Eritrea: Art Deco and matriarchal tribes

Why Eritrea?

Eritrea is unique and must be visited before everything becomes normal or similar to other countries. Eritrea has been baptised as the African North Korea… In a certain way it is true. The country is closed, you need permits to get into and out of any town or village. All the youth are ‘mobilized’ in case Ethiopia invades again. Since 2018, after the Peace Agreement with Ethiopia things seem to be relaxing but Eritrea continues to be the private garden of the strong man in the country, President Isaias Afewerki. Asphyxiating for the Eritreans but a unique experience for those who we like experiencing new sensations… What has Eritrea to offer besides being stopped in time? Asmara, the capital is an architectonic treasure. Mussolini tried to convert it in the African Rome and invested money that today is reflected in wonderful Art Deco and Futuristic constructions all over the city. Out of Asmara we find a virgin coast where life depends in fishing and mining. Top snorkeling in one of the purest waters in the Red Sea. One can combine water fauna observation with walks around the Ottoman streets of historic Massawa, the local Zanzibar or Suakin without tourists. More inland, tribal lovers find several nomadic and mountains tribes with deep rooted traditions such as the Beja and Tigre camel herders and the Nilotic Kunama, a unique Matriarchal tribe hidden in the Barentu hills and swamps.

Eritrea is a fine, piece of sweet cake. A jewel in the Horn of Africa that must be tasted before its unique extemporal flavor disappears.

Bilen

Also known as Balen, Belen, Bogo, Bogos, or Agaw.

Population & Ecosystem
100.000 Bilen live in the fertile hills around Keren town in central Eritrea.
 

Bilen

Also known as Balen, Belen, Bogo, Bogos, or Agaw.

Population & Ecosystem
100.000 Bilen live in the fertile hills around Keren town in central Eritrea.

Economy & Society
Bilen are either sedentary Christian farmers or Muslim cattle rearers. Bilen traditional society is organized into kinship groups.  Engagement is arranged by family; the couple has no say whatsoever in their future married life. If for some reason the two lovers get married without prior permission from their parents, the boy is obliged to pay a certain sum of money plus an ox to the girl's father. Among Christians, there must be no blood relationship for the past several generations, while in the Muslim society, the couple must have close blood relationship! Beauty, riches, and health are also prime qualifications for the bride. The couple may be promised to each other's families while still in their mother's womb. When a woman gives birth for the first time, she goes to her parents’ house. If the labor pangs take more time than normal, prayers are said on her behalf. Since the Bilen are mostly Catholics, divorce is very difficult to implement. It is customary that in the event it is the man who is seeking a divorce, he has only to leave the house: the wife remains in the house will all the couple's property under her care. On the other hand, if the wife is seeking a divorce, she leaves the house without much ado. If both parties are wanting a divorce, the properties are divided equally between them. The husband would provide some form of alimony to a pregnant woman who is divorcing him until she gives birth. After a divorce, there is a grace period of three months in which time the husband may change his mind and ask for a reconciliation.

A lot of money and time is spent on weddings and honeymoon ceremonies. A newly married couple will live with the groom's family for quite a while, but when they have their own house, the role they play in society changes. They become full members of society, with more privileges, although the woman is never equal to the man. The husband is the only breadwinner and can do whatever he likes with the property. Everything in the house is under his control. The woman is confined to the kitchen and serves only to produce his children. If she is given some work like poultry to tend, it is because such activities may seem degrading for a man to even pay attention to. Only men can only land. Women are clearly in an inferior position.

After a wedding ceremony, the groom hold a seven-day feast from his own expenses and from money offered by friends. The friends spend this week dancing, singing, and drinking. It is a week of merry making and debauchery. Throughout the seven days that the bride is in the house of her in-laws, the groom is not supposed to touch her. After the celebration is over and the friends go home, the groom offers a gift to the bride, a way of coaxing her to lie in bed with him. Once the marriage is consummated, the one-year long honeymoon starts in which period the bride is allowed to perform light household chores only. Heavy domestic work is done by the mother-in-law. When the year ends, the bride takes over the responsibilities and starts real work in the house and outside. Nothing really changes in the manner of work assigned to the groom. A poor couple would have no chance to enjoy this year off.

Until the age of four, children's play is the same both for male and female. Children are made to wear small beads and seashells than jingle. Most of the time they play by building sand castles whenever the soil becomes softer after the rains. After the age of four, gender separation in games is visible. The boys get more interested in tough games, while the girls tend to prefer lighter games; this is preparation for the different roles that males and females will play as adults.

Punishment is administered by the mother to a child below the age of ten, and by the father and other relatives up to the age of 19. Delinquents are made to spend the night naked in a net, and if the teenager proves to be unrepentant, the parents consult with church elders for a possible "incarceration" of the offender in a church's boarding school. The youth are groomed throughout the early years to conform to the values and traditions of their society, and to preserve and respect their culture.
 
Culture & Religion 
In Sharkin village and its environs, there are various types of ornament made by professionals for male and female customers. An unmarried girl puts an earring made of silver (and of gold if she is from rich family) called telal, and bracelets. If she is married, she puts four in each ear, and she puts a gold ornament (known as Sardat) on her forehead. Women who cannot afford silver or gold use beads instead. Men sometimes use silver leg bands and silver earring, especially during the initiation ceremony. During mourning, a wife is expected to get rid of all her ornament and stays like that for a period of two years. If a wife during mourning gives birth to a child, she puts an imitation ornament made of palm leaves. Children belonging to the Bilen ethnic group shave their heads and leave a small tuff of their hair on the crown of the head until they start to walk. For male children, this tuff of hair remains with them till the age of 10. Afterwards they have their heads shaved and during the initiation ceremony they wear their hair in Afro-style. When women grew old, they are expected to shave of their heads or have their hair plaited without ornament. During mourning, some adult males are seen with their heads shaved off. As for widows, they are expected to shave their heads completely. Hairdressing is done by relatives and friends among the Bilen, and no professionals are set aside for such jobs. Bilen women put ointment in their eyes before applying kohl. For fashioning long and loose strands of hair with wet-look, Bilen women apply butter mixed with powder made of roasted durrah or plain earth to the strands. In addition, they apply henna to their hands and legs. Among this ethnic group, males do sometimes apply butter to their hair.     
                                      
Smoke bath is very common among the female members of this ethnic group, especially among married women. They do it for hygienic and aesthetic reasons. Smoke bath is not always without its inconveniences and requires patience and great endurance to physical pain (as the heated smoke that is produced from the not completely dried twigs and leaves does sometimes burn the sensitive skin of the orifices and cause pain). Nevertheless, whether they like it or not, married women are expected by tradition to undergo the treatment until the ‘old’ skin is peeled off and a new yellowish and ‘beautiful’ one is grown instead.

The Bilen practice both Christianity and Islam. Muslim adherents mainly inhabit rural areas and have intermingled with the adjacent Tigre, while Christian Bilen tend to reside in urban areas and have intermingled with the Tigrinya tribe.
 
 

Tigre

Also known as Khasa or Xasa.

Population & Ecosystem
1,2 million Tigre live in the northern, western, and dry coastal lowlands of Eritrea (Gash-Barka, Anseba, Northern Red Sea regions of Eritrea).

Economy & Society
The Tigre in Eritrea have suffered from recent droughts, famine, and civil war. Although many are still nomads, most are semi-nomadic; others have become settled farmers. The nomadic Tigre raise cattle, goats, sheep, and camels. These animals are sold in the markets, and the earnings are used to buy essential items. The nomads do not live in villages but roam about the countryside with their herds. They live in round huts, usually covered with mats made of woven goat or camel hair. 

The semi-nomadic Tigre usually spend half the year in the northern highlands and the other half in the western lowlands. Their villages usually have only two or three huts. Their huts are also round and are covered with mats made of woven goat hair. They also tend livestock, usually cattle and goats. 

The settled Tigre farmers raise corn, sorghum, wheat, barley, legumes, and linseed. They live in villages, and their homes are usually round with cone-shaped roofs made of branches and leaves. The walls are typically made of palm mats. Most of the farmers raise goats and, occasionally, cattle. Oxen, mules, and donkeys are used as pack animals. With unpredictable amounts of rainfall and families averaging seven children, many Tigre are dependent on government aid for survival.
                                                                       
Tigre people are distinguished from other regional peoples by the fact that they possess hereditary slaves. Historically, most of the Tigre have been scattered between Eritrea's northern highlands and western lowlands. They have somewhat shifted into Sudan in search of water and grazing lands. Tigre society is patrilineal, which means that the line of descent is traced through the males. Marriages are arranged by the parents; however, wedding customs have varied somewhat since the Tigre converted to Islam. Some of the people now adhere to Islamic customs, while others continue to follow the traditional customs. Members of a tribe usually follow the same set of rites and customs.

Culture & Religion
The Tigre's traditional animal skin clothing has now been almost entirely replaced with commercial clothes. Tigre women pierce their noses and like to wear jewellery, especially silver bracelets and strings of pearls. They also prefer to make their clothing from coloured cloth, which is available at trading markets. Tigre oral literature is rich and ranges from fables, riddles ad poetry to funeral dirges, war cries and supernatural stories. The Tigre are also known for their love of singing and dancing, usually to the accompaniment of a drum and mesenko (a type of guitar). Dances are celebrated on many occasions, such as when a new water hole is found.

Although the Tigre profess to be Sunni Muslims, most of them practice folk Islam, which is a blend of Islam and ethnic beliefs. Their traditional beliefs include animal sacrifices and rain making rituals. Sacrifices of livestock or corn are offered whenever they think their sins are numerous. They believe that the sacrifice becomes the scapegoat for their sins. The Tigre also believe in an evil spirit named Zar, who possesses people and causes accidents, illnesses, and sometimes death. The people depend on shamans (priests) to cure the sick, communicate with the spirits, and control events. The shamans also exorcise demons and perform services by entering into a trance.
 

Nara

Also known as Baria or Nialetic.

Population & Ecosystem
80.000 Nara live in the fertile hills north of the Gash River in southwestern Eritrea.

Economy & Society
The Nara economy is based on agriculture, although many people weave, trade, hunt, or breed animals to supplement their incomes. Their principal crops include sorghum (the universal staple), wheat, barley, millet, legumes, vegetables, fruits, sesame, linseed, tobacco, and the stimulant known as kat.

Gathering of forest products provides vines for ropes and baskets, as well as wood for stools. Men do the hunting, herding, and milking; but both men and women participate in the farm work. Surplus crops and woven crafts are traded for other items, such as spices, iron and iron works, jewellery, and clothing.

Social organisation of the Nara people is based on the clan and subclan, with people living in villages and hamlets. The lineage system is patrilineal, unlike that of the Kunama people. Land belongs to the clan and shared out among the families in the clan. Nara society is divided into four clans; with two main dominant clans called "Higir" and "Mogareb" that numbered about 10,000 each, and smaller clans called "Koyta" and "Santora".

The Nara men practice polygyny, which means that they generally have multiple wives. The Nara require a substantial bride-price, which usually includes cattle and other valuables. The normal residential unit is an independent nuclear or polygynous family occupying a compound, within which each married woman lives in her own separate hut.

The Nara community consists either of a single compact village or a cluster of small settlements. The people live in round huts made from an interweaving of rods and twigs overlaid with clay. The conical, thatched roofs extend down to the ground, giving the hut a beehive effect. The dwellings usually have two entrances. They are commonly clustered together in sites away from the main trails and in areas that can be readily defended from bandits.

Prior to their conversion to Islam (late 19th Century), it is believed that the Nara society, like the Kunama, was characterized by matrilineal descent. In Nara society, when boys and girls reach the age of 14, a ceremony is held to celebrate their manhood and womanhood respectively. After this ceremony, they are generally regarded as adults.

Culture & Religion
Nara women are usually unveiled, have considerable liberty, and are treated with honour. The men usually wear brightly coloured pieces of cloth that are similar to togas. Most men also wear turbans. They smoke tobacco, and, to some extent, chew the stimulant kat. They drink liquor, even in public places.

The Nara were forcibly Islamized, depriving them of the equality that had existed between the sexes. Today, the Nara are almost exclusively Muslim, having been forcibly converted to Islam during the late 19th century. Numerous elements from their old religion, however, still flourish on among them. Islam, in many cases, has failed to become internalized, possibly because of the way in which it was forced upon them. Villages usually have a mosque, which looks much like the other houses. Many villages have Imams, who teach the Koran. The Nara are not rigid in prayers or fasting, and few make pilgrimages to Mecca or other holy places. Moreover, few Nara, except those who are very religious, known in detail the Muslim proscriptions or the Koran; and most of them know little, if any, Arabic. However, they refuse to eat pork or the flesh of animals killed by someone of another religion.

Kunama

Also known as Baria, Baza or Bazen.

Population & Ecosystem
200.000 Kunama live in the fertile swamps and hilly borderlands of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan.

Economy & Society
In the past, the Kunama people practiced nomadism as their way of life but are currently sedentary farmers and pastoralists. Farming is the most important economic activity of the Kunama people. They cultivate millet, sorghum, and legumes. Harvesting is also conducted by the entire community and celebrations made through songs and dances.

