MITSWA’E: COULD BE THE HEART OF RIPPLE
WAVES OF TOURISM DEVELOPMENT IN ERITEA
By Frezghi Dawit
I think I may be right if I say ‘visit Eritrea, enjoy Mitswa’e’ is becoming familiar among people of every corners of the world. I remember when some South Africans came to give entrance examination to Eritrean students who would soon join universities there; I offered them my humble invitation to visit the National Museum (of Eritrea). He, then and there, on the spot, told and discussed with his other colleagues. He told me they have only five days stay in the country, and all massively preferred ‘to go to the Red Sea coast, Massawa first [sic]’. I agreed, but was surprised and remained silent. Outside I silently said Mitswa’e! To me, they knew it already. How? I fully pictured and felt what this guys would enjoy in Mitswa’e: the swimming, historic architectures, landscapes, local communities culture, and gentle, cool Red Sea night breeze with glittering street lamps, dancing and burning sea, sips from brewed juices of barley sprout bitter with hops, the night clubs and pumping music and the whole lot recipes that relax and refresh one’s body and soul in Mitswa’e. I was just on duty there establishing the Mitswa’e regional museum until I had been informed by friends that they arrived in Asmara. The name Mitswa’e is a household word among Eritreans either local or foreign residents of all walks of life. He/she obviously associated the name with where one gets full pleasure, feels free and enjoys living. It is a place everyone wishes to go when one has a spare time and, indeed money, in every break of time (say once a month), not once in life time like a distant religious places. Eritreans residing abroad commonly ask someone (like any Eritrean or a friend or relative) who just returned from a visit from Eritrea whether he/she went to Mitswa’e; it is one of the fi rst conversations. The place is simply one should not miss, not only when one has the opportunity. Local or domestic citizens would ask you whether you have been to Mitswa’e when you were out from work for a while rest, or they would advice you to have a trip to Mitswa’e if they think you are a bit idle and extravagant in the township for few days. Tourists, foreign residents in Asmara, and drop-ins for a very short business in Eritrea simply say Mitswa’e or the coast is different! Amazing! Very beautiful! With a left-right nodding approval of their heads in total wonder. Mitswa’e is not a far out place like from Asmara, but one feels as though he/she is in a distant place. Because the natural setting is different including the weather, the landscape, the seascape, the sky, the sunset, the sunrise, and screaming black jays at dawn(may be screaming for or cursing whoever created daylight, not only created restful night). The port town of Mitswa’e is about 115km from the capital, Asmara, due northeast. It is located in Zoba Semenawi Qeihbahri (or Northern Red Sea region). The 115km drives either through Asmara-Nefasit- Ghenda or through Asmara-Felfel Selemuna-She’eb have the taste of a nosedive downhill fl ight from about 2500meter above sea level to the sea level or zero. Or it is like a115km dash-down from a plateau of 2500 to 0 altitude. In the escarpments that have vertical drop wall, which has tens and hundreds of turns and bends enables to have beautiful frames of landscapes in every moments. On the way, you observe the step-by-step change in altitude, vegetation cover, temperature, culture as well as view nature sculptured fogs suspended in the valley fl oors, on ridges and mountaintops. Mitswa’e is the center of administration for Zoba Semenawi Qeihbahri. Zoba Semenawi Qeihbahri consists of the port town itself, and some sub-administration localities. They too are endowed with different natural and cultural resources. Buya paleothological and paleolithic (Stone Age) sites which put Eritrea in the geography of hominid studies is located in this region. The Buya landscape, which recalls a moonscape clip on a TV show (or on a movie clip) and extinct animal fossil remains give imagination and provokes a chain of thought what and how people looked like and lived in the remote past. Buya could be a promising site that would cast a beam of light over the darkness of the study of hominid (early man) origins. The Dahlak Archipelagoes are the brightest spots of Mitswa’e’s tourist industry organization. Developing some of the islands to tourists’ heaven is in the process such as at the island of Diessie and Seqere. They have open, clean, warm-seawater and curving beach lines. The Dahlak Archipelagoes is also rich in historical sites, such as underground cisterns and stone inscriptions, earliest Muslim burials and burial monuments and