Eritrea has for thousands of years been home to people of diverse living patterns, religions and traditions. After the South Arabian immigrations in the first millennium BC, Eritrea and much of Tigray were known as the Kingdom of the Habeshat. From the 3rd to the 7th centuries AD, much of the present‑day territory lay within the Axumite Kingdom.
The Italians obtained the port of Massawa in 1885. They were relative latecomers in the ‘Scramble for Africa’, but this was the beginning of an ambitious imperial campaign that sought to create a new Roman Empire in Africa. By 1900 they moved their capital from the steaming coastal lowlands to the salubrious climate enjoyed by the highland settlement of Asmara. The principal aims were to develop the colony with Italian immigrants, to exploit the natural resources and to equip it as a base for further expansion, which they later achieved in Libya, Somalia and Ethiopia.
In the early 20th century, Eritrea became one of the six provinces of Italian East Africa and the capital, Asmara, was the jewel in their imperial crown – a truly modern city with stunning architecture, spacious planning and the most advanced infrastructure, including more traffic lights than Rome. However, Italy’s African dream was shortlived. In 1941, they were expelled from Eritrea by the British, who administered the territory as a protectorate for a decade.
In 1952 the UN decided that Eritrea should become part of a federated Ethiopia, but this arrangement only last a decade. Ethiopia’s annexation of Eritrea in 1962 sparked a war for independence that lasted until 1991 and ended with Eritrea’s independence. A referendum over the future status of the country was held and 99.8 per cent registered in favour of independence.
The EPLF inaugurated a four-year transition period leading to a pluralistic political system and the establishment of the basic infrastructure of government. Isaias Afewerki became the President of Eritrea, and, in 1994, the EPLF reconstituted itself as the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). Eritrea entered into costly wars with both Yemen and Djibouti, but by far the most serious damage to stability and prosperity was the catastrophic breakdown in relations with neighbouring Ethiopia.
Fighting broke out between the two countries in 1998 over land disputes; Ethiopia was also unhappy with Eritrea’s introduction of its own currency (the Nakfa). The UN brokered a settlement in 2000, and the UN peacekeeping Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) was installed. In 2002 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague agreed upon a “final and binding” verdict that awarded the contested territory to Eritrea. Ethiopia rejected the verdict and the border issue remains unresolved with the consequent ‘no war, no peace’ scenario that has devastated so many lives throughout the region.
Eritrea’s religious community is divided in two almost equal portions of Orthodox Christians and Muslims. There are some Catholics, Protestants and Jews in the highlands, especially in Asmara, and some animists in the western lowland regions.
Language in Eritrea
Tigrinya, Tigre, Arabic and English are spoken. English is rapidly becoming the language of business and education.
Hello = Selam
Goodbye = Selamat / Dehaan waal
How are you? = Kemayla ha? (male) /-hee (female) /-hoom (male or mixed plural) /-hen (female plural)
Good morning = Dehaan haudir ka /-kee /-koom /-ken
Good afternoon = Kemay wyl ka /-kee /-koom /-ken
Goodnight = Dehann hd er /-ee /-oo /-a
Good evening (parting) = Dehaun ams ee /-i /-oo /-a
Good evening (greeting) = Kemay amsee ha /-hee /-hoom /-hen
Where are you from? = Kabey ig aa /-ee /-oom /-en metsi ka /-kee /-koom /-ken?
Where are you going? = Nabay tygey id /-ee /-oo /-a?
Thank you = Yekanyelay
Please (rarely used) = Beja ha /-hee /-hoom /-hen
Yes = Uwa / uway
No = Aylonen
Good = Tsebuk / tsebo
OK = Dehaun
Bad = Hmak
Good (more positive than tsebuk) = Tsebo alo
What is your name? = Men shem ka /-kee /-koom /-ken?
Do you understand? = Teredioo-ka /-kee /-koom /-ken?
I understand = Terediuni
I don’t understand = Ayeteredanen
What is this? = Izi entai iyu?
No problem = Sheguryelen
Help me = Hagezaynee
Show me = Ahreyene
Give me = Habenee
I want = Deleeay
There is = Alo
Wait a minute = Haansab tshanee
Enough = Backa
The same = Kooloohaade
I know = Felete
I don’t know = Ayefelton
Beautiful day = Tsebo maalti
Not here = Abzi yelen
No more = Yelen
One = Haade
Two = Kilte
Three = Seleste
Four = Arboate
Five = Hamushte
Six = Shuduste
Seven = Shuate
Eight = Shomonte
Nine = Teshuate
Ten = Aserte
Eleven = Aserte haade
Twelve Aserte kilte etc
Twenty = Esra
Thirty = Salasa
Forty = Arba
Fifty = Hamsa
Sixty = Susa
Seventy = Seba
Eighty = Semanya
Ninety = Tesa
One hundred = Miti
One thousand = Sheh