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Ethiopian‑Italians

Italian Colonialism in Ethiopia and Gender Legacies
Giovanna Trento

Résumés

L’“occupation” de l’Ethiopie par l’Italie fasciste a duré de 1935‑1936 à 1941 – là où la domination italienne dans la Corne de l’Afrique (Erythrée et Somalie) s’est établie sur un temps beaucoup plus long (1880s‑1940s). Les relations entre les hommes de nationalité italienne et les femmes africaines, dans cette région, ont été marquée par la pratique du « concubinage colonial » (appelé « madamato »), dont le modèle, le système et l’omniprésence subtile ont persisté en Ethiopie bien après le retrait italien. Les relations de genre durant l’occupation italienne ont eu, et ont encore, un impact considérable sur la société italienne. Les Italiens‑Ethiopiens nés pendant et après la seconde Guerre mondiale relatent des histoires familiales qui retracent la continuité entre l’Ethiopie coloniale et l’Ethiopie postcoloniale. Si l’intégration de ces Italiens‑Ethiopiens s’est améliorée durant les dernières décennies, la mémoire de l’occupation italienne est encore bien vivante, à l’image du vocabulaire dépréciatif communément utilisé pour désigner ces personnes.

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Introduction1

  • 1 I would like to thank Alessandro Bausi, Blandine Destremau, Eloi Ficquet, Peter W. Mayer, Haylämary (...)

1Italian colonialism in Northern and Northeast Africa began in the early 1880s and lasted until the early 1940s. After gaining Assab in 1882 and Massawa in 1885, in 1890 what was then called Eritrea was established by Italy as a colony. Italy began occupying Somalia in 1889 and Libya in 1911. In 1935 Mussolini, with much boasting, embarked upon the Ethiopian Campaign and Italian troops entered Addis Ababa in 1936. The same year, Mussolini proclaimed the Italian Empire and created in the Horn the so‑called Africa Orientale Italiana. Five years later Italy lost control of Ethiopia.

  • 2 Triulzi, 2006, p. 430‑443.
  • 3 Labanca, 2002, p. 427‑470.
  • 4 After publishing in 1965 a first, pioneering, small book on the occupation of Ethiopia (La guerra d (...)
  • 5 Labanca, 1993, 2002 and 2005.
  • 6 Andall and Duncan, 2005; Ben‑Ghiat and Fuller, 2005; Palumbo, 2003. See also: Lombardi‑Diop and Rom (...)
  • 7 Trento, 2012, p. 269‑303.
  • 8 Barrera, 1996; 2003, p. 69‑72; 2008, p. 393‑414. See also Barthélémy, Capdevila and Zaccarini‑Fourn (...)

2Italian colonialism in Africa came to a sudden, formal end in conjunction with Italy’s defeat in World War II. While in Italy’s former colonies memories of colonialism have remained vivid,2 Italian historiography after World War II tended for decades to exclude colonialism from its national history. This happened for numerous, complex social and historical reasons, some of them still unclear in part, including the difficulty of “digesting” its Fascist past and the lack of a proper decolonization process.3 Starting about forty years ago,4 historiography has slowly begun to come to life again. In the last couple of decades there has been increasing interest in the history of Italian colonialism,5 as well as from the international research field and postcolonial studies.6 However, many of its aspects remain unexplored; in particular, those related to the cultural history7 and to gender and women in colonial Northeast Africa.8

3Italy ruled Eritrea for approximately sixty years, while it only occupied Ethiopia for five or six years. Thus, colonial life in Ethiopia has been less studied and documented than that in Eritrea.

  • 9 Trento, 2011, p. 184‑205.

4This article casts some light on some understudied social and historical aspects of Italian colonialism in Ethiopia and of the Italian withdrawal which left some Italian male citizens “lost” for decades in the country. It focuses more specifically on gender relations in Ethiopia after the colonial period. The gender legacy is studied on the basis of previous comparative works which suggest some profound similarities between colonial practices in Eritrea and in Ethiopia.9 If colonial concubinage in the Horn of Africa between Italian men and Northeast African women (the so‑called madamato) is well known, the following presentation highlights that such a phenomenon also existed in different forms in Ethiopia, even after the end of Italian colonialism. Some Ethiopian‑Italians, born in Ethiopia during and after World War II and currently living in the country, relate family stories that retrace some continuity between colonial and postcolonial Ethiopia. They help to understand how the perception and “construction” of Ethiopian‑Italians in contemporary Ethiopia is articulated with the persistent memory of the country's Italian occupation.

  • 10 Trento, 2007 and 2011.
  • 11 I would like to thank all of them.

5This article is based on both oral and written sources. Some of them were collected during previous works between 2006 and 2010, when I conducted numerous interviews in Ethiopia and Italy (in Addis Ababa, Nazret, Debre Zeyit, Axum, Rome, Terni, and Pavia).10 Additional data was collected during more interviews in 2011 in Ethiopia with Ethiopian‑Italians, Eritrean‑Italians, Ethiopian female partners of Italian men, and with different people associated at various levels with Ethiopian‑Italians and men‑women relationships between Italians and Ethiopians. These interviews were conducted in 2011 after posting ads in local newspapers in Ethiopia which resulted in around 100 phone calls from people involved in this particular issue.11 Following these phone calls, I met with people in Addis Ababa (at home, in coffee shops near the University and the Ethnographic Museum, or at the Juventus Club) and in Jimma, Dire Dawa and Harar (at home or in workplaces).

North and South; “white” man and “black” woman

  • 12 On these very complex issues, see, among others: Bevilacqua, 1972; Moe, 2002; Schneider, 1998.
  • 13 Labanca, 2002, p. 72.
  • 14 On the notion of and the myth of grande Italia, see Gentile, 2006.
  • 15 As Antonio Gramsci sharply noted during Fascism in his Prison Notebooks, “The Southern peasant want (...)
  • 16 On “Fascist modernity and colonial conquest”, see Ben‑Ghiat, 2001, p. 125‑130.

