Eritrean culture has similarities to the cultures of some East African countries, especially Ethiopia. The Eritrean culture is largely shaped by its location on the Red Sea and historic connections with neighboring countries like Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Italy, and the Near East. It is from here that Eritrea developed a layered culture that borrows elements from different countries. There are many interesting traditions that can be observed throughout the country, many of which have religious origins.
One of the notable traditions being practiced in Eritrea is the beautiful occasion of traditional wedding.
Eritrean traditional weddings allow for the inner beauties of the Eritrean culture to radiate. Primarily, an Eritrean traditional wedding is always a time for families to embark on traditions that are centuries old and core fundamentals to the culture of the country. Although the traditions are very much similar to Ethiopian traditions, they are very unique to the people and only slightly vary within the nine (9) Eritrean ethnic groups. Generally, the traditional Eritrean wedding ceremonies are done on the second day of the wedding celebration; this is known as the Melsi.
Going into the representative fashion statement used to command beauty and glamor by Eritrean bride is the wearing of the country’s reputed traditional outfit, Habesha kemis. Habesha kemis is an ankle length dress usually worn by Ethiopian and Eritrean women at formal events, like traditional weddings and other functions. Today, the attire do come in various forms. Habesha kemis is made of cotton fabric, and typically comes in white, grey or beige shades. Also, some brides might choose to wrap a shawl called a ‘netela’ around the formal dress. Netela is handmade scarf-like two-layered cloth made of cotton worn by both Eritrean and Ethiopian, exclusively intended for women. It is very well known and commonly worn by the women and men of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Being very thin and delicate with texture of gauze,
the netela has only two layers and is quite large, measuring about 63 x 102 inches. It is always white in color with beautiful intricately woven borders.
As Habesha kemis is to the Eritrean bride, so is Eritrean suit to the groom. An Eritrean suit or even Ethiopian suit is the name traditional formal attire of both Eritrean and Ethiopian men is called. It consists of a long sleeve, knee-length shirt, and matching pants. Most of the shirts are made with a Mandarin, band, or Nehru collar. The suit is however, made of chiffon, which is a sheer silk or rayon cloth. Also, for the groom, a shawl called ‘netela’ or ‘kuta’ is wrapped around the suit.
Although the Eritrean dashiki is largely regarded as an informal outfit, but some men choose to stylishly don in this attire at their traditional wedding. Meanwhile, the difference between the dashiki and Ethiopian and Eritrean suits is the collar. The dashiki does not have a collar. The dashiki worn in Eritrea is similar to that of the West African style. However, Eritrean dashikis are usually white, off-white, or natural cotton. The front is decorated with Ethiopian and Eritrean themes and motifs. In a bid to notch class and elegance for the traditional wedding, fashionable grooms tend to go the dashiki suit, which is composed of a dashiki shirt and matching pants.