The Kunama are a matrilineal and matrilocal people. They enjoy a liberal and democratic way of life with women having high social status and equal property shares. Social attributes among the Kunama is known to have clan divisions into six main groups. These main clans are then divided into sub-clans (formed based on localities). The clans are based on the maternal lineage of the family. The Kunama people are the only ethnic group in the Horn of Africa that base its clans on maternal pedigree. These clans include Lakka, Nataka, Alaka, Serma, Sogona, Akartakara, Shila, Kara, Jula among others. The different clans play different roles such as summoning rain, warding off insects like locusts which destroy harvests.

The Kunama have withstood repeated invasions and raids from more powerful, more patriarchal neighbours. Outsiders often call them by the depreciating name Barià, meaning slaves. For three centuries the Kunama were forced to pay tribute to the Funj Empire of Sudan, who also took many of them captive and enslaved them.

Kunama land is “a territory historically exposed to risk,” and that the Andinnas (trance-priestesses) give expression to collective trauma in their ritual theatre, “transforming the memory of violence undergone.” They enact Otherness and themes of border-crossing, in a way similar to the zar religion. They smoke and use male behaviour, gestures, and voices. They reproduce the gestures, moods, positions or bodies of foreign spirits, of the dominators. They act out raids and counter-raids, with acts modelled on European and Ethiopian armies, such as drills and presenting arms. Some of their songs are battle songs. This is “to control and also emotionally express the violence undergone, and the fear.” That is indubitable, but there may be another dimension we should consider: the activation of protective spirits around Kunama lands. Even the processional route the Andinnas traverse seems to have a protective magical dimension.
Another layer of politics is from recent colonial rule and European religion. The earliest accounts of Andinnas (of Kunama culture generally) come from Swedish and Italian missionaries, and are deeply stained with their prejudices against indigenous religion and culture as pagan superstition. A Swedish letter from Kulluku village refers to the mother of a young convert as a “witch doctor.” The woman may well have been an Andinna.
 
Sexual politics of a mother-right culture under siege:
Kunama women do not stay in the house; they move freely across the land in daily life. Especially young women cover a lot of terrain in bringing home water. For this reason, as well as the strong mother-right customs of their culture, they have the reputation of being “free” among neighbouring peoples. These outsiders, both the Muslim Sudanese and Christian and Muslim Ethiopians, believe that Kunama women hold headship over their men. 1This belief is fortified by the lack of sanctions against Kunama women taking lovers, something that the patriarchal neighbours disapprove and severely punish in women.

Traditionally, Kunama women are free to take lovers as they choose, as a different source explains: “As soon as she reaches puberty, a Kunama girl is given a hut of her own where she can entertain her male friends. She is totally free to choose her own boy-friend, a lover or her future husband. It is very seldom that the Kunama parents would practise pre-arranged marriages for their children.” When an unmarried woman takes a lover and becomes pregnant, her parents ask her who the father is. They ask him if he is willing to marry her. If he refuses, she goes through the ‘Mashkabara’ ceremony. The young man provides a cow to be sacrificed, and the young woman’s extended family comes to mark her passage from girlhood:
 
The traditional values of the Kunama are communal and strongly egalitarian in many ways. It is a culture of sharing, free of class stratification or of one group lording it over another. Society is organized around the mother-kin, and we have already seen the importance of the Andinna priestesses. However, Kunama women are subjected to female genital excision and even infibulation. These may have been adopted from their patriarchal neighbours, who have invaded and raided and oppressed them for centuries.  However it came to be, excision is now deeply embedded in the culture. A third of Kunama women suffer the most severe form, known as infibulation. In this extremely painful ordeal, the clitoris and entire vulva are amputated and the external labia are sewn together into a wall of flesh. Heterosexual intercourse can take place only by cutting the woman open. The Kunama have a name, koda, for the special relation between two women who passed through infibulation together, their legs tied apart to each other.
 
Andinnas dance for the dead at burial in communal graves, to the same song that is sung for the grain harvest.

This priestess lineage connects with the Kunama ancestors, whose souls come from the spirit-country Arka. In their society, lands are communal, and so if a husband leaves there are no severe consequences. Nevertheless, women are tempted to marry patriarchal men from the wealthier highlands.

The ritual has remained unchanged for 2000 years. The ancestors call women by making them faint at graves. They dance with sword and spear to greet ancestors, to the east and to the west. (The weapons are considered symbols of power, defensive only, and are related to the Meroitic queens of Sudan.) During initiation, the woman falls to the ground, and her hair must touch the spear to connect with the ancestral spirits. The Andina should not be open to all spirits. They call names of the ancestors; a woman touching her hair is a sign that she’s connecting with them. The women not always comfortable as they anticipate what ancestor will come.

The Andina take a different name, Lugus, when in ecstasy. They put on a beautiful, hornlike crown of fat, over an unnamed sacred substance, and wear it during the weeks of the annual rite. The women display entranced speech and gestures, often asking for chewing tobacco, and perform other acts of the spirits. They are forbidden to use water the morning after their initiation; the young Andina clean with sesame and chew it. During several weeks of ritual, they walking over the land, many miles in special iron shoes used only for this occasion. Walking through villages they’re given coffee, tea, sesame. When greeting an older Andina, they kiss her and grab her vulva.

At end of the ritual period, the women dance for hours. They sacrifice a chicken, whose blood they drink, then they roast it and eat with sesame and honey, no other spices. After this finale, the Andina spirits return to their world. A reversed ritual of entranced women takes place over the sword and spear. They symbolically die and are carried back to the village by men, and are said to be able to jump over the huts in their potentized state. One spirit of a very old Andina initially refused to leave a young woman’s body. The initiates stay together on a mat for one night in this return passage.

They awaken in a deep trance, with no memory of the past weeks. Their skin is cut with little stones and herbs and ashes rubbed in, to make a sign so that Andinas can recognize each other. The ritual is repeated every year when the sun and moon appear together on the horizon.
 
Culture & Religion
Kunama people look quite different to their neighbours. Apart from a darker skin, Kunama women decorate their hairs with metal rings and beads and do complex hairdos. Beaded necklaces and metal anklets and bracelets are still popular among Kunama women too. Kunama young men wear multi-coloured handmade cotton clothes and have uniquely huge crown of fuzzy hair or dreadlocks. In Sudan, most Kunama have been converted into Islam but in smaller communities near the Eritrean border the traditional religion revolving around the figure of the trance priestesses (Andinna) is still alive.
 

Afar

Also known as Adal or Danakil.

Population & Ecosystem
350.000 Afar live in the coastal desert of Dankalia, stretching from the northern tip of Bori Peninsula near Massawa to southern town of Rahyta. This is one of the earth's hottest and driest spots. Much of Afar territory is desert and salt flats, cut by great cracks from the sun's heat.

Economy & Society
The Afar pastoralist nomadic subsistence economy depends on livestock, especially goats, some camels, and, more rarely, cattle. There are some exceptions, such as fishermen in the coastal areas and agriculturalists in the Assau oasis. The Afar also mine and export salt.

Proud, highly individualistic, and much feared by outsiders, they are organized in patrilineal kin groups. Cooperation in larger units such as a subtribe or tribe is induced only by warfare against other tribes or neighbouring peoples. Socially, they are organized into clan families and two main classes: the asaimara ('reds') who are the dominant class politically, and the adoimara ('whites') who are a working class and are found in the Mabla Mountains. Although some Muslims are permitted to have four wives, Afar marriages are usually monogamous. Girls may marry as early as age ten. Marriages between first cousins are preferred, particularly between a man and his father's sister's daughter. The night of the full moon is favoured for a wedding ceremony, and the presence of someone able to read the Koran is required.

Meat and milk are the major components of the Afar diet. Milk is also an important social "offering". For instance, when a guest is given fresh warm milk to drink, the host is implying that he will provide immediate protection for the guest. If a person is killed while under the protection of an Afar, his death must be avenged as if he were a member of the clan. 

The Afar live in camps surrounded by thorn barricades, which protect them from the attacks of wild animals or enemy tribesmen. Their oval-shaped huts, called ari, are made of palm mats and are easily moved.

Culture & Religion
Afar men wear a sarong, usually white or plaid. More traditional men wear white robes with the sarong, though today it seems to be replaced with a long scarf. Men typically grew their hair until it was about chin length and either covered it in clarified ghee to condition it or wore the typical Cushitic style. Today, Afar men sometimes still wear their hair long and conditioned. Women also arrange their hair ghee and decorate it with beads. Until recent times Afar women used to go bear breasted but now, due to Islamization they tend to cover their breasts with Western t-shirts. Metal and beaded necklaces are still common among Afar women. Men traditionally sport the jile, a famous curved knife. They also have an extensive repertoire of battle songs.

Early in their history, the Afar were heavily influenced by the Islamic religion; and today, Islam is still held in great esteem. The people do not eat pork and rarely drink alcohol. Those who can afford to do so, make a pilgrimage to Mecca. In addition, many pre-Islamic beliefs and customs are also prevalent among the Afar. They believe that certain trees and groves have sacred powers. They also have various religious rites such as anointing their bodies with ghee (a type of butter). Spirits of the dead are believed to be very powerful, and a "feast of the dead", called Rabena, is celebrated each year. They also give annual offerings to the sea to ensure safety for their villages. Many people wear protective leather amulets that contain herbs and verses from the Koran.
 

Saho

Also known as Soho or Irob.

Population & Ecosystem
230.000 Saho live between the Eastern foothills of Akele-Saho, Foro Valley, and Semhar near the Red Sea.

Economy & Society
The Saho used to be pastoralist nomads like their Afar neighbours but since the 1940s they have become mostly sedentary farmers. This is due to colonial-influenced changes; creation of a dam in Foro Valley and social and cultural changes. Irrigation provides Saho farmers with beautiful fields of maize that extend toward the mountains. Towards the end of April, when the rains stop in the lowlands, many Saho who still own livestock leave the coastal area and trek with their livestock up to the highlands of Akele Guzay. When the rains stop in September, the people return for the wet season on the coastal lowlands. Honey is an important part of the Saho diet and bee-keeping prestigious. Even urbanized Sahos engage in bee-keeping.

Socio-political structure of traditional Saho society was strongly patriarchal and the roles of the grandfather and father were highly respected. The extended family had the power to control the behaviour and conduct of its members, and elders were cherished as the cultural transmitters of the society. Marriage followed patterns related to the degree of family relations, and matrilateral cross-cousin marriage was strongly preferred. In the absence of formal government-supported security system, the extended family system and kinship affiliations played and continue to play an important role to support the aged, widows, and the handicapped and young people. Those who live in urban areas support their family members and kins in the countryside. Regarding the customary law of the Saho, when there is an issue the Saho tend to call for a meeting or conference which they call '"rahbe". In such a meeting the Saho people discuss how to solve issues related to water, pasture or land, clan disputes and how to alleviate these problems. This is also discussed with neighbouring tribes or ethnic groups and sub-clans to reach a consensus. 
A skilled representative is chosen for this meeting, this representative is called a "madarre". A madarre brings forth arguments to his audience and sub-clans or tribes who are involved and tries to win them over. This is discussed with clan or tribal wise men or elders. On smaller scale conflicts between 2 individuals, one of the 2 takes their grievances to the "ukal", they in turn appoint "shimagale" or mediators for the dispute.
 
Culture & Religion
Saho men wear a sarong, usually white or plaid. Men used to grow their hair until it was about chin length and either covered it in clarified ghee to condition it but this customs has almost disappeared nowadays. Some women might pierce one nostril with a metal ring and most Saho women decorate their hair with metal rings and beaded diadems.

The Saho are predominantly Muslim but with a 30% of Christians, who are also known as the Irob, live in the Debub Region of Eritrea.
 
 

Beja

Also known as Hedareb, Hidarb, Bedawi or Beni Amer.

Population & Ecosystem
300.000 Beja live in the extensive semi-desert borders of Eritrea and Sudan.

Economy & Society
They lead a tribal pastoral life, with those in the northern territories raising camels, and the southerners raising cattle. In contemporary era, many have adopted a farming lifestyle and become migrant wage labour providers.

The Beja are said to be the descendants of Noah's grandson, Cush (son of Ham). They are a native African people who have occupied their current homelands for more than 4,000 years. During that time, they adopted their Islamic religion. The Beja in Sudan are divided into four tribes: the Hadendowa, the Amarar, the Ababda, and the Beni Amer. They inhabit over 110,000 square miles (284,800 square km) in eastern Sudan. Their native language is called Bedawiya, although many are also fluent in Arabic or Tigre.

The Beja are divided into clans. They are named after their ancestors, and the line of descent is traced through the males. Each clan has its own pastures and water sites that may be used by others with permission. Clans vary from one to twelve families. Disputes between clans are often settled by traditional Beja law; but most day-to-day affairs are managed by the heads of the families. The Beja are a hospitable people, always showing kindness to other clans; however, they are not necessarily friendly to foreigners. 

The Beja prefer cross-cousin marriages. After a marriage contract has been made, a large gift of livestock, clothing, and other goods is given to the bride's family. The goal of young couples is to have many male children and to acquire a great number of female camels. Only the wealthiest Beja have more than one wife.

Culture & Religion
The Beja have a uniquely huge crown of fuzzy hair, first recorded in Egyptian rock paintings (circa B.C. 2000).  Rudyard Kipling gave them the famous name "the Fuzzy Wuzzies."  Kipling was specifically referring to the Hadendowa, who fought the British, supporting the "Mahdi," a Sudanese leader of a rebellion against the Turkish rule administered by the British.

