We’ve talked about the Mass Games in Guyana and we’ve definitely talked about the most famous of them all, the Mass Games in North Korea (which will return soon!) but there is one phenomenal show in Africa of the kind that also deserves an article, the Mass Games of Eritrea.
When are the Mass Games of Eritrea
The Mass Games of Eritrea are in fact the celebration of Eritrea’s Independence Day. This means that they happen on a single occasion, once a year, so you really have to set everything right to partake in them. Eritrea’s independence day is on the 24th of May. The best way to have a good chance at spectating them, of course, is to join our Independence Day tour of Eritrea.
What are the Independence Day Celebrations of Eritrea like
In Eritrea, the Independence Day Celebrations are in fact more of a week long festival than a one-day thing, the Mass Games-type performance happen right on the day of Independence, but those who are in Asmara the days before and after that will have the chance to see great parades where different associations of workers walk along with floats which are absolutely vibrant. There are also live music performance on Harnet street, the main drag of Asmara, every night.
On the day itself, Eritreans VIPs, diplomats and the likes, along with the lucky ones who manage to score some of the very select invitations to the show gather at the National Stadium in the capital for the main event.
The performance lasts about 3 hours. Last year, it was divided into two acts, the first act was mostly a military parade. As military service is compulsory in Eritrea, you can imagine that the platoons which are exhibited on that day are extremely varied and numerous. The second act was a story played by thousands of actors, involving singing, dancing and acrobatics. This is the part where the show looks like the ones in the DPRK. It also includes a background made of people holding cards of different colours, which they change in a synchronized fashion, turning themselves into human-pixels.
The show does not have a translation and is all in Tigrinya, one of the official languages of Eritrea and its common tongue. Its themes are easy to get, however. It symbolizes the unity of the ethnic groups of Eritrea as well as national pride. Last year, the last chapter or the performance, and one of its most interesting part, was about hope of friendship with neighbouring nations. It took a deeper meaning as 2019 was the year Eritrea finally normalized its diplomatic relation with Ethiopia, its neighbour.
Who watches the Independence Day performance of Eritrea
The show is a very interesting experience not just to watch but also to watch the spectators. Diplomats and dignitaries surround the scene and, as it is common in Africa, people are extremely talkative. If you stay there for a while, you’ll certainly quickly start rubbing shoulders with people of fascinating walks of life. Furthermore, this event is probably the only chance you have of being in the same place as the leader of the seclusive country that is Eritrea.
Tickets to enter the show are free, but only given in a limited number, to VIPs so people who want to see the show really have to be well connected.
The show is filmed, as are the parades before and after it and make up much of the programmation of Eritrea’s unique TV channel (as in, yes, Eritrea has only one TV channel and it is state-owned). That is how most of the population gets to see the show. It is not uncommon for our Pioneers to see themselves on TV during the rest of the tour.
The differences between the Mass Games of Eritrea and the Mass Games of North Korea
The Mass Games of Eritrea and of the DPRK are similar in format but do have many differences.
First, the size is not the same at all. The Mass Gymnatics of North Korea are, of course, the biggest performance in the whole world after all. The stadium in which the Mass Games of the DPRK happen is also much better equipped, as North Korea has a much better economy and all around standard of living than Eritrea. In Korea, the show also focuses more on gymnastics. The show in Eritrea focuses more on music and dancing, as can be expected of an African culture.
As briefly mentioned in the previous section, the show in Eritrea is tailored for Eritrean and very few foreigners get to see it. In the DPRK, the show is geared towards both the local crowd, who get to attend it as a reward and a form of entertainment and the tourists. Multiple representations are organised and tickets are sold to tourists. The Eritrea event is a once a year event.
I’d say, finally, that the Independence Day show of Eritrea is more festive. In Eritrea, after the performance, people will often go for a cold pint of Asmara beer and the party atmosphere lingers at least until the next morning, which brings a much more carnivalesque and popular feel to it. In this, Eritrea really has that Cuban feel we’ve discussed in a previous article.
Of course, I’d recommend partaking in both as they are splendid experiences. It turns out we can bring you to both of them!