Fahamu (Oxford)

Africa: The Tea Struggle - Lessons From a Saharawi Ritual

Young Senia has spoken before delegates of the UN Special Political and Decolonization Committee and met with politicians and NGOs in the UK, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Here she explains parallels between the Sahrawi tea ritual and the people's quest for freedom.

I am 22 years old and was born and grew up in the refugee camps, specifically in Smara camp. I graduated from Mount Holyoke College, United States, with a BA degree in Biological Science May 2010 and I just finished a program in journalism from Jakobsberg College in Stockholm, Sweden.

One of the greatest characteristics of the Saharawi culture is that of our tea ceremony. It is special and unique to the Saharawi people. It is a time of unity, celebration, discussion and filling-up free time. Family members, neighbours, relatives or simply people passing by gather around to chat about everything and nothing while they enjoy a cup of the special tea. 'et-tay', meaning tea in Hassaniya, the Saharawi native Arabic dialect, is made up of three cups and each one represents something different. The first cup is bitter as life, the second is sweet as love and the third is soft as death. The tea ceremony can take a few minutes to make or, even better, last for hours. Video showing special Saharawi tea making ceremony and Saharawi talking about the cultural and political importance of their tea-making

et-tay is also the perfect parallel to the Saharawi struggle for freedom and independence. This struggle could be divided into three stages and during each period the Saharawi people drunk from one of et-tay's three cups. Even though the Saharawi struggle has gone through these stages in a different order from that of et-tay, still a great comparison can be drawn between the two.

© Andrew McConnellThe bitter stage began with the Spanish colonization, which lasted for nearly a century. When the Spanish left Western Sahara, Saharawi's celebrations of freedom did not last long before the double invasion led by their neighbours Morocco and Mauritania ripped the country apart. The latter withdrew in 1979 and Morocco took over the whole territory, which it continues to occupy until today. During the bloody war with Morocco, which lasted for years, mothers lost their sons, children lost their parents and families separated from their loved ones. During this period, the Saharawi people drunk from the bitter cup. Then the Saharawi struggle entered its soft stage, which is not so soft but a lot like death. This period is the time of waiting in one of the most unbearable corners of the planet. Softly and quietly, the Saharawis wait for the international community to act upon their case. For more than three decades, the Saharawi refugees in southwest of Algeria have been dependent on the outside world. Food, water, clothes and health care are basic necessities that we have no control over. This stage of our struggle is - as we say in Hassaniya - the slow death. These were the first two stages of the struggle. However, the question is, when will the Saharawis enjoy that last sweet cup of freedom and independence?

As the et-tay may take a few minutes or as long as hours to finish and enjoy the last cup, so it could take the Saharawi struggle to be rewarded with justice and freedom. Similarly, the Western Sahara conflict could have taken only few years, if not months, to be resolved. Instead, it took decades to even think of a solution. Either way, the Saharawi struggle will enter its third stage sooner than later. It is everyone's responsibly in the world to help the Saharawi people to finish their last cup of struggle. It is a process that would require the unity of the Saharawis, the neighbours, the strangers and the international community to achieve.

As it is said in Arabic: 'There is an end to everything', and so it is the time for the Saharawi people to get their share of justice and freedom. So let's not give up the hope of enjoying the last cup of this struggle and the reward of freedom.

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