Selam Kidane…

Eritrean, psychotherapist, writer, human rights campaigner


January 2016

Eritrea: from colonialism to independence in photography

Martin Plaut

Martin Plaut

It is remarkable is quite how well the history of Eritrea was captured in early photography. Eritrea’s colonial masters were keen to celebrate their successes via photos. These are from my collection.

For the Italians the use of images had been an important element of the Risorgimento, with Garibaldi’s campaigns photographed and distributed by popular carte de visite. The British too had an appetite for colonial photography, both to illustrate the extent of their imperial conquests and to capture the ‘ways of the native.’

My earliest photograph dates from 1868. Britain, furious that the Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros II imprisoned several missionaries and two representatives of the British government, sent a vast army to release them. Some 13,000 British and Indian troops arrived from Bombay on 280 vessels they landed at Zula on Eritrean coast 48 km south of Massawa.

Here their camp is seen preparing to attack…

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My blood in his hands

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They pronounced me dead last Friday

no don’t cry…
Don’t come to my funeral now
The bullet shot in the desert…
Those bullet shots you heard about
they didn’t kill me…they couldn’t…
I died long before last Friday
back when they ululated at my birth
for I was born with my blood in his hands

But then I died more and more

And you ignored my death each time
I died as you toasted my ‘liberation’

And I died as you commemorated my ‘bravery’
for I was ‘liberated’ with their blood in his hands

And my bravery was the spilling of yet more blood
As my luck would have it I had to die more
And so I died as my friends perished
In war declared far away
As far away as heaven is from earth

In dungeons unfit for habitation by wild animals

In a desert nearer to hell than earth

In the sea filled with wrath unfathomable

In lonely foreign streets dangling from a noose
I died when they died with more blood in his hands

As if there was more of me left to kill
They shot at me from the back in the desert
And they found what I had known all along
There really was nothing to kill
I had died long ago
When I was born with my blood in his hands
So when you hear the bullet shots in the desert
Rather when you hear of bullet shots in the desert
Don’t cry and don’t come to my funeral then
For I died long before I was shot
I died long before I was forced to flee
I died long before I shed blood at their war

I died long before they tortured me in dungeons unnamed
I died in your silence
I died in front of your averted eyes
I died when you were dancing over my bloodied body
I died when I was born to this wretched land
With my blood already in his hands

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