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Sex, Citizenship and the State: The Construction of the Public and Private Spheres in Colonial Eritrea

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Abstract

In 1905, during a solemn address on the state of the judiciary in Eritrea,1 the Procuratore del Re (Public Prosecutor), Ranieri Falcone, discussed interracial concubinage at some length. Falcone pointed out that mixed unions between Italian men and Eritrean women were widely practised.2 He would rather have done without them because he considered them detrimental to Italian prestige. But, Falcone argued emphatically, the state had no right to intervene and forbid such relations: ‘Indeed, how could the law possibly forbid these de facto unions, as long as the partners want them? Can the legislator create a completely new conflict between the law and the partners’ conscience?’3

Keywords

Private Sphere Colonial Ruler Colonial Government Colonial State Racial Hierarchy 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    The Italian military conquest of Eritrea started in the 1880s and in 1890 the Italian government formally established the colony. In 1941, defeated by the British, Italy lost its colonies in the Horn. For a general history of Italian colonialism in Eritrea see Angelo Del Boca, Gli italiani in Africa Orientale, 4 vols (Turin: Einaudi, 1976–84); Nicola Labanca, In marcia verso Adua. Esercito, politica e società alle origini dellimperialismo coloniale italiano (Turin: Einaudi, 1993); Nicola Labanca, Oltremare. Storia dellespansione coloniale italiana (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2002). For a history of Eritrea under Italian rule, see Irma Taddia, LEritrea colonia (1890–1952). Paesaggi, strutture, uomini del colonialismo (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1986); Tekeste Negash, Italian Colonialism in Eritrea, 1882–1941. Policies, Praxis and Impact (Uppsala: Uppsala University, 1987); Alessandro Triulzi (ed.), La colonia: italiani in Eritrea, special issue of Quaderni storici, XXXVII, 109 (2002); G. Barrera, ‘Colonial Affairs: Italian Men, Eritrean Women, and the Construction of Racial Hierarchies in Colonial Eritrea’, PhD dissertation, Northwestern University 2002.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    On the widespread practice of interracial concubinage in colonial Eritrea see: Araia Tseggai, ‘Eritrean Women and Italian Soldiers: Status of Eritrean Women under Italian Rule’, Journal ofEritrean Studies, IV (1989–90) pp. 7–12; Gabriella Campassi, ‘Il madamato in Africa Orientale. Relazioni tra italiani e indigene come forma di aggressione coloniale’, Miscellanea di storia delle esplorazioni, XII (1987), pp. 219–60; Barbara Sorgoni, Parole e corpi. Antropologia, discorso giuridico e politiche sessuali interrazziali nella colonia Eritrea (1890–1941) (Naples: Liguori, 1998); Ruth Iyob, ‘Madamismo and Beyond: The Construction of Eritrean Women’, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 22 (2000), pp. 217–38; Barrera, ‘Colonial Affairs’.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ranieri Falcone, ‘L’amministrazione della giustizia nella colonia Eritrea. Resoconto letto nel di 23 gennaio 1905 dal procuratore del re cav. Ranieri Falcone all’assemblea generale del Tribunale d’appello sedente in Asmara’, in Ferdinando Martini, Relazione sulla Colonia Eritrea del R. Commissario civile deputato Ferdinando Martini, pergli esercizi 1902–907, presentata dal ministro delle colonie (Bertolini) nella seduta del 14 giugno 1913, Atti parlamentari, Camera dei Deputati, Legislatura XXIII, Sessione 1909–1913 (Rome: 1913), p. 322.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    On this law and its enforcement, see Richard Pankhurst, ‘Fasdst Racial Policies in Ethiopia, 1922–1941’, Ethiopia Observer, XII, 4 (1969), pp. 270–85; Alberto Sbacchi, Ethiopia under Mussolini. Fascism and the Colonial Experience (London: Zed, 1985); Luigi Goglia, ‘Note sul razzismo coloniale fascista’, Storia contemporanea, XIX (1988) pp. 1223–66; Giulia Barrera, Dangerous Liaisons: Colonial Concubinage in Eritrea (1890–1941), Program of African Studies Working Papers, 1 (Evanston: PAS, Northwestern University, 1996); Gianluca Gabrielli, ‘La persecuzione delle “unioni miste” (1937–1940) nei testi delle sentenze pubblicate e nel dibattito giuridico’, Studi piacentini, 20 (1996), pp. 83–140; Sorgoni, Parole e corpi. Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Ann L. Stoler, ‘Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power. Gender, Race, and Morality in Colonial Asia’, in Micaela di Leonardo (ed.), Gender at the Crossroads ofKnowledge. FeministAnthropology in thePostrnodern Era (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), pp. 51–101, now in Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Other scholars have made a similar point by discussing — for example — the impact of purity campaigns in the British empire, or male colonisers’ anxieties about the emancipation of Western women during the First World War; see Kenneth Ballahatchet, Race, Sex and Class under the Raj. Imperial Attitudes and Policies and their Critics 1793–1905 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980); Ronald Hyam, Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience (Manchester: Manchester University Press and New York, NY: St Martin’s Press, 1990); Penny Edwards, ‘Womanizing Indochina: Fiction, Nation and Cohabitation in Colonial Cambodia, 1890–1930’, in Julia Clancy Smith and Frances Gouda (eds), Domesticating the Empire: Race, Gender and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1998), pp. 108–30.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    David G. Horn, Social Bodies. Science, Reproduction, and Italian Modernity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 24.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    On the regulation of prostitution see Mary Gibson, Prostitution and the State in Italy, 1860–1915 (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Disposizioni di massima emanate da questo Comando circa la prescrizione per il servizio della prostituzione nei presidi di Massaua, Moncullo ed Otumlo comunicate a tutte le autorità civili e militari Egiziane ed Italiane in Massaua issued by Comandante superiore Saletta, no date (but some time between February and June 1885), no. 947; Archivio dell’Ufficio Storico Stato Maggiore Esercito, Roma, Carteggio Eritrea, busta 120, fasc. 2 ‘Servizi vari’, sottofasc. ‘Prostitute’. For a short discussion of prostitution in the period of military rule, see Labanca, In marcia verso Adua, pp. 219–220.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Francesco Guerriero, Relazione intorno al servizio sanitario civile praticato in Massaua e villaggi dipendenti durante lanno 1886, Massawa, 12 Jan. 1887. Archivio Storico Diplomatico del Ministero Affari Esteri (hereafter ASDMAE), Archivio storico del Ministero Africa Italiana, 32/1, fasc. 2.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    DG (Gubernatorial decree) 20 May 1892. A copy of this decree can be found in ASDMAE, Archivio Eritrea (hereafter AE), busta 169, fasc. ‘Prostituzione’. DG 30 May 1903, no. 213 ‘Regolamento per i Commissariati regionali’, articles 427–36. DG 9 Sept. 1916, no. 2,634, issued by Regent Governor Giovanni Cerrina Feroni. DG 16 Aug. 1925, no. 4,319.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Del Boca, Gli italiani in Africa orientale, Vol. 3(Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1982), p. 245; Sbacchi, Ethiopia under Mussolini, p. 317; Sorgoni, Parole e corpi Barrera, ‘Colonial Affairs’, pp. 343–50.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Alessandro Sapelli, Memorie dAfrica (1883–1906) (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1935), p. 197.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    See the long letter by Daodiace to an unidentified ‘Eccellenza’, no date [1945?], where he explains his position vis-a-vis the Fascist race laws; private collection, London. See also Oreste Calamai, Rivelazioni africane, cited in Aldo De Jaco (ed.), Di mal dAfrica si muore. Cronaca inedita dellUnita dItalia (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1972), p. 238.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Francesco De Angelis, ‘Il censimento del 1913 della popolazione italiana ed assimilata nella Colonia Eritrea’, LAfrica Italiana. Bollettino della Societa Africana dItalia, 40 (1921), pp. 65–73.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    The Italians were trying to advance inland into Ethiopia, when the Ethiopian army led by Emperor Menelik II inflicted on them the most devastating defeat ever suffered by a European army on African soil. Italy lost 4,000 Italian and 2,000 colonial soldiers.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    Giulia Barrera, ‘The Construction of Racial Hierarchies in Colonial Eritrea: The Liberal and Early Fascist Period, 1897–1934’, in Patrizia Palumbo (ed.), A Place in the Sun: Africa in Italian Colonial Culture (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003), pp. 81–115. On the notion of ‘white prestige’ in a colonial situation, see Dane Kennedy, Islands of White. Settler Society and Culture in Kenya and Southern Rhodesia, 1890–1939 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1987), pp. 153–4.Google Scholar
  18. 23.