Virtually all of the Beja are Muslims; however, they practice what is known as "folk Islam." Their beliefs are interwoven with a rich variety of traditional beliefs. For example, they believe that men have the power to curse others by giving them the "evil eye." They also believe in wicked jinnis (spirits capable of taking on animal forms) and other invisible spirits. They believe that evil spirits can cause sickness, madness, and accidents. They have adopted many Islamic practices such as repeating prayers, but these prayers are not largely understood.
 

Rashaida

Also known as Rachaida or Maraziq.

Population & Ecosystem
76.000 Rashaida nomads live in the coastal desert region from Massawa to Port Sudan.

Economy & Society
Rashaida are traditionally nomadic camel shepherds and move from one place in the desert to another, allow their animals to graze, before packing up their tents and moving on to the next oasis. Rashaida men are excellent traders, using their camels and Toyota pickup trucks to distribute goods imported from Middle Eastern countries—a lucrative endeavour. A portion of their wealth resulted from renting their camels to freedom fighters during Eritrea's 30-year war of independence.

The colourful Rashaida came to Eritrea from Saudi Arabia about 170 years ago. The Rashaida are an Arab Bedouin tribe who trace their roots to the Hijaz. Two centuries ago they left the coastal territory in search for food and water, finding refuge in Sudan. They have done well, and are known to be Sudan's largest exporter of livestock. They are famous for their massive wealth of camels, which are hugely popular in Egyptian markets - despite their high prices. There are 65 branches of the Rashaida tribe and nearly 70 percent of the tribe still live as Bedouins.

Money is worthless to the Rashaida, and instead camels indicate social status and wealth. A man who is wealthy in property and money is considered poor by the Rashaida if he has no camels. It was only recently that the tribe began to open up to outsiders, although they remain fiercely observant of their ancient Arab traditions. The Rashaida still follow a social system based on gender segregation. Women are completely forbidden from revealing their faces, except to their husbands at home. Girls are not allowed to choose their husbands and their families decide who they shall marry. They marry only within the Rashaida clan, although you will find the occasional young man or woman breaking from tradition.

Culture & Religion
The tribe, especially its elders, still keep their Hijaz dialect and traditional Bedouin attire. It is rare to find a Rashaida woman wearing Sudan's national dress, the thobe. Instead, they wear burqas studded with seashells, usually made from velvet in bright colours, mostly red. Rashaida women always wear beautiful veils over their faces. This practice begins when they are children so that no man besides their husband will ever see their face. Once when visiting a Rashaida family, I noticed a mother kiss her young daughter - the veil separating her lips from the child's cheek.

Islam is at the core of Rashaida culture. Due to their mobile lifestyle, a family prayer house is central to their worship. Economy & Society
Bilen are either sedentary Christian farmers or Muslim cattle rearers. Bilen traditional society is organized into kinship groups.  Engagement is arranged by family; the couple has no say whatsoever in their future married life. If for some reason the two lovers get married without prior permission from their parents, the boy is obliged to pay a certain sum of money plus an ox to the girl's father. Among Christians, there must be no blood relationship for the past several generations, while in the Muslim society, the couple must have close blood relationship! Beauty, riches, and health are also prime qualifications for the bride. The couple may be promised to each other's families while still in their mother's womb. When a woman gives birth for the first time, she goes to her parents’ house. If the labor pangs take more time than normal, prayers are said on her behalf. Since the Bilen are mostly Catholics, divorce is very difficult to implement. It is customary that in the event it is the man who is seeking a divorce, he has only to leave the house: the wife remains in the house will all the couple's property under her care. On the other hand, if the wife is seeking a divorce, she leaves the house without much ado. If both parties are wanting a divorce, the properties are divided equally between them. The husband would provide some form of alimony to a pregnant woman who is divorcing him until she gives birth. After a divorce, there is a grace period of three months in which time the husband may change his mind and ask for a reconciliation.

A lot of money and time is spent on weddings and honeymoon ceremonies. A newly married couple will live with the groom's family for quite a while, but when they have their own house, the role they play in society changes. They become full members of society, with more privileges, although the woman is never equal to the man. The husband is the only breadwinner and can do whatever he likes with the property. Everything in the house is under his control. The woman is confined to the kitchen and serves only to produce his children. If she is given some work like poultry to tend, it is because such activities may seem degrading for a man to even pay attention to. Only men can only land. Women are clearly in an inferior position.

After a wedding ceremony, the groom hold a seven-day feast from his own expenses and from money offered by friends. The friends spend this week dancing, singing, and drinking. It is a week of merry making and debauchery. Throughout the seven days that the bride is in the house of her in-laws, the groom is not supposed to touch her. After the celebration is over and the friends go home, the groom offers a gift to the bride, a way of coaxing her to lie in bed with him. Once the marriage is consummated, the one-year long honeymoon starts in which period the bride is allowed to perform light household chores only. Heavy domestic work is done by the mother-in-law. When the year ends, the bride takes over the responsibilities and starts real work in the house and outside. Nothing really changes in the manner of work assigned to the groom. A poor couple would have no chance to enjoy this year off.

Until the age of four, children's play is the same both for male and female. Children are made to wear small beads and seashells than jingle. Most of the time they play by building sand castles whenever the soil becomes softer after the rains. After the age of four, gender separation in games is visible. The boys get more interested in tough games, while the girls tend to prefer lighter games; this is preparation for the different roles that males and females will play as adults.

Punishment is administered by the mother to a child below the age of ten, and by the father and other relatives up to the age of 19. Delinquents are made to spend the night naked in a net, and if the teenager proves to be unrepentant, the parents consult with church elders for a possible "incarceration" of the offender in a church's boarding school. The youth are groomed throughout the early years to conform to the values and traditions of their society, and to preserve and respect their culture.
 
Culture & Religion 
In Sharkin village and its environs, there are various types of ornament made by professionals for male and female customers. An unmarried girl puts an earring made of silver (and of gold if she is from rich family) called telal, and bracelets. If she is married, she puts four in each ear, and she puts a gold ornament (known as Sardat) on her forehead. Women who cannot afford silver or gold use beads instead. Men sometimes use silver leg bands and silver earring, especially during the initiation ceremony. During mourning, a wife is expected to get rid of all her ornament and stays like that for a period of two years. If a wife during mourning gives birth to a child, she puts an imitation ornament made of palm leaves. Children belonging to the Bilen ethnic group shave their heads and leave a small tuff of their hair on the crown of the head until they start to walk. For male children, this tuff of hair remains with them till the age of 10. Afterwards they have their heads shaved and during the initiation ceremony they wear their hair in Afro-style. When women grew old, they are expected to shave of their heads or have their hair plaited without ornament. During mourning, some adult males are seen with their heads shaved off. As for widows, they are expected to shave their heads completely. Hairdressing is done by relatives and friends among the Bilen, and no professionals are set aside for such jobs. Bilen women put ointment in their eyes before applying kohl. For fashioning long and loose strands of hair with wet-look, Bilen women apply butter mixed with powder made of roasted durrah or plain earth to the strands. In addition, they apply henna to their hands and legs. Among this ethnic group, males do sometimes apply butter to their hair.     
                                      
Smoke bath is very common among the female members of this ethnic group, especially among married women. They do it for hygienic and aesthetic reasons. Smoke bath is not always without its inconveniences and requires patience and great endurance to physical pain (as the heated smoke that is produced from the not completely dried twigs and leaves does sometimes burn the sensitive skin of the orifices and cause pain). Nevertheless, whether they like it or not, married women are expected by tradition to undergo the treatment until the ‘old’ skin is peeled off and a new yellowish and ‘beautiful’ one is grown instead.

The Bilen practice both Christianity and Islam. Muslim adherents mainly inhabit rural areas and have intermingled with the adjacent Tigre, while Christian Bilen tend to reside in urban areas and have intermingled with the Tigrinya tribe.
 
 

Tigre

Also known as Khasa or Xasa.

Population & Ecosystem
1,2 million Tigre live in the northern, western, and dry coastal lowlands of Eritrea (Gash-Barka, Anseba, Northern Red Sea regions of Eritrea).

Economy & Society
The Tigre in Eritrea have suffered from recent droughts, famine, and civil war. Although many are still nomads, most are semi-nomadic; others have become settled farmers. The nomadic Tigre raise cattle, goats, sheep, and camels. These animals are sold in the markets, and the earnings are used to buy essential items. The nomads do not live in villages but roam about the countryside with their herds. They live in round huts, usually covered with mats made of woven goat or camel hair. 

The semi-nomadic Tigre usually spend half the year in the northern highlands and the other half in the western lowlands. Their villages usually have only two or three huts. Their huts are also round and are covered with mats made of woven goat hair. They also tend livestock, usually cattle and goats. 

The settled Tigre farmers raise corn, sorghum, wheat, barley, legumes, and linseed. They live in villages, and their homes are usually round with cone-shaped roofs made of branches and leaves. The walls are typically made of palm mats. Most of the farmers raise goats and, occasionally, cattle. Oxen, mules, and donkeys are used as pack animals. With unpredictable amounts of rainfall and families averaging seven children, many Tigre are dependent on government aid for survival.
                                                                       
Tigre people are distinguished from other regional peoples by the fact that they possess hereditary slaves. Historically, most of the Tigre have been scattered between Eritrea's northern highlands and western lowlands. They have somewhat shifted into Sudan in search of water and grazing lands. Tigre society is patrilineal, which means that the line of descent is traced through the males. Marriages are arranged by the parents; however, wedding customs have varied somewhat since the Tigre converted to Islam. Some of the people now adhere to Islamic customs, while others continue to follow the traditional customs. Members of a tribe usually follow the same set of rites and customs.

Culture & Religion
The Tigre's traditional animal skin clothing has now been almost entirely replaced with commercial clothes. Tigre women pierce their noses and like to wear jewellery, especially silver bracelets and strings of pearls. They also prefer to make their clothing from coloured cloth, which is available at trading markets. Tigre oral literature is rich and ranges from fables, riddles ad poetry to funeral dirges, war cries and supernatural stories. The Tigre are also known for their love of singing and dancing, usually to the accompaniment of a drum and mesenko (a type of guitar). Dances are celebrated on many occasions, such as when a new water hole is found.

Although the Tigre profess to be Sunni Muslims, most of them practice folk Islam, which is a blend of Islam and ethnic beliefs. Their traditional beliefs include animal sacrifices and rain making rituals. Sacrifices of livestock or corn are offered whenever they think their sins are numerous. They believe that the sacrifice becomes the scapegoat for their sins. The Tigre also believe in an evil spirit named Zar, who possesses people and causes accidents, illnesses, and sometimes death. The people depend on shamans (priests) to cure the sick, communicate with the spirits, and control events. The shamans also exorcise demons and perform services by entering into a trance.
 

Nara

Also known as Baria or Nialetic.

Population & Ecosystem
80.000 Nara live in the fertile hills north of the Gash River in southwestern Eritrea.

Economy & Society
The Nara economy is based on agriculture, although many people weave, trade, hunt, or breed animals to supplement their incomes. Their principal crops include sorghum (the universal staple), wheat, barley, millet, legumes, vegetables, fruits, sesame, linseed, tobacco, and the stimulant known as kat.

Gathering of forest products provides vines for ropes and baskets, as well as wood for stools. Men do the hunting, herding, and milking; but both men and women participate in the farm work. Surplus crops and woven crafts are traded for other items, such as spices, iron and iron works, jewellery, and clothing.

Social organisation of the Nara people is based on the clan and subclan, with people living in villages and hamlets. The lineage system is patrilineal, unlike that of the Kunama people. Land belongs to the clan and shared out among the families in the clan. Nara society is divided into four clans; with two main dominant clans called "Higir" and "Mogareb" that numbered about 10,000 each, and smaller clans called "Koyta" and "Santora".

The Nara men practice polygyny, which means that they generally have multiple wives. The Nara require a substantial bride-price, which usually includes cattle and other valuables. The normal residential unit is an independent nuclear or polygynous family occupying a compound, within which each married woman lives in her own separate hut.

The Nara community consists either of a single compact village or a cluster of small settlements. The people live in round huts made from an interweaving of rods and twigs overlaid with clay. The conical, thatched roofs extend down to the ground, giving the hut a beehive effect. The dwellings usually have two entrances. They are commonly clustered together in sites away from the main trails and in areas that can be readily defended from bandits.

Prior to their conversion to Islam (late 19th Century), it is believed that the Nara society, like the Kunama, was characterized by matrilineal descent. In Nara society, when boys and girls reach the age of 14, a ceremony is held to celebrate their manhood and womanhood respectively. After this ceremony, they are generally regarded as adults.

Culture & Religion
Nara women are usually unveiled, have considerable liberty, and are treated with honour. The men usually wear brightly coloured pieces of cloth that are similar to togas. Most men also wear turbans. They smoke tobacco, and, to some extent, chew the stimulant kat. They drink liquor, even in public places.

