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Eritrean Language and Culture

The country Eritrea, which derived its name from Sinu Erythraeus, is a Greek term that translates to “The Red Sea.” This east African country, which lies on the Red Sea’s west coast, is known for its rich and unique architectural structures. Sudan borders the country in the north and northwest, Ethiopia in the south, and in the southeast by Djibouti. The Eritrean territory occupies about 48,000 square miles and houses many landscapes, such as plains, plateaus, deserts, and mountains.

Eritrea has a diverse culture influenced by its history as a crossroads of trade and migration. Many different ethnic groups have settled in the region over the centuries, including the Tigrigna, Tigre, Saho, Bilen, and Nara. The country is also home to many people of Arab, Italian, and Indian descent. With a population of about 6 million people, the bulk of the population are Christians, but there are also sizable Muslims and other traditional worshipers. The official languages spoken in Eritrea are Tigrinya, Tigre, and Arabic. These languages are used widely for business and Administration.

Besides having a diverse cuisine with lots of flavors, Eritrea has beautiful architecture, which reflects its colonial past and the influence of multiple foreign powers.  This article will walk you through Eritrea’s language and culture.


Population of Eritrea

Despite being a small country, Eritrea is a melting pot of different cultures, religions, and languages. The country’s population is relatively young, estimated at 3,717,101 as of 2022. 80% of the people are dwellers of Eritrean rural communities. Eritrean’s capital and largest city is Asmara. The Tigrigna and Tigre are the largest ethnic groups, making up around 50-60% of the population, followed by the Saho, Bilen, and Nara, which make up about 15-20% of the population each. The remaining ethnic groups –Afar, Beja, Kunama, and Rashaida – comprise a smaller percentage of the people.


National and Local Languages of Eritrea

Eritrea’s significant languages used for business and administration are Tigrinya, Tigre, and Arabic. While these three are used for commercial purposes, the other ethnic languages are used at the local level and education in primary schools.

  • Arabic: is the widely spoken foreign language in Eritrea and is taught in Eritrean schools. Arabic is also spoken with some dialectical variance, such as Sudanese Arabic, which constitutes 90% of the Eritrean Arabic speakers, and Hijazi Arabic (24,000 speakers).
  • Tigrinya, Tigre, and Dahik are spoken by 70% of Eritrean residents
  • Beja, Saho, Afar, Blin and Amharic are spoken by 10% of Eritreans
  • Other Nilo-Saharan and foreign languages make up the remaining 20% of languages spoken in Eritrea.


Religion in Eritrea

Religion has always been a significant part of Eritrean ethnic identity. Approximately half of Eritrea’s population is Christian, and a substantial portion of those Christians are members of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The remainder of the Christian population comprises Roman Catholics and a small number of Protestants. This distribution of Christianity in Eritrea can be traced back to the time of Italian colonial rule, when European missionaries brought their versions of the religion to the country and converted a significant number of people, particularly from the Kunama group, through their offer of modern education.

Another half of Eritrea’s population practices Islam today. This includes most people living on the eastern coast, the western plain, and the northern part of the plateau. Christianity is more prevalent among farmers, while pastoralist populations are mostly Muslims. Nevertheless, in the towns of Eritrea, Muslims are also a significant part of the population and active in trade. Religion has played and continues to play an essential role in the ongoing conflicts and competition between farmers and pastoralists over resources like land, water, marketing, and access to ports.


Eritrea’s Culture

ERITREAN LANGUAGE AND CULTURECoffee is an essential ingredient of Eritreans’ social life, as much so as its traces of Jamaican music. The Eritreans take considerable time preparing coffee because they believe making good coffee requires skill and patience. The Eritrean culture has a traditional coffee ceremony that can be observed during celebrations or while visiting a local. The ritual involves roasting coffee beans over hot coals using a brazier. The host allows the guests to savor the aroma before the beans are ground using a wooden mortar and pestle. The ground coffee is then prepared in a clay vessel known as a jebena before being served once it has cooled and been filtered.


Eritrea’s Food

Their cuisine is similar to that of Ethiopia as it is prepared using the same technique and recipe. One such dish is the Injera, a chewy flatbread prepared with sorghum flour, wheat, or teff. The Injera is usually eaten with a vegetable-based sauce or hot and spicy meat sauce known as tsebi.

In Eritrean cuisine, meals are commonly served on a shared platter, and people use bread to scoop up dishes such as zigni (stew), ful (baked beans), dorho (roasted chicken), ga’at (porridge), and shiro (lentils) rather than utensils. These dishes usually come with a side of berbere, a hot pepper commonly used in Eritrean cooking. Additionally, Eritrean food is influenced by the country’s past colonization by Italy. It includes dishes such as capretto (goat), frittata (vegetable omelet), and pasta commonly eaten in urban areas.


Eritrea’s Fashion

Like Ethiopia, the famous dress used for any special occasion in Eritrea is the Habesha Kemis, commonly worn by women. The Habesha Kemis is a traditional ankle-length dress worn by women from Eritrea and Ethiopia at formal and casual events. It typically features sleeves and a bodice and can be made in various styles. The dress is traditionally made from cotton, specifically a hand-woven fabric called shemma. This fabric is woven in long stripes, which are then sewn together. Bright yarns are sometimes added for an elegant effect. The dress is decorated with hand embroidery and traditional patterns, known as tilet or tibeb, in bright colors on the top, middle, and bottom of the dress, as well as on the wrists and neck. Many women also wear a matching scarf or shawl, known as netsela or netela, around the waist or on the shoulders and neck. The dress is commonly found in beige, white, and grey shades and is often paired with beautiful Ethiopian jewelry for added beauty.