    Martini, Diario eritreo, Vol. 1 (Florence: Vallecchi, 1946), pp. 86–7, 4 March 1898.Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    We do not have direct evidence of how this prohibition was agreed upon; but, from Martini’s diary and from the comments of its editor, Riccardo Astuto (Governor of Eritrea, 1930–35), one can infer that it was Martini who pushed the commander to take action. From Astuto’s comment we learn as well that the military commanders enacted this prohibition by means of two confidential circular letters. Ibid., p. 262.Google Scholar
  20. 27.
    Royal decree (hereafter RD) 19 Sept. 1909, no. 839, art. 43. Salvago Raggi also issued a confidential circular letter on the same question (21 Sept. 1909, no. 3,333) but so far research for a copy of it has been unsuccessful. Until the Regio decreto legge (R.d.l) 1728/1938 (‘Measures for the defence of the Italian race’), interracial marriage was legally possible; but the 1914 regulations for colonial officials stated that officials who married ‘native women’ would be dismissed from office: RD 10 Dec. 1914, no. 1,510 ‘Modificazioni all’ordinamento del personale civile della Colonia Eritrea’, art. 42.Google Scholar
  21. 28.
    The only case we know in which the rule was enforced is that of Ugo Auritano. (See Archivio centrale dello Stato (hereafter ACS), Ministero dellAfrica italiana, Governo dellEritrea, busta 1090, fasc. 527E ‘Auritano Ugo’.) Colonial officials who lived openly with Eritrean women included Alberto Pollera and Ugo Bolsi. See, respectively, Barbara Sàrgoni, Etnografia e colonialismo. LEritrea e lEtiopia di Alberto Pollera, 1873–1939 (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 2001) and Hanna Gonnice Bolsi, interview with author, Asmara, October–November 1998.Google Scholar
  22. 29.
    My reworking of data from De Angelis, ‘Il Censimento’ and Vittorio Castellano, ‘La popolazione italiana dell’Eritrea dal 1924 al 1940’, Rivista italiana di demografia e statistica, II, 4 (1948), pp. 530–40.Google Scholar
  23. 31.
    I have discussed these issues in greater depth in my ‘Patrilinearita, razza e identità: l’educazione degli italo-eritrei nell’Eritrea coloniale, ca 1890–1950’, Quaderni storici, XXXVII, 109 (2002), pp. 21–53.Google Scholar
  24. 32.
    Law 13 May 1940, no. 822, ‘Norme relative ai meticci’. On the Fascist campaign against mixed-race children, besides the studies already cited in n. 4 above, see Centro Furio Jesi (ed.), La menzogna della razza: documenti e immagini del razzismo e dellantisemitismo fascista, Scritti di David Bidussa … [et al.]. (Bologna: Grafis, 1994); Gianluca Gabrielli, ‘Un aspetto della politica razzista nell’impero: il “problema dei meticci”’, Passato e presente, XV, 41 (1997), pp. 77–105; Barrera, ‘Colonial Affairs’.Google Scholar
  25. 34.
    Riccardo Astuto, ‘Gerarchia di razza o reciprocita egualitaria penale?’, Il Diritto razzista, II, 5–6 (1940), p. 180.Google Scholar
  26. 35.
