Surviving (with) Theatre: A History of the ELF and EPLF Cultural Troupes in the Eritrean War of Independence

  • Christine Matzke

Abstract

Eritrea looks back on a long history of colonialism, occupation and military conflicts which have always found expression in the performing arts. Of particular importance remains the war of independence against Ethiopia (1961–91), which broke out in response to mounting Ethiopian domination in the 1950s and 1960s. After half a century of Italian colonialism (1890–1941) followed by a British Military ‘care-taker’ Administration (BMA, 1941–52), Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia in 1952 as the result of a UN resolution. Her constitutionally guaranteed autonomy, however, was systematically undermined by the Ethiopian crown until the country was annexed to Ethiopia in 1962 as an ordinary province. The already-fraught political situation was complicated still further in 1974 when Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted, and eventually killed, by a Marxist military junta known as the Derg. Eritrean opposition became ever more radical and resulted in a ferocious 30-year liberation struggle, with the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) as the two major liberation movements. Both used performance as a tool for entertainment, propaganda and nation-building, but also to boost morale and develop stamina in the protracted battle for sovereignty and survival.

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© Christine Matzke 2016

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  • Christine Matzke

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