THE NATIVES AND THE INDIGENOUS POPULATIONS OF ERITREA “THE KUNAMA AND THE BARIA/NARA”
Many historians, anthropologists and scholars have already researched and written about how different we Eritreans are ethnically, linguistically and culturo-traditionally.
According to those research-works, the Kunama and the Baria/Nara were the first two ethnic groups which had put down their roots in the Eritrean soil.
These two ethnic groups are known and classified as belonging to the “Nil-Chary tribes”.
All the other seven, today forming the nine Eritrean ethnic groups, are either immigrants or of mixed races.
Concerning the sensitive land issue in Eritrea, particularly regarding the western lowlands inhabited by the Kunama and the Baria/Nara populations, Ras Alula had spearheaded a genocide type of war against those tribes the effects of which linger to these very days.
The past rulers of Eritrea, though recognising the land belonging to these two ethnic groups, had given themselves and the other ethnic groups an ample freedom to inhabit as well as administer the land. The Italians and the British were said to have been very aware that the Tigrian populations were always the ones creating problems in matters of land use.
However, in order to facilitate their own territorial interests as well as allow other populations to have some access, they invented the principle of the “Terreno Demaniale” (State Land) in the western lowlands of Eritrea thus practically creating more conflicts and hatreds among the local populations.
One-hundred-and-fifteen (115) years have elapsed since Ras Alula’s failed attempts and there is no question that, the Kunama ethnic group has been suffering ever since.
It had enjoyed a short period of peace during the Italian colonisation but when the British came the conflicts between the Tigrians and the Kunama people began anew and “land” has always been the main point of contention.
In the past, the main stream of the Eritrean Tigrian component had always opted for the union with Ethiopia which it did take place. They have always shown clear signs of volatility in the Eritrean affairs, arrogance and a great desire for dominance over the other Eritrean ethnic groups.
In the 1960s, some Eritrean Tigrians, ignoring their past and following the main stream of the western Eritrean populations, changed side to fight against the Ethiopian domination.
The western Eritrean lowlanders however, had their scepticism conscious of the Eri-Tigrians volatility. Many of them in fact, had remained faithful to their “mother-land Ethiopia” but few others, like Iasayas Afwerki & co., joined the Jebha 1966, as if he and his colleagues had been motivated by genuine intentions.
After a few years, in 1970, Isayas, together with 9 of his closest friends, decided to split from the Jebha to form his own group.
Without going into details to fathom out also the failures of Jebha, let us state that, with that decision, Isayas had begun a purely Tigrian movement as quite a number of that ethnic group members immediately joined followed by an ever-increasing number of other Tigrians from the Eritrean as well as from the Ethiopian cities, towns and countryside.
The principle of “NHNAN ILAMANAN” was born then and developed over the years.
It was a clear call to strive not only to fight against the enemy but also to gain dominance over and subjugate the western Eritrean populations.
Adopting very fine tactics, the EPLF attracted also the sympathy of the Ethiopian Tigrians and together it succeeded in defeating and expelling Jebha from the Eritrean into the Sudanese soil. This was a well-planned and carefully carried out political move which gave Isayas and his friends an absolute dominance in the Eritrean fields.
In 1991, Eritrea got its independence and that too with the help and consent of the Ethio-Tigrians. The political independence of Eritrea meant more plights for the western-lowland populations. The great majority of the Eritrean refugees were and are either lowlanders or the supporters of Jebha and its sub-groups.
Isayas has been occupying the Eritrean seat claiming to have brought the Eritrean independence.
One day, at a meeting, Isayas was said to have told his ministers that, in reality, the Eritrean seat should be occupied by the people of the western Eritrean lowlands, but that because of their weaknesses, the Tigrian contingent is occupying it instead.
Asked by his ministers why he had come out with such a controversial statement, Isayas was said to have retorted that he had told them the truth. This story had not been fabricated but it was confided by the ministers themselves at a later time. They reported that, Isayas went so far as to state that, had it not been because of the lack of courage of the western lowlanders, the hilghlanders would not be now holding the political power in Eritrea.
