The story of the Eritrean-Canadian diaspora is delicate yet profound. Eritrean identity is complicated, which is precisely what makes it so beautiful. There are many layers to each of one of our stories, carefully hand-stitched like Netsela, connecting the individual to the community, and beyond.
From our Eritrean exodus to our evolution as a globally connected diaspora, the vision for this anthology is a collective remembrance and representation of the Eritrean-Canadian diaspora experience.
This anthology seeks to capture the history of the Eritrean diaspora in Canada through our own collective memories and creative expressions: drawings, paintings, photography, lyrics, fiction, poetry, archival family photos, letters, and short stories.
We want the stories to be from you. Too often our stories have been translated, recreated, dramatised, altered or spoken through an outsider’s voice. This anthology is for us, by us.
We want to see and feel your perspective on being an Eritrean in Canada. Through crisis and celebration, we are a community, growing and maturing, together.
Netsela is one of the numerous textiles of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is commonly worn by women and men of all tribes in Eritrea. Netsela is a unifying symbol of history, connection and beauty, and also refers to a “covering”, which signals protection and security.
Netsela itself is a form of art. Handmade, thin, and delicate, one must be sensitive while wearing this fabric to ensure that it does not snag or tear. It is a sacred cloth, worn during special ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, and regularly by religious leaders. Like Netsela, the significance of our individual experiences wraps around each of us and weaves into a grand story, as though we are cloaked by the same cloth.
Netselana: An Artistic Anthology
An anthology is a collection of poems, other pieces of writing, and works of art that tell a bigger story. This medium represents a collective effort. Like a quilt, mosaic, or puzzle, an anthology is made significant by the smaller elements that make up the whole. The intergenerational art represented in this anthology will pay homage to our unifying experiences. We seek to amplify the voices, talent, and messages of the Eritrean-Canadian diaspora by celebrating the work of emerging and established Eritrean-Canadian artists.
Documenting Our History
Historically, Eritrean society, like most African and Indigenous cultures, has relied heavily on oral history for the transference of important information and collective wisdom.
Our oral histories are rarely documented. Among those that are, including the great novels, works of art, and poetry published by Eritreans, many of them are written in an Eritrean language and have yet to be translated. As a result, these stories are largely inaccessible to younger generations of Eritreans born and raised in Canada.
The earliest documented arrivals of Eritreans in Canada occurred in the mid-1970s, no more than 50 years ago. Prior to Eritrean independence in 1991, when Eritrea was not recognised as a nation-state, Eritreans arrived in Canada under Ethiopian national identity. Since independence, Eritreans have continued to be grouped with other East African groups, further enforcing the issue of Eritrean invisibility.
Through the natural cycle of life, we are losing some of our wisest and most important storytellers. Without documentation, our first generations in Canada will pass without transferring their knowledge to the youth. With few exceptions, such as information captured in academic work and documentaries, our stories are being lost with their carriers.
So, we ask: whose responsibility is it to document these stories?
The answer, without question, is that it is ours.
Why Document Through Art?
Art is powerful. It transcends physical barriers and distance. We recognize ourselves in artists, and with their art, we feel seen, heard and understood. During the Eritrean revolution, poignant poetry and song lyrics inspired a generation to rise up for their rights for an independent nation. Yemane Ghebremichael, Elsa Kidane, Wedi Tukul, Abraham Afewerki, galvanized an entire generation with their art.
As this same generation left the country, other forms of art marked the remembrance of the life they were leaving behind. So many questions remained unanswered, but art helped to provide a sense of place. For this generation, artists held everything that was crumbling apart, together.
For the generations growing up in Canada, different questions remain unanswered. Questions related to identify, belonging, and connection. Canadian-born Eritreans exist between cultures, reconciling questions about the meaning of being Canadian; the meaning of being black; which aspects of each culture should be adopted and which should be left behind.
Art has the power to create dialogue around these questions.
Art has the power to raise further questions and dismantle ignorance.
Art has the power to heal our wounds from deep trauma.
Art has the power to help us transform ideas into action.