By Amanuel Biedemariam,
The spirit and the essence of the Eritrean Festivals that takes place in Eritrea and around the world during the summer months is deeply rooted on the history of the struggle for liberation and Bologna Italy where it all started. On July 4, 1974, thousands of Eritreans from Europe, Middle East and North America gathered in Bologna for the first time. Since, Eritreans have gathered for the festival in Bologna until 1991 and after independence in Eritrea and around the world every year with zest and unparalleled patriotism.
Initially Diaspora Eritrea flocked to Bologna to reunite with friends, family and comrades; for updates on developments of the struggle; to learn about the revolutionary struggle, for intellectual discussions and exchange of ideas. Above all, it was love of country and to give Eritrean fighters support in a fun-filled patriotic environment. These were and remain historic events that Eritreans reflect upon frequently.
For the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the purpose was farsighted-calculated effort designed to ensure public participation because from the beginning the EPLF recognized without full participation of the Eritrean people the liberation struggle could not succeed. And with the core belief that the “masses must be aware/educated, organized and armed,” the EPLF educated, organized and armed Eritreans all over.
The EPLF also recognized the important role Eritreans in the Diaspora can play as extension of the struggle, and to ensure their full participation no detail was left to chance. High level EPLF representatives were sent to update; musicians and artists that reflect Eritrea’s cultures and customs were sent to entertain and educate. The EPLF addressed all issues of national importance indiscriminately and ascertained equal representation of all Eritreans irrespective of their backgrounds, religion or ethnic regions in a consistent fashion because the enemies of Eritrea aimed to divide Eritrea along ethnic, religious, class and regional faultiness. EPLF’s steady, unwavering, consistent and predictable approach of dealing with social, political, economic and defense related national matters was the antidote and as a result trust and strong bond between the EPLF and the people was able to flourish.
Since, for over 40 years, the annual Eritrean festivals have become an integral part of the nation’s life celebrated by Eritreans and friends around the globe. And as time went-by the implications and spin-off benefits are becoming far more important to the lives of Eritreans everywhere. This was evident during the 2015 Annual Eritrean Festival in Toronto, Canada held from August 1-3.
The Toronto Eritrean Festival is a beautiful representation of the spirit of Bologna Eritrean Festival. For three consecutive Canadian holiday-weekend days, Eritreans erect their tents, camp on the festival-grounds and enjoy the festivities as one.
The festival is full of activities that meet the needs of all age-groups with all the participants taking some part. The mothers and fathers drink traditional coffee and entertain all day under the shades of trees near their tents and occasionally move around to visit friends and shop. The rest enjoy sports, cultural activities and traditional dances.
It is fun-filled weekend that gives Eritreans chance to accomplish many things while they are coming together. It is also an opportunity for Eritrean businesses to promote, sell their products and services. Realtors, financial and related services are colorfully advertised while robust shopping activities take place on a vast area where tents are set up for merchants to sell vast array of goods. It is a shopping bonanza full of traditional outfits, cooking products, arts, crafts, T-shirts, spices, CD, DVD, ladies bags and the like. These are tangible visible benefits for Eritreans in Eastern Canada and environs where many come to enjoy the long weekend.
However, the most impressive aspect of the festivities had to do with how the Eritrean community in Toronto manages to organize events that reflect the needs of all, particularly the youth that take part enthusiastically in a manner unseen anywhere. The activities the youth engage-in are soccer, the traditional national dances, and the excitement surrounding these events is palpable.
Moreover, in light of the fact that raising Eritrean children close to their community is of utmost importance, and in light of the fact that the youth are key-target-age-group of the anti-Eritrea elements that try to splinter Eritrean communities; engaging youth in meaningful activities goes a long way in bringing-up healthy community with a bright future. The organizers set up various tournaments based on different age groupings that represent all age groups. The competition is fierce and the talent levels reflect their experiences, which is impressive.
However, what makes the tournaments even more impressive is how Toronto Eritreans managed to become a vital part of Toronto’s local community. The tournaments are magnet to Somali’s, Ethiopians, Portuguese, Italian and other groups that eagerly participate and fiercely compete. In the process these communities are getting to know the Eritrean community, cultures, music, food and traditions while creating lasting bond as well as respect for the Eritrean community in Toronto and by extension Eritrea.
The Key here is the fact that Eritrean festivals are glue that bonds people together in relaxed fashion. It accords Eritrean communities unlimited opportunities. It is an opportunity to showcase Eritrea. Most importantly it brings the next generation closer, it gives them a platform to learn and experience Eritrea. It gives them opportunities to learn and experience Eritrean cultures and customs and ultimately embrace it. It is a moment that they can focus on their people while getting updates of national developments. It is also time to make friends and build camaraderie. The fact that they take part is gratifying but to witness high school and college age youth showcasing their traditional dancing on stage confidently is certain-confidence-booster to the parents. It is also demonstration of love for Eritrea and expression of national pride.
Eritrean communities in Canada as a whole deserve praise for their resilience and ability to overcome. Over the past 10 years in particular, hostilities that Canadian authorities displayed toward Eritrea was second to none. The only thing that they did not do is deport every Eritrean. They have demonized Eritrea, vilified the history of the Eritrean revolution, harassed, expelled Eritrean officials in a fashion designed to demean and humiliate, went after Eritrea’s resources and pursued Eritrea through the United Nations Their ill attempts are too long to detail.
However, throughout, Eritreans remained calm and committed. The successful Eritrean Festival of Toronto is therefore an expression of Eritrea’s resilience and ability to withstand. It demonstrates that there is nothing that can stop the people of Eritrea from pursuing their interests. It is also a testament that Eritrea prevails, always.
Congratulations for Eritrean community in Eastern Canada, Toronto and environs for a successful festival. Well deserved praise for Eritrean leaders Estifanos Neguse, Ahmed Iman, Temesgen Haileab, and partners. And praise goes to all the participants and those that labored day and night to secure and ensure the success of the Festival. It is a genuine expression of a successful community at work for a purpose, and in a name of a nation, Eritrea.