It was around the end of last year (2019); bout 30 of us made our way to Sahel in search of the Eritrean glorious past. Our group was composed of young people, like me, and many others from the older generation who lived through to bared witness to the history that took place during the struggle for the Eritrean independence, 1961-1991.
The trip meant for the group to experience the historical place, breathing the exact air that our founding fathers had inhaled and exhaled. Without a doubt, it was a real trip towards history in place and geography that strengthened the power of our imagination; we had to learn what we already know, to become what it already is, by means of conscious practices of internalizing the past so to bridge it with our present. This trip was a process to heal the wounds of that time.
Part of our trip was to visit the legendary city of Nakfa (ናቕፋ), Adobha (ዓዶብሓ), Eitaro (ዒታሮ), Anberbeb (ዓንበርበብ), Arag (ዓራግ) amongst other related historical sites. We started our journey through Ruba Hdai (ሩባ ሕዳይ) on the way towards Nakfa. And most importantly, we paid visit to the respected place where our Eritrean martyrs are laid to rest; going exactly where they fell in action while fighting to bring the Eritrean we know. We also encountered an artwork, that is a painting that attracted our attention during our trip; it had an artistic writing that says, “ዓወት ናትና ኢያ” (Victory is Ours). That rings a bell on the practical hope of our founding fathers to see a liberated country though they were encountered by natural and human calamites alike.
A key place in our history and a center in the region of Sahel is the city of Nakfa. It has a mid-climates, indigenous trees, steeply inclined hills and long valleys alike. It is positioned at northern mountains north from Asmara and North West from Massawa, elevated by 1780 meters above sea level and distanced 223 Km from our capital, Asmara. The terrain around this city is rugged and mountainous nature that was a perfect place to practice the liberation ideals and defend the country and its revolution from the Ethiopian army that was supported by external powers.
The fighters of the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) established a chain of unimpeded underground trenches that extended around a vast area around the hills, transforming the natural environment literally by hand and rudimentary tools. The trench network, which is still intact, extends for more than 400 Kilometers both to the north and to south of the city. They are made in a rectangular and semicircular shape, walled and roofed through natural slopes, hills, earthen stones and woods. Within these trenches are found recreation centers, theaters, workshops, commanding offices, factories, hospitals, schools, and garages. Walking in these trenches you can now encounter traces of aged clothes, traces of skeleton, old composites, guns, bullets, cartridge case bomb and bombarded stones.
Nakfa as a town and the larger Sahel region was used as a buttress for the Eritrean revolution, in a similar way as Yenan was for the Chinese revolution. The hilly mountains, the plain fields, and the population around it were vital for Eritreans to sustain their struggle against oppressors. The Eritrean vanguard organization, the EPLF, used this difficult terrain not only to conduct trench warfare but also to establish modern organizational practices and vibrant popular institutions. It formed a society of a population that came from different sides of the country, with diverse ethnicity and religious backgrounds, in forging revolutionaries with love of their country but not hate of their enemies. It created people with instinct of patriotism, vigilance, creativity, tolerance, discipline and farsightedness.
There are a lot of things we could learn from Nakfa. First, the level of endurance that this place required from the past Eritrean fighters is so immense, and our generation can learn that humans are capable to sustain and pass any difficult circumstances if they put their ideals into practice.
Secondly, we can also learn that Eritreans have been successful in getting organized under the umbrella of the national cause, getting rid of sub national identities, such as divisions in ethnic, regional, and religious lines. This has strengthened the Eritrean unity that has been ensured and passed down to our generation.
Third, Nakfa is a symbol of Eritrean sovereignty as it was the first town to be liberated by EPLF and never been recaptured by the enemy. It shows us that the indispensability of Eritrea’s territory apart from other things. It is also a symbol of self-reliance, an independent state building process, and the concept of territorial sovereignty, which are all originated from the struggle for independence whom a determination toward a better, prosperous and strong Eritrea have rooted in.
Our trip to this important place have made us realize that we, the youth of this generation, can learn a great deal of fortitude from this place, and put our minds together for a better and prosperous future for our people. It is true, that the name of Nakfa has been fitted to be our legal currency, but that is not enough; we have to inherit the state of mind that strengthened the youth of that time and allowed them to win over nature and the enemy, and were able to finally claim their destiny.