    Gino Cerbella, Eritrea 1959: La collettività italiana nelle sue attivita economiche, sociali e culturali (Asmara: Consolato generale d’Italia, 1960), p. 10.Google Scholar
  27. 36.
    According to a note by colonial official Luca Pietromarchi, in 1922 in Hamasien (the region of Asmara) there were 306 Italo-Eritreans. Of these, 165 had been recognised by their fathers and 146 had not (Archivio Vicariato Apostolico Asmara (hereafter AVA), 84/1/1 and 87/8/9). The high incidence of paternal abandonment was exposed by Mauro da Leonessa, ‘I Meticci nella colonia Eritrea’, Atti del quarto congresso nazionale della Società antischiavista dItalia (dicembreMcMxxvt) (Rome: Anonima romana editoriale, 1927), pp. 340–51, and by Camillo De Camillis, ‘La questione dei meticci nelle nostre colonie’, in Societa antischiavista d’Italia, Terzo congresso antischiavista nazionale, Roma 21–22–23 aprile 1921. Relazioni e documenti (Rome: Tip. ed. Laziale A. Marchesi, 1921), pp. 268–73.Google Scholar
  28. 37.
    See, for example Adalgiso Ravizza, ‘Matrimoni misti e meticci nella colonia Eritrea’, Rivista dItalia, XIX, Vol. 2, fasc. 9 (1916), pp. 333–62.Google Scholar
  29. 40.
    Gov. Eritrea, Dir. Affari civili, Circular ‘Meticci. Iscrizioni delle loro nascite nei registri dello stato civile. Cittadinanza. Obbligo di leva’, Asmara, 22 Sept. 1917, no. 12545. ASDMAE, AE, busta 261, fasc. ‘Meticci 1917–1918’, sottofasc. ‘1918’ (sic). This circular has been almost entirely reprinted in Ester Capuzzo, ‘Sudditanza e cittadinanza nell’esperienza coloniale italiana nel1 ‘eta liberale’, Clio, XXXI (1995), pp. 75–7.Google Scholar
  30. 41.
    Paolo Teodorani to Celestino da Desio, Asmara, 19 Jan. 1920, in AVA 85/1/26. Marino Mutinelli, ‘La difesa della razza nell’Africa Orientale Italiana’, in Atti del terzo congresso di studi coloniali: Firenze — Roma, 12–17 aprile 1937, Vol. II, Sezione: politica (Florence: Sansoni, 1937), p. 174; Astuto, ‘Gerarchia di razza’, p. 180.Google Scholar
  31. 42.
    The missionary archives preserve a collection of decrees or formal letters from the colonial government, which request that specific ‘meticci’ of unknown fathers, being in destitute condition, be accepted by missionary homes, and specified that the government would cover the expenses: AVA, 85/1, 85/2, 86/1, 86/3/2. The latest letter is dated 12 Dec. 1940; 86/1/43.Google Scholar
  32. 44.
    Sileno Fabbri, ‘La ricerca della Paternita’, Gerarchia, 10 (1930), 658, cited in Horn, Social Bodies, p. 74.Google Scholar
  33. 45.
    Chiara Saraceno, ‘Redefining Maternity and Paternity: Gender, Pronatalism and Social Policies in Fascist Italy’, in Gisela Bock and Pat Thane (eds), Maternity and Gender Politics: Women and the Rise of the European WeIfare States, 1880s–1950s (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 207.Google Scholar
  34. 46.
    Law 6 July 1933, no. 999, ‘Ordinamento organico per l’Eritrea e la Somalia’ (Organic Law for Eritrea and Italian Somaliland), art. 18. Children of unknown parents born in Eritrea or Somalia could apply for Italian citizenship at the age of 18, if their ‘somatic types and other clues’ (such as having a ‘perfectly Italian upbringing’) proved that one of their parents was of ‘white race’. The Italian law was similar to the French decree for the granting of French citizenship to children of unknown parents — but presumed to be by a French parent — born in French West Africa, issued in 1930. See Owen White, Children of the French Empire: Miscegenation and Colonial Society in French West Africa, 1895–1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).Google Scholar

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