The Italian “Race Laws” and the Representations of Africans: Questioning “Madamato” and Italian Colonial Fictional Literature

By Giovanna Trento.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Italian “Race Laws” against “non-Aryans” were promulgated by Fascism (1922-1943) in the late 1930s (see: “Manifesto della razza”, 1938). In 1937 a first law grounded on a racial and racist base prohibited in the colonies a local concubinage between Italian men and African women (“Madamato”). In 1939 life in the colonies became completely segregated. For several reasons, Italian historiography tended to exclude colonialism and colonial racism from national history. Until the end of XXth century, Italian colonialism (that lasted from 1880s to 1947 in East and North Africa) was not the object of study and public discussions in Italy (there were some exceptions though: Del Boca, Rochat, etc.). Italian “Race Laws” were not only the result of political alliances, but also the product of XIXth and XXth century anthropological theories (such as: the Aryan idea and the Mediterranean idea). The different theories of anthropologists Giuseppe Sergi and Lidio Cipriani depict the changes that occurred in the 1930s, as far as the categorization of Africans and their legal status are concerned. Colonial fictional literature may help us to highlight this complex cultural phenomenon. Even if not much studied yet, novels set in an African colonial background (“letteratura coloniale”) were written by relevant writers (Marinetti, D’Annunzio, Bacchelli, etc.). By studying interconnections between anthropology, historiography, literature, and legislation, we can understand how Italian attitudes towards Africans changed during the 1930s, and why some representations of Africans persisted in XXth century Italian culture and literature (see Emanuelli, Pasolini, Lucarelli). By picturing East Africa as a land full of possibilities, Fascism made the African “adventure” appealing to young Italians. The expectation of meeting sexually available women was an important factor. “Erotic-love novels” set in colonial Africa were widespread in Italy before the promulgation of “Race Laws”. Their forgotten authors (Mitrano Sani, Dei Gaslini, etc.) embraced different racist or race-oriented perspectives, envisaging “carnal knowledge” between “white men” and “black women”. When “Race Laws” banned “mixed race” unions, the African “erotic-love novels” disappeared, but left some latent heritage in Italian culture.

Keywords: Italian Race Laws, Fascism, Italian Colonialism, Racism, Letteratura Coloniale, Colonial Fictional Literature, Madamato, Erotic-Love Novels, Mediterranean Idea

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 3, Issue 9, pp.137-148. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 540.082KB).

Dr. Giovanna Trento

Independent Scholar, Rome, Italy

Giovanna Trento holds two PhD degrees: in Anthropology (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris) and in African Studies (Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples). Her thesis PASOLINI ET L’AFRIQUE – L’AFRIQUE DE PASOLINI. Panméridionalisme et représentations de l’Afrique postcoloniale (Pasolini and Africa – Pasolini’s Africa: Pan-southern Approach and Representations of Postcolonial Africa) was appointed magna cum laude. Her book Pasolini e l’Africa will be published in Italy in October 2009. Giovanna Trento’s work on the representations of Africa in the work of Italian writer, filmmaker, and activist Pier Paolo Pasolini made her build an interdisciplinary frame that allowed her to carry on further interconnected researches on: Italian colonial fictional literature, “shared colonial literary and imaginary culture”, colonial concubinage in East-Africa, and the genesis of 1930s Italian “Race Laws” during fascism (especially concerning the Italian colonies in Africa). See: Trento, G., Oublier et récupérer ? L’ « héritage » du colonialisme italien en Afrique de l’est,in Jewsiewicki, B. K., Auzas, V. (eds.), Traumatisme collectif pour patrimoine : regards sur un mouvement transnational, introduction by Henry Rousso, Presses de l’Université Laval, Québec 2008; Trento, G., Leggi razziali: settant’anni dal Manifesto della razza. Quando l’eros è discriminante, in “Alias. Supplemento settimanale de il manifesto”, a. 11, n. 30 (517), Saturday July 26th 2008; Trento, G., Lomi and Totò. An Ethiopian-Italian Colonial or Postcolonial “Love Story”?, in “Conserveries mémorielles”, I, n. 2, 2007, trad it. Lomi e Totò. Una « storia d’amore » italo-etiopica fra colonia e postcolonia ?, in “Afriche e Orienti”, IX, n. 1/2007. She had academic teaching and lecturing experience in France, Canada, Italy, US, and Israel. She is currently teaching a seminar at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” (Between Ethnography and Literature: Pasolini and the City)She also has a strong international background in visual arts, in contemporary African arts, and in cultural journalism on the Italian national press (currently freelancing for Italian newspapers “il manifesto” and “l’Unità”).


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