6Both colonialism in Africa and the dualistic theorization of Italy’s Southern Question played a crucial role in the late 19th century process of constructing Italianness after the country's unification in the 1860s. Italy’s self‑representation was based on the concept of the Southern Question (Questione meridionale) that ended up emphasizing the gap between North and South Italy; so much so that the image of Southern Italy became increasingly homogeneous and the Italian South was finally perceived as the “other”.12 These issues remained crucial in the 20th century and influenced the form taken by Fascism. The North‑South duality of Italy’s self‑representation was a meaningful symbol inside its national borders, while in the colonies an ambiguous solution to the dualistic theorization of the Southern Question was attempted. Already at the end of the 19th century, Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi aimed to combine Italy’s expansionist politics in Africa with the increasing phenomenon of Italians’ mass emigration overseas, thereby wishing Africa – the “Abyssinian” plateau in particular – to provide land to the farmers who did not have any (especially Southern Italians).13 The Horn of Africa thus became the southernmost point of Southern Italy of and for a “greater Italy,”14 where landless peasants could finally obtain their piece of land.15 In the 1930s, such “pro‑subaltern colonialist narrative” was reinforced by Fascism to stress the relevance of the Ethiopian Campaign.16

  • 17 On “continuities and discontinuities” of Italian colonialism during Fascism, see Labanca, 2002, p.  (...)

7Pre‑Fascist colonialism and that of the Fascist era shared some basic characteristics,17 namely: the factual and symbolic centrality of the relationship “white man”/“black woman”, the imaginary transposition of the Italian “other inside the country” (the Southern peasant without land) from the Italian countryside to colonial Africa, and the search for a national identity that could only truly manifest itself– in a paradoxical way –outside its national borders.

  • 18 On Italian colonialism and photography, see Goglia, 1989; Palma, 1999. On postcards in particular, (...)
  • 19 Barrera, 1996, p. 8‑14.

8The erotic element has always been very important for Italian colonialism, both from a factual and a symbolic point of view. Relations between Italian men and African women played a central role in colonialist practices, in the promulgation of racist legislation in the 1930s, and in shaping the colonial imaginary. As was the case in France during its colonial period, there was a widespread underground circulation of postcards portraying naked black beauties. This had a considerable impact inside Italy itself, where colonialism involved the dream of finding sexually available women in Africa.18 Fascist propaganda in particular tried to portray the Horn of Africa as a land full of possibilities, and also full of beautiful and available women. Right before and during the Italo‑Ethiopian war, such imagery was part of the baggage that motivated Italian men to fight a war in a distant land.19

  • 20 In 1905, after more than 15 years of colonization in Eritrea, only 2,333 Italians lived there (incl (...)
  • 21 In May 1936 there were 330,000 Italian soldiers in the region. See Labanca, 2002, p. 189.
  • 22 On prostitution in the Italian colonies in Africa, see Stefani, 2007, p. 130‑143. See also the repr (...)
  • 23 Campassi, 1987, p. 239.

9The number of Italians in the Horn of Africa, mostly men, grew during the Fascist period, especially during the 1930s. Of course, women were not the first reason for expatriation. At the time of the Italo‑Ethiopian war, more than 50,000 unemployed men went to Eritrea to work on road construction and other public works.20 In 1935, hundreds of thousands of soldiers moved to Eritrea to take part in the war in Ethiopia.21 After the occupation of Ethiopia and the creation of the Empire in 1936, at the same time as the launch of a vociferous campaign against “mixed‑race” unions and miscegenation, the Fascist government wanted to increase the Italian female population in Africa, and set up training courses in “preparation for the Empire” for women. The regime also wanted to send several professional Italian prostitutes to the colonies (it actually did so, in part).22 However, these projects mostly turned out to be failures and Italian women in Northeast Africa towards the end of the 1930s numbered, at the most, 10,000.23

Madamato: Practices and legacies

  • 24 See for example Martini, 1946, I, and Paoli, 1908.
  • 25 Throughout this article, I will use such “conventional” terms as prostitution, concubinage, marriag (...)
  • 26 Tabet, 2004, p. 158.
  • 27 Stoler, 2002, p. 49, 50.

10As revealed by colonial sources, ever since the beginning of Italian colonialism, concubinage between Italian men and Northeast African women was a widespread phenomenon in the Italian colonies in the Horn of Africa.24 Italians would usually refer to colonial concubinage as madamato or madamismo, meaning by these expressions “something” that was neither marriage nor prostitution,25 and which could differ from one case to the other, in terms of feelings, objectives, abuse, and conditions experienced by partners involved in this kind of relationship. As Paola Tabet noted, “relations between sexes are globally impacted by economic transactions. And continuity – meaning a lack of dichotomy or separation between ‘good girls’ and ‘bad girls’, and relations of economic exchange characterized by shifting from one condition to the other, or even the coexistence of different roles and relations for one person – has become increasingly evident through recent researches.”26 Concubinage, in various colonial settings, was a nuanced and sometimes controversial notion that Ann Laura Stoler (referring to different colonial contexts) has described as follows: “Concubinage was the prevalent term for cohabitation outside marriage between European men and Asian women. But the term ambiguously covered a wide range of arrangements that included sexual access to a non‑European woman as well as demands on her labor and legal rights to the children she bore. […] Concubinage reinforced the hierarchies on which colonial societies were based and made those distinctions more problematic at the same time.”27

  • 28 On colonial concubinage in Eritrea and local sexual politics, see Barrera, 1996; Sòrgoni, 1998. On (...)
  • 29 In 1898 in Asmara, Martini wrote: “Let’s stop with these ‘madamas.’ Their use was tolerated: now de (...)
  • 30 Martini, 1946, I, p. 145. Before the 1929 Concordat, according to the Italian civil code, religious (...)
  • 31 Pollera, 1922, p. 73. See also Ambrogetti’s 1900 booklet La vita sessuale nell’Eritrea, p. 5, 15, q (...)
  • 32 On the life and work of Alberto Pollera, see Sòrgoni, 2001. Right before dying in 1939, even if it (...)
  • 33 Pollera, 1922, p. 73‑85. As far as the cultural and intellectual background of these assumptions is (...)