The Nara were forcibly Islamized, depriving them of the equality that had existed between the sexes. Today, the Nara are almost exclusively Muslim, having been forcibly converted to Islam during the late 19th century. Numerous elements from their old religion, however, still flourish on among them. Islam, in many cases, has failed to become internalized, possibly because of the way in which it was forced upon them. Villages usually have a mosque, which looks much like the other houses. Many villages have Imams, who teach the Koran. The Nara are not rigid in prayers or fasting, and few make pilgrimages to Mecca or other holy places. Moreover, few Nara, except those who are very religious, known in detail the Muslim proscriptions or the Koran; and most of them know little, if any, Arabic. However, they refuse to eat pork or the flesh of animals killed by someone of another religion.

Kunama

Also known as Baria, Baza or Bazen.

Population & Ecosystem
200.000 Kunama live in the fertile swamps and hilly borderlands of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan.

Economy & Society
In the past, the Kunama people practiced nomadism as their way of life but are currently sedentary farmers and pastoralists. Farming is the most important economic activity of the Kunama people. They cultivate millet, sorghum, and legumes. Harvesting is also conducted by the entire community and celebrations made through songs and dances.

The Kunama are a matrilineal and matrilocal people. They enjoy a liberal and democratic way of life with women having high social status and equal property shares. Social attributes among the Kunama is known to have clan divisions into six main groups. These main clans are then divided into sub-clans (formed based on localities). The clans are based on the maternal lineage of the family. The Kunama people are the only ethnic group in the Horn of Africa that base its clans on maternal pedigree. These clans include Lakka, Nataka, Alaka, Serma, Sogona, Akartakara, Shila, Kara, Jula among others. The different clans play different roles such as summoning rain, warding off insects like locusts which destroy harvests.

The Kunama have withstood repeated invasions and raids from more powerful, more patriarchal neighbours. Outsiders often call them by the depreciating name Barià, meaning slaves. For three centuries the Kunama were forced to pay tribute to the Funj Empire of Sudan, who also took many of them captive and enslaved them.

Kunama land is “a territory historically exposed to risk,” and that the Andinnas (trance-priestesses) give expression to collective trauma in their ritual theatre, “transforming the memory of violence undergone.” They enact Otherness and themes of border-crossing, in a way similar to the zar religion. They smoke and use male behaviour, gestures, and voices. They reproduce the gestures, moods, positions or bodies of foreign spirits, of the dominators. They act out raids and counter-raids, with acts modelled on European and Ethiopian armies, such as drills and presenting arms. Some of their songs are battle songs. This is “to control and also emotionally express the violence undergone, and the fear.” That is indubitable, but there may be another dimension we should consider: the activation of protective spirits around Kunama lands. Even the processional route the Andinnas traverse seems to have a protective magical dimension.
Another layer of politics is from recent colonial rule and European religion. The earliest accounts of Andinnas (of Kunama culture generally) come from Swedish and Italian missionaries, and are deeply stained with their prejudices against indigenous religion and culture as pagan superstition. A Swedish letter from Kulluku village refers to the mother of a young convert as a “witch doctor.” The woman may well have been an Andinna.
 
Sexual politics of a mother-right culture under siege:
Kunama women do not stay in the house; they move freely across the land in daily life. Especially young women cover a lot of terrain in bringing home water. For this reason, as well as the strong mother-right customs of their culture, they have the reputation of being “free” among neighbouring peoples. These outsiders, both the Muslim Sudanese and Christian and Muslim Ethiopians, believe that Kunama women hold headship over their men. 1This belief is fortified by the lack of sanctions against Kunama women taking lovers, something that the patriarchal neighbours disapprove and severely punish in women.

Traditionally, Kunama women are free to take lovers as they choose, as a different source explains: “As soon as she reaches puberty, a Kunama girl is given a hut of her own where she can entertain her male friends. She is totally free to choose her own boy-friend, a lover or her future husband. It is very seldom that the Kunama parents would practise pre-arranged marriages for their children.” When an unmarried woman takes a lover and becomes pregnant, her parents ask her who the father is. They ask him if he is willing to marry her. If he refuses, she goes through the ‘Mashkabara’ ceremony. The young man provides a cow to be sacrificed, and the young woman’s extended family comes to mark her passage from girlhood:
 
The traditional values of the Kunama are communal and strongly egalitarian in many ways. It is a culture of sharing, free of class stratification or of one group lording it over another. Society is organized around the mother-kin, and we have already seen the importance of the Andinna priestesses. However, Kunama women are subjected to female genital excision and even infibulation. These may have been adopted from their patriarchal neighbours, who have invaded and raided and oppressed them for centuries.  However it came to be, excision is now deeply embedded in the culture. A third of Kunama women suffer the most severe form, known as infibulation. In this extremely painful ordeal, the clitoris and entire vulva are amputated and the external labia are sewn together into a wall of flesh. Heterosexual intercourse can take place only by cutting the woman open. The Kunama have a name, koda, for the special relation between two women who passed through infibulation together, their legs tied apart to each other.
 
Andinnas dance for the dead at burial in communal graves, to the same song that is sung for the grain harvest.

This priestess lineage connects with the Kunama ancestors, whose souls come from the spirit-country Arka. In their society, lands are communal, and so if a husband leaves there are no severe consequences. Nevertheless, women are tempted to marry patriarchal men from the wealthier highlands.

The ritual has remained unchanged for 2000 years. The ancestors call women by making them faint at graves. They dance with sword and spear to greet ancestors, to the east and to the west. (The weapons are considered symbols of power, defensive only, and are related to the Meroitic queens of Sudan.) During initiation, the woman falls to the ground, and her hair must touch the spear to connect with the ancestral spirits. The Andina should not be open to all spirits. They call names of the ancestors; a woman touching her hair is a sign that she’s connecting with them. The women not always comfortable as they anticipate what ancestor will come.

The Andina take a different name, Lugus, when in ecstasy. They put on a beautiful, hornlike crown of fat, over an unnamed sacred substance, and wear it during the weeks of the annual rite. The women display entranced speech and gestures, often asking for chewing tobacco, and perform other acts of the spirits. They are forbidden to use water the morning after their initiation; the young Andina clean with sesame and chew it. During several weeks of ritual, they walking over the land, many miles in special iron shoes used only for this occasion. Walking through villages they’re given coffee, tea, sesame. When greeting an older Andina, they kiss her and grab her vulva.

At end of the ritual period, the women dance for hours. They sacrifice a chicken, whose blood they drink, then they roast it and eat with sesame and honey, no other spices. After this finale, the Andina spirits return to their world. A reversed ritual of entranced women takes place over the sword and spear. They symbolically die and are carried back to the village by men, and are said to be able to jump over the huts in their potentized state. One spirit of a very old Andina initially refused to leave a young woman’s body. The initiates stay together on a mat for one night in this return passage.

They awaken in a deep trance, with no memory of the past weeks. Their skin is cut with little stones and herbs and ashes rubbed in, to make a sign so that Andinas can recognize each other. The ritual is repeated every year when the sun and moon appear together on the horizon.
 
Culture & Religion
Kunama people look quite different to their neighbours. Apart from a darker skin, Kunama women decorate their hairs with metal rings and beads and do complex hairdos. Beaded necklaces and metal anklets and bracelets are still popular among Kunama women too. Kunama young men wear multi-coloured handmade cotton clothes and have uniquely huge crown of fuzzy hair or dreadlocks. In Sudan, most Kunama have been converted into Islam but in smaller communities near the Eritrean border the traditional religion revolving around the figure of the trance priestesses (Andinna) is still alive.
 

Afar

Also known as Adal or Danakil.

Population & Ecosystem
350.000 Afar live in the coastal desert of Dankalia, stretching from the northern tip of Bori Peninsula near Massawa to southern town of Rahyta. This is one of the earth's hottest and driest spots. Much of Afar territory is desert and salt flats, cut by great cracks from the sun's heat.

Economy & Society
The Afar pastoralist nomadic subsistence economy depends on livestock, especially goats, some camels, and, more rarely, cattle. There are some exceptions, such as fishermen in the coastal areas and agriculturalists in the Assau oasis. The Afar also mine and export salt.

Proud, highly individualistic, and much feared by outsiders, they are organized in patrilineal kin groups. Cooperation in larger units such as a subtribe or tribe is induced only by warfare against other tribes or neighbouring peoples. Socially, they are organized into clan families and two main classes: the asaimara ('reds') who are the dominant class politically, and the adoimara ('whites') who are a working class and are found in the Mabla Mountains. Although some Muslims are permitted to have four wives, Afar marriages are usually monogamous. Girls may marry as early as age ten. Marriages between first cousins are preferred, particularly between a man and his father's sister's daughter. The night of the full moon is favoured for a wedding ceremony, and the presence of someone able to read the Koran is required.

Meat and milk are the major components of the Afar diet. Milk is also an important social "offering". For instance, when a guest is given fresh warm milk to drink, the host is implying that he will provide immediate protection for the guest. If a person is killed while under the protection of an Afar, his death must be avenged as if he were a member of the clan. 

The Afar live in camps surrounded by thorn barricades, which protect them from the attacks of wild animals or enemy tribesmen. Their oval-shaped huts, called ari, are made of palm mats and are easily moved.

Culture & Religion
Afar men wear a sarong, usually white or plaid. More traditional men wear white robes with the sarong, though today it seems to be replaced with a long scarf. Men typically grew their hair until it was about chin length and either covered it in clarified ghee to condition it or wore the typical Cushitic style. Today, Afar men sometimes still wear their hair long and conditioned. Women also arrange their hair ghee and decorate it with beads. Until recent times Afar women used to go bear breasted but now, due to Islamization they tend to cover their breasts with Western t-shirts. Metal and beaded necklaces are still common among Afar women. Men traditionally sport the jile, a famous curved knife. They also have an extensive repertoire of battle songs.

Early in their history, the Afar were heavily influenced by the Islamic religion; and today, Islam is still held in great esteem. The people do not eat pork and rarely drink alcohol. Those who can afford to do so, make a pilgrimage to Mecca. In addition, many pre-Islamic beliefs and customs are also prevalent among the Afar. They believe that certain trees and groves have sacred powers. They also have various religious rites such as anointing their bodies with ghee (a type of butter). Spirits of the dead are believed to be very powerful, and a "feast of the dead", called Rabena, is celebrated each year. They also give annual offerings to the sea to ensure safety for their villages. Many people wear protective leather amulets that contain herbs and verses from the Koran.
 

Saho

Also known as Soho or Irob.

Population & Ecosystem
230.000 Saho live between the Eastern foothills of Akele-Saho, Foro Valley, and Semhar near the Red Sea.

Economy & Society
The Saho used to be pastoralist nomads like their Afar neighbours but since the 1940s they have become mostly sedentary farmers. This is due to colonial-influenced changes; creation of a dam in Foro Valley and social and cultural changes. Irrigation provides Saho farmers with beautiful fields of maize that extend toward the mountains. Towards the end of April, when the rains stop in the lowlands, many Saho who still own livestock leave the coastal area and trek with their livestock up to the highlands of Akele Guzay. When the rains stop in September, the people return for the wet season on the coastal lowlands. Honey is an important part of the Saho diet and bee-keeping prestigious. Even urbanized Sahos engage in bee-keeping.

Socio-political structure of traditional Saho society was strongly patriarchal and the roles of the grandfather and father were highly respected. The extended family had the power to control the behaviour and conduct of its members, and elders were cherished as the cultural transmitters of the society. Marriage followed patterns related to the degree of family relations, and matrilateral cross-cousin marriage was strongly preferred. In the absence of formal government-supported security system, the extended family system and kinship affiliations played and continue to play an important role to support the aged, widows, and the handicapped and young people. Those who live in urban areas support their family members and kins in the countryside. Regarding the customary law of the Saho, when there is an issue the Saho tend to call for a meeting or conference which they call '"rahbe". In such a meeting the Saho people discuss how to solve issues related to water, pasture or land, clan disputes and how to alleviate these problems. This is also discussed with neighbouring tribes or ethnic groups and sub-clans to reach a consensus. 
A skilled representative is chosen for this meeting, this representative is called a "madarre". A madarre brings forth arguments to his audience and sub-clans or tribes who are involved and tries to win them over. This is discussed with clan or tribal wise men or elders. On smaller scale conflicts between 2 individuals, one of the 2 takes their grievances to the "ukal", they in turn appoint "shimagale" or mediators for the dispute.
 
Culture & Religion
Saho men wear a sarong, usually white or plaid. Men used to grow their hair until it was about chin length and either covered it in clarified ghee to condition it but this customs has almost disappeared nowadays. Some women might pierce one nostril with a metal ring and most Saho women decorate their hair with metal rings and beaded diadems.

The Saho are predominantly Muslim but with a 30% of Christians, who are also known as the Irob, live in the Debub Region of Eritrea.
 
 

Beja

Also known as Hedareb, Hidarb, Bedawi or Beni Amer.

Population & Ecosystem
300.000 Beja live in the extensive semi-desert borders of Eritrea and Sudan.

Economy & Society
They lead a tribal pastoral life, with those in the northern territories raising camels, and the southerners raising cattle. In contemporary era, many have adopted a farming lifestyle and become migrant wage labour providers.

The Beja are said to be the descendants of Noah's grandson, Cush (son of Ham). They are a native African people who have occupied their current homelands for more than 4,000 years. During that time, they adopted their Islamic religion. The Beja in Sudan are divided into four tribes: the Hadendowa, the Amarar, the Ababda, and the Beni Amer. They inhabit over 110,000 square miles (284,800 square km) in eastern Sudan. Their native language is called Bedawiya, although many are also fluent in Arabic or Tigre.

