Italian Memories/African Memories of Colonialism
Francophone and Anglophone Africa have received much attention from Africanists, resulting in a vast literature. This body of work has partly privileged oral literature and the production of memories. Besides collections of Africans’ personal memories assembled by historians, anthropologists, and other specialists on colonialism, we also have access to a rich memoiristic literature by Europeans who were bureaucrats, settlers, travelers, and soldiers in the African colonies. But documentation of oral literature concerning Italian East Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia from 1936 to 1941) is meager. Italians left few first-person accounts of their African experiences, and contemporary scholars of Italian colonialism have not sought to transcribe the memories of its protagonists, whether Italian or African. This is an essential premise of my work on oral histories. I have sought to reconstruct Italian colonialism in East Africa through two types of individual, informal oral testimonies: those of surviving Italian colonizers, whom I interviewed in Italy many years after their experiences, and those of once-colonized Africans.1 The present essay is a synthesis of my works on these subjects; but it also addresses new reflections, and outlines a first stage of comparison between Italians’ and Africans’ memories of Italian colonialism—a comparison that provides us with a new interpretative key for many colonial histories.
KeywordsOral History Oral Tradition Colonial Power Personal Memory Colonial History
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- 1.Irma Taddia, La memoria dell’Impero. Autobiografie d’Africa Orientale (Manduria and Bari: Lacaita, 1988), and Autobiografie africane. Il colonialismo nelle memorie orali (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1996).Google Scholar
- 2.See above all Angelo Del Boca, ed., Le guerre coloniali del fascismo (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1991), andGoogle Scholar
- Angelo Del Boca, L’Africa nella coscienza degli Italiani (Rome and Bari: Laterza, 1992).Google Scholar
- 3.We have some materials with which to compile settlers’ profiles, above all the classic work of Giuseppe Puglisi, Chi è? dell’Eritrea (Asmara: Agenzia Regina, 1952). Among the few reconstructions of the lives of the first colonists see: G. De Ponti, Dall’alba al tramonto. Vita di un pioniere in Africa (Rome: n.p., 1968), and C. G. Pini, “Ricordi eritrei,” Rivista coloniale (1910): 165, and 333.Google Scholar
- 4.See Haile Larebo, The Building of an Empire. Italian Land Policy and Practice in Ethiopia, 1935–1941 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994) and in this volume.Google Scholar
- 5.See on this Mia Fuller, “Building Power: Italian Architecture and Urbanism in Libya and Ethiopia,” in Forms of Dominance. On the Architecture and Urbanism of the Colonial Enterprise, ed. Nezar AlSayyad, 211–239 (Aldershot: Avebury, 1992);Google Scholar
- Giuliano Gresleri, Pier Giorgio Massaretti, Stefano Zagnoni, eds, Architettura italiana d’oltremare 1870–1940 (Venice: Marsilio, 1993).Google Scholar
- 7.Oral-historical research in Somalia is limited to the work of Ioan Lewis, who deals primarily with British Somaliland. See also Irma Taddia, “L’Italia, le colonie, l’eredità culturale,” Orientalia Karalitania 6 (2000): 11–124.Google Scholar
- 8.For examples of a broader methodological discussion, see A. Jones, “History Seen from Inside? Theory and Practice in the Historiography of Precolonial Sub-Saharan Africa,” paper for the Third International Conference on Tradition and Modernization in Africa, Budapest University, 1989; and Carolyn A. Hamilton, “Ideology and Oral Traditions: Listening to the Voices ‘From Below’,” History in Africa 14 (1987): 67–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 11.Among scholars of Africa, Ranger has taken this tendency further than most: see Terence Ranger, The African Voice in Southern Rhodesia 1898–1930 (London: Heinemann Educational, 1970), and his “Towards a Usable Past,” in African Studies since 1945: A Tribute to Basil Davidson, ed. Christopher Fyfe, 17–30 (London: Longman, 1976); Paul Thompson, primarily a scholar of European history, also entered into the Africanist debate with “Oral Evidence in African History. A Note on Some Common Problems,” Oral History 2, no. 1 (1974): 65–67. See alsoGoogle Scholar
- Andrew Roberts, “The Use of Oral Sources for African History,” Oral History 4, no. 1 (1976): 54–70. Critical reflections on this historiographical tendency can be found inGoogle Scholar
- Jan Vansina, “Memories and Oral Traditions,” in The African Past Speaks: Essays on Oral Tradition and History, ed. Joseph C. Miller, 262–279 (Folkestone: Dawson, 1980); andGoogle Scholar