The men wear the traditional clothing known as “shirwa” and “habesha kemis,” similar to the dresses worn by women but with a more tailored fit and often in darker colors. The shirwa is a long, white cotton shirt worn with pants, typically in a darker color such as black or navy blue. The habesha kemis is a traditional ankle-length shirt worn with trousers and made from various fabrics, including cotton, linen, and silk. These traditional clothing items are often accompanied by a shawl or scarf known as “netela” or “netsela,” worn around the waist or over the shoulder. Additionally, many men in Eritrea also wear traditional headwear such as the “kemis,” a white cotton cap, and the “tsenaten,” a traditional headscarf worn in various styles.


Family Life in Eritrea

In Eritrea, people live together as a nuclear family. In some ethnic groups, the family structure is extended, with the man being the provider and decision-maker. At the same time, his wife is responsible for taking care of the household and other domestic activities. Children are raised under the influence of parents, aunties, uncles, and even neighbors, as with most African societies; it is believed that a child is not raised by its parents alone but by the collective efforts of the community.


Doing Business in Eritrea

There are several things to keep an eye out for when doing business in Eritrea, the most important are listed below:

  1. Learn the Eritrean language: Knowing Tigrigna and Arabic can be helpful when doing business in Eritrea, as many people in the business community speak these languages.
  2. Get a local partner: It can be beneficial to work with a local partner who understands the market and can help navigate the regulatory environment.
  3. Cash-based economy: Eritrea is mainly cash-based, and many transactions are done in cash. It’s a good idea to be prepared with cash or a reliable way of transferring money.
  4. Understand Eritrean culture: Eritrea has a rich cultural heritage, and it is essential to understand the customs and traditions before conducting business. Showing respect and awareness of cultural differences can help establish trust with local partners and clients.
  5. Get the proper permits and licenses and be knowledgeable of Government regulations.


Eritrea Holidays and Celebration

Listed below are national holidays observed in Eritrea

  • New Year – January 1st
  • Ganna – January 7th: Eritreans Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
  • Epiphany – January 19th: This holiday celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the river Jordan and is an important religious holiday in Eritrea.
  • Liberation of Massawa – February 8-10th
  • Labor Day – May 1st
  • Independence Day Activities – May 14th – 23rd
  • Independence Day – May 24th: This holiday commemorates 1993 when Eritrea officially declared independence from Ethiopia.
  • Festival of Mariam Dearit – May 29th: This festival is celebrated in Keren Eritrea to worship St. Mary
  • Martyrs Day – June 20th: This day is dedicated to remembering the many Eritreans who lost their lives fighting for independence.
  • Mariam Debre Sina – June 28th: celebrated in honor of St. Mary at the Debre Sina Monastery
  • Festival Eritrea – July – August: Eritrean festival week is celebrated by Eritreans worldwide to commemorate their struggle for independence.
  • Debre Bizen Abune Libanos – 11th August
  • Start of Armed struggle –September 1st: Eritreans celebrate this day every year to mark their struggle for independence which Hamid Idris Awate pioneered
  • Keddus Yahannes – September 11th: this is an Eritrean Muslim festival that marks the beginning of a new year.
  • Meskel – September 27th: An Eritrean Christian holiday to commemorate the finding of the true cross by Helena, the Roman empress.
  • Mawil an-Nabi – December 1st): This day is celebrated by Eritrean Muslims to mark the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammed.


Common Eritrean Language Expressions and Translation

  • Hello – selam (ሰላም)
  • How are you? – Kemey ‘aleka (ከመይ ኣለኻ)
  • I am fine – Ezgher Yimesgen! (አግዚኣብሔር ይመስገን!)
  • What’s your name? – menyu shimka (መን’ዩ ሸምካ)
  • My name is … – simey … yebehal (ስመይ….ይበሃል)
  • Good morning – Kemey Hadirka (ከመይ ሓዲርካ)
  • Good afternoon – Kemey Wu’elka (ከመይ ውዒልካ)
  • Good evening – Kemey Amsika (ከመይ ኣምሲኻ)
  • Goodbye – Selamat (ሰላማት)
  • Have a nice day – deHan wˋalu (ደሓን ውዓሉ)
  • Do you speak English? – Englizgna Tzarebdo? (እንግሊዝኛ ትዛረብዶ?)
  • Excuse me – Yiqreta Gbereley! (ይቅሬታ ግበረለይ!)
  • How much is this? – Kndeyu Wag’u Ezi? (ክንደይ’ዩ ዋግኡ እዚ?)
  • Sorry – Yiqreta (ይቅሬታ!)
  • Please – Bejaka! (በጃኻ!)
  • I love you – Yfetwekaye (ይፈትወካ`የ!)


Translating for the Eritrean Market

The primary languages spoken in Eritrea are Tigriniyan, Arabic, and Tigre. Dahik, Beja, Saho, Afar, Blin, and Amharic are other regional languages in the country.  For an organization or company looking to launch its products or services in the Eritrean market, the best and most widely spoken language is Tigriniyan (spoken by over 50% of the population, but there are also other regional languages). For effective communication in the Eritrean language, one needs to understand Eritrean culture to translate in the proper context; this can be achieved through localization service experts such as GPI.

Depending on the type of translation and the number of words, the translation costs for the Eritrean language may vary; you can get a real-time estimate of these costs using our translation quick quote calculator.



Language is integral to human connection; it binds two or more people together. It has the power to build and break relationships. Language has allowed our ideas, feelings, and thoughts to be shared. Eritrean languages can be easy to speak and understand using the right approach, such as Eritrean translation services. Fluency in any Eritrean language, especially Tigriniyan, Tigre, or standard Arabic, fosters good business relationships and mutual understanding between business partners. For business ideas or content localization, one has to go the extra mile to incorporate the country’s language through different means, like using Eritrean translation services such as GPI, communicating more with Eritreans, or accessing more Eritrean media files.