(June 20 Series No. 2) A Precious Legacy of Precious Martyrs
A Priceless Legacy
As Eritrean Martyrs’ Day (Eritrea's Memorial Day) quickly approaches, it is fitting that we should contemplate the significance of their legacy. As we repeat the word “martyr” again and again, we need to be careful as to not reduce its significance and importance. Its implications should be greatly valued, and its use should be weighed carefully. Our existence as a people, our precious Eritrean identity, is a legacy of these brave sons and daughter, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. For this reason Martyrs’ Day holds a venerated position in the hearts and minds of the populace; we also need to challenge ourselves to realize the values our martyrs left us with: the values of courage, dedication, resilience, selfless-service....
Struggle for Cultural Sovereignty
The struggle to keep one's cultural identity is at the core that defines individuals, communities and nations. In this framework, even individual names are of categorical importance. Here languages are instrumental in shaping one's cognition, namely thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. They are vehicles for the expression of the characteristics of a community. Linguistic knowledge provides an avenue to access social and cultural identity, as well as build upon the foundations of cultural kinships. This is particularly important for diaspora communities. Many immigrants attempt to transition to a new culture by adopting dominant cultural norms. One aspect of assimilation involves whitewashing culturally distinct names. For instance, in the U.S., there are some who have chosen to Anglicize their names, in an effort to achieve a higher level of acceptance. Fortunately or unfortunately it is through names, that people introduce themselves to the world. Perhaps, more importantly, it is through names that they introduce their children to their culture. When children are born and given names, it is a formative moment impacting their entire life. That is how they are introduced and exposed to their cultural identity. This means people need to make sure their naming practices are a tool to maintain their cultural heritage amidst external imposing factors.
Bringing the above discussion into context: the Eritrean struggle for liberation was for more than a struggle against a physically colonizing presence, even though that was important too. It was a fight for cultural existence, for the right to define and maintain our own identity. Indeed, we combated more sinister forces than the genocidal forces of Ethiopia. We fought to shake off their languages, cultures, and identity that were imposed on us. We fought to have a say in the narrative of our own history. The collective work of Eritreans from antiquity to the present was being purged and we resisted to protect it. During the time of colonial occupation, in addition to unabated atrocities, the Italians, the British but particularly the Ethiopian regimes had tried to systematically destroy irreplaceable monuments, priceless heritage sites, ancient manuscripts, and enforced their own languages in order to create a "terra-nulla", land that can be claimed to be empty. They were interested in Eritrea the land, not the people and their identity, they wanted to wipe out every thing Eritrea and replace it with their imperialist ideas.
What is in a Name?
Eritrea contains some of the world’s most significant source of anthropological, archaeological, and religious knowledge. In fact, the number of archeological sites are numerous, second only to Egypt in Africa. However, some Eritreans in the Diaspora are getting disconnected from their cultural heritage. Care must be taken lest subsequent generations of Eritreans in the Diaspora are further removed by distance, by language, and by ignorance from their roots and heritages. Therefore, the issue of the Eritrean group identity is salient. This starts with the way we name our children. In observance of tradition, Eritrean names should be propagated to access our cultural capital and inherent collective knowledge. Rather than be accosted by the rewriting of our historical reality, and going for "cute" sounding names care should be taken to give our children meaningful names as our tradition back home. We should preemptively build upon the collective knowledge by celebrating our native, Eritrean names. Many children born in the early 1990s are named in honor of our independence and its celebrations, (Yohanna, Harnet, Netsanet, Huruya, Selam, Adha ...) those born a decade before were named in honor of our aspiration for unity and victory (Awet, Simret, Hadnet, Sinit...). Many parents have also chosen to name their children after those friends or relatives that paid the ultimate price for Eritrea. Some of us also have names of places that have historical significance (Nakfa, Semhar, Senhit, Asmara, Beilul, Bordoli, Hariena, Mereb, ... ) And some are naming their children these days with names that indicate aspirations for prosperity, peace and respite (Sesen, Azmera, Haben, Qisanet, Hidaat ...). For many of us this has been a good opportunity to retell the history of our struggle whenever we are asked "what does your name mean". It is a good tradition that we need to keep in the Diaspora.
So let's challenge ourselves so as to not deny the new generation their birthright to an authentic Eritrean name, be it traditional or seminal. Otherwise they can become disenfranchised and removed from a deeply rooted heritage. Eritreans sacrificed their lives to ensure the survival of Eritrean culture. As the beneficiaries of this priceless sacrifice, we should cement their fundamental contribution by providing the new generation with names reflecting their cultural, national and ethnolinguistic background. Legacy requires valuing the contributions of our martyrs: martyrs from the Eritrean struggle for Independence, martyrs from the war that we were forced to fight to defend our independence, and martyrs from the previous struggles against all invaders. For this very reason it calls us to be in active pursuit of retaining our cultural identity and building upon it. A lot is riding on this...the legacy of our Martyrs! So what is in a Name ... a precious legacy!
Eternal Glory to our Martyrs