vestige of houses at Dahlak Kebeer. The Dahlak Archipelagoes was said to be one of the first foot-steps of Islam in Africa and was the gateway of Islam into Eritrea and the Horn of Africa. Prophet Muhammad’s first followers, including his daughter, believed to be granted refuge by the then ruler of “Eritrea” when they were persecuted in their own homeland. That is why this part of Africa did not experience violent Muslim invasion and conquest at all. Kuffic (classical Arabic script) stone inscriptions and the earliest Muslim mosques at Mitswa’e are solid evidences of the claim. Local communities’ culture, such as eventful Afar cultural dances, jumping and limping like elated doe, warm-welcoming and hospitability with their chocolate and sleek pitch-black complexion, almond-oval eyes and short curly hairs, is good part of the riches of the area. Monastery of Deberebeezen, one of the earliest centers of Christianity and stronghold of monks and religious communities, is also found in this region. It is rich in different kinds of parchments, liturgical materials and oral tradition. Once it was center of education and the most educated part of the society. Proper Mitswa’e itself is a heavyweight tourist resort, and is rich in what is professional tourist industry sought-after, the Four Ss that is sun, sea, sand, and the last s that indulges humanity in is as old as time itself is culturally a taboo to talk openly. Man, unlike other animals, perform it either for procreation or profane and year round. Mitswa’e posses very clean and warm-sea beaches as well as restaurants and hotels of every kind, among other services. On the other hand, Mitswa’e is the direct successor of the well-known ancient port city of Eritrea, Adulis. Adulis is about 60km south of Mitswa’e; it was the most southern port of the ancient Christian world. It was a religious and military ally, a commerce partner and a transit port to the outside world. Christianity was introduced in this part of Africa in the 4th century A.D. Mitswa’e was the capital of Eritrea before it was moved to Asmara in the early 1900s. However, in the very near future it seems Mitswa’e is going to reclaim its importance by arguing that it is owner of one of the basic matter of this world, the sea. It owns additional communication line, sea routs. Furthermore, for sure it could be the hub of business and life in the near future.
Tourists can reach Mitswa’e using different means of transportation such as air and sea routs directly from abroad. Motorcar and railway connect Mitswa’e with the city of Asmara, are common means of transportation for travelers or visitors within Eritrea. Asmara- Mitswa’e railway was/is a steampowered engine, still uses steam energy from coal, and as such, it is one of a few operating railways in the whole of the African continent. Asmara-Mitswa’e railway is one of tourist attractions per se. From time to time growing number of steampowered railway enthusiasts come to have experience. The railway not only has good services, caring operators and smiling waitresses, but it is also airy, comfortable, and antique. Some peculiar part of the railway is it pierces and penetrates such a rugged landscape in Africa, and passes a number of dark tunnels; so, one feels as though you are practically under the earth. It travels at very low speed so that one can have a chance to entertain with scene of natural and culturalscapes and beautiful frame of view form a spot. I think Mitswa’e is the tourist capital of Eritrea. It is a prime tourist destination in Eritrea. Tourists instinctively prefer to go there fi rst. Thus, it could use as staging-ground for tourists who want to visit the surrounding places. There should be organized tourist operation in place for tourists who want a day or two treks into the different localities of the region and into the islands and their corridors of water in the Red Sea. In addition, there should be tourist operation to explore the islands from a temporary base in the islands. By the same token, Mitswa’e could be used as springboard for tourists who are interested to visit historical, cultural and the like resources of the country. As a matter of fact, most tourists in Eritrea visit other parts of the country after they had returned from Mitswa’e. The reason could be that they might have been informed during their visit there or maybe the beauty of the coast lures them to have trips to other parts of the country for a parallel delight. Ministry of Tourism and its other pertinent stakeholder institutions such as National Museum of Eritrea and Mitswa’e Regional Museum should be active in providing tourist guides seasoned with cultural and historical knowledge.
Source: Newpaper – Eritrean Profile 13. June 2010.