BY BANA HATZEY
Eritrea has an inviting, interesting history about its war with Ethiopia and its struggle for independence. My ancestors have lived and died for generations on that very land. Eritrean people hold unmatched pride in their country and national flag. The flag of Eritrea consists of four colors. Red; representing the bloodshed in the struggle for independence, green; symbolizing the agricultural economy, blue; indicating the marine wealth, and yellow; standing for the mineral wealth of Eritrea. Also, the yellow olive branch symbolizes peace. Some of the main Eritrean tribes are the Bilen, Kunama, Afar, Nara, Rashaida, Tigre, Saho, Tigrinya, and the Hezared people. One food common to many of these tribes is a type of sponge-like bread. This food is called “Enjera” (spelling may vary), and is eaten wholeheartedly, usually daily, with a variety of sauces.
In the Eritrean culture there are several activities and rituals that take place on a daily basis. “Boon” or “buna” is one of the most common. It is a coffee-making ceremony that is performed for event such as a birth, death, when you have guests, or just to pass the time. The process of making boon is precise, as it has persisted for decades, and very little has changed for Eritrean-Americans. You start by acquiring the coffee beans. To roast the beans you use a hand made metal pot. To roast evenly, the pot is constantly being shaken back and forth until the beans are dark chocolate brown. Hearing this sound always whisks me back to memories of home. Once the beans are roasted they are put into a clay kettle with water to boil. This kettle is called a “jebena,” with a long spout and a circular shape that balances on the burner. Once the coffee is boiled it is seated on a circular stand at an angle so the coffee grounds can settle. The cups used in these ceremonies are about one-ounce in size, and usually come with miniature silverware and plates. Finally, the kettle is refilled with water and the process is repeated two or three times. Snacks are part of this tradition as well— cakes, biscuits, breads, popcorn and candy are passed around while the guests enjoy their coffee. It is time spent with friends and family sharing memories, love and food.
In a number of ways, Eritrean culture embodies the values of compassion, support and love. This is exemplified on countless occasions, during joyous times, but even in times of sorrow. If somebody in your family passes away, every Eritrean person in your community, regardless of the length of your relationship, pays their respects. This sort of unprovoked kindness creates a cycle of consideration and communal awareness— a few of the most beautiful aspects of being Eritrean.