11Italians called Northeast African concubines madama (an ironic distortion of the French word Madame) and used the term madamato only to refer to colonial concubinage in the Horn, while the term mabruchismo may have been applied to the much rarer form of concubinage that existed in colonial Libya.28 Before the Fascist regime (1922‑1943), when Italians were still prone to spend years in Eritrea, colonial concubinage was usually tolerated by the colonial authority, although at the very end of the 19th century, writer and politician Ferdinando Martini, Governor of Eritrea between 1897 and 1907, condemned such a practice in his diary.29 According to the same source, Eritrean women believed marriage with an Italian man was official if it conformed with their customs, while Italian men took part in the ceremony just for their own interest or for fun, without committing to it: I think we should tread carefully in celebrating these marriages that are only religiously binding. Perhaps the indigenous woman believes that civil and religious marriage are merged into the same ceremony, as is the case in her country. The white man knows that a church wedding does not have any effect according to the civil law. Thus, the white man can cheat, the native woman can be cheated on, and the latter will believe that the union is indissoluble, when it is certainly not the case”.30 Thus, on one hand (through Martini’s words), the male‑colonialist discourse was able to negate women’s agency by stressing Northeast African women’s lack of self‑consciousness. On the other hand though, the male‑colonialist discourse would also assert itself by stressing another opposite and complementary aspect considered specific to colonized women: indeed, the colonizer’s assumption that concubines, courtesans, and prostitutes in colonial contexts were not stigmatized by their own society and the idea that they were, actually, naturally inclined to perform these (somewhat interchangeable) roles was generally widespread and persistent, and also applied to other colonial contexts. Other Italian colonial sources stressed the fact that “Abyssinian women” could be sexually free without being locally stigmatized “because here the freedom of women’s sexual mores has very ancient roots”.31 According to the colonial official and prolific ethnographer Alberto Pollera – who, himself, lived with two “madamas” and had several children he formally acknowledged32madamato, even if not the optimum coupling solution, was an “inevitability” for young Italians living in the Horn of Africa. According to colonial sources, this land, considered inappropriate for Italian brides, was inhabited by “Abyssinian women” who, thanks to their “Semitic ancestry,” were supposed to easily mate with Italian men and become their concubines.33

  • 34 On the various forms of marriage in Ethiopia, see Kaplan, 2007, p. 799–800.
  • 35 Barrera, 1996, p. 21.

12Colonial sources also stressed the existence in the Horn of Africa of a local form of temporary marriage, the dämoz. Gǝrdǝnna or dämoz marriage is, indeed, one of the forms of legitimate marriage among Amhara and Tigrinya speakers.34 It involves the payment of a monthly or annual stipend by the husband to the wife. According to this type of temporary marriage (generally considered of lower status than the civil marriage contract or the religious marriage in church, and associated with urban populations, traders, and warriors far from home) a man and a woman live together for a certain period under the terms of a contract. This local form of union between men and women may have justified the use – and the abuse – of colonial concubinage by Italian men in Northeast African colonies. Today in the region dämoz is in decline, as Ethiopians consider it closer to prostitution than to marriage in its everyday aspects. But Giulia Barrera argues that if dämoz marriage had permanently degenerated into either unregulated concubinage or prostitution, it was precisely because Italians had abused it in colonial Northeast Africa and “systematically violated the customs that informed such marriages, meaning that thousands of Eritrean women and their children were left without economic support.”35

  • 36 Stoler, 2002, p. 14.
  • 37 Stoler, 2002, p. 51. On some early attempts of banning concubinage in 1909 in British and Italian c (...)

13As in other colonial situations, sexual matters in the Horn of Africa were “foundational to the material terms in which colonial projects were carried out.”36 In European colonies relations between colonizers and colonized were key political issues and were therefore regulated by colonial authorities. In the earliest stages of European colonialism, colonizer and colonized unions were usually left alone or even encouraged; but in the later stages (usually from the 1920s onwards) this kind of “mixed relations” was progressively discouraged or even persecuted.37 In the Italian case the ban on colonial concubinage was particularly relevant, as part of, and a laboratory for a wider process of state racism and segregation.

  • 38 Gabrielli, 1996, p. 61–88. On métis children in French colonial Empire, see Saada, 2007 and Jean‑Ba (...)
  • 39 Burgio, 1999; Burgio and Casali, 1996; Centro Furio Jesi, 1994. On colonial race/ racist? laws, see (...)
  • 40 As Frederick Cooper pointed out, “recognizing the Europeans' much greater power in the colonial enc (...)

14After issuing in the 1930s a preliminary set of racist norms against African‑Italians (the so called meticci),38 In 1937 the fascist government banned colonial concubinage between Italian men and African women in the Horn, thus opening the road to the wider racist legislation enacted at home in 1938.39 Racist legislation also affected those individuals who were considered as having too close relations with members of the segregated groups. But the madamato was such an important phenomenon in Italian colonies in the Horn that it never really disappeared, despite Rome banning it. Colonial concubinage somehow persisted in different guises in the region, even after the end of Italian colonial rule, thus implicitly suggesting a certain degree of local agency in the shaping and the persistence of such phenomenon.40

Social integration of Ethiopian concubines and their children

  • 41 Trento, 2011, p. 184‑205.

15Some similarities characterized colonial concubinage in Ethiopia and Eritrea, among which its developments, motivations and consequences for local societies. However, there were also a few differences.41 For instance, in both Eritrea and Ethiopia the woman was at first frequently employed by the Italian man as housekeeper and then became – or was forced to become – his concubine; such a ploy was particularly commonplace in the Ethiopian case, as from 1937 onwards concubinage had been officially forbidden.

  • 42 Who respected the racial laws? Not even the Carabinieri did!” This is what one of the numerous Ita (...)

