On May this year, the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students in collaboration with other government bodies have initiated a historical knowledge competition among youth workers፣ secondary school students, college students, members of the defense forces… throughout the country. The program started its first round of the competition in Zoba Anseba and made its final session last week on 11th July 2021 in Southern Red Sea region. I have travelled to Assab with a camera crew, organizers and coordinator of the Zobas to conduct and record the historical knowledge competition. The port town of Assab is located over 700 kilometers from Asmara. Up on arrival on Assab the temperature was extremely high, exceeding 40 degree centigrade.
Southern Read Sea region consists of four administrative sub zones namely Araeta, Assab, Debub Denkalia and Maekel Denkalia. Generally speaking, the south eastern part of Eritrea is having a harsh climate. In the 589 KM distance from Massawa to Assab we only encountered small and scattered settlements. The Southern Red Sea coast of Eritrea is sparsely populated area in Eritrea. However, with proper investment and management it has the potential to boost the overall socio-economic and political development of the country. In the near future, the port industry and other maritime activity would begin to subdivide and improve and the benefits will extend to the inland parts of the country. The Red Sea and the two ports of Assab and Massawa have been, and will remain, the main source of prosperity for Eritrea and its neighboring nations.
The Sothern Red Sea region of Eritrea is commonly known as ‘Assabey Rehaita’ after the popular Afar song composed by artist Ahmed Derona. Rehaita is the seat of Afar cultural and religious leader called Sultan or derder. The Afar customary law known as Mad’a has been retained by the people orally for generations until it was compiled later.
The ecofriendly people of Assab extend their sympathy to animals and the environment. The relatively big black bird called crow, a wild bird in most of Eritrea, lives among the people in harmony. The people tolerate the raucous voice of the crow and its mischievous actions. In restaurants and snake bars they sit with customers and patiently waiting for the leftovers. The people are thinking what to give to the crow while eating. I did not see a person reacting angrily to the apparent disturbance of the crow. There are plenty of stories told about crow in Assab. They are believed to be resentful and squeamish. In Assab, the voice of the crow is a morning wakeup alarm.
The inhabitants of the Assab started their day by swimming. Before the sun rises everybody has to communicate with the sea through the language of swimming. In the dawn, when the sound of crow mixes with the fresh morning air, the inhabitants of Assab left their bed to go to Ras Gombo. Ras Gombo is beach hotel at the coast of the Red Sea with safe and clean swimming area. After 4:30 AM boys and girls, old and young including children make their way to Ras Gombo. Everybody swims before breakfast and before going to work. Floating on the calm Red Sea every morning is like washing holly water erasing bad sprit. The people of Assab and members of Eritrean Defense Forces stationed in Assab exchanged a morning greeting in a swimming area. Everybody swims in unity and harmony. I can give my testimony that morning swimming gives health and stamina. On my two weeks stays in Assab, I swim uninterruptedly every morning along with the people of Assab.
Sea food is cheap and diverse in Assab. Believe it or not, Assab is the largest consumer and producer of fish. I see a fish addiction on the people. When I go to swim I saw many young boys trying to catch fish using simple fishing tools. The Afar people are fish farmers and the sea is their farmland where fish is easily harvested. They are ecofriendly people cognizant of the protected species, marine mammals and other aquatic organisms the fishing of which is prohibited. While fishing they ensure that exploitation of living marine aquatic resources is consistent with sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions.
The coastal habitat of Southern Red Sea region, in and around Assab, has preserved its natural beauty. The Buri-Peninsula, Hawakil Archipelago and the bay of Bara’sole are identified as areas harbor some of the world’s most important coastal and marine environments with unique coastal ecosystems. There is also a rich cultural heritage and cultural diversity in Assab. Afar is the dominant ethnicity in the region whose lives entirely depends on fishing and trade. The people in Assab are multilingual speaking many languages mainly Afar, Amharic, Arabic and Tigrigna among others. The multilingualism helps the diverse population of the town to communicate and gain access to the contents of each other’s minds.
The Red Sea makes Eritrea an important maritime nation. Due to its geographical position, Eritrea has always served as a trade corridor to the interior of Horn of Africa linking the region with the commercial centers of the Red Sea, Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. Fisheries, maritime transport, marine tourism, and other marine resources are vital capitals of Eritrea that can be used for its development. To address the urgent capacity requirement, the government of Eritrea has been implemented various renovation and expansion programs designed to increase substantially the productivity and capacity of the port. Currently, new cranes are been planted and a general service is underway to place the port of Assab its due position.