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ERITREANS ENRICH CANADIAN CULTURE

Recently, my wife, Fay, and I were invited to a baptism and marriage anniversary celebration. And what a celebration it was. 

The occasion was unlike our experiences from the past. 

How was it ‘unlike?’ Well, it was Eritrean. 

Eritrea is a country in north east Africa. Eritrea has had many struggles, some of them violent, with its close neighbour Ethiopia. Those conflicts caused many Eritreans to flee as refugees. Canada opened its arms to those refugees. As a result, in recent years a number of Eritrean refugees have come to live in Prince Albert. 

Four years ago Calvary United Church in Prince Albert joined with the Canadian government to sponsor an Eritrean family. Through Calvary’s connections with Wesley United, Fay and I, became involved in the settlement process of that family. 

It was through this connection that we were invited to the baptism and anniversary celebration mentioned above. 

And, as I said, what a celebration it was! 

It was held at the East Hill Community Hall. The entire Prince Albert Eritrean community joined together to host the third anniversary of the marriage of a young couple and to sanctify the baptism of the couple’s baby girl. The celebration was held to recognize what marriage and a new life mean to the Eritrean community. The local Eritreans were joined in the festivities by families from Saskatoon. The Hall was filled with adults and children, and with noise - lots of it. Of course that was not new to us. The difference was found in the people’s attire, the music, the food, and the unique customs followed . 

All, young and old, male and female, wore distinct Eritrean attire. The males donned formal suits, with the father of the child and the immediate male members of the family in white tuxedos. The women and young girls all wore white dresses, trimmed with carefully made coloured lace. Each female’s hair was done in stunning braids – braids like we had never seen before. 

The total effect was amazing - a picture of a distinctive community - a community that effused joy and celebration. 

Added to this were bright decorations. The hall had streamers everywhere which were highlighted by vivid coloured balloons. Every table and chair was carefully wrapped in white, with the tables crowned by flowered centre pieces. 

The ambience was made even more unique by the music – provided by a live Eritrean 

band. The major instrument was something like a cross between a harp and a guitar – it is called a Kirar. It gives off, to our ears anyway, an East Indian sound. A very lively keyboard player accompanied it. There were also Kebero drums. The Kebero is a double headed conical drum of about 16 inches long, and is carried by a shoulder strap. Guests took turns picking up a Kebero and dancing about the hall accompanying the Kirar player. The effect created was totally festive. An effect that did not make for sitting. 

An Eritrean dance is unique. It often consists of two circles – one male and one female. The circles and rhythm of the dancers reminded me of an aboriginal round dance. As the circles moved about, dancers of either sex would join each other’s circle, crossing back and forth at will. 

When I inquired if the dance formations had a significant meaning, I was told - “It is just our tradition.” 

When Fay and I rose to dance, we did an old style ‘jive’ to the beat of the drums. This was greeted by clapping and cheering. We felt different but very much accepted. 

AND that was the central theme of the night – ACCEPTANCE. The Eritreans were out to celebrate – celebrate the life force found in each of us – the life force symbolized in the sacred baptism of a child – the life force shown in the fun all the little children present were having, as they mimicked the dancing of their elders or simply bounced gaily about on their own – the life force shining through the rhythmic shuffle step of the round dances to the beat of the drums and the Kirar – and above all the life force felt by everyone present when they looked at the beaming faces of the young couple for whom the whole celebration had been organized. 

That life force was infectious. Fay and I went away filled with joy – the joy of simply being alive. 

Canada’s colourful history is centred on the wonders of multiculturalism. Our history has just become even more wondrous – thanks to the Eritreans, 

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