16Considering the large number of soldiers that in the mid‑1930s had moved from Italy to the Horn, the fact that Italians occupied Ethiopia only for few years, and the official ban on colonial concubinage in 1937, one might think prostitution should have characterized “mixed” men‑women relationships in Ethiopia. On the contrary – as attested by different, oral and written sources – the madamato system in Ethiopia was also a relevant phenomenon. Regulations, as Fabienne Le Houérou points out, were only partially enforced.42

  • 43 Trento, 2007, http://cm.revues.org/164; Trento, 2011, p. 184‑205.
  • 44 Interview with Riccardo in August 2011 in Jimma (Ethiopia). Riccardo, who owns a big garage in Jimm (...)
  • 45 Stoler, 2002, p. 49.

17As far as the offspring of such relationships were concerned, my previous comparative studies reveal that Ethiopian‑Italians in Ethiopia were less stigmatized than were Eritrean‑Italians in Eritrea.43 Some Italian men who were born and raised in colonial Eritrea would sometimes “use” an Eritrean concubine in order to have a male child and thus passing on their family name to him. This was the case for Riccardo’s father. Riccardo was an Eritrean‑Italian man born in Asmara around 1930, and acknowledged by his Italian father himself born in Eritrea. During our interview, Riccardo told me that his Eritrean mother was “dismissed” and sent away by his father, shortly after he was born, she was no longer “useful” to him, as she had finally given him a male son (before Riccardo’s birth, his mother had already given birth to two Eritrean‑Italian girls, both acknowledged by their father).44 It was indeed common knowledge these women “could be dismissed without reason, notice, or severance pay.”45

  • 46 A double‑interview I conducted in September 2011, at the Juventus Club in Addis Ababa, with two Eri (...)
  • 47 On “Missionaries, Education & the State in the Italian Colony of Eritrea”, see Miran, 2002, p. 121‑ (...)
  • 48 On the upbringing of Eritrean‑Italians, see Barrera 2002, p. 21‑53.

18As highlighted by oral and written sources, in most cases Eritrean‑Italian children born during colonialism from relationships between Eritrean women and Italian men were not recognized by their Italian fathers. In Eritrea, the offspring of such relationships were stigmatized by the local population, particularly children who had not been recognized by their father.46 Eritrean‑Italians were often raised by Catholic institutions47 or istituti per meticci,48 which contributed to the shaping of Eritrean‑Italians in Eritrea as a minority and a “different” group that has tended to reproduce itself, even in postcolonial Eritrea, where Eritrean‑Italians have tended to have Eritrean‑Italian or Italian partners.

  • 49 Interview with Mario, in Jimma in 2011.

19A certain degree of stigmatization against Ethiopian‑Italians and their mothers also occurred in Ethiopia, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, when Ethiopian‑Italians were clearly associated with the Fascist occupation and were stigmatized by Ethiopians as yä‑hulätt bandira lǝǧ (“children of two flags”). Such a denigratory expression was recurrent in the interviews I conducted between 2006 and 2011. Moreover, in Jimma in 2011, Mario (born in Ethiopia at the end of the 1930s) used this expression (“children of two flags”) to tell me about the persecutions against Ethiopian‑Italian children and babies which took place near Adwa at the very beginning of the 1940s.49

  • 50 Trento, 2011, p. 184‑205.

20There are many historical, political, and religious reasons as to why Ethiopian‑Italians in Ethiopia were generally less stigmatized than were Eritrean‑Italians in Eritrea it may have to do with the different length of Italian rule in Eritrea and Ethiopia, the lower percentage of Ethiopian‑Italians in Ethiopia compared to Eritrea, the greater presence in Eritrea of Catholic missionaries and institutions that often were in change of bringing up the many unrecognized Eritrean‑Italians, and, lastly, it may also have to do with the peculiar, complex “political” role Ethiopian concubines had in colonial Ethiopia.50

  • 51 Conversation with Shiferaw Bekele in 2009 in Addis Ababa.

21During the colonial period, relationships between Italians and Ethiopians were perceived by Ethiopians as inappropriate, mostly because of the religious difference. Moreover, such relationships happened within the oppressive framework of Ethiopia's Fascist occupation. Nonetheless, as suggested by historian Shiferaw Bekele (Šǝfärraw Bäqqälä), during the occupation war and right after it, during the years marked by emergency and “transition”, some families accepted one of their younger members have an Italian partner, these girls were sometimes supposed (or even required) to benefit from such relationships, by getting some extra money for their family or by having “access to modernity.”51

  • 52 Trento, 2011, p. 201.

22The position and agency Ethiopian “madamas” had in Ethiopian society during the Italian occupation was thus quite complex. On the one hand, colonial concubines were sometimes considered as spies or traitors, since their fiancés or husbands had left their homes to fight against the occupiers, while they were living with the enemy. But at the same time Ethiopian “madamas” were also perceived as informants of the partisans who had infiltrated the occupiers’ homes. Moreover, my interviews have highlighted that, even if the official Ethiopian position towards Italians was always very negative, in everyday life Ethiopians often appreciated all those “love‑stories” and the fact that all Italian occupiers, military generals included, were eager to “mix blood” with the Ethiopians, despite Fascist efforts to ban “mixed” unions.52

Relationships between Ethiopians and Italians after their withdrawal

23As far as gender dynamics and interpersonal frames are concerned, in the Horn of Africa in general, a certain degree of continuity between colonial and postcolonial periods happened. As has been said, Eritrean‑Italians are a visible minority in Eritrean society – often marked by a sense of diversity and exclusion – that has tended to reproduce itself, thus keeping Italian colonialist legacies ongoing.

  • 53 French researcher Fabienne Le Houérou interviewed Italian men in Ethiopia in the 1980s and 1990s; s (...)
  • 54 Conversation with Abebe Zegeye in Jerusalem in 2006. On this point, see also Trento, 2007, http://c (...)
  • 55 The Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army (the Därg) ruled Ethio (...)
  • 56 Interview with Ǝšäte in 2011 in Dire Dawa.

