Colonists and “Demographic” Colonists. Family and Society in Italian Africa. The conquest of Ethiopia radically modified Italian colonial policy, shifting it onto another level, that of the empire. The empire, in Mussolini’s opinion, was above all a spiritual goal towards which Italians should strive in order to avoid the fate of decadent Western people. The meaning attributed to the term transcended the mere material increase in the size of conquered territories, assuming an almost metaphysical character. The common traits, which bore witness to the universal vocation of imperial policy (whose objectives were chiefly the shaping of the new Italian colonists as well as raising the degree of “Italianness” of indigenous populations), concerned the creation of schools both for Italian and autochthonous students; archaeological research; the diffusion of newspapers and magazines (including some in the local languages), the cinema, theatres and the radio; the spreading of Western and/or typically Italian lifestyles and leisure pastimes; the planning of an overseas Italian architecture; the founding of cultural and sports institutions. The new Italian settlers enjoyed notably larger incomes compared to Italians back home. This modified their lifestyle, increasing the popularity of cultural and sports activities some of which, such as tennis and horse-riding, represented a rise in social status. This phenomenon also touched that part of the African population in direct contact with Italians. Schools and the Fascist Party (PNF) were the institutions in charge with the spreading of culture and sports. All tourist and sports facilities were either built by the government of by the PNF. The Party looked after Italians’ leisure time through some collateral bodies: if the Institute of Fascist Culture, the Fascist University Groups (GUF) and the Italian Lictorian Youth (GIL) prevalently dealt with political and cultural indoctrination as well as physical education, the Working Men’s National Association (Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro – OND) played an important role in the involvement of its members in cultural, leisure and sports activities, which favoured the aggregation of large numbers of people and the strengthening of the feelings of “Italianness”. The creation of the Arab Lictorian Youth (GAL) in Lybia and the Indigenous Lictorian Youth (GIL) in East Africa also allowed the PNF to organise and form the younger natives. The diffusion of Western sports, such as football, in African schools or among the young members of GAL and GIL integrated the young subjects’ education. The Italian Touring Club also played a crucial role in the empire’s cultural and tourist promotion, both by organising trips and events, and above all through its own publications. Besides fascist institutions a remarkable number of sports, cultural and military associations helped to manage the colonists’ leisure time. Imperial publications were generally published by the government or by the Fascist Party and therefore had an official character, but there were also some catholic magazines, whilst cinemas and theatres were growing in numbers. The cinema was also a formidable political and cultural tool in the process of assimilation of subject people, as the Undersecretary to the Italian Foreign Office, Zenone Benini, highlighted in one of his reports to Mussolini on Italian cultural penetration in Albania, though his remarks can be extended to all other dominions: “For the purpose of spiritual elevation, educational activities are and will be more and more supported […] by the action of those technical means, such as cinema and the radio, which are especially apt to take the educating voice of Italian civilisation to the most isolated outposts […] To this aim […] several itinerant cinemas have been sent which, as well as broadcasting everywhere the beauty of Italian sights, provide the first recreational occasions for the masses”. Until the 1930s the Italian population resident in the colonies was rather small, and made up mostly of single males who often set up home, as in Eritrea, with African women. There were few Italian families, also because living conditions in the colonies were very difficult for women and children; moreover, no efficient school system had yet been established. After the conquest of Ethiopia the situation had changed: the Italian population amounted to 120,000 people in Libya and about 200,000 in Italian East Africa. The great majority of new colonists did not entertain any close relationship with African society. A new “Italy” overseas was being reproduced. Mussolini was very worried by the problem of creating a balance between males and females, in order to limit sexual intercourse between Italian men and African women. Il Duce therefore demanded that settlers should take their families with them. This policy caused several problems, because of the lack of housing and public services. Only in Eritrea the number of Italian women (about 25 % of the population) allowed the formation of a sufficient number of families. In the rest of the Empire, society was still prevalently male. A last kind of colonial family was represented by settlers selected by the fascist regime to create a “demographic colonisation” in the territories of the Empire. These were families coming from the Italian countryside, chosen on the basis of such criteria as the number of family members, industriousness, frugality, loyalty to Fascism, etc. These families were introduced into new villages especially built for the purpose. Their number rose to about 40,000 in Libya, and to several thousands in Ethiopia, Rhodes and Albania. Each family unit obtained a plot of land to farm, and would repay the state in the course of years. It was the same pattern used in Italy during the period of land reclamation. This colonisation model was very different from the classic one: the peasant families lived inside their housing agglomerates, entertaining relationships only with other colonists, without practically any contact with the African population. In Mussolini’s opinion these families, besides carrying out the economic valorisation of the Empire, would contribute to the regeneration of Italian birth-rates.
Colonists and "Demografic" Colonists. Family and Society in Italian Africa / PODESTA', Gian Luca. - In: ANNALES DE DÉMOGRAPHIE HISTORIQUE. - ISSN 0066-2062. - 2011-2(2012), pp. 205-231.