Perhaps it was the first and the only time Isayas told the truth, but there is some objectivity in his statement.
As primary Eritrean natives, we, the Kunama and the Baria/Nara populations, know our human and social rights and how to implement them on the bases of our traditional laws and interests. The Tigrian component has no right to infringe and impose its cultural and territorial domain upon us. The land issue has to be resolved in the context of our laws and traditions.
From now on. We Kunama are neither to step backwards nor stay still and let others dictate on us and on our affairs. Our determination to claim for and defend our social and territorial rights is as strong as our demand for an equal share in the Eritrean political power.
We are therefore requesting the present and the future Eritrean governments to recognise, respect and protect our ethnic rights, rescind the present land law, re-instate our traditional land ownership and administrative systems.
The Eri-Tigrians have to eliminate their attitudes of despise, discrimination and arrogance on our regards. Eritrea has to heading towards a total justice of its political dispensation and equality of its diverse ethnic components.
Let each Eritrean ethnic group live according to its own social and customary laws, if we desire peace and tranquillity to rain over Eritrea and over the Eritrean societies.
As long as the present social, political and territorial laws exist, Eritrea may be heading for and falling back into new ethnic conflicts which could be transmitted from generations to generations thus lasting much longer than the 30-years of its liberation movement.
If the Eritrean ethnic groups and their diverse cultural heritage are not given their due respect and protection, we may be facing permanent problems in the future.
We Kunama have never invaded the Tigrian territories nor given any problems to their inhabitants as the Tigrians are now doing in the Kunama Land and to the Kunama people.
We know and expect the Kunama Land as such to be administered by its own natives and on the bases of their own traditional and customary laws; to meet the expectations and needs of its prime inhabitants.
We have been stressing on this point for quit sometime, we are stressing on it now and we shall be stressing on it even more firmly in the times to come as we believe it to be a point of tantamount importance.
The Australian “Aborigines”, had suffered for years till one day they rose up to claim for their native rights and got them. Faced with a legitimate and legal demands, the Australian whites had no other choice but remunerate the natives. The Australian people and government, realising how important a cultural heritage could be for an ethnic group, did not hesitate to solve such a basic and vital human problem.
The Eritrean government too has to apply identical principles in matters of ethnic values such as land, traditions and cultural issues.
The present Eritrean regime has expropriated the land of the “Sahel Hawashawit” and resettled them in the Kunama Land.
When on earth, had the natives of Sahel ever known the Kunama Land before if not only as cow-herds?
The Kunama Land is not and should not to be turned into a national refugee camp.
This has to be taken into a great consideration both by any Eritrean government as well as by all those other ethnic group members who believe that the principle of the “State Land” is a free license for invading and occupying the Kunama Land at will.
We Kunama have been often telling the present Eritrean regime and stressing the point that, such inhuman and unilateral decision to bring about demographic disruptions are likely to create constant resentments and conflicts among the local populations but, as the Italians would say, “il cane che abbaia non morde”, meaning, “a barking dog does not bite”, the PFDJ regime has been letting our cries fall on “deaf-ears”.
The many topics we Kunama have been so far covering and shall be covering in our web-site are not motivated by either “fun or hobby” but by an urgent need to send our message across that our Kunama people have reached the point of saying, ”enough is enough” with the problems we Kunama have had to live with but that actually they are the creation of external forces operating in our territory.
Let us not forget that a movement by the western lowland populations has always had lasting effects in Eritrea.
Let us also remind our readers that, when we use the definition “the Eri-Tigrian ethnic group” and comment on its negative attitude and arrogant behaviour, we do not mean all the “Tigrigna-speaking components” but only those who, throughout the Eritrean history played and are playing a double, exclusive, arrogant and a greedy role in Eritrea and in the Eritrean society. They are not to unite but to divide our nation and nationalities.