about the one million year old Eritrean Homo?

The geo-paleo-anthropo-archaeological research conducted in the Eritrean Danakil depression in the last two decades has resulted in the discovery of over 200 Late Early Pleistocene sites within 1000 meter thick fluvio-lacustrine sedimentary successions. Buia and Mulhuli-Amo are among the most well known fossiliferous Late Early Pleistocene sites in the world. They are enriched by evidence of Homo fossils, macro and micro mammals and advanced lithic technological complexes. The nearly complete Homo cranium was discovered in the mid 1990`s at the inhospitable area of Uadi Aalad (Buia basin). Other evidences of Homo were found near the cranium (all are probably belong to the same individual), these include: a two permanent upper incisors, two conjoined pelvic fragments, a right iliac blade, a right acetabulum and partial ischium, forming an incomplete adult hip bone and a pubic symphysis. Due to their metrical features, these fossils are attributed to an adult female individual.

Fig. 1&2. The nearly complete Homo cranium from Uadi Aalad (UA), Buia

The discovery of this complete skull was a scientific breakthrough. To date, evidence of complete skull of Homo dating to between 1.4-0.65 Myrs is scarce in Africa. Although, evidence of Homo has been reported from a number of Early Pleistocene sites in East Africa (Ileret, Konso, Daka, Olorgesailie), the addition of the Eritrean Homo (UA-31) has significantly enlarged the quality and variety of the Homo erectus/ergaster record and re-launched the debate about its patterns of variation and evolutionary trends. The fossil specimens in general filled the gap between Homo erectus (1.4 Ma) and Homo heidelbergensis (0.65 Ma). This well known complete fossil skull from Buia was recently enriched by more fragments of Homo fossils from nearby site (Mulhuli-Amo), about 4.7 km far south of the Buia site. This evidence includes cranial and post cranial fossil specimens and, importantly a molar tooth. The Homo fossil evidence from Mulhuli-Amo is found at the same stratigraphic succession as the Buia Homo and they include three individuals.



Fig.3&4. Homo molar and fragments of parietal bones from Mulhuli-Amo

The Hominin species from Buia and Mulhuli-Amo comprise two distinctive and significant types of traits (1) primitive traits and (2) progressive traits. The primitive traits comprise low cranial height and the shape of the cranial profile in top view. The progressive traits include the marked expansion of the parietal bones and the vertically expanded face. The former is characteristic of the African Homo erectus/ergaster and the latter traits fit the Homo sapiens cranial morphology. This Hominin species acquired necessary anatomic changes as a response to various influences. Among these, the shift in paleoclimate (glacial/interglacial shifts) which is followed by paleoecological and diet changes could be considered as a significant. Hominins and other mammal species marked necessary changes in response to climatic fluctuations. The global climate cycle marked by a paleo-enviromental shift resulted in species turnover around 1.0 Ma. This turnover resulted to an extinction, migration and/or adaptation of species. Some species (Hominins and other mammals) developed rapid anatomic changes to adapt to harsh climatic change. The Hominin species at this stage had advanced technological capabilities, brain capacity and anatomic developments to resist the climatic changes when they occurred.


Fig.5 &6. The stone tool industry from Mulhuli-Amo (the Acheulian technology)

By about 1.0 Ma this species pioneered to efficient use of fire and highly complex technological stone tools (Acheulian stone tools). The density and variability of Acheulian lithic assemblages from the Dandiero Basin, followed by MSA and LSA technologies from sites on the coast of the Red sea (Abdur, Asfet, Gelealo NW and Misse East) is the most significant event of the Pleistocene epoch in the region.  This important innovation enables Hominins to acquire energy, thus, bigger brain size and change in intestine anatomy. This species had already mastered walking in an upright position (bipedalism) enabling them to see enemies in remote areas, and importantly, to spend less energy and walk longer distances, unlike the quadrupedal mammals. The Buia Homo like any other African Homo species of the same age was living adjacent to the coastal flood plains of the Buia basin. At about 200,000 years ago, Homo ergaster was replaced by Homo sapiens in the region. The shoreline Red Sea coast of the Buri Peninsula, dated 125+7 ka, contains the earliest well-dated evidence of Homo sapiens in coastal environments. These Prehistoric localities are testimony to ancient Human settlements, dispersals and cultural interactions within the extended Red Sea Coast and the Arabian Peninsula.These prehistoric Homo sapiens are the last and successful Hominin species to populate the planet.

