From Warriors to Urban Dwellers : Ascari and the Military Factor in the Urban Development of Colonial Eritrea*

by Woldeleul Kelati Dirar on 16 June 2012
in Article
source http://asmarino.com/articles/1449-from-warriors-to-urban-dwellers-ascari-and-the-military-factor-in-the-urban-development-of-colonial-eritreaj

From Warriors to Urban Dwellers : Ascari and the Military Factor in the Urban Development of Colonial Eritrea*

Woldeleul Kelati Dirar

[Introduction by Asmarino Staff: This is an extremely well written article on the role of the askari in the urban development of Eritrea. Below, we have presented some excerpts from different parts of the article. But this are meant to wet your appetite; they are no substitute for scholarly written article. To read the whole article, please press on this link: From Warriors to Urban Dwellers]


Excerpts from: Urbanism in Eritrean History

1. The aim of this article is to discuss the role played by the military component in the process of urbanisation which Eritrea experienced, between 1890 and 1941, under Italian colonialism. Two main points will be discussed. The first one is the role played by military priorities in determining lines of development in the early colonial urban planning in Eritrea. In this section I will analyse how the criteria of military defensibility, rather than economic or functional priorities, had a significant influence on the main patterns of early colonial settlements in Eritrea. The second point discussed in this article is the nature and extent of the interaction between colonial urban planning and Eritrean society. Here I will discuss how this interaction has reshaped the Eritrean social and economic landscape. In this context special attention will be given to the role of Eritrean colonial troops better known as ascari. In fact, it is a key thesis of this article that Eritrean ascari played a crucial role in the composite set of relations and strategies which constituted the colonial milieu. Urban history of colonial Eritrea represents one of the preferred loci for the study of the development of the colonial milieu into which colonial soldiers were important actors as they were builders of social and territorial urban spaces.

Excerpts from: The Fascist Period

29.  The military preparation for the aggression of Ethiopia of October 1935, with the related sudden increase of the European population, contributed in making the urban planning of Asmara even more difficult. In the early 1930s Asmara was still a small town of 18,000 inhabitants, out of which 3,000 (17%) were Italians. In 1938 the size of Asmara’s population had skyrocketed to 98,000 inhabitants and the Italian community had increased dramatically to 53,000 (54%) (Consociazione Turistica Italiana 1938: 199). ...

Excerpts from: Ascari and Urbanisation

33.  … However, though detailed calculations are still to be made, there are indications which suggest that approximately 130,000 Eritreans served in the Italian colonial army between the years 1890 and 1935 with an apex of roughly 60,000 during the campaign for the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 (Killion 1998: 91). To fully appreciate the relevance of those figures, it has to be mentioned that the Eritrean population in 1935 was estimated to be around 600,000 (Tekeste Negash 1987: 51). Those figures show clearly that the ascari’s phenomenon had a substantial impact, directly or indirectly, on the whole Eritrean society.

39.  The campi-famiglia’s policy, implemented after an initial period of Italian disinterest with regard to accommodation for ascari Wylde (1970: 124), contributed to the sudden growth of urban areas and gave a strong imprint to colonial urban planning in Eritrea. Those military camps, as described in the colonial literature and shown in contemporary iconographic materials, were huge encampments marked by geometrically designed roads. According to the regulations, each family had its own house, which was built with bricks and had the roof made with stubble, hay and reed. The design was modelled after the local hut known in Italian sources as tucul. ...

Excerpts from: Toponymy

42.  One of the most recurrent toponyms is Forto, the Eritrean corruption of the Italian forte, which stands for fort or military fortification. Almost all urban centres grown up during colonial time have their own Forto, which, actually, was the pivotal structure around which those centres expanded. That is the case of Agordat, Barentu, Keren, Mendefera and Saganeiti. ...

44.  In the town of Asmara there are still many other areas whose origin could be traced back to their military function. The most important, for example, is the downtown district known as Kommishtato, Tigrinya corruption for the Italian Campo cintato (enclosed camp). …

45.  Another example of toponym related to the military is the district of Asmara known as Deposito (the Italian for warehouse) or Deposito invalidi (disabled’s warehouse). It refers to an area where there were military warehouses (Deposito), later on transformed into residences for disabled veterans (invalidi) or retired colonial troops. …

Excerpts from: Social Consequences of the Military on Urbanisation

47.  ... On one side it created a shortage in the availability of manpower for productive activities particularly in agriculture. Indicative of this situation are figures reported by G. Simonini (1940 quoted in Tekeste Negash 1987: 51), who in a very interesting study mentioned the dramatic shortage of manpower in the region of Särae where, out of a population of 111,664 inhabitants only 21,909 were gäbbar (farmers) when approximately 25,000 were recruited as ascari. …

53.  This wide spectrum of social and administrative involvement in the colonial administration made the ascari the nucleus of an urban elite whose role in the development of Eritrean nationalism has still to be fully investigated. It is in fact apparent that ascari’s massive employment in different fronts had a significant impact in their perception of religious, ethnic, and racial identities. Serving under the same flag, though being from different linguistic, religious and ethnic communities, they played an important role in smoothing, at least partially, consolidated localism and ethnic-based antagonisms, and paved the way for the development of a germinal Eritrean nationalist feeling. ...

[To read the whole article, please press on this link: From Warriors to Urban Dwellers]

{jcomments off}




                      ehrea.org © 2004-2017. Contact: rkidane@talk21.com