Madamato and Colonial Concubinage in Ethiopia: A Comparative Perspective
Colonial concubinage in Ethiopia during the Italian occupation (1936–1941) has not been deeply studied yet. This article explores the peculiarities of the so-called madamato – that was banned under Fascism in 1937 but developed despite the racist legislation – by firstly comparing its practices in Ethiopia with that which took place from the late Nineteenth century in Eritrea. Indeed, on the Eritrean case a small body of significant literature already exists. In addition, by relying on both written and oral sources, this article highlights the relevance of local agency, the influence of “traditional” customs and religion, and the role played by Ethiopian women in the impact of and the shape taken by colonial concubinage in Ethiopia. It also points out some continuity between the colonial and post-colonial periods (in terms of social behaviors) and the complex roles played in local societies by Ethiopian-Italians and Eritrean-Italians (including the offspring of relationships based on concubinage). Furthermore, this article highlights that gender relations in the region during Italian rule were also affected by the fact that Italian colonialism in the Horn of Africa influenced to some extent the construction of Italian national identity and self-representation.