Friday, May 31, 2013

A conversation with Professor Clarissa Clò

Pro. Clarissa Clò

                                                               Part II

Issayas: Rosalia also raised funds for the Eritrean-Italian children. According to the aforementioned book, She was a brilliant strategist in raising funds for the children. Why was she interested in the children?

Prof.Clò: This is an important issue which surprisingly only surfaces toward the end of the book, with a couple of chapters dedicated to the discussion of Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi’s philanthropic work in favor of the children born of the union of Italian soldiers and African mothers, the so called “meticci.” She was indeed successful in obtaining funds for the Istituto degli Innocentini, or the Institute of Little Innocents as the orphanage was named. She seemed genuinely worried about the fate of these children once their Italian fathers returned to Italy or died in the battlefield and their mothers would not be caring for them for one reason or another.

Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi in Eritrea

One cannot help, however, to also note the racial biases behind these concerns. It is well-known that a major preoccupation of colonialism was the fear of miscegenation, the mixing of different bloods, especially in the racialized context of the end of the 19th century ripe with discourses of racial superiority and inferiority, partly devised in Italy by Cesare Lombroso in his observations of various “inferior” social groups such as southerners, prisoners, prostitutes, anarchists and so forth. Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi is explicit about her disgust for the union of a white man and a black woman but I would tend to agree with Jonas that perhaps it was not so much the racial mixing as much as the fate of the abandoned children that concerned her. This is in line with the contradictory position Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi inhabited. And indeed , the issue of miscegenation became a far more pressing and urgent one at a later stage of Italian colonialism during Fascism when mixed-race unions were explicitly banned and forbidden.

Still, Cristina Lombardi-Diop points out that the philanthropic endeavors of Pianavia Vivaldi had a self-interested motif to them in that they allowed the author to navigate the public sphere freely in ways that would have otherwise been impossible for her. In this way Rosalia Vivaldi becomes a “symbolic mother” to these children (189) taking a place that did not belong to her and substituting herself, and “white women’s authority” by extension, for other local and communitarian forms of child caring. I agree with Jonas that her gesture, no matter how laudable and well-intended ultimately was “a palliative” in that “it never addressed the contradictions inherent in empire” (66).

Issayas: In the above mentioned flyer about your lecture, were there similarities between Rosalia and Sibilla?

Prof.Clò: My lecture, and my research on this topic, brings together texts and authors that would usually not be discussed in relation to one another. Although the similarities between the colonization of the Italian South on the part of the North during the process of Italian unification and nation-building and the Italian colonization in Africa have become a topic of study (Ben-Ghiat and Fuller, Moe), more needs to be done to tease out the forms in which such connections manifested themselves or transpired in various literary genres and at the hands of different, sometimes unexpected, authors.

Specifically as an Italian scholar, my interest was in comparing the ways in which Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi’s move to Africa resonated with and at times distanced itself from, Sibilla Aleramo’s novel Una donna (A woman), in which the protagonist, a veiled representation of the author herself, moves with her family to a village in the South of Italy. Una donna is a foundational book that in the Italian literary canon and especially for Italian feminism, and I was rather surprised when I first read it to notice the disparaging terms with which the protagonist of the novel described Italian Southerners, not dissimilarly to the ways in which Pianavia Vivaldi was condescending to the Africans. In this sense, the real surprise for me was Aleramo’s narrative where the Italian South and Southerners are treated as internal colonies to Italy. It is the connection between different yet related types of “otherings” that interests me.

In Aleramo’s novel the journey to the south and from city to countryside and the changed status from single to married woman becomes metaphorically and psychologically a descent to hell, while Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi’s travel to Africa was described quite clearly as a rise to a terrestrial Eden, a place where an upper-class white woman could take advantage of a freedom and an independence she would have rarely enjoyed at home.