The Beja are divided into clans. They are named after their ancestors, and the line of descent is traced through the males. Each clan has its own pastures and water sites that may be used by others with permission. Clans vary from one to twelve families. Disputes between clans are often settled by traditional Beja law; but most day-to-day affairs are managed by the heads of the families. The Beja are a hospitable people, always showing kindness to other clans; however, they are not necessarily friendly to foreigners. 

The Beja prefer cross-cousin marriages. After a marriage contract has been made, a large gift of livestock, clothing, and other goods is given to the bride's family. The goal of young couples is to have many male children and to acquire a great number of female camels. Only the wealthiest Beja have more than one wife.

Culture & Religion
The Beja have a uniquely huge crown of fuzzy hair, first recorded in Egyptian rock paintings (circa B.C. 2000).  Rudyard Kipling gave them the famous name "the Fuzzy Wuzzies."  Kipling was specifically referring to the Hadendowa, who fought the British, supporting the "Mahdi," a Sudanese leader of a rebellion against the Turkish rule administered by the British.

Virtually all of the Beja are Muslims; however, they practice what is known as "folk Islam." Their beliefs are interwoven with a rich variety of traditional beliefs. For example, they believe that men have the power to curse others by giving them the "evil eye." They also believe in wicked jinnis (spirits capable of taking on animal forms) and other invisible spirits. They believe that evil spirits can cause sickness, madness, and accidents. They have adopted many Islamic practices such as repeating prayers, but these prayers are not largely understood.
 

Rashaida

Also known as Rachaida or Maraziq.

Population & Ecosystem
76.000 Rashaida nomads live in the coastal desert region from Massawa to Port Sudan.

Economy & Society
Rashaida are traditionally nomadic camel shepherds and move from one place in the desert to another, allow their animals to graze, before packing up their tents and moving on to the next oasis. Rashaida men are excellent traders, using their camels and Toyota pickup trucks to distribute goods imported from Middle Eastern countries—a lucrative endeavour. A portion of their wealth resulted from renting their camels to freedom fighters during Eritrea's 30-year war of independence.

The colourful Rashaida came to Eritrea from Saudi Arabia about 170 years ago. The Rashaida are an Arab Bedouin tribe who trace their roots to the Hijaz. Two centuries ago they left the coastal territory in search for food and water, finding refuge in Sudan. They have done well, and are known to be Sudan's largest exporter of livestock. They are famous for their massive wealth of camels, which are hugely popular in Egyptian markets - despite their high prices. There are 65 branches of the Rashaida tribe and nearly 70 percent of the tribe still live as Bedouins.

Money is worthless to the Rashaida, and instead camels indicate social status and wealth. A man who is wealthy in property and money is considered poor by the Rashaida if he has no camels. It was only recently that the tribe began to open up to outsiders, although they remain fiercely observant of their ancient Arab traditions. The Rashaida still follow a social system based on gender segregation. Women are completely forbidden from revealing their faces, except to their husbands at home. Girls are not allowed to choose their husbands and their families decide who they shall marry. They marry only within the Rashaida clan, although you will find the occasional young man or woman breaking from tradition.

Culture & Religion
The tribe, especially its elders, still keep their Hijaz dialect and traditional Bedouin attire. It is rare to find a Rashaida woman wearing Sudan's national dress, the thobe. Instead, they wear burqas studded with seashells, usually made from velvet in bright colours, mostly red. Rashaida women always wear beautiful veils over their faces. This practice begins when they are children so that no man besides their husband will ever see their face. Once when visiting a Rashaida family, I noticed a mother kiss her young daughter - the veil separating her lips from the child's cheek.

Islam is at the core of Rashaida culture. Due to their mobile lifestyle, a family prayer house is central to their worship.

Asmara Architecture

Italy developed an urban plan for the capital of its colony as early as 1913, though it was under Mussolini's fascist government that modern architects built the city into what it is today, earning it the nickname "La Piccola Roma".

Everything from cinemas to cafes to prisons were constructed in rapid succession, an entire city popping up inland from the Red Sea. Little was left untouched my modernist hands.
 
Many of the great architectural schools of the period are represented throughout the city: Italian Rationalism, Italian Futurism and Novecento; Streamline Moderne, Bauhaus, Expressionism, Functionalism and Cubism.
 
In July 2017, Asmara received UNESCO’s World Heritage Site designation for its modernist architectural marvels.
 
Governor’s Palace (1897) built by Ferdinando Martini – the first Italian civil governor of Eritrea. With its pediment supported by Corinthian columns and its spacious, elegant interior, it is thought to be one of the finest Neoclassical buildings in Africa.
 
Asmara’s Synagogue (1905). Its pediment, Doric columns and pilasters make it very neoclassical. As is usual in Asmara, the wrought-iron gates are handcrafted.

Cinema Dante (1910) is the oldest Italian cinema in the city. Art Deco style.

Medebar Market (1914) is one of the oldest colonial buildings in the city, and remains in spectacular condition. Not to mention the fact that everything made in the market, from Eritrea’s famous jelly sandals, to kitchen utensils, to oil drums, are made from recycled material.  

Hamasien Hotel (1919). Known for its high tower and once-stately rooms, it is in the part of Asmara dotted by foreign embassies. While it is not futuristic like much of the other architecture in Asmara, the colonial-era building definitely projects vibes of more elegant times past.  It is also located directly north of the Embasoira/Imperial Hotel, whose interior is pretty spectacular as well (good wifi, too!).

Opera House or Cinema Asmara (1920) is an eclectic building that combines a Renaissance scallop-shell fountain, a Romanesque portico supported by Classical columns and inside, above multi-tiered balconies, a spectacular Art Nouveau ceiling.
 
Roman Catholic Cathedral also known as The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary (1923) stands about half way along Liberty Avenue, was built by architect Scanavini to a classical Italian design. It is thought to be one of the finest Lombard-Romanesque-style churches outside Italy.
 
Suburb of Gezzabanda (1930s), which is full of impressive villas, and Beverly Hills cafe with its jet engine espresso machine.
 
Selam Hotel (1932) was one of a chain constructed by the Italian company Compagnia Immobiliare Alberghi Africa Orientale (CIAAO). Interesting interior details include the Arts and Crafts serving cabinets and the disc type lamps in the dining room, the old murals and the purple beehive lamps in the rear courtyard.
 
Ministry of Education former Casa del Fascio -the Fascist Party headquarters- (1933) mixes the Classical with the monumental and fascist. Its massive stepped tower has strong vertical elements, including three gunslit windows. The steps, string courses and mouldings give the building harmony.

Agip Service Station (1937). The Art Deco station is still functioning, albeit more as a place for social gathering rather than actually purchasing gas. 

Capitol Cinema (1937). Its massive horizontal elements and sweeping curves are typical of the Expressionist movement.
 
Cinema Odeon (1937) with its authentic Art Deco interior. The box office, bar, beveled mirrors, black terrazzo and Deco Strip lights are a good introduction to the large auditorium.
 
St. Mary’s Coptic Cathedral or Enda Mariam Orthodox Cathedral (1938) is a curious blend of Italian and Eritrean Architecture.
 
Al Khulafa al Rashedin Mosque (1938) combines Rationalist, Classical and Islamic styles.

Central Market (1938). The Central Market’s rows of arches seem more Ottoman-influenced, than Italian – proven by the fact that most of the construction was completed after Italy relinquished control of its colony in 1947.  What is spectacular about the Central Market in Asmara is not necessarily the architecture of the place, but how the architecture and the people mix. Many will say that Harnet Ave. is the heart of Asmara.  We contend that it is actually the area surrounding the Central Market, starting across from the entrance to Enda Mariam Cathedral and running westbound (also bordered by the Grand Mosque), is the real hub of activity in Asmara. 

Bar Zilli (Late 1938) looks like a ship sailing right into the middle of the intersection, complete with a row five of porthole windows down each side. 

Cinema Impero and Bar Impero (1938). The imposing Cinema is made up of three massive windows which combine strong vertical and horizontal elements with 45 porthole lamps. In the lobby, all the marble, chrome and glass features are original. The cavernous auditorium seats 1800 people and is decorated with motifs such as lions, nyalas and palm trees depicted in Art Deco style. The Bar Impero, where cinemagoers traditionally enjoyed an aperitif before the film, is also original.
 
Mai Jhah Jhah fountain or La Fontana (1938) is one of the most elegant pieces of architecture in Asmara. This cascades down the hillside in a serious of rectangular steps.

Fiat Tagliero Service Station (1938). For modernism/art deco lovers, Asmara’s Fiat Tagliero building is iconic.  Harsh angles in the carefully formed concrete slabs interact harshly with the surrounding bougainvillea and people walk by without registering its splendour.  How this building has managed to make it through nearly a hundred years of social and political tumult is beyond my personal comprehension.

The Fiat Tagliero building, perhaps alongside the Cinema Impero, is what catapulted the effort to get Asmara on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  Today it is surrounded by a chain link fence.  It will be interesting to see how the local government treats this building moving into the future, especially with hopes of attracting more tourist dollars.

Bristol Hotel (1941) with its central stairwell tower surmounting geometric wings, is an example of classic Rationalist design. The strip-course separates the top-floor windows from the well-proportioned and well-made shutters, and the plain concrete balconies below.

Shops and Apartments (1940s). Somewhere in the no man’s land between the Central Market and the western terminus of Harnet Ave. lie a number of crisscrossed streets bisecting the main east to west thoroughfares. Here lie the superb fascist-style homes and shops Mussolini dreamed of for his African capital.
 
Palazzo Mutton (1944) on the Liberation Avenue, now the Wikianos Supermarket, resembled a scaled-down version of the famous Novocomun in Como (Italy).
 
Municipality Building (1953), it is firmly Rationalist. The two geographic wings are stripped Palladian style, and are dominated by soaring central tower. The windows are beautifully detailed.
 

Other interesting visits in Asmara

The National Museum includes exhibits on the ethnic groups of Eritrea – national dresses of different nationalities, paintings of the nine ethnic groups, cooking pots, wooden pillows etc., the main archaeological sites of the country and the struggle for independence.
 
Tank Cemetery with piles of military detritus from the Eritrean-Ethiopian war. Not far, the incredible Italian Cemetery is also beside St Michael’s church and well worth a visit for those interested in sculpture or Art Deco.
 

Pre-colonial historical sites in Eritrea

Debre Bizen Manastery
After traveling 25km along the hair-pin bends of the Asmara Massawa road, is the town of Nefasit which is the starting point for a 2 hour trek up the mountains to the famous 600 years old Debre Bizen Monastery. The spot commands magnificent views of the surrounding hills and all the way down to the line of the Red Sea coast. The views to the sea and Dahlak Islands, to the Buri Peninsula and the Gulf of Zula, and south to the mountains of Akele Guzai, are the most impressive in Eritrea.
 
The Debre Bizen Monastery is the most prominent beacon and symbol of Christianity in Eritrea, wrapped in legend and history. Perched on a mountain at a pinnacle of 2450 metres above sea level, the Monastery of Debre Bizen was founded by His Holiness Abune Filipos, a student of Abune Tatyos, in 1361 AD. Legend has it that his shadow allegedly cured three cripples due to his sheer holiness. Pilgrims and visitors are housed in a guesthouse with arched doors.
 
Massawa 
Massawa, former capital of Eritrea, is an open air museum. Despite its extreme heat during most part of the year, Massawa is worth visiting. Once called the 'Pearl of the Red Sea', Massawa is now a more faded-glory beauty, as the historic Ottoman, Egyptian and Italian architecture continues to fall further into the disrepair originally inflicted by the final days of fighting of the War for Independence in 1991. Massawa’s most outstanding historical buildings are:

Imperial Palace of Massawa
Overlooking the harbour just north of the gates of the Dahlak Hotel is the Imperial Palace, the original iteration of which was built by the Turkish Osdemir Pasha in the 16th century. The present building dates from 1872, when it was built for the Swiss adventurer Werner Munzinger. During the federation with Ethiopia, it was used as a winter palace by Emperor Haile Selassie, whose heraldic lions still decorate the gates and by whose name the building is still commonly referred to. The palace was badly damaged during the Struggle for Independence, and its present state gives a very vivid introduction to how all of Massawa looked shortly after the war and what to expect of much of the Old Town.

It's usually possible to wander around the grounds, as the gates are rarely locked.

Coral-Block House
At the port entrance, this is a good example of a 17th-century house constructed of coral-block, which for centuries was the preferred local building material. The house is currently in use as a Customs office, but the officials sometimes permit a quick look inside during business hours.

House of Mammub Mohammed Nahari
The ancient House of Mammub Mohammed Nahari was built with magnificent soaring Ottoman-style windows on every side. Unfortunately they are particularly decrepit and, like the rest of the house, seem ready to crumble at any moment, so take particular care about wandering inside. Nearby are several large and ornate 18th-century Armenian and Jewish merchant houses.

House of Abu Hamdum
A remarkable example of Turkish Ottoman architecture with its mashrabiyya (trellised) balcony, which allowed cool breezes to enter and the air inside to circulate, the House of Abu Hamdum is almost crumbling and needs urgent restoration. It's just south of the entrance to the covered bazaar.

