The nine ethnic groups present in Eritrea constitute many sets of customs, values and traditions. Thus, Eritrea proudly reveals the mosaic culture of nine distinct ethno-linguistic groups. Though Eritrea’s nationalities differ in their culture and language, there is a clear boundary between the cultures of the lowlands and the highlands. For instance, the dwellings of the lowlands is round in shape and is constructed to be suitable for the hot temperature; while in the highlands the more common house is rectangular in shape, called a Hidmo. They are usually built of stone, rough blocks, and in some cases held together by mud mortar.
Before the coming of the Italians, most of the ethnic groups used to wear clothes made up of animal skins. However, during colonization, the Eritrean way of dressing was revolutionized especially with the introduction of synthetic fabrics. Today most of the nationalities wear clothes made of cotton. In the highlands, mainly in the countryside, men wear loose cotton trousers and collarless shirts while women wear flowing chiffon dresses and always drape themselves with a cotton shawl. The followers of Islam are more or less influenced by Islamic culture. Men’s attire includes the turban or kuffih and the women don loose fitting dresses that cover their whole body with the exception of their face. In the towns and cities, modern Western style has greatly influenced the way of dressing.
In the highlands, and in some parts of the lowlands, the dish is Injera (sourdough bread with a resemblance of a very large pancake)—a staple diet. Injera is eaten with various types of sauce including shiro (a sauce prepared from the powder made up of chick peas, garlic and various spices) and zigni (curried beef or chicken powdered with red pepper called berbere and other spices). There are many dishes made up of vegetables as well.
It is common for restaurants in Eritrea to serve Italian dishes such as spaghetti and lasagna, as well as secondo dishes such as beef steak. In Eritrean tradition, eating in the open air is not very common while having tea, coffee, cappuccino or a macchiato with cake in the public is very common. Above all, the Eritrean coffee ceremony is a recreational activity that is given great value and importance. It takes time and skills to brew. It is used as a means of gathering relatives, family and friends.
Art and Music
Eritreans have a long history of art and music. Traditional musical instruments are still used in towns and in the countryside. These include the kebero (drum); kerar (lyre of five or six strings, also considered the traditional guitar); embelta, meleket (both instruments resembling large flutes); and the wata (a traditional violin). The ethnic groups have various ways of dancing and various ways of using musical instruments. Eritreans love music and have songs for any occasion: weddings, get-togethers, traditional and religious festivities and harvest seasons, among others.