Sibilla Aleramo

Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi’s Tre Anni in Eritrea and Sibilla Aleramo’s Una Donna both mediate the experience and identity construction of privileged women. Yet, even when they most strongly adhere to the nationalistic rhetoric, as women authors caught between superiority and subalternity they destabilize the process of nation-building and its structures of national belonging. At a time when female authorship, and the education of women and children, generated much anxiety in Italian culture (Re 159; Stewart-Steinberg), these two authors adopt writing as a powerful means to articulate and negotiate their position in a patriarchal society.

Finally, in my work I claim that these two texts, Tre anni in Eritrea and Una donna, which also represent two distinct literary genres - a colonial diary and an autobiographical novel – through their alternating “rhetoric of identification” and “rhetoric of differentiation” (Lowe 32), produce an unsettling destabilization of the traditional gender role assigned to women and expose some of the fictive foundations of the nation. One such fiction is that of citizenship, which far from being universal, in its abstract connotations really represented only men, particularly privileged and property owners.

Issayas: Rosalia was in Eritrea for only three years. Did she ever return? What was the impact of her stay in Eritrea on her life?

Prof.Clò: To my knowledge, she never returned to Eritrea nor did she publish any other books. So we do not know the impact that her stay in Eritrea had on her life, even though we might venture to imagine that it was probably a transformational experience of sort. In the last chapter of the book, entitled “Addio,” she mourns her departure and explicitly acknowledges that by returning to the so-called “civilized world” she would in effect lose the independence and freedom that she had
gained in Africa (328-329).

Issayas: Stephen C. Bruner in his article entitled "Leopoldo Franchetti and Italian Settlement in Eritrea: Emigration, Welfare Colonialism and the Southern Question" wrote that "Emigration, Colonialism and the Southern Question come together in the history of Leopoldo Franchetti's1891 plan to provide land for Italian peasants in Eritrea. He continues to state that Franchetti's plan was a political masterstroke in theory, yet despite burgeoning Italian emigration to other parts of the world and rural restlessness at home, virtually no peasants sought land in Eritrea and the plan failed within five years".

My question is, are there similarities and differences (in the ideas or concepts, but not in the style) between the aforementioned argument about Franchetti and the subject of your presentation entitled "Colonialism, Migration, Southern Question in Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi and Sibilia Aleramo”?

Prof.Clò: Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi recounts the establishment of the first emigrant settlement in Eritrea in a couple of chapters entitled “Tentativi di colonizzazione” (Attempts at colonization) and “Il primo villaggio italiano” (The first Italian village). It is important to notice that in Italian discourse colonization and emigration are often conflated and that in nationalistic rhetoric emigration is often packaged as a form of colonization (Gabaccia).

Pianavia Vivaldi’s narrative is invaluable because it carefully records the first attempt by the Italian government to form a stable settlement in the region through the relocation of a few Italian farmers’ families to Eritrea. Her account provides first-hand documentation of the event and voices upper class concerns about the extent of Italian emigration at the time. Like a state archivist, she meticulously reports in her diary the arrival on 10 November 1893 of the first “carefully chosen” (169) families of Italian colonists destined to cultivate the lands of Eritrea. Seven families were from Lombardy, and two from Sicily (165). That the majority of the families were from Lombardy is important, because it testifies to the fact that emigration at the time was a phenomenon that characterized both Northern and Southern regions of Italy. The reference to Lombardy is also important because this is Aleramo’s Una donna’s geographical point of departure. This aspect enables us to see connections and similarities between the situation of peasant families in different parts of Italy and to cast social
class, rather than just geographical location, as a crucial marker.

Vivaldi’s position as the wife of one of the highest-ranking officials in Eritrea grants her a role as representative of the local Italian authorities. She is among those who welcome this small unit that she defines as “the avant-garde of a numerous emigration, the substratum of a new Italian region (in Africa)”(166). Despite all the compliments paid to these happy and hardy farmers, Vivaldi interestingly comments that on the way into town, “they sang native songs imitating, without their knowledge, the customs of the Africans when they celebrate some occurrence or festivity” (167), thus
equating the lower class Italians to the Africans. Such analogy is also reinforced by the fact that the village where the emigrants are lodged is made of tukuls, whereas the author herself occupies “an elegant palace” in the city (26).

Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi with her husband

Pianavia Vivaldi provides a careful description of the contract that was offered to these farmers, detailing the interest that the Italian state had in establishing a permanent colony in Africa in order to try to solve the increasing national problems of emigration to the Americas and of social unrest in Italy. Like other prominent intellectuals of her time, she sees the creation of the Italian colony in Eritrea as the solution to social upheaval in the homeland and as a way to control the masses. To this end, she manipulates and mobilizes topics that would have been sensitive to an Italian audience of the time, like her subtle reference to the grave episodes of racism against Italians in America, and more
specifically to the lynching in 1891 of 11 Italians in New Orleans, the largest lynching case in US history, which caused a commotion in Italy and would have been still fresh in the mind of Italians.

In contrast to the unwelcoming reception in America, Pianavia Vivaldi suggests that Eritrea is like home, having similar soil and weather conditions (169). Here it is also interesting to notice, once again, how emigration and colonialism are treated as linked phenomena by the author, one providing the solution for the other. Despite Vivaldi’s complicity with the Italian nationalistic agenda, she is also critical of the faults and responsibilities of the Italian colonial authorities for the failure to retain the emigrants. She notes rather sarcastically that if the plan to emigration to Eritrea failed, the fault cannot solely be attributed to the “infertile African sands” (170).

Issayas: Prof.Clò, thank you for your time.

Prof.Clò: Thank you.


Aleramo, Sibilla. Una Donna. 1906. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1998.

Ben-Ghiat, Ruth and Mia Fuller, eds. Italian Colonialism. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.

Diop-Lombardi, Cristina. “Mothering the Nation: An Italian Woman in Colonial Eritrea.” ItaliAfrica: Bridging Continents and Cultures. Ed. Sante Matteo. Stony Brook, NY: Forum Italicum Publishing, 2001. 173-191.

Gabaccia, Donna. Italy’s Many Diasporas. Seattle: U of Washington P, 2000.

Jonas, Raymond. The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2011.

Lowe, Lisa. Critical Terrains: French and British Orientalisms. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991.

Moe, Nelson. The View from Vesuvius: Italian Culture and the Southern Question. Berkeley, U of California P, 2002.

Polezzi, Loredana. “The Mirror and the Map: Italian Women Writing the Colonial Space.” Italian Studies 61.2 (2006): 191-205.

Re, Lucia. “Passion and Sexual Difference: The Risorgimento and the Gendering of Writing in the Nineteenth-Century Italian Culture.” Making and Remaking Italy: The Cultivation of National Identity around the Risorgimento.Eds. Albert Russell. Oxford: Berg, 2001.155-200.

Steward-Steinberg, Suzanne. The Pinocchio Effect: On Making Italians (1860-1920). Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007.

Vivaldi, Rosalia Pianavia. Tre Anni in Eritrea. Milano: Cogliati, 1901.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A conversation with Professor Clarissa Clò

                                           Part I

 Issayas:  Would you briefly tell us about yourself?

My name is Clarissa Clò and I am an Associate Professor and Director of the Italian Program in the Department of European Studies at San Diego State University. I specialize in Italian Cultural Studies and my research interests include feminist and queer theory, migration and postcolonial studies, film, music and popular culture. I have written on The Battle of Algiers and Lion of the Desert, Italian documentary film-making, music subcultures, circum-Atlantic performances, Italian American women writers, Mediterranean Studies, youth cultures and postcolonial literature in Italy. My work has appeared in publications in Italy and the United States, including Annali d’Italianistica, Diacritics, Diaspora, Forum Italicum, Il lettore di provincia, Italian Culture, Italica, Research in African Literatures, Studies in Documentary Film and Transformations. In addition to teaching and research, I am active in my local community. I am on the Board of Directors of the San Diego Italian Film Festival and on the Italian American Academy of San Diego. I am originally from Modena, Italy.