Hotel Savoiya
As you come over the causeway from Taulud Island, a broad sweep of white, arcaded palazzi (palaces) stretches out before you. On the corner you'll see the Hotel Savoiya with its long gallery. Start your exploration with a cup of coffee here and then jump into the maze of small unpaved streets. Fear not, you're never lost for long.

Sheikh Hanafi Mosque
At the centre of the Piazza degli Incendi (meaning 'Square of the Fire', after it was the scene of a great fire in 1885) is the Sheikh Hanafi Mosque. At over 500 years old, this mosque is one of the oldest surviving structures in the city. Sheikh Hanafi was a great teacher, who funded his students' studies in Egypt. The courtyard is decorated with stucco-work and inside hangs a remarkable chandelier from the glass works of Murano near Venice in Italy.
 

Banco d'Italia
On the far end of the northern coastal road from the causeway, you'll see the Banco d'Italia, a ramshackle copy of the 1920s original and a mishmash of styles, including Gothic windows and towers. Unfortunately, the building is dilapidated and awaits restoration.
 
Adulis Port Archaeological Site
 Lying 59km to the south of Massawa, near the village of Foro, is the ancient ruins of Adulis. Once numbering among the greatest ports of the ancient world, Adulis was the site of large and elegant buildings and bustling international portInhabited since at least the 6th century BCthe site is the oldest in Eritrea.

Adulis’ importance lay in its port, and by the 3rd century AD the port had grown to become one of the most important on the Red Sea. Trade of this time flourished from the Mediterranean all the way to India. Its heyday came during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, and then it went into decline, before a brief revival in the 7th century. The town supplied all the major towns: Kohaito, Metera and Keskese. Adulis importance was eclipsed in the 7th century, probably by a combination of Arab raids and the port silting up.

Kohaito Archaeological Site
In the 2nd century AD, the famous Egyptian geographer Claudius Ptolemy made reference to an important ancient town named Koloe. It has long been thought that Kohaito was equivalent to Koloe.

Kohaito, which lies at high altitude of 2700 meters once may have served as a kind of summer retreat for the rich merchants from nearby towns. The traces of cultivated areas found between the buildings have led to the belief that Kohaito was once a garden city.

Lying some 121km south of Asmara, Kohaito’s impressive ruins are spread over a large area measuring 2.5km wide by 15km long. As much as 80 to 90% of the ruins remain unexcavated.
A short walk from Kohaito takes you to the edge of a vast canyon that drops away dramatically. The views of the surrounding mountains, including Mt. Ambasoira (3013m) to the south (the highest peak in Eritrea), are stunning.
 
Adi Alauti Rock Art
Near Qohaito are several rock-art sites, including the cave of Adi Alauti and another shelter with over 100 painted figures.

Matara Archaeological Site
Situated 20km south of Kohaito, house some of Eritrea’s most important historical sites. Like Kohaito, Matara (also called Metera) flourished in the 6th century AD. The scattered ruins testify to the existence of a once large and prosperous town.

One of Metera’s most important objects is its enigmatic stele. Unique in Eritrea, the stele is known for its pagan, pre-Christian symbol of the sun over the crescent moon- a south Arabian divinity, engraved on the top of the eastern face; and it faces eastward. Standing 2.5m tall, the stele has an inscription near the middle in Gee’z (Classical Ethiopic language).
 
Keskese Archaeological Site lies in a small valley 128 km south of Asmara. This huge, unexcavated site is considered exceptional for its pre-Christian and pre-Islamic remains, which include the ancient tomb of a local prince or lord. Lying among the barley fields like elongated, upturn boats are various huge monoliths, including one measuring a giant 14m long. Some stelae bear ancient inscriptions in Ge’ez; from their style, it is believed that they are at least 2500 years old.
 
Vernacular Architecture of Eritrea
Vernacular architecture is commonly recognized as the fundamental expression of the world’s cultural diversity. In the Eritrean countryside, traditional building customs are still upheld. In the rural highlands, small stone houses (hidmo) with roofs made of branches of wood and soil, used to be built. However, they are no more built because they consume much wood and are considered not environmentally friendly. The house is separated into two areas, a kitchen section in the back (where men were not allowed) and a public room in the front that is also used as sleeping quarters. On the other hand, in lowland areas we find several housing styles, from tent-like structures (agnet) among the pastoral nomadic groups, to more permanent straw or stone/mud huts among the settlements. During our prospective trip in 2016 we observed beautiful examples of stone and adobe houses in the terraced hills around Keren. Also in deep Kunama territory we saw spectacular domed stone houses of big dimensions. We realised this type of style was already in disuse.

The desire for modernization and the well-known globalization phenomenon are some of the most frequent evoked issues responsible for endangering the survival of vernacular heritage in Africa. In Last Places we aim to highlight the outstanding universal value of vernacular architectural heritage in Eritrea and to raise awareness to the increasing need, not only the protection of these structures’ integrity but also for the preservation of such ancient and sustainable building techniques as a living heritage.
 

Eritrea Cities

Keren City
The mountain city Keren is the largest of the five major secondary towns in Eritrea with a population of 120,000 and the regional capital of the Anseba Region. The majority of the population are Muslim. There is a distinctly Muslim feel to the town.

Keren is a beautiful town and is often visited by those wanting a change of scene from Asmara or Massawa. The name Keren means highland. The sun rises over one set of peaks in the east and sets over another set in the west. Depending on where you stay, rising for the dawn does not present a problem as the muezzin is likely to act as your early morning call. Keren is one of the major agricultural centres of Eritrea, particularly for fruits and vegetables. To the west the region is known for its banana plantations. In addition its dairy herds supply fresh milk, butter and the cheese factory produces provolone and other cheeses.

There is a town market, where silver items may be purchased, and a wood market, where camels gather on the dry river bed. On Mondays there is a livestock market in a walled compound on the hillside along the road leading south from town. Cattle, sheep and goats, camels and donkeys are bought and sold.

Keren hosts many examples of Italian and Ethiopian colonial heritage. Overlooked by a seemingly impregnable Egyptian 19th century fortress (Tigu), which still bristles with Ethiopian army cannon, Keren boasts stylish public buildings and a Romanesque Catholic church. There are good views from the top of the fort (1460m). At its foot lie the ruins of the old Imperial Palace, which was destroyed during the Struggle in 1977.
 
Barentu City
In the dry arid region of the Western Lowlands lies Barentu. With its one main street there are many nomadic tribes in this area and Barentu is in the heart of Kunama territory. It is believed that the Kunama people were among Eritrea's first inhabitants.

Being a market town Barentu attracts many people from the surrounding areas and there is a colorful mix of tribal cultures. The dusty streets ripple with everyday life. With the heat here in the Western Plains the pace of life is refreshingly slow and marketing is a leisurely chat.
During the Ethiopian invasion that took place in 2000 most of the town was destroyed and plundered.

Best time to visit: Tuesdays or Saturdays when the Kunama people come out of their village to visit the market.

Agordat (Akordat)
Agordat lies 75 kilometres west from Keren, in the Western Lowlands. Agordat is an old town, formerly the capital of the Barka zone. It is at the western termination of the railway from Massawa. The town can experience high temperatures, and sandstorms known as haboob.
Agordat is located on the river Barka. The Barka River is shallow with wide deposits of sand extending to both sides. The river only floods when the rain is pouring. With the rains the water from the surrounding mountains flows down and the river becomes full. The area is famous for its banana plantations. Agordat is a bustling market town. The mosque, the second largest in Eritrea was built by Haile Selassie in 1963. He also built the Catholic Church and the large hospital which sits on a hill overlooking the town just below the ornate former Italian governor's palace. An obelisk overlooking the town is a monument to Italians killed during the Second World War, but apart from the administrative buildings, the old railway station and the Barka Hotel, that is the only real sign of Europe.

Dankalia (Danakil) Desert
Eritrea is a land of contrasts: within a few hours, for example, you can travel from the cool air of the rugged mountains to the arid reaches of the Danakil Depression, one of the hottest places on earth (Kobar sink-100m bsl). Some Eritrean journeys are easy, some difficult, but all offer a taste of the unique experience that is Eritrea. In the southern part of Eritrea lies the vast lowland area known as the Danakil Depression. Often likened to a lunar landscape, the Danakil region is a wondrous and vast-expanse of hot and dry desert skirted below sea level, the depression boats some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded on earth.

Dankalia is one of the most inhospitable areas on earth. It is for the most part poor of fauna and flora and presents alternately desert flatlands and isolated mountain groups, sometimes interrupted by valleys spotted by thorny acacias. Green oasis of dum-palm trees interrupts the desert landscape in the zones of Beylul, Assab and Rahaita.

More inland, toward the Ethiopian highland, a long depression extends itself reaching a depth of 120 meters below the sea level. This part of Eritrea is one of the lowest and hottest places on earth and is known as Dallol (Danakil depression), where temperatures can reach 145°F (50° C) in the sun.
 
The Dahlak Archipelago
Some 200 of Eritrea’s islands belong to the Dahlak archipelago with a great opportunity for yacht cruising (scuba) diving and (pearl) fishing. Charter yachts are available for hire in Massawa. Only four islands are inhabited, with a total population of just 2,500, who still maintain their traditional lifestyle of fishing and herding goats and camels. The isolated and uninhabited Dahlak Islands, and the rich feeding grounds which surround them, attract large numbers of nesting sea birds from all over the red sea.

Some islands have shores lined with mangrove trees or salt bush. Shoals and submerged coral reefs, a spectacular marine life (dolphins, sharks, dugongs, turtle species, hermit crabs, fish, molluscs or shellfish), shipwrecks and pumice stones formed from submarine volcanoes make the Red Sea an unforgettable diving experience.

Gash Barka
Eritrea has one of the most northerly populations of African elephants. It is estimated that there are around 100 -120 elephants in Gash-Barka administrative zone.

Elephants in Eritrea are completely isolated with no gene flow from other elephant populations. The sample carried on Eritrean elephants shows nuclear and mitochondrial DNA markers establishing them as savanna elephants, with closer genetic affinity to Eastern than to North Central savanna elephant populations, and contrary to speculation by some scholars that forest elephants were found in Eritrea.

The Eritrean elephant population had first showed signs of inbreeding and isolation, because the population is small, and its nearest elephant neighbours are more than 400 kilometres away.
Being a small, isolated population is generally not good for survival, but Eritrea’s elephants are getting a helping hand from Eritrea’s agriculture ministry. The ministry is trying to minimize conflict between humans and elephants, and they’ve seen some success. The range and size of the population appears to be increasing every year.
 
Eritrean Wild Ass
The Eritrean Wild Ass or African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) is at risk of extinction in the wild. Major threats to its survival are hunting, competition with livestock, and interbreeding with the domestic donkey. An important but rare population exists on the Messir Plateau in the Danakil ecosystem of Eritrea.

In Eritrea, wild asses live in the Asa’ila Mountains between the Buri Peninsula and the Dalool Depression. 47 wild asses could be individually identified there. Their density in this area is estimated to be 47 wild asses per 100km2. This is the highest density in the present distribution area and it corresponds to the density in Ethiopia in the 1970s. On the Messir Plateau is it possible to get within 100m of the asses and observe their behaviour.

The project provides the scientific information needed to study the biology of the wild asses and the demands that they place on their habitat, as well as to protect them. The results of the project will be used to compile a management plan and provisions for safeguarding the various parts of the area will be drawn up. The aims of the management plan are preservation of the ecosystem, protection of the wild asses and long-term safeguarding of natural resources for the local population. The results achieved shall be made available to the local population, scientists, politicians and the agricultural office. A further objective of the research is to determine the genetic variability of the population in comparison to populations in Ethiopia. At the same time, investigations will determine whether interbreeding between wild and domesticated asses has occurred.

Project status
Somali wild asses live in loose herds of usually fewer than 5 animals and the only stable social unit is formed by a mother and her young. The loose herds vary with regard to age structure and gender of members. There are groups of adults of the same gender, but also mixed groups with mares and stallions of all ages. Stallions usually live alone, but sometimes with other stallions. Females are polyoestrous and foals are born between October and February.  Mares live with their foal and/or yearling. Male foals in the investigation area were not seen as adults later on, which indicates that they move on to other areas and also means that inbreeding is unlikely. Some adult stallions are territorial and only territorial stallions were observed mating with mares. The social system of the Somali wild ass on the Messir Plateau is typical of equidae in desert habitats.
 
Rainfall varies greatly from year to year and the rate of reproduction in wild asses is highly dependent on the amount of rain. There can be high levels of precipitation on the Messir Plateau, so this area is critical for the reproduction of the wild ass.  However, population dynamics and long-term viability are influenced by the high variability of the sporadic rainfall. During periods of drought, the asses must cover long distances to find enough food and water.Observations of behaviour have revealed that the presence of domestic asses in the Messir Plateau is problematic. Domesticated stallions have already been seen near wild ass stallions, but no mating has been recorded so far.
 
5 mitochondrial DNA haplotypes have been determined from dung samples taken from asses in Eritrea and Ethiopia. The results show that crossing over of genes between the populations in the two countries is taking place or took place, probably in the Dalool Depression. In the future, researchers in Eritrea and Ethiopia will have to work together to record the movements of the wild asses in the border area between the two countries. Analyses of mitochondrial DNA indicate possible crossing between wild asses and domesticated asses or feral asses. This is therefore a serious risk that has to be investigated more closely.
 
