“Let me go before you on the road to martyrdom so you can be spared to finish the job behind me”
BY BEREKET KIDANE
Tegadeltis were famous for laying down their lives for each other in an act of selfless sacrifice on the battlefield. “Let me go before you on the road to martyrdom so that you can be spared to finish the job behind me” was their mantra.
They competed to be among the first ones to advance toward the enemy’s fortification alone (Hijem) or assault the enemy’s tank so that their fellow tegadeltis can be saved. They were not concerned with living at all. Their only concern was victory for the Eritrean people. Often times, the last words uttered by a fallen tegadalay before he took his last breath on the battlefield was, “Awet n Hafash!”
Before tegadeltis became mechanized and armed with anti-tank missiles, all they had was Kalashnikovs and may be some hand grenades. That was it. Therefore, the only way to knock out the enemy’s tank was to charge the enemy directly. Someone basically had to volunteer to charge the tank and take it out so that his/her fellow tegadeltis can get a break.
The name of the singer escapes me at the moment, but there was an EPLF song that captures the essence of what I am trying to write about. The song went something like this: “Ata lomi gida tanktat teAjibka, qedem ikua zeydeferuka mista Kalashinka.” Translated in English, “Let alone today armed with tanks, they couldn’t even handle you when you fought only with a Kalashnikov.”
The acts of self-sacrifice and extreme deprivation tegadeltis underwent to liberate their land and bring independence is just beyond belief.
When Osman Saleh Sabbe, the EPLF’s former Secretary of Foreign Relations and chief fundraiser, cut-off funds to the tegadelti troops on the field after his dispute with senior leadership, tegadeltis were so starved for funds and so depraved of even the basic necessities in life that the male tegadeltis literally gave the shirts off their backs so that the female tegadeltis can make sanitary napkins (tampons).
The male tegadeltis were literally walking around topless for months disregarding cold temperatures (asHayta) and scorching heat (hurorma) while surviving on Kicha Wedi Aker. Kicha Wedi Aker is not fit to eat for most of us, but that was all they had.
This is why we say Eritrea is a gift of our martyrs and that it is more than just a country. It is a trust received from our martyrs to be passed on to future generations, whole and indivisible.
Many tegadeltis who were already wounded multiple times would go back out on the battlefield again and again until they took their last breath and had nothing left to give. They fought without using language or religion as an excuse. Muslims died in Christian arms and Christians died in Muslim arms.
That’s how Eritrea’s independence was achieved. These are the martyrs that we honor on Martyrs’ Day each year. With all due respect to other countries, no country’s Independence Day or Memorial Day for that matter is as powerful as Eritrea’s.
Zelealemawi Zikhri n Swuatna!
Awet n Hafash!