Issayas: Who was Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi?

Prof.Clò: Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi was the wife of Colonel Domenico dei Marchesi Pianavia Vivaldi, an Italian officer who was put in charge of the Italian contingent in Asmara in 1893. She accompanied her husband to Africa and spent three years in Eritrea, as the title of her book suggests, from 1893 to 1895. She is regarded as a “female colonialist pioneer”  (Cristina Lombardi-Diop 173).

Issayas: Why is her work important?

Prof.Clò: Her work is important because female narratives are rather scarce in Italian colonial literature so her book represents quite an exception to this rule and provides us with a rare opportunity to access the colonial world the point of view of a female colonialist. Whereas she still had quite a few limitations and restrictions as a woman in terms of freedom of access to public discourse and public spaces, she was still able to enter private spaces inhabited primarily by women that men would not have been able to navigate.

Issayas: What is the significance of her book : Tre Anni in Eritrea in Italian (colonial) literature?

Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi's book: Tre anni in Eritrea

Prof.Clò: It is important to note that Tre Anni in Eritrea was not just a colonial diary, so to speak, but also contained a collection of photographs taken by the author herself during her stay in the colony. The volume is therefore quite a “document” on so many levels. Before publishing it in 1901 with a popular Italian editor at the time (Cogliati), excerpts of her diary appeared in one of the most important periodicals of the time L”illustrazione Italiana.

I’d like to remark that Italian colonial literature, like today’s Italian migrant literature, was not really considered an important component of Italian literature in general and has only recently become the focus of research in Italian Studies. Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi’s book has attracted the attention of a few scholars in the field precisely because of its unique but rich status (Lombardi-Diop, Polezzi).

The way I and other scholars discuss Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi’s work is in terms of the opportunities that relocating to Africa afforded the author, who otherwise as a woman, albeit a privileged one, would have been subjected to much more social control and restriction in Italy. In the book the author is certainly romanticizing Africa, but she is explicit about the possibilities that living in the continent opened up for her. As a woman she inhabited an ambivalent position. She was the “patriot mother of the nation” as Cristina Lombardi-Diop has defined her (174) and the champion of colonial enterprises like her philanthropic work. The nationalistic rhetoric prevalent at the time is undoubtedly present in her diary. As the wife of a colonel she followed her husband to Africa at the end of the nineteenth century, when the European “scramble for Africa” was in full bloom and the project of Italian nation–building was under way. Under these historical circumstances one would hardly expect Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi to exhibit a different ideological position. In this sense, as Loredana Polezzi has argued, this text is “symptomatic” of its time (195).

Yet, at the same time, passages of her book voice a certain criticism of the work of Italian authorities. For all her patriotism, Vivaldi betrays her doubts about the success of the Italian colonial venture and, after the failure to establish a permanent settlement for Italian emigrants, she hints at the responsibilities of the Italian institutions in this matter.

So, on the one hand, through her writing she appropriates the colonial genre that was until then a masculine one, and offers us quite a rich array of subjects and topics. For instance, Tre anni in Eritrea includes notes on botany, geography, history, politics, jurisprudence, and economics that make the author figure as a scribe and an organizer of colonial knowledge.

On the other hand, her position as a woman, and therefore as a person without full citizenship and enfranchisement at home allows her to observe and criticize institutional flaws in the colony that she would not have had a chance to voice in Italy. This is a contradictory position she is living in.

Thus I approach Pianavia Vivaldi’s travel narrative as a colonial text both typical and exceptional, written by a privileged Italian (white) woman that both reinforces and undermines dominant ideological discourses and attitudes toward Italian culture. The tensions produced in her text can, indeed, derive from the very gender of the author. Collecting information and knowledge about the new colony, and thus acting as a surrogate for colonial state power (Lombardi-Diop 173),is also a way for Pianavia Vivaldi to legitimize her authorship and her appropriation of an official masculine role (Lombardi-Diop 179) that would have been precluded to her in Italy.