Training professional ecologists is an important part of the project. Furthermore, the project also made important scientific journals and books available to the University of Asmara. Posters about protecting wild asses have been produced in various languages and given to all primary schools, authorities, the military, radio stations and the local population. 
 
The local Afar People must be involved in protecting the wild asses. It is thanks to their traditional beliefs and actions that there are still so many important wild animals in Eritrea. Their advice and their priorities will be taken into consideration in the development of a management plan for the Denkelia ecosystem.
 
Prospects
In the future, a management plan for the Denkelia region will continue to be developed in cooperation with the wildlife protection unit of the ministry for agriculture on the one hand and the local population on the other. This plan aims to preserve the integrity of the ecosystem, protect threatened species, ensure the sustainable use of natural resources and protect the food requirements of the native population in the long-term.
 
As political relationships between Eritrea and Ethiopia improve, a cross-border programme for wild asses must be established (the latest genetic research reveals that wild asses in both countries belong to one population), because long-term protection of this species depends on improving the demographic and genetic viability of the populations in all of the countries where wild asses are still found.
 
Relationships between native people, their livestock, wild animals and the ecosystem in wider geographical areas must also be investigated so that competition can be counteracted when their numbers increase.
 
The investigation area shall be expanded so that it also includes the Airori Plains and the Dalool Depression. The latest counts reveal that Somali wild asses are present in these areas.
 
A further important objective is to define a core zone within the biodiversity conservation area of the Buri Peninsula, ensuring that Somali wild asses can continue to reproduce on the Messir Plateau without the risk of interbreeding with domestic asses. Furthermore, keeping livestock in the core zone would not be permitted so that the wild asses could make use of the sparse desert vegetation without competition. A core zone like this would optimise the reproduction and survival rate of the Somali wild ass. Dankalia (Danakil) Desert
Eritrea is a land of contrasts: within a few hours, for example, you can travel from the cool air of the rugged mountains to the arid reaches of the Danakil Depression, one of the hottest places on earth (Kobar sink-100m bsl). Some Eritrean journeys are easy, some difficult, but all offer a taste of the unique experience that is Eritrea. In the southern part of Eritrea lies the vast lowland area known as the Danakil Depression. Often likened to a lunar landscape, the Danakil region is a wondrous and vast-expanse of hot and dry desert skirted below sea level, the depression boats some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded on earth.

Dankalia is one of the most inhospitable areas on earth. It is for the most part poor of fauna and flora and presents alternately desert flatlands and isolated mountain groups, sometimes interrupted by valleys spotted by thorny acacias. Green oasis of dum-palm trees interrupts the desert landscape in the zones of Beylul, Assab and Rahaita.

More inland, toward the Ethiopian highland, a long depression extends itself reaching a depth of 120 meters below the sea level. This part of Eritrea is one of the lowest and hottest places on earth and is known as Dallol (Danakil depression), where temperatures can reach 145°F (50° C) in the sun.
 
The Dahlak Archipelago
Some 200 of Eritrea’s islands belong to the Dahlak archipelago with a great opportunity for yacht cruising (scuba) diving and (pearl) fishing. Charter yachts are available for hire in Massawa. Only four islands are inhabited, with a total population of just 2,500, who still maintain their traditional lifestyle of fishing and herding goats and camels. The isolated and uninhabited Dahlak Islands, and the rich feeding grounds which surround them, attract large numbers of nesting sea birds from all over the red sea.

Some islands have shores lined with mangrove trees or salt bush. Shoals and submerged coral reefs, a spectacular marine life (dolphins, sharks, dugongs, turtle species, hermit crabs, fish, molluscs or shellfish), shipwrecks and pumice stones formed from submarine volcanoes make the Red Sea an unforgettable diving experience.

Gash Barka
Eritrea has one of the most northerly populations of African elephants. It is estimated that there are around 100 -120 elephants in Gash-Barka administrative zone.

Elephants in Eritrea are completely isolated with no gene flow from other elephant populations. The sample carried on Eritrean elephants shows nuclear and mitochondrial DNA markers establishing them as savanna elephants, with closer genetic affinity to Eastern than to North Central savanna elephant populations, and contrary to speculation by some scholars that forest elephants were found in Eritrea.

The Eritrean elephant population had first showed signs of inbreeding and isolation, because the population is small, and its nearest elephant neighbours are more than 400 kilometres away.
Being a small, isolated population is generally not good for survival, but Eritrea’s elephants are getting a helping hand from Eritrea’s agriculture ministry. The ministry is trying to minimize conflict between humans and elephants, and they’ve seen some success. The range and size of the population appears to be increasing every year.
 
Eritrean Wild Ass
The Eritrean Wild Ass or African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) is at risk of extinction in the wild. Major threats to its survival are hunting, competition with livestock, and interbreeding with the domestic donkey. An important but rare population exists on the Messir Plateau in the Danakil ecosystem of Eritrea.

In Eritrea, wild asses live in the Asa’ila Mountains between the Buri Peninsula and the Dalool Depression. 47 wild asses could be individually identified there. Their density in this area is estimated to be 47 wild asses per 100km2. This is the highest density in the present distribution area and it corresponds to the density in Ethiopia in the 1970s. On the Messir Plateau is it possible to get within 100m of the asses and observe their behaviour.

The project provides the scientific information needed to study the biology of the wild asses and the demands that they place on their habitat, as well as to protect them. The results of the project will be used to compile a management plan and provisions for safeguarding the various parts of the area will be drawn up. The aims of the management plan are preservation of the ecosystem, protection of the wild asses and long-term safeguarding of natural resources for the local population. The results achieved shall be made available to the local population, scientists, politicians and the agricultural office. A further objective of the research is to determine the genetic variability of the population in comparison to populations in Ethiopia. At the same time, investigations will determine whether interbreeding between wild and domesticated asses has occurred.

Project status
Somali wild asses live in loose herds of usually fewer than 5 animals and the only stable social unit is formed by a mother and her young. The loose herds vary with regard to age structure and gender of members. There are groups of adults of the same gender, but also mixed groups with mares and stallions of all ages. Stallions usually live alone, but sometimes with other stallions. Females are polyoestrous and foals are born between October and February.  Mares live with their foal and/or yearling. Male foals in the investigation area were not seen as adults later on, which indicates that they move on to other areas and also means that inbreeding is unlikely. Some adult stallions are territorial and only territorial stallions were observed mating with mares. The social system of the Somali wild ass on the Messir Plateau is typical of equidae in desert habitats.
 
Rainfall varies greatly from year to year and the rate of reproduction in wild asses is highly dependent on the amount of rain. There can be high levels of precipitation on the Messir Plateau, so this area is critical for the reproduction of the wild ass.  However, population dynamics and long-term viability are influenced by the high variability of the sporadic rainfall. During periods of drought, the asses must cover long distances to find enough food and water.Observations of behaviour have revealed that the presence of domestic asses in the Messir Plateau is problematic. Domesticated stallions have already been seen near wild ass stallions, but no mating has been recorded so far.
 
5 mitochondrial DNA haplotypes have been determined from dung samples taken from asses in Eritrea and Ethiopia. The results show that crossing over of genes between the populations in the two countries is taking place or took place, probably in the Dalool Depression. In the future, researchers in Eritrea and Ethiopia will have to work together to record the movements of the wild asses in the border area between the two countries. Analyses of mitochondrial DNA indicate possible crossing between wild asses and domesticated asses or feral asses. This is therefore a serious risk that has to be investigated more closely.
 
Training professional ecologists is an important part of the project. Furthermore, the project also made important scientific journals and books available to the University of Asmara. Posters about protecting wild asses have been produced in various languages and given to all primary schools, authorities, the military, radio stations and the local population. 
 
The local Afar People must be involved in protecting the wild asses. It is thanks to their traditional beliefs and actions that there are still so many important wild animals in Eritrea. Their advice and their priorities will be taken into consideration in the development of a management plan for the Denkelia ecosystem.
 
Prospects
In the future, a management plan for the Denkelia region will continue to be developed in cooperation with the wildlife protection unit of the ministry for agriculture on the one hand and the local population on the other. This plan aims to preserve the integrity of the ecosystem, protect threatened species, ensure the sustainable use of natural resources and protect the food requirements of the native population in the long-term.
 
As political relationships between Eritrea and Ethiopia improve, a cross-border programme for wild asses must be established (the latest genetic research reveals that wild asses in both countries belong to one population), because long-term protection of this species depends on improving the demographic and genetic viability of the populations in all of the countries where wild asses are still found.
 
Relationships between native people, their livestock, wild animals and the ecosystem in wider geographical areas must also be investigated so that competition can be counteracted when their numbers increase.
 
The investigation area shall be expanded so that it also includes the Airori Plains and the Dalool Depression. The latest counts reveal that Somali wild asses are present in these areas.
 
A further important objective is to define a core zone within the biodiversity conservation area of the Buri Peninsula, ensuring that Somali wild asses can continue to reproduce on the Messir Plateau without the risk of interbreeding with domestic asses. Furthermore, keeping livestock in the core zone would not be permitted so that the wild asses could make use of the sparse desert vegetation without competition. A core zone like this would optimise the reproduction and survival rate of the Somali wild ass. Dankalia (Danakil) Desert
Eritrea is a land of contrasts: within a few hours, for example, you can travel from the cool air of the rugged mountains to the arid reaches of the Danakil Depression, one of the hottest places on earth (Kobar sink-100m bsl). Some Eritrean journeys are easy, some difficult, but all offer a taste of the unique experience that is Eritrea. In the southern part of Eritrea lies the vast lowland area known as the Danakil Depression. Often likened to a lunar landscape, the Danakil region is a wondrous and vast-expanse of hot and dry desert skirted below sea level, the depression boats some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded on earth.

Dankalia is one of the most inhospitable areas on earth. It is for the most part poor of fauna and flora and presents alternately desert flatlands and isolated mountain groups, sometimes interrupted by valleys spotted by thorny acacias. Green oasis of dum-palm trees interrupts the desert landscape in the zones of Beylul, Assab and Rahaita.

More inland, toward the Ethiopian highland, a long depression extends itself reaching a depth of 120 meters below the sea level. This part of Eritrea is one of the lowest and hottest places on earth and is known as Dallol (Danakil depression), where temperatures can reach 145°F (50° C) in the sun.
 
The Dahlak Archipelago
Some 200 of Eritrea’s islands belong to the Dahlak archipelago with a great opportunity for yacht cruising (scuba) diving and (pearl) fishing. Charter yachts are available for hire in Massawa. Only four islands are inhabited, with a total population of just 2,500, who still maintain their traditional lifestyle of fishing and herding goats and camels. The isolated and uninhabited Dahlak Islands, and the rich feeding grounds which surround them, attract large numbers of nesting sea birds from all over the red sea.

Some islands have shores lined with mangrove trees or salt bush. Shoals and submerged coral reefs, a spectacular marine life (dolphins, sharks, dugongs, turtle species, hermit crabs, fish, molluscs or shellfish), shipwrecks and pumice stones formed from submarine volcanoes make the Red Sea an unforgettable diving experience.

Gash Barka
Eritrea has one of the most northerly populations of African elephants. It is estimated that there are around 100 -120 elephants in Gash-Barka administrative zone.

Elephants in Eritrea are completely isolated with no gene flow from other elephant populations. The sample carried on Eritrean elephants shows nuclear and mitochondrial DNA markers establishing them as savanna elephants, with closer genetic affinity to Eastern than to North Central savanna elephant populations, and contrary to speculation by some scholars that forest elephants were found in Eritrea.

The Eritrean elephant population had first showed signs of inbreeding and isolation, because the population is small, and its nearest elephant neighbours are more than 400 kilometres away.
Being a small, isolated population is generally not good for survival, but Eritrea’s elephants are getting a helping hand from Eritrea’s agriculture ministry. The ministry is trying to minimize conflict between humans and elephants, and they’ve seen some success. The range and size of the population appears to be increasing every year.
 
Eritrean Wild Ass
The Eritrean Wild Ass or African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) is at risk of extinction in the wild. Major threats to its survival are hunting, competition with livestock, and interbreeding with the domestic donkey. An important but rare population exists on the Messir Plateau in the Danakil ecosystem of Eritrea.

In Eritrea, wild asses live in the Asa’ila Mountains between the Buri Peninsula and the Dalool Depression. 47 wild asses could be individually identified there. Their density in this area is estimated to be 47 wild asses per 100km2. This is the highest density in the present distribution area and it corresponds to the density in Ethiopia in the 1970s. On the Messir Plateau is it possible to get within 100m of the asses and observe their behaviour.

The project provides the scientific information needed to study the biology of the wild asses and the demands that they place on their habitat, as well as to protect them. The results of the project will be used to compile a management plan and provisions for safeguarding the various parts of the area will be drawn up. The aims of the management plan are preservation of the ecosystem, protection of the wild asses and long-term safeguarding of natural resources for the local population. The results achieved shall be made available to the local population, scientists, politicians and the agricultural office. A further objective of the research is to determine the genetic variability of the population in comparison to populations in Ethiopia. At the same time, investigations will determine whether interbreeding between wild and domesticated asses has occurred.

