The Insabbiati at the Sound Archives : consult the Fabienne Le Houérou fund, an oral history of italiens in Ethiopia and Eritrea

Fabienne Le Houérou, historian, director of research emeritus at the National Center for Scientific Research (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique – CNRS) in contemporary history, is a specialist in colonial history within the Research Institute of the Arab and Muslim World (Institut de Recherche du Monde Arabe et Musulman – IREMAM) at the Mediterranean House of Human Sciences (Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Homme – MMSH) of Aix-en-Provence.

The oral sources of the corpus « Oral history of Ethiopia and Eritrea on the period of Italian fascism and the independence movements of this territory » are at the origin of a study on the history of Italian colonization in Abyssinia (1936-1941) on which Fabienne Le Houérou relied to write her doctoral thesis L’aventure fasciste en Ethiopie 1936-1938, under the supervision of Pierre Milza, obtained in March 1989 at the Institute of Politiques Studies of Paris and her book L’Epopée des soldats de Mussolini en Abysinie 1936-1938 (1994)1, then various articles and an Habilitation thesis (Habilitaion à diriger des recherches – HDR), L’histoire en images : des ensablés du XXème siècle aux migrants forcés du XXIème siècle, under the direction of Robert Ilbert (2007). An interview with President Isaias Afewerki concludes the corpus by reviewing the independence struggles of Eritrea2.

Photograph of the cover page of Fabienne Le Houérou’s book, L’Epopée des soldats de Mussolini en Abysinie 1936-1938. Les ensablés, Milza, Pierre, préf. L’Harmattan, 1994, 199 p.
Reference: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Gli insabbiati

Between 1980 and 1998, she carried out research on the Italian fascists in Abyssinia (1936-1941), nicknamed the “insabbiati”. This expression, « insabbiati » in Italian, refers to former soldiers who took part in the conquest of Ethiopia in 1936, and who never left again. Between 1987 and 1990, Fabienne Le Houérou recorded 12 interviews, eight with Italians then in Ethiopia, and one in Turin with the son of Marshal Graziani’s interpreter. The recordings are not very audible but they give to hear, in addition to snippets of life stories of the Italian settlers, a sound and musical atmosphere of the life of the silted up in Ethiopia.

The recordings were made in cafes, at the buffet at Addis Ababa station, at the Dehab Hotel (Baobab Hotel) in the Piazza of Addis Ababa or at the homes of the informants. In addition to these testimonies, three surveys of Ethiopian resistance fighters, patriots of the Choa (Säwa) region, about the fight against the fascist forces.

Map of recording locations:

Voir en plein écran

The interview in 1998 with the president was added to the corpus, even if it was recorded in 1998 after the publication of the work on the silted up, because in addition to the battles for independence, Isaias Afwerki returns to Italian colonialism and its consequences for both countries.

Fabienne Le Houérou in the field with the sand, around 1987. Publication of the photograph with the kind permission of Fabienne Le Houérou.

Dealing with a fund whose language is unknown… is a challenge for all archivists. The Fabienne Le Houérou collection therefore presented a double challenge with its plurality of languages: French, English, Italian and Amharic – the last two languages ​​being unknown to me. It is with the collaboration of Simon Dorso, for the translation of the recordings into Italian, of Nafisa Valiva, for the translation of the recordings into Amharic, of Matteo Cialone and Tommaso Giuriati, for the analysis of the Italian musical environment, that the fund processing was able to advance. Thanks to them !

Consult the catalog:

Head image credit : Visual Archives of Fabienne Le Houérou, Field survey 1987, the Ethiopian silts.

  1. Le Houérou, Fabienne, L’Epopée des soldats de Mussolini en Abysinie 1936-1938Les ensablés, Milza, Pierre, préf. L’Harmattan, 1994, 199 p. ; Le Houérou, Fabienne, Ethiopie-Erythrée, frères ennemis de la corne de l’Afrique, Paris, L’Harmattan, Paris, Les Nouvelles d’Addis, 2000, 120 p []
  2. Le Houérou, Fabienne, « Entretien avec le président érythréen : Isaïas Afwarqi », Défense, n°83, mars 1999, p. 26-29 []

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