Issayas:  Raymond Jonas in his book The Battle of Adwa mentions that Rosalia (according to her) was fascinated by Bahta Hagos and he in turn was infatuated with her. Is there any mention of this in her book? Would you expand on it?

Degiat (title) Bahta Hagos (Agos)

Prof.Clò: In Tre Anni in Eritrea Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi dedicates one chapter specifically to Batha Agos (Hagos). Although her language approximates what Jonas discusses in his book and in fact mutual infatuation, almost admiration, is probably the correct way to describe their relationship, the chapter is framed around Batha Agos’ betrayal of the Italians. The chapter is rather detailed. Rosalia Pianavia Vivaldi recounts the political biography of Batha Agos, his insufferance with local despotic lords, his decision to side with the Italians and his supposed reasons for turning his back on them. In her telling, she displays knowledge of politics, policies and economy. She tells that Batha Agos lied to his people when he implied that his revolt was meant to benefit them and not himself. She also mentions that Batha Agos died in combat, although he did not deserve it (243). It is not clear if she meant that he did not deserve to die or that he did not deserve such an honorable death. Regardless, she also states that she was relieved that his death did not provoke a vindictive reaction on the part of the natives.

Next, part two.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Journal of Eritrean Studies

I just received a copy of the newly re-launched Journal of Eritrean Studies (Volume VI, number 1 December 2012). JERS (The Journal of Eritrean Studies) is a biannual, peer-reviewed journal of the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) in Eritrea. 

This issue has five articles  and one book review. The articles include: Senai Wolde-Ab's Protection under the scanty law of author's rights (copyright) in Eritrea,  Saleh Mahumd Idris' Dahlik: An endangered language or a Tigre variety,  Tesfay Tewolde's Apparent bilateral verbs in Tigrigna, Abbebe Kifleyesus' Children's cultures: Some conceptual issues and research potentials in highland Eritrea, Gebrehiwet Medhanie's Aloes of Eritrea: The need for their conservation. The book reviewed is Tekie Beyene's  ካብ ሪቕ - ሕፍንቲ (Kab Rik Hefinti) and the reviewer is Abraham Tesfalul.

I encourage everyone to subscribe to the journal. Below is information for subscription and subscription rates. Also for correspondence and submission for articles.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Artmey Lebedev's Eritrea Photo Article.

A good Russian friend of mine sent me an e-mail and informed me that Artmey Lebedev, a celebrity Russian designer, an occasional traveler and blogger had visited Eritrea in March 2013. He was absolutely amazed about his visit to Eritrea. Here are the links below of his travel (Use Google Translate to translate his comments) and his design company.



Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A conversation with Senai W. Andemariam

Attorney Senai W. Andemariam

Part II

Issayas: As you know Eritrea is one of the few countries that had/has its own written customary laws for centuries. A couple of years ago, you and I went to interview Professor Asmarom Legesse at his home. If you don't mind, I would like to quote him at length. In that interview, Prof. Asmarom mentioned the following:

“The most fascinating aspect of the Eritrean Customary Law is its dynamism. Laws are not written in order to be administered by law enforcement agencies. Laws exist as a background to intervention, to mediation, to conflict resolution.The purpose of law is to establish a  framework for conflict resolution. Resolution of conflict is the most important aspect of  Eritrean Customary Law. In my view, Eritrean Customary Law's backdrop to mediation, backdrop to peace making is what is the important aspect. In this regard, customary laws in Eritrea are quite unique. The uniqueness is not that they are customary but that they are written. And these Eritrean customary laws are written by communities and administered by communities, which did not exist in anywhere else in Africa. In Eritrea, we have two traditions when it comes to Eritrean Customary Laws: One is a liberal tradition which believes  that laws are a living thing and you write them and rewrite them continuously so that they remain alive. The other is the onservative tradition, which states that laws are not to be changed as you please, they were written by the founding fathers in the state of sanctity and in the final form, which doesn’t evolve".

So, my question is, are the concepts from the customary laws included in the new Eritrean codes that have been drafted and finalized?