24Regarding Ethiopian society, after the end of the Italian rule and the return of Ḫaylä Śǝllase to Addis Ababa in 1941, dozens of Italian men (mostly young, unmarried fascists, from subaltern classes and born in the early 1910s) did not go back to Italy and remained there. Reliable estimates of how many Italians “went native” or “got lost” in Ethiopia are not available; in any case, most of these “lost Italians” were soldiers and sailors who had taken part in the Ethiopian Campaign, but there were also some civilians among them (for instance road constructions workers).53 Most of them did not keep in contact with their families back in Italy. For Ethiopian sociologist Abebe Zegeye, “it was quite common among Italians who ‘got married’ to Ethiopian women decades ago to avoid getting back in touch with their Italian relatives.”54 As highlighted by the interviews I conducted with some of their descendants, some of these men died in Ethiopia, while others were repatriated by the Italian Embassy (with the help of the Red Cross) in the mid‑1970s due to the excesses and dangers of the Därg‑regime.55 This was the case of Vittorio, as reported by his former Ethiopian “wife” Ǝšäten. She met him in Ethiopia in the early 1950s and got married to him during an informal ceremony where she received a necklace as a gift. They had nine children; eight of them died in the following years. Vittorio first owned a coffee mill and then worked as a baker in Dire Dawa. One day in the mid‑1970s, he left for Addis Ababa for work, as per his habit, but virtually disappeared, without providing any further support for his Ethiopian family. Later on, Ǝšäte learnt that Vittorio had been repatriated; as, apparently, he still had family and children back home in Italy.56

25Italian men who remained in Ethiopia after World War II tended to develop long‑term or steady relationships of concubinage with Ethiopian female partners (as the old coloniali had done for decades in Eritrea). The interviews I conducted revealed that in some cases they only had one steady partner; in many others they had several so‑called wives in one lifetime. Ethiopian women were often much younger than their Italian partners, sometimes even teenagers. Some “traditional marriages” took place between Italians and Ethiopians, involving the participation of some elders or the exchange of small gifts; however, a proper wedding ceremony, a särg of some kind, was rarely performed.

  • 57 Interview with Giulia, in September 2011, outskirts of Addis Ababa.

26Giulia, an unrecognized Eritrean‑Italian woman born in Ethiopia at the end of the 1940s, was particularly explicit during our interview. Around 1965, while still a teenager, she was forcefully wed to a middle‑aged Italian man she considered too old for her (he died in Ethiopia in the late 1980s). She had a “traditional marriage,” not in a church, but she put on a white wedding gown and they had a ceremony (särg). Her family wanted her to get married to an Italian man, despite the fact that her Italian father had abandoned her family when her mother was pregnant with her. After the marriage, Giulia had to stop her favorite activities: school and sports; but, although she was not allowed to, she would still go and play volleyball once in a while. None of the four children Giulia had with her Italian “husband” were able to obtain Italian citizenship because they were never formally recognized by their father at the Italian Consulate. In the end though, Giulia thinks that her “marriage” was stable enough and not a bad one. She now has a decent house, while many other women in her situation were left in poverty by their Italian “ex‑husbands” after they left or passed away.57

  • 58 Conversations with Richard Pankhurst in 2009 in Addis Ababa.

27In most cases though, an Ethiopian girl would just move in with her Italian partner, and Ethiopians, afterwards, would refer to her as the “wife” of an Italian man. In Ethiopia, “marriage” and “getting married” can be quite “open” and nuanced concepts, as Richard Pankhurst reminded me,58 as is also attested by the vagueness of the expression “traditional marriage” and the way it is used today by Ethiopians. Hence, marriage and concubinage in the Horn of Africa are controversial and fluid notions that imply a status partly affected by colonial legacy. Such a baggage made relationships between Northeast African women and Italian men difficult to define throughout the 20th century. As outlined before, different sources, implicitly or explicitly, reveal the complexity (sometimes the contradictions) of these relationships.

  • 59 Interview with Ṣäḥay, in August 2011 in Harar.
  • 60 Teff (Eragostis abyssinica) is an annual cereal grass, widely used and eaten in Ethiopia.
  • 61 Interview with Ṭaytu in Addis Ababa in September 2012.

28For instance, Ṣäḥay, an Ethiopian woman I interviewed in her relatively comfortable apartment, would refer to her Italian “husband,” alternatively, as padrone and Signor Antonacci (“master” and “Mr. Antonacci”), but she would also assert that “he used to take [her] once in a while to church or to the movies,” which were the “stereotypical” places where Italian men would go accompanied by their wives or fiancées. Moreover, one of their two boys (Gioacchino and Giacobbe) – the eldest ‑ was legally recognized by his Italian father.59 Another woman I visited in her shabby house in Addis Ababa, Ṭaytu, remembered that “when Gallo lived with us or came to visit us, there would always be teff60 at home.” She would hence stress and praise the positive aspects of her “marriage” with Gallo in terms of food, income, and well‑being he was able to provide. However, the fact that this man took another “wife” in Debre Zeyit (44 kilometers away from Addis Ababa) when he went to work there for some time, or the fact that he provided valid Italian documents for only his last four children, born in Debre Zeyit from another woman, seemed to be quite irrelevant to Ṭaytu.61

Being Ethiopian‑Italian in Ethiopia

  • 62 Barrera, 1996.
  • 63 Riforma del diritto di famiglia (the 1975 set of laws that, among other things, allowed married Ita (...)
  • 64 Interview with Giulia, op. cit.
  • 65 Barrera, 2002, p. 21‑53.

