Culture of Eritrea

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The National Museum of Eritrea is a national museum in Asmara, Eritrea

The culture of Eritrea is the collective cultural heritage of the various populations native to Eritrea. It shares historic commonalities with the traditions of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan.[1] The local culture consists of various, and often quite similar, traditions practiced by the nation's many Cushitic and Ethiopian Semitic-speaking Afro-Asiatic ethnic groups, in addition to those practiced by the area's Nilotic minorities.

Coffee ceremony[edit]

An Eritrean woman pouring traditionally brewed coffee into finjal from a jebena.

One of the most recognizable parts of Eritrean culture is the coffee ceremony.[2] Coffee (Ge'ez ቡን būn) is offered when visiting friends, during festivities, or as a daily staple of life. If coffee is politely declined then most likely tea ("shai" ሻሂ shahee) will be served. The coffee is brewed by first roasting the green coffee beans over hot coals gughin a brazier. Once the beans are roasted each participant is given an opportunity to sample the aromatic smoke by wafting it towards them. The coffee roasting smoke are sometimes used to fill the rooms with a pleasant scent. This is followed by the grinding of the beans, traditionally in a wooden mortar and pestle.

The coffee grounds are then put into a special vessel, called a jebena, and boiled. A jebena is usually made of clay and has a spherical base, a neck and pouring spout and a handle where the neck connects with the base. When the coffee boils up through the neck it is poured in and out of another container to cool it, and then is put back into the jebena until it happens again. To pour the coffee from the jebena a filter made from horsehair or other material is placed in the spout of the jebena to prevent the grounds from escaping.

The host pours the coffee for all participants by moving the tilted jebena over a tray with small, handleless cups (finjal) without stop until each cup is full. Some of the coffee will inevitably miss the cup but this is done to prevent the coffee grounds from contaminating the brew. One extra cup is poured each time. The grounds are brewed four times: the first round of coffee is called awel, the second kale'i, the third bereka ('to be blessed')and the fourth is called "dereja". However, the "dereja" is not always poured, it is mostly poured when elders are present. The coffee ceremony may also include burning of various traditional incense such as frankincense or gum arabic.


A plate of Injera with various Eritrean stews

Typically, Eritrean cuisine consists of various stews (tsebhi) made from vegetables and meat, and served atop a large, flat sourdough bread called injera, tayta, "shuro", "alicha" and "hamly". Many vegetarian dishes are available since a majority of the population observe fasting at some time during the year. Eating is accomplished without utensils by tearing a piece of injera (strictly using the right hand), then scooping some stew, vegetables or salad with the bread.

On visiting an Eritrean household, it is polite to decline at least three times if asked to dine. Usually the host will say "bezay kelalem", after which the guest may agree to dine. This process ensures that one does not seem too eager to eat at another's household. When one visits an Eritrean house regardless of whether they are served with food or not, they are always served with hot tea.


An Eritrean krar and masinqo is a common instruments in Eritrea.

Eritrea has nine ethnic groups, each of which have their own different styles of music and accompanying dances. A common instrument used by many of the communities is the drum. Amongst the Tigray-Tigrinya, the best known traditional musical genre is called guaila.


Various religious traditions are observed in Eritrea. An estimated 50% of local inhabitants are Sunni Muslim adherents, with Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic followers constituting 30% and 13% of the population, respectively. The Muslims are concentrated in the eastern and western lowlands, whereas the Christians mainly inhabit the highlands. Religious denominations with fewer than 5% adherents include Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'is, Buddhists and Hindus. Followers of traditional faiths comprise around 2% of residents. There are very few irreligious individuals, and participation in religious activity is generally high.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tekle, Amare (1994). Eritrea and Ethiopia: From Conflict to Cooperation. The Red Sea Press. p. 197. ISBN 0932415970. Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan have significant similarities emanating not only from culture, religion, traditions, history and aspirations but also from being in comparable levels of income and economic development. For the most part, the peoples of these countries share common values. They appreciate similar foods and spices, beverages and sweets, fabrics and tapestry, lyrics and music, and jewelry and fragrances. They even compare in sizes and looks and are hard to tell.
  2. ^ It’s coffee time Network Africa Online, April 2008 interview.
  3. ^ "Eritrea". U. S. Department of State. Retrieved 25 August 2017. The country has an area of 48,489 square miles and a population of 3.6 million. Although reliable statistics are not available, it is estimated that 50 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim and 30 percent is Orthodox Christian. Approximately 13 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, while groups that constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Buddhist, Hindus, and Baha'is. Approximately 2 percent of the population practice traditional indigenous religions. The population in the eastern and western lowlands is predominantly Muslim and predominantly Christian in the highlands. There are very few atheists. Religious participation is high among all ethnic groups

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