Senai: I had the opportunity to be part of the that very long process and joined it in its final stages of review and finalization particularly in the works on the draft Penal Code and draft Criminal Procedure Code. I was also assigned to draft the Evidence Code. Part of the finalization process was to incorporate, as much as possible, notions of Eritrean customary laws that are: (1) common to the majority of the Eritrean communities; and (2) in tandem with contemporary understanding of the rule of law and human rights. As the good professor told us when you and I interviewed him, there was even a discussion during the drafting process of the Eritrean Constitution to insert a provision on the status and handling of customary laws of Eritrea. What the consolidation team did in part was to give some color to the draft codes (especially the Civil Code and Penal Code) by incorporating such fitting notions of common customary laws into the draft codes. When the resulting final versions which, among a few other modifications, contained these in-corporations were presented to audiences
of the legal community and other concerned bodies, the reaction was very encouraging.    

Issayas: Do communities in Eritrea still practice customary laws?

Senai: It is a hard question to answer because of the different vantage points from which one can look at it. The answer also depends on which aspects of Eritrean customary laws one is referring to. For one who believes that the Eritrean customary laws (as all customary laws) do, in one way or another, try to fit into the prevailing social, political and legal situation of the day, yes the Eritrean communities still resort to a number of customary-law based practices even in matters as significant as settlement of homicide. The payment of blood money (ghar nefsi) is still continuing in the communities and some practices (such as the payment of bride price (ghezmi)) are continuing
despite their prohibition by law more than two decades ago.

However, for one who wants to be a legislative puritan the practice of customary laws, unless allowed by exception, is prohibited under existing Eritrean national law. Arguments are available to support and oppose such prohibition, but what remains at the ground is that traditional societies as we commonly understand them to mean, such as which the majority of our people are, will continue to follow their customary-law based practices and the phasing out of these practices towards ‘modern’ laws will be a slow evolutionary process. A pragmatic solution, such as that being attempted through the now 10-year-old community courts’ experiment in Eritrea, may be to institutionalize some notions of customary laws (especially their procedural aspects) and get them connected to the national legal system.

Issayas: I read a Ministry of Justice report (2011) written in Tigrigna about Eritrean society, culture etc. Would you briefly tell us about the gathering of different elders who represented their respective societies and the final conclusion of the aforementioned report. Honestly, I believe this report should be translated  into English for the benefit of the diaspora in particular and the world in general. It is not just a report of a gathering of people, but also an anthropological and sociological work. Could you tell us briefly about the purpose and the outcome/result of the report?

Senai: I wish I could tell you more about that interesting book which, I gathered, is a small part of the result of many years’ (I think since 1982) of research, interviews and field trips to scores of villages. Unfortunately, I was not part of the team that worked on the project. As someone who read the book, however, I agree with you that it is a must read – – as it is or as translated into English – for anyone interested  to know about traditional Eritrean communities in general. 

 A report produced by the Ministry of Justice 
in 2011 entitled The System of Administration,
Law and Culture of Eritrean Society.

Issayas: You are a member of the editorial team of the Journal of Eritrean Studies. I'm glad that the journal is revived. Would you tell us the background and purpose behind the journal?

Senai: The Journal of Eritrean Studies (JERS) is a biannual, peer-reviewed journal of the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) in Eritrea. It was originally published in 2004 by the College of Arts and Social Sciences of the University of Asmara. Until it was discontinued in 2006 with the phasing out of the University, five volumes were published and after more than two years’ of hard work to reinstate it, JERS Vol. VI, No. 1 was launched in December 2012. Hdri Publishers has agreed to be our publisher now. JERS seeks to “promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of key issues relevant to the past, present and  future of Eritrea”. The journal intends to be a publication for 
anyone who wants to read or contribute scholarly articles on Eritrea’s history, culture, politics, economy, society, environment, languages and related methodologies. We have close to 30 well-established Eritrean and foreign scholars serving in its editorial and advisory teams. Those interested to contribute a manuscript can email us at jerstudies@gmail.com and, for subscription, contact Hdri Publishers at hdripublishers@yahoo.com or call them at +291-1-126177.  

Issayas: Senai, again it's always nice talking to you. Thank you for your time.

Senai: Thank you.