29If it is true that the majority of Italian men who remained in Ethiopia after World War II did not legally register at the Italian Embassy/Consulate their Ethiopian‑Italian children as theirs, it is also likely that Italian men in Ethiopia tended not to acknowledge their Ethiopian‑Italian children for two main sets of reasons. On one hand, we can imagine that they reproduced in postcolonial Ethiopia the colonial habit of not legally recognizing African‑Italian children in the Horn, a common habit for decades in colonial Eritrea.62 On the other hand, if an Italian man was already married in Italy before joining the Ethiopian Campaign, he was not allowed to acknowledge his children in Ethiopia, because until 1975 the Italian civil code forbade married Italians to acknowledge the children they had out of wedlock, while being married.63 As revealed, among others, by Giulia, the interviewee previously mentioned, this non‑recognition also happened when the Italian father kept living with or supporting his Ethiopian family.64 At the same time, Ethiopian‑Italians are still prone to have an Italian first name and father‑name, even when they have not been recognized by their Italian ancestor and, therefore, are not Italian citizens. The Italian names of Ethiopian‑Italians were not always imposed by the Italian parent though. Indeed, in the name of patrilinearity – as already pointed out by Giulia Barrera for the Eritrean case65 – an Italian name might be imposed by the Ethiopian mother even when the Italian father had prematurely abandoned his Ethiopian family, if only to preserve the patrilineal system.

  • 66 Such difficulties are faced mostly by those who also have family‑links with Eritrea, such as Lidia, (...)
  • 67 Such a denigratory expression recurred in numerous interviews I conducted between 2006 and 2011, in (...)

30The prejudice encountered by children who have not been recognized by their father continues over time. In contemporary Ethiopia, Ethiopians still tend to refer to first and second generation Ethiopian‑Italians as “Italians.” Some of the people categorized as such – who are not Italian citizens ‑ may face difficulties in getting an Ethiopian passport because they have an Italian first name or an Italian father‑name.66. Some of them also relate that they are sometimes still identified as yä‑hulätt bandira lǝǧ (“children of two flags”).67 Moreover, in Addis Ababa a problematic slang world – solato – is still used by Ethiopians to refer to Ethiopian‑Italians living in the country. My interviews reveal that, if a few Ethiopian‑Italians take this expression as a joke, the majority of them perceive it as mildly offensive. But it is worth noting that such a term (solato) is a local version and “reinvention” of the Italian word soldato (soldier), thus revealing, in the current definition and “construction” of Ethiopian‑Italians, a persisting legacy from memories of the Fascist military occupation of Ethiopia, a period marked by violence, and in which Italian soldiers frequently had sex or cohabited with Northeast African women.

Conclusion

  • 68 Trento 2007 and 2011, p. 184‑205.
  • 69 Greek presence in Ethiopia is well attested since, at least, the 18th century and it developed in t (...)
  • 70 Interviews with Rina and Annunziata (Ethiopian‑Italian sisters currently living, respectively, in I (...)

31Although many interviewees reveal that Ethiopian‑Italians in Ethiopia do not consider themselves as “fully Ethiopians” (and are not considered as such by others), my research in general also suggests that Ethiopian‑Italians are better integrated into Ethiopian society than Eritrean‑Italians are in Eritrean society.68 Ethiopian‑Italians usually marry Ethiopians, although getting married to Greeks (or, more often, Ethiopian‑Greeks) is also common among Ethiopian‑Italians.69 In the name of patrilinearity, in various significant cases, unrecognized Ethiopian‑Italian young men who have had children with an Ethiopian woman would also choose to give Italian first names to their children. In some rare, interesting cases, interviewees would also underline that before the 1975 Riforma del diritto di famiglia, some Italian fathers tried their best to have their Ethiopian‑Italian children recognized as theirs by asking their Italian (previously abandoned) wives, or some very close female relative, to do so on their behalf.70

  • 71 Interview with Mario, op.cit.
  • 72 Interview with Lidia, op.cit.

32The increasing social integration of Ethiopian‑Italians into Ethiopian society seems to be asserted by various oral sources. For instance, Mario and his brother Luigi – who, during their childhood in the 1940s, had been protected by their mother against persecution – felt increasingly more welcome as Ethiopian‑Italians in Ethiopian society as years went by.71 One of Giulia’s daughters, Lidia, is of the opinion that “today, as Ethiopian‑Italians, we face no major advantages and no major disadvantages in Ethiopia.”72 However, in spite of this conciliatory statement implicitly aimed to reassure both the interviewer and the interviewee, my field research also reveals that (as has been said) today in Addis Ababa a problematic and slightly offensive slang word of Italian origin – solato is still used by Ethiopians to refer to Ethiopian‑Italians residing in the country.

33Man‑woman relations during Italian colonialism had, and still have, a considerable impact on Ethiopian society. Relationships between Italian men and Northeast African women in the Horn of Africa have been marked by the practice of colonial concubinage (so‑called madamato), whose pattern and system somehow persisted in different forms in Ethiopia even after the end of Italian colonialism. Some Ethiopian‑Italians, born in Ethiopia during and after World War II, relate family stories that retrace the continuity between colonial and postcolonial Ethiopia and thus help us to understand how perceptions and “constructions” of Ethiopian‑Italians in contemporary Ethiopia can be quite complex, as they are still partly affected by the memory of the Fascist occupation of Ethiopia. All these elements push us to pose further questions about the agency of Ethiopian women and their Ethiopian‑Italian descendants in the elaboration of such memories and the subtle pervasiveness of colonial concubinage in 20th century Ethiopian society.

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Notes

1 I would like to thank Alessandro Bausi, Blandine Destremau, Eloi Ficquet, Peter W. Mayer, Haylämaryam Ayyalew and Michel Tuchscherer for their advice, support and patience. To complete my research, in 2010 and 2011, I benefitted, respectively, of a Ford/Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship (Programme for the Study of the Humanities in Africa), affiliated with the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape (South Africa), and of a French CNRS Research Grant, affiliated to the French Center for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). Unless otherwise noted, all translations into English are my own.

2 Triulzi, 2006, p. 430‑443.

3 Labanca, 2002, p. 427‑470.

4 After publishing in 1965 a first, pioneering, small book on the occupation of Ethiopia (La guerra di Abissinia 1935‑1941), historian and former journalist Angelo Del Boca published, between 1976 and 1988, six volumes devoted to various aspects of Italian colonialism in Libya and the Horn of Africa.

