Commonpace 3: Beni-Amer Boy

Who is this boy? If you are an American, you probably wouldn’t know who this young man is. However, if you are Habesha (Eritrean or Ethiopian), you might know the famous “Beni-Amer Boy”. This photo, taken during the 1965 tipping point of the Eritrean-Ethiopian War, caused a lot of controversy within the Eritrean and Ethiopian community. This boy famous for his bright smile and mud-stiffed ends is Eritrean and came from the Tesseney city of Eritrea. However, during the war, representatives from both Eritrea and Ethiopia debated whether this youth resides in either country. Since Ethiopia annexed Eritrea during the Early 60s, National Geographic introduced the youth as an Ethiopian, which did not sit well with the Eritrean community. This photo was used to promote Ethiopian propaganda and tourism. After decades of war fighting between both East African countries, Eritrea finally gained independence from Ethiopia. As well, a border agreement was developed and the Beni-Amer boy finally gained the proper recognition as an Eritrean from the Beni-Amer ethnic group. This is important to me, especially as an Eritrean living in diaspora. I understand the importance of my Eritrean roots and the difficulties my people have faced, especially during the struggle for independence. Every time I look at this photo, I am reminded of how important my identity is and even claiming the Eritrean identity was difficult at some point in time.

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