Sawa Man & Woman: a ‘Renaissance citizens’ of Our Times


When I was a freshman student, I was quite interested in the fascinating nature of History 101 class, as it helped me to comprehend a lot about history. It was a captivating experience to me to identify myself with glorious civilizations and battles that were filled with thrilling adventure and danger.

The customary history of civilizations goes like this: ‘ancient Greece begot Rome, Rome begot Christian Europe, Christian Europe begot the Renaissance, the Renaissance was the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment begot the industrial revolution and the modern world, etc. Learning history reveals that the rise and fall of every society was often sparked through a fierce battle for power. We also learned that history has its own way of twisting or manipulating approaches. For example, history insists that the rise of a particular society, let’s say the “West”, is not only natural but is a continuation of what all humans had gone through. This is, however, hypocritical because some societies with marvelous civilizations other than that of the West are being ignored for some reason.

Actually, through this freshman history course, many stories set me on the path to look at the world’s past in different ways. Especially, the Renaissance period and the Renaissance-man were amongst the many. Referring to the past, novel ideas are always important for the survival of every society. In the Renaissance period more attention was given to science and philosophy, which were not given ample attention during the Dark Age. Renaissance was a revolutionary tip from which most western societies went from having made almost no scientific or economic progress for centuries to the rates of growth and change that sparked the birth of the Industrial Revolution, the foundation of the modern day. It was a cultural movement that had begun in Italy and later spread to the rest of Europe and covered roughly around the 14th to 17th century.

Functionally speaking, Renaissance brought back the knowledge passed down from antiquity. The humanists of that era searched through libraries to find as much ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans as possible as to learn from it.  Then they applied these ancient ideas to their own world. In general, the main tenet of the Renaissance era was that humans are limitless in their capacity for development and transformation. Great thinkers, artists, and inventors like Leonardo da Vinci, had often been described as the archetypes of the Renaissance era. The name Renaissance man also came into being during the socio-cultural and political movement of this period.

Renaissance-man literally means an instigator of social transformations of his/her own period. Thus, while I was reading about the conducts of such a man, I came to understand that such a man or woman, who lived hundreds of years ago, still survives to this very day in a different surrounding as “Sawa Man & Woman”. The Renaissance and the Renaissance man and woman made history and paved the way for the modern world. Sawa, in a sense, is our Renaissance and the Sawa man and Woman that emanated from it are contributing to Eritrea’s modern History just as the Renaissance man and woman had done so for the world’s modern History.

Let me expand! Sawa has been in charge of maintaining Eritrea’s national pride and consciousness in two approaches. First, Sawa is a true casual chain that connects the past with both the present and the future. As a trainee at Sawa, you feel a refreshing wake-up call that connects you with compelling past experiences. Sawa links how we are currently living to how we once lived and how we should live in the future. We learn history in Sawa where school teachers and officials share their past experience with enthralling and anecdotal details.

Second, Sawa is a perfect place where one can teach and motivate youngsters to take charge of not only our own future but that of our own country through academics and military training. Every trainee in Sawa works for perfection in mind, body and spirit. He/She believes that having multiple tools at his/ her disposal will make him/her a more versatile person; able to overcome challenges and figure out new ways of doing things. For this reason trainees try to develop capacities as fully as possible. Renaissance wouldn’t have been as momentous as it has become without the Renaissance man, and Sawa would not have any  impact if there wasn’t for Sawa Man and Woman who are ready to fulfill their National Service.

There are some general prerequisites that a man has to fulfill in order to be able to function to his fullest potential in society during the renaissance era. A man should be able to speak and write effectively, describe things clearly, and be persuasive. He should also be physically fit and have a deep knowledge of various subjects. Having all these abilities would result in the perfect gentleman who is able not only to talk about any subject, but also contribute to advancing several of these domains.

