Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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UOLDELUL Chelati Dirar, University of Macerata (Italy)

In Colonial Africa there are many interesting examples of missionaries’ attempts to establish communities of converted Africans. The purpose of this activity was mainly to create nuclei of Africans potentially allied to missionary agencies first and to Colonial powers later on. The aim of my paper is to investigate a similar episode that happened in the late 19th century in colonial Eritrea. That is the case of the community of Monoxoito or Colonia Cattolica as it was most commonly known during colonial times.The case of Monoxoito is of particular interest for the historian. On one hand, Monoxoito has been one of the few cases of successful establishment of a Catholic community in Colonial Eritrea, in spite of a protracted missionary activity in the region. From a missiological perspective it is worth investigating the reasons for the success of this experiment. On the other hand, Monoxoito deserves special scrutiny as it provides a fascinating and complex case study of negotiations between local population, missionaries and colonial authorities in a region which could be defined as a sort of colonial borderland. In an environment marked by the complex and fluid overlapping of religious, ethnic and linguistic identities, it is worthwhile investigating the interplay between African agency, and colonial strategies.What emerges from archival and secondary literature of those years is an interesting plan to use the community settled in Monoxoito as both a religious and political outpost.The main idea was to use this community as a potential bridge between converted communities in northern Tegray (particularly among the Irob and Agame communities) and the Italian colonial administration. In other words the idea was to build a network of political loyalties and consensus through the support given to the converted Catholics that were escaping from religious persecutions. Since Monoxoito is a border village, it is my aim to analyse the impact of those policies on the complex and elusive game of definition and creation of local identities. It is,in fact, interesting to see how local identities could be strengthened or weakened as a result of external pressures. On the opposite side it is also interesting to check how external policies were influenced or modified by the existence of previous balances of power. My paper is mainly based on archival documents of that period produced by both colonial and missionaries authorities as well as on reports in Tigrinya language written by some of the witnesses of those events.