Monday, May 2, 2022


The kingdom of Italy conquered Ethiopia in 1936 and established the "Impero italiano" in the horn of Africa with the addition (to Ethiopia) of the former italian colonies of Eritrea and Somalia. Many italian colonists moved to live in this empire, where the italian language was the official. Additionally the colonial population started to create an italian pidgin, that in some cases existed until the XXI century (like in Eritrea and Somalia).

1940 Map of the Italian empire in the horn of Africa, where Italian was the official language

It should be noted that the number of Italian citizens permanently resident in the Horn of Africa is now very small: according to the official data of the Italian "Ministero dell' Interno" -written in the "Statistical Yearbook 2018"- there are 352 italian families in Eritrea, 852 in Ethiopia and just 4 in Somalia.

Above all in relation to the very serious events that -starting from colonial experience- these three African countries suffered in the last century, the current presence of Italians in the Horn appears to be very little, constantly decreasing and almost entirely concentrated in the main urban centers.

But there it is a group of Italian speakers in Africa who do not appear in the censuses of Italians abroad: that of the so-called mixed-breed "mulatti" (nearly all born during colonial times) and their sons and descendants (born after WW2). They were in the late 1950s -aproximately, because there are not precise statistics- more than 5000 in Eritrea, nearly 10000 in Somalia and perhaps 1000 in Ethiopia.

Indeed the number of births (in the newly created italian empire) from mixed couples in italian colonial times is difficult to quantify: a census dated 1938 counted 2,518 but according to some sources it is a very underestimated hypothesis: some researchers think that the amount can be more than seven times bigger.

The following are the mulatto data for the 3 italian colonies of the empire in the horn of Africa:

ERITREA. It is estimated that in Eritrea alone there were more than 5,000 mulatto children abandoned by Italian fathers: some of these were not recognized by choice, others because of the racial laws that starting from 1937 (Royal Decree 19 April 1937, n. 880 converted with modification of the Law of 30 December 1937, n. 2590), prohibited the relationships "of a marital nature" between the Italian citizens and the subjects of the colonies and in 1940 they were further burdened by the Rules relating to mulattos (Law no. 822 of 13 May 1940) which prohibited the Italian father from recognizing a half-white child (often called "Italo-eritrean").

At the present time it is believed that the Italian-Eritreans without Italian citizenship, in some cases for decades waiting to obtain it, are about 300: often the poor economic conditions do not allow them to face the legal costs necessary to complete the complex application to get italian passport.

SOMALIA.During the 1920s & 1930s nearly 10,000 children were born from Italians (mainly soldiers) and Somalian native girls during the more than half a century of colonial presence in Italian Somalia. Most of them lived in the Mogadishu area & hinterland. Indeed in Mogadiscio in the 1920s and early 1930s there were 4 Italian men for every Italian woman and as a consequence was common the "Madamato" (relationship between Italian soldiers and native.

Nearly 7,000 children were born from the "Madamato" in the Mogadiscio area: they were mulattos who received Italian citizenship when baptized as catholic. But after 1939 the Italian Fascism -since 1938 linked to the German Nazism- imposed harsh racial rules against this Madamato. However, all the 7000 "mulattos" were given italian passports after WW2, while most of them spoke the italian language and/or the pidgin italian of Somalia.

ETHIOPIA.In 1940 Addis Ababa (capital of Ethiopia) the number of new-born Italian babies was continually growing after the italian conquest of Ethiopia, rising from 50 in 1937 to 570 in 1939 and the number of weddings being celebrated shot up too, despite the dramatic housing shortage ( Italians lived in all possible ways: many continued to live in temporary shelters (tents, huts and prefabricated houses), whilst a lot of families used indigenous homes that had been expropriated or rented. A consequence was that many "mulattos" (from italian soldiers and native ethiopian girls) were born in those years: some researchers -like Dertia and D'Ambrosio- think than more than a thousand italo-ethiopian were born in the nearly six years of italian occupation of Ethiopia (1936-1941).

Mussolini found this situation intolerable, and he constantly urged the Italian East Africa’s government to ensure a more vigorous policy of racial separation (on his orders the African market had been forbidden to Europeans, but the measure was later withdrawn, because indigenous trade was indispensable for the provision of food by whites).

Those mulattos in some cases were given italian passports after the end of WW2, but only a few of them (probably less than 100) spoke italian or the pidgin italian of Ethiopia.

Finally we have to remember that in the Italian Empire (made of Italian Eritrea, Italian Somalia and the conquered Ethiopia) in june 1940 there were 170000 italian colonists, a huge increase from the 6000 (4188 in Eritrea, 1668 in Somalia and just 100 in Etiopia) in spring 1935. But only 35000 remained after the end of WW2, even because of the return to Italy of 28000 women & children with four ships in 1942/1943 (read: All this made a huge decrease in the use of Italian language in the Horn of Africa.

Additionaly, it is noteworthy to pinpoint that in the 2020s there are only a few hundreds of italian speakers in the countries that were in the former "Italian empire". But many thousands natives are able to understand (and also speak) the italian language.....and someone also remembers the local pidgin italian (please read my