5 Labanca, 1993, 2002 and 2005.

6 Andall and Duncan, 2005; Ben‑Ghiat and Fuller, 2005; Palumbo, 2003. See also: Lombardi‑Diop and Romeo, 2012.

7 Trento, 2012, p. 269‑303.

8 Barrera, 1996; 2003, p. 69‑72; 2008, p. 393‑414. See also Barthélémy, Capdevila and Zaccarini‑Fournel, 2011, p. 7‑22, and Cole, Manuh, and Miescher, 2007.

9 Trento, 2011, p. 184‑205.

10 Trento, 2007 and 2011.

11 I would like to thank all of them.

12 On these very complex issues, see, among others: Bevilacqua, 1972; Moe, 2002; Schneider, 1998.

13 Labanca, 2002, p. 72.

14 On the notion of and the myth of grande Italia, see Gentile, 2006.

15 As Antonio Gramsci sharply noted during Fascism in his Prison Notebooks, “The Southern peasant wanted land; Crispi did not want to give it to him within Italy itself, he did not want to practice ‘economic Jacobinism’; he presented him with the mirage of exploitable colonial lands. Crispi’s imperialism was a passionate rhetorical imperialism without a financial‑economic base.” Gramsci, 1991, p. 142.

16 On “Fascist modernity and colonial conquest”, see Ben‑Ghiat, 2001, p. 125‑130.

17 On “continuities and discontinuities” of Italian colonialism during Fascism, see Labanca, 2002, p. 150‑152.

18 On Italian colonialism and photography, see Goglia, 1989; Palma, 1999. On postcards in particular, see Sturani, 1995, p. 131‑143.

19 Barrera, 1996, p. 8‑14.

20 In 1905, after more than 15 years of colonization in Eritrea, only 2,333 Italians lived there (including 834 soldiers). There were less than 550 “white” women in Eritrea at that time. A census in 1931 indicated the presence of 4,188 Italians: 2,471 men and 1,717 women; almost half of those men were young or unmarried. In Eritrea from 1935 on, the Italian population skyrocketed, peaking at 75,000 in 1940 (59,000 men and 16,000 women). See Barrera, 1996, p. 5; Pankhurst, 1969, p. 271.

21 In May 1936 there were 330,000 Italian soldiers in the region. See Labanca, 2002, p. 189.

22 On prostitution in the Italian colonies in Africa, see Stefani, 2007, p. 130‑143. See also the representation of a “noble” Italian prostitute sent to colonial Libya during World War II to rescue Italian soldiers, as portrayed by the last Italian colonial film, Bengasi (1942), directed by Augusto Genina. As Wendy Brown pointed out, women are constantly mobilized for nationalist projects; see Brown, 2011, p. 157.

23 Campassi, 1987, p. 239.

24 See for example Martini, 1946, I, and Paoli, 1908.

25 Throughout this article, I will use such “conventional” terms as prostitution, concubinage, marriage, etc. to define various types of man‑woman relations. However, it is important to bear in mind that these terms apply to categories that are nuanced and problematic. See Tabet, 2004, p. 7‑39. On prostitution and socio‑economic relations in Addis Ababa, see Dirasse, 1991.

26 Tabet, 2004, p. 158.

27 Stoler, 2002, p. 49, 50.

28 On colonial concubinage in Eritrea and local sexual politics, see Barrera, 1996; Sòrgoni, 1998. On colonial concubinage in Ethiopia, see Trento, 2011, p. 184‑205. On related topics, see also: Iyob, 2005, p. 233‑244; Pankhurst, 1974, p. 159‑178; Trento, 2007, http://cm.revues.org/164. On colonial concubinage in Libya and Somalia there is no research available. However, colonial fictional literature provides some information about this phenomenon and its representations, and also General Graziani referred to the “plague” of mabruchismo in the Libyan colony in his circular note “Relazioni di ufficiali con donne indigene” (Officers’ Relations with Indigenous Women), on May 17th 1932, as reported by Goglia and Grassi, 1981, p. 354.

29 In 1898 in Asmara, Martini wrote: “Let’s stop with these ‘madamas.’ Their use was tolerated: now degenerated into abuse, it cannot be tolerated any longer. State buildings become brothels; officers lose with these whores any sense of dignity and decorum. Even worse is the situation of the lower‑ranking officials, who also have their own ‘madamas’ and on whom they spend money the origin of which I do not know,” Martini, 1946, I, p. 220.

30 Martini, 1946, I, p. 145. Before the 1929 Concordat, according to the Italian civil code, religious marriages performed in church did not have any legal value.

31 Pollera, 1922, p. 73. See also Ambrogetti’s 1900 booklet La vita sessuale nell’Eritrea, p. 5, 15, quoted by Barrera, 1996, p. 30. Similar assumptions unexpectedly emerged in 1973 from the work of writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini who wrote: “The profession of whore does not cause any scandal in Eritrea, where the relationship between males and females is free and between equals.” Pasolini, 1998, p. 1886. On the constructions and representations of Africa in Pier Paolo Pasolini, see Trento, 2010.

32 On the life and work of Alberto Pollera, see Sòrgoni, 2001. Right before dying in 1939, even if it was officially prohibited, Pollera got religiously married to his second concubine, Kidan Mǝnǝlik, who probably was the main informant for Pollera’s semi‑ethnographic research. See Pollera, 1913, 1922 and 1935.

33 Pollera, 1922, p. 73‑85. As far as the cultural and intellectual background of these assumptions is concerned, let us remember that during pre‑Fascist colonialism, internationally renowned anthropologist Giusepe Sergi stressed genetic continuities between northern and southern populations of the Mediterranean coasts and those of the Horn of Africa, and theorized the “Euro‑African species” and the Homo eurafricanus. The consanguinity between Italians, North and Northeast Africans theorized by Sergi, besides “elevating” the populations of Northeast Africa in contrast to those “prognathous” of western Sub‑Saharan Africa, did implicitly sanction the legitimacy of Italian colonialism in Libya and in the Horn of Africa. See Sergi, 1897, 1901 and 1908.