Accordingly, the ‘Sawa men and women’ are in their entirety polymath in nature. They are outstanding soldiers, engineers, inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, technicians, athletes and artists. Looking back at the amazing characteristics of the Renaissance, there are many conducts that are similar to that of Sawa Man and woman in sprit and pursuit. The similarity starts with the name itself. The word renaissance implies the revival or regeneration  of old values while the word “National Service” in Eritrea implies a revival of or maintaining of old pursuits in moral, economic and political aspects. Whilst a Renaissance man was the heart of the Renaissance era, Sawa Man and Woman are the backbone and the heart of the National Service program. Curiosity, risk-taking, creativity, perseverance and self-discipline and life-time learning were some of the attributes of Renaissance Man. Similarly, prudence; industriousness; excelling in physical, intellectual, artistic and social fields; and thirst for knowledge and new experiences are also amongst the many characteristics of Sawa Man and woman.


Both the Renaissance Man and Sawa Man share certain demeanors in common. First, both look at the past as a significant tool to make a bright future. What made a Renaissance Man a successful transforming tool was his ways of referring to the ancient values, and books of past philosophers in order to find as much knowledge as possible. With respect to the Sawa Man or Woman, their trainings in Sawa familiarize them with Eritrea’s revolutionary pursuits and historical values, struggles, and glorious battles,. All the past teachings, militarily, technically and academically are provided there without a slight change, and coached by very dynamic teachers. Therefore, every Sawa trainee has a chance to share past experiences in all fields so as to redefine his/her own future. We, as youngsters, are not only taught what history provides but we also become part of it as Sawa creates an opportunity for us to become part of something great and marvelous.

Second, both a Renaissance Man and a Sawa Man are characteristically polymath in nature and multi-disciplinary in functions. During the renaissance era, a man was obliged to have multiple professions in order to be considered as Renaissance man. He must be knowledgeable about economics, philosophy, astronomy, literature and law. For instance, when we hear the word “Renaissance Man”, Leonardo da Vinci may come to our mind. Da Vinci is the epitome of the Renaissance humanist ideal. He was not only an outstanding painter but also an engineer, inventor, scientist, and philosopher.

A Sawa Man is also a polymath of his time with near perfect quality in military science, art, academy and sport. In Sawa, there is a wide range of departments that provide trainings in various fields. These departments, such as the Sawa Secondary School, Sawa Military School and Sawa Vocational Training Center are there to create an Eritrean Polymath that could fulfill the national desire and beyond. .

Author Robert Heinlein once said: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” In this spirits, it can be said that Sawa creates a platform for the Sawa Man and Woman to be the polymath of his/her time. They are the highest ideal as Eritreans excelling in artistic, intellectual and physical activities.

The third commonality is that both Sawa and Renaissance Men & Women are similar in cultivating or giving higher attention to both the body and mind. Renaissance man was not only remarkable in following intellectual pursuits but did not neglect his body.“ Sawa Man and woman can also practically excel not only in academic purists but in physical fitness. In Sawa there are two prominent schools that complement one another in framing an Eritrean ideal both in mind and body. The first one gives lessons for the academic development of the trainees while the second one is a military center which gives military training and physical training to produce physically and mentally fit men and women. This could be inferred from multiple personal accounts provided by those who attended Sawa, providing a range of examples on how they have maturated both physically and mentally.

The fourth and final similarities are the common traits that make the Renaissance Man and Sawa Man share, which are perseverance, self-discipline, vision, and the desire to learn. What a Renaissance man had contributed to history was very well appreciated in transforming the societies of his times in economic and political terms. Renaissance man set in motion the events that would produce the European Enlightenment and Industrialization, and was the founder of modern Europe and the American Republic.

The Sawa Man and woman are a staying power for Eritrea to overcome all national shortcomings, and to survive and maintain its pride in the face of conspiring enemies. Sawa Man and woman set in motion events that still sustain the Eritrean society in economic, infrastructural, security and cultural terms. If you go to a clinic, a Sawa Man and woman are there; if you go to schools, trenches, development areas, cultural show centers, research centers, and even outside Eritrea and all over the world, there are millions of Sawa Man and woman who are in charge of their own futures. Therefore, if Renaissance man was the perfect ideal man that played a critical role in renewing life in the past, Sawa Man and woman are the ideal human beings Sawa bestowed to Eritrea in the last three decades and will continue to do so.

Amanuel Zekarias

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