Project status
Somali wild asses live in loose herds of usually fewer than 5 animals and the only stable social unit is formed by a mother and her young. The loose herds vary with regard to age structure and gender of members. There are groups of adults of the same gender, but also mixed groups with mares and stallions of all ages. Stallions usually live alone, but sometimes with other stallions. Females are polyoestrous and foals are born between October and February.  Mares live with their foal and/or yearling. Male foals in the investigation area were not seen as adults later on, which indicates that they move on to other areas and also means that inbreeding is unlikely. Some adult stallions are territorial and only territorial stallions were observed mating with mares. The social system of the Somali wild ass on the Messir Plateau is typical of equidae in desert habitats.
 
Rainfall varies greatly from year to year and the rate of reproduction in wild asses is highly dependent on the amount of rain. There can be high levels of precipitation on the Messir Plateau, so this area is critical for the reproduction of the wild ass.  However, population dynamics and long-term viability are influenced by the high variability of the sporadic rainfall. During periods of drought, the asses must cover long distances to find enough food and water.Observations of behaviour have revealed that the presence of domestic asses in the Messir Plateau is problematic. Domesticated stallions have already been seen near wild ass stallions, but no mating has been recorded so far.
 
5 mitochondrial DNA haplotypes have been determined from dung samples taken from asses in Eritrea and Ethiopia. The results show that crossing over of genes between the populations in the two countries is taking place or took place, probably in the Dalool Depression. In the future, researchers in Eritrea and Ethiopia will have to work together to record the movements of the wild asses in the border area between the two countries. Analyses of mitochondrial DNA indicate possible crossing between wild asses and domesticated asses or feral asses. This is therefore a serious risk that has to be investigated more closely.
 
Training professional ecologists is an important part of the project. Furthermore, the project also made important scientific journals and books available to the University of Asmara. Posters about protecting wild asses have been produced in various languages and given to all primary schools, authorities, the military, radio stations and the local population. 
 
The local Afar People must be involved in protecting the wild asses. It is thanks to their traditional beliefs and actions that there are still so many important wild animals in Eritrea. Their advice and their priorities will be taken into consideration in the development of a management plan for the Denkelia ecosystem.
 
Prospects
In the future, a management plan for the Denkelia region will continue to be developed in cooperation with the wildlife protection unit of the ministry for agriculture on the one hand and the local population on the other. This plan aims to preserve the integrity of the ecosystem, protect threatened species, ensure the sustainable use of natural resources and protect the food requirements of the native population in the long-term.
 
As political relationships between Eritrea and Ethiopia improve, a cross-border programme for wild asses must be established (the latest genetic research reveals that wild asses in both countries belong to one population), because long-term protection of this species depends on improving the demographic and genetic viability of the populations in all of the countries where wild asses are still found.
 
Relationships between native people, their livestock, wild animals and the ecosystem in wider geographical areas must also be investigated so that competition can be counteracted when their numbers increase.
 
The investigation area shall be expanded so that it also includes the Airori Plains and the Dalool Depression. The latest counts reveal that Somali wild asses are present in these areas.
 
A further important objective is to define a core zone within the biodiversity conservation area of the Buri Peninsula, ensuring that Somali wild asses can continue to reproduce on the Messir Plateau without the risk of interbreeding with domestic asses. Furthermore, keeping livestock in the core zone would not be permitted so that the wild asses could make use of the sparse desert vegetation without competition. A core zone like this would optimise the reproduction and survival rate of the Somali wild ass. Dankalia (Danakil) Desert
Eritrea is a land of contrasts: within a few hours, for example, you can travel from the cool air of the rugged mountains to the arid reaches of the Danakil Depression, one of the hottest places on earth (Kobar sink-100m bsl). Some Eritrean journeys are easy, some difficult, but all offer a taste of the unique experience that is Eritrea. In the southern part of Eritrea lies the vast lowland area known as the Danakil Depression. Often likened to a lunar landscape, the Danakil region is a wondrous and vast-expanse of hot and dry desert skirted below sea level, the depression boats some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded on earth.

Dankalia is one of the most inhospitable areas on earth. It is for the most part poor of fauna and flora and presents alternately desert flatlands and isolated mountain groups, sometimes interrupted by valleys spotted by thorny acacias. Green oasis of dum-palm trees interrupts the desert landscape in the zones of Beylul, Assab and Rahaita.

More inland, toward the Ethiopian highland, a long depression extends itself reaching a depth of 120 meters below the sea level. This part of Eritrea is one of the lowest and hottest places on earth and is known as Dallol (Danakil depression), where temperatures can reach 145°F (50° C) in the sun.
 
The Dahlak Archipelago
Some 200 of Eritrea’s islands belong to the Dahlak archipelago with a great opportunity for yacht cruising (scuba) diving and (pearl) fishing. Charter yachts are available for hire in Massawa. Only four islands are inhabited, with a total population of just 2,500, who still maintain their traditional lifestyle of fishing and herding goats and camels. The isolated and uninhabited Dahlak Islands, and the rich feeding grounds which surround them, attract large numbers of nesting sea birds from all over the red sea.

Some islands have shores lined with mangrove trees or salt bush. Shoals and submerged coral reefs, a spectacular marine life (dolphins, sharks, dugongs, turtle species, hermit crabs, fish, molluscs or shellfish), shipwrecks and pumice stones formed from submarine volcanoes make the Red Sea an unforgettable diving experience.

Gash Barka
Eritrea has one of the most northerly populations of African elephants. It is estimated that there are around 100 -120 elephants in Gash-Barka administrative zone.

Elephants in Eritrea are completely isolated with no gene flow from other elephant populations. The sample carried on Eritrean elephants shows nuclear and mitochondrial DNA markers establishing them as savanna elephants, with closer genetic affinity to Eastern than to North Central savanna elephant populations, and contrary to speculation by some scholars that forest elephants were found in Eritrea.

The Eritrean elephant population had first showed signs of inbreeding and isolation, because the population is small, and its nearest elephant neighbours are more than 400 kilometres away.
Being a small, isolated population is generally not good for survival, but Eritrea’s elephants are getting a helping hand from Eritrea’s agriculture ministry. The ministry is trying to minimize conflict between humans and elephants, and they’ve seen some success. The range and size of the population appears to be increasing every year.
 
Eritrean Wild Ass
The Eritrean Wild Ass or African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) is at risk of extinction in the wild. Major threats to its survival are hunting, competition with livestock, and interbreeding with the domestic donkey. An important but rare population exists on the Messir Plateau in the Danakil ecosystem of Eritrea.

In Eritrea, wild asses live in the Asa’ila Mountains between the Buri Peninsula and the Dalool Depression. 47 wild asses could be individually identified there. Their density in this area is estimated to be 47 wild asses per 100km2. This is the highest density in the present distribution area and it corresponds to the density in Ethiopia in the 1970s. On the Messir Plateau is it possible to get within 100m of the asses and observe their behaviour.

The project provides the scientific information needed to study the biology of the wild asses and the demands that they place on their habitat, as well as to protect them. The results of the project will be used to compile a management plan and provisions for safeguarding the various parts of the area will be drawn up. The aims of the management plan are preservation of the ecosystem, protection of the wild asses and long-term safeguarding of natural resources for the local population. The results achieved shall be made available to the local population, scientists, politicians and the agricultural office. A further objective of the research is to determine the genetic variability of the population in comparison to populations in Ethiopia. At the same time, investigations will determine whether interbreeding between wild and domesticated asses has occurred.

Project status
Somali wild asses live in loose herds of usually fewer than 5 animals and the only stable social unit is formed by a mother and her young. The loose herds vary with regard to age structure and gender of members. There are groups of adults of the same gender, but also mixed groups with mares and stallions of all ages. Stallions usually live alone, but sometimes with other stallions. Females are polyoestrous and foals are born between October and February.  Mares live with their foal and/or yearling. Male foals in the investigation area were not seen as adults later on, which indicates that they move on to other areas and also means that inbreeding is unlikely. Some adult stallions are territorial and only territorial stallions were observed mating with mares. The social system of the Somali wild ass on the Messir Plateau is typical of equidae in desert habitats.
 
Rainfall varies greatly from year to year and the rate of reproduction in wild asses is highly dependent on the amount of rain. There can be high levels of precipitation on the Messir Plateau, so this area is critical for the reproduction of the wild ass.  However, population dynamics and long-term viability are influenced by the high variability of the sporadic rainfall. During periods of drought, the asses must cover long distances to find enough food and water.Observations of behaviour have revealed that the presence of domestic asses in the Messir Plateau is problematic. Domesticated stallions have already been seen near wild ass stallions, but no mating has been recorded so far.
 
5 mitochondrial DNA haplotypes have been determined from dung samples taken from asses in Eritrea and Ethiopia. The results show that crossing over of genes between the populations in the two countries is taking place or took place, probably in the Dalool Depression. In the future, researchers in Eritrea and Ethiopia will have to work together to record the movements of the wild asses in the border area between the two countries. Analyses of mitochondrial DNA indicate possible crossing between wild asses and domesticated asses or feral asses. This is therefore a serious risk that has to be investigated more closely.
 
Training professional ecologists is an important part of the project. Furthermore, the project also made important scientific journals and books available to the University of Asmara. Posters about protecting wild asses have been produced in various languages and given to all primary schools, authorities, the military, radio stations and the local population. 
 
The local Afar People must be involved in protecting the wild asses. It is thanks to their traditional beliefs and actions that there are still so many important wild animals in Eritrea. Their advice and their priorities will be taken into consideration in the development of a management plan for the Denkelia ecosystem.
 
Prospects
In the future, a management plan for the Denkelia region will continue to be developed in cooperation with the wildlife protection unit of the ministry for agriculture on the one hand and the local population on the other. This plan aims to preserve the integrity of the ecosystem, protect threatened species, ensure the sustainable use of natural resources and protect the food requirements of the native population in the long-term.
 
As political relationships between Eritrea and Ethiopia improve, a cross-border programme for wild asses must be established (the latest genetic research reveals that wild asses in both countries belong to one population), because long-term protection of this species depends on improving the demographic and genetic viability of the populations in all of the countries where wild asses are still found.
 
Relationships between native people, their livestock, wild animals and the ecosystem in wider geographical areas must also be investigated so that competition can be counteracted when their numbers increase.
 
The investigation area shall be expanded so that it also includes the Airori Plains and the Dalool Depression. The latest counts reveal that Somali wild asses are present in these areas.
 
A further important objective is to define a core zone within the biodiversity conservation area of the Buri Peninsula, ensuring that Somali wild asses can continue to reproduce on the Messir Plateau without the risk of interbreeding with domestic asses. Furthermore, keeping livestock in the core zone would not be permitted so that the wild asses could make use of the sparse desert vegetation without competition. A core zone like this would optimise the reproduction and survival rate of the Somali wild ass.

Eritrea Visa
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of six months from the date of entry to Eritrea. Most nationalities will have to purchase a visa for Eritrea advance to travel. You may also have to provide proof of sufficient funds to cover the duration of your stay upon entry to the country. For those where there is no Eritrean Embassy, entry visa can be granted up on arrival at the airport upon prior request from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Asmara.


Travel Permits in Eritrea
Travel permits are required for all tourist visits outside Asmara, which can be obtained from the Ministry of Tourism’s Information Office. Last Places takes care to obtaining them for you. For visits to archaeological sites, monasteries and islands, special travel permits are required from each respective office.



Vaccines and Travel Health in Eritrea
Travelers who are from or transiting via infected areas must have a valid certificate of Yellow Fever vaccination. There is a risk of Malaria in lowland regions of Eritrea (in Asmara there in no malaria), it is therefore recommended to take antimalarial drugs.



Security in Eritrea
Eritrea is a safe country in general terms. Street crime is rare but does happen in cities and towns, including Asmara. Take sensible precautions with your personal safety. Banditry is common near the Djibouti border, along the coast north of Massawa and on some rural roads.



When to go to Eritrea
Travelers can visit Eritrea all year around. Last Places offers trips to Eritrea all year around. Said this, the best months to travel to Eritrea are from September to April.

Eritrea has a tropical climate with three distinct climatic zones- the central highland, the coastal regions and the western lowlands.

The central highlands: hot and dry, Apr-Jun, with average temperature 27-30 degree C; cold, Dec-Feb; rainy season, June-Sep.

The coastal region: hot and dry, Jun-Sep, with average temperature ranging 40-47 degree C; cold, Dec; rainy season, Dec-Feb.

Western lowlands: hot, Apr to Jun, with average temperature 30-41 degree C; cold, Dec, temperature reaching as low as 15 degrees C; rainy season, Jun-Sep.


Currency in Eritrea
The Eritrean unit of currency is the Nakfa, which is divided into 100 cents.





Time in Eritrea
Eritrea is three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time – GMT +3.




Electricity in Eritrea
220 volts AC, 50 Hz. Though major hotels avail adapters for guests, travelers with appliances and electronic gear are advised to bring their own adapter kit.




Communications in Eritrea
The international dialling code for Eritrea is +291. Internet services is also available in major hotels (generally low speed) and Internet cafes.



Language in Eritrea
Tigrinya, Arabic and English are the official languages. Italian is understood among the elderly.



Prohibitions in Eritrea
Do not take photographs of government buildings or military establishments, or use binoculars near them, as this could lead to arrest. Some tribal people, especially lowlanders do not like to be photographed without their permission.

SET DEPARTURES TO Eritrea

No Trip Found