34 On the various forms of marriage in Ethiopia, see Kaplan, 2007, p. 799–800.

35 Barrera, 1996, p. 21.

36 Stoler, 2002, p. 14.

37 Stoler, 2002, p. 51. On some early attempts of banning concubinage in 1909 in British and Italian colonies, see, respectively: Hyam, 1986, p. 170‑186; Barrera, 2008, p. 396‑403.

38 Gabrielli, 1996, p. 61–88. On métis children in French colonial Empire, see Saada, 2007 and Jean‑Baptiste, 2011, p. 568‑593.

39 Burgio, 1999; Burgio and Casali, 1996; Centro Furio Jesi, 1994. On colonial race/ racist? laws, see Barrera, 2003a, p. 425‑443; Labanca 1999, p. 145‑164; Pankhurst, 1969, p. 270‑286.

40 As Frederick Cooper pointed out, “recognizing the Europeans' much greater power in the colonial encounter does not negate the importance of African agency in determining the shape the encounter took.” Cooper, 1994, p. 1529.

41 Trento, 2011, p. 184‑205.

42 Who respected the racial laws? Not even the Carabinieri did!” This is what one of the numerous Italian men who “went native” and remained in Ethiopia after World War II told Fabienne Le Houérou; see Le Houérou, 1994, p. 97. Similar statements confirming the non‑observance of the law are mentioned by Gabriella Campassi. See Campassi, 1987, p. 219‑260.

43 Trento, 2007, http://cm.revues.org/164; Trento, 2011, p. 184‑205.

44 Interview with Riccardo in August 2011 in Jimma (Ethiopia). Riccardo, who owns a big garage in Jimma, introduced me to several other Ethiopian‑Italians and Eritrean‑Italians who were born in the Horn in the 1930s and 1940s and now live in Jimma region (such as Mario, see below). Riccardo still speaks Italian perfectly and proved to be an important interlocutor and social actor in the local African‑Italian community.

45 Stoler, 2002, p. 49.

46 A double‑interview I conducted in September 2011, at the Juventus Club in Addis Ababa, with two Eritrean‑Italians born during the 1940s clearly and dramatically revealed such stigma among Eritrean‑Italians themselves. Rosi and Armando both have first names and were raised in Asmara, but Rosi was recognized by her Italian father, while Armando was not. Rosi snubbed Armando and pretended she did not remember him, while Armando openly remembered Rosi very well from their childhood.

47 On “Missionaries, Education & the State in the Italian Colony of Eritrea”, see Miran, 2002, p. 121‑135.

48 On the upbringing of Eritrean‑Italians, see Barrera 2002, p. 21‑53.

49 Interview with Mario, in Jimma in 2011.

50 Trento, 2011, p. 184‑205.

51 Conversation with Shiferaw Bekele in 2009 in Addis Ababa.

52 Trento, 2011, p. 201.

53 French researcher Fabienne Le Houérou interviewed Italian men in Ethiopia in the 1980s and 1990s; she defined most of them as the ensablés. Le Houérou stated: “Out of the 300,000 Italians who were in Africa Orientale Italiana in 1936‑1941, only, approximately, 200 people are still there: about 150 ensablés and 50 Italiens noirs. […] Many among them never felt the necessity of being registered at the Italian Consulate.” Le Houérou, 1994, p. 14.

54 Conversation with Abebe Zegeye in Jerusalem in 2006. On this point, see also Trento, 2007, http://cm.revues.org/164.

55 The Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army (the Därg) ruled Ethiopia between 1974 and 1987; Mängǝstu Ḫaylä Maryam was its most prominent officer.

56 Interview with Ǝšäte in 2011 in Dire Dawa.

57 Interview with Giulia, in September 2011, outskirts of Addis Ababa.

58 Conversations with Richard Pankhurst in 2009 in Addis Ababa.

59 Interview with Ṣäḥay, in August 2011 in Harar.

60 Teff (Eragostis abyssinica) is an annual cereal grass, widely used and eaten in Ethiopia.

61 Interview with Ṭaytu in Addis Ababa in September 2012.

62 Barrera, 1996.

63 Riforma del diritto di famiglia (the 1975 set of laws that, among other things, allowed married Italians to recognize their children born outside their marriage).

64 Interview with Giulia, op. cit.

65 Barrera, 2002, p. 21‑53.

66 Such difficulties are faced mostly by those who also have family‑links with Eritrea, such as Lidia, one of Giulia’s daughters, interviewed in 2011 by Addis Ababa, or Claudio, interviewed in 2011 in Addis Ababa.

67 Such a denigratory expression recurred in numerous interviews I conducted between 2006 and 2011, including the interview with Mario, op.cit.

68 Trento 2007 and 2011, p. 184‑205.

69 Greek presence in Ethiopia is well attested since, at least, the 18th century and it developed in the 19th century. From 1896 onwards, Greek presence in Ethiopia became more stable and community‑oriented. After 1916, more Greek families settled in Ethiopia. By 1935, the Greek community consisted of approximately 3,000 persons, which made it the second foreign community. They were running some 30 factories, 2 cinemas, 4 garages, 15 import‑export firms and 20 retail shops. The decline of the Greek community began in the 1960s. In 1974, firms belonging to Greeks were nationalized and their owners left Ethiopia. Since 1991, some of them have worked out agreements with the Ethiopian Privatization Agency and have taken back their properties. Natsoulas and Wion, 2005, p. 879‑884. On the Greek population in Ethiopia in 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, see also: Natsoulas 1977, p. 5‑239.

70 Interviews with Rina and Annunziata (Ethiopian‑Italian sisters currently living, respectively, in Italy and Germany), in Italy, in 2006 and 2007.

71 Interview with Mario, op.cit.

72 Interview with Lidia, op.cit.

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Giovanna Trento, « Ethiopian‑Italians », Chroniques yéménites [En ligne], 17 | 2012, mis en ligne le 23 mars 2013, consulté le 24 août 2017. URL : http://cy.revues.org/1878 ; DOI : 10.4000/cy.1878

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