Italian imperialism and Benaadir resistance prt 1
”With government approval, Cecchi prepared for an expedition into the interior. By November 25, he was ready to move; his caravan consisted of seventy askaris, Commander Ferdinando Maffei of the Staffetta, Commander Franscesco Mongiardini of the Volturno, and fourteen other Italians, for the most part members of the crews of the two ships. That very night their encampment at Lafolé, some twelve miles inland, was attacked. In the early morning hours, as the caravan once more got under way, it was attacked again. By eight-thirty in the morning of November 26, all but three sailors were dead or dying.” ”First Adowa, then Lafolé; the future of Italian colonialism in the Horn of Africa looked very unpromising at the end of 1896” Italian Colonialism in Somalia, ( Robert L. Hess , 1966)
This event sparked one of the longest resistance struggles in Southern Somalia (Banadir) against Italian penetration and occupation of Somalia. This long resistance is only second to the heroic struggle of Sayyid Muhammed Abdulle Hassan and his darawish army.
What happened on that day of November 25-26th in 1896? Who was this Cecchi guy? Who were these mysterious warriors that swiftly defeated this first Italian imperialist penetration of the hinterland of Banadir? Why is this event put in the same line as the humiliating defeat of the Italians by Ethiopians in Adowa? And last but not least, what were the consequences of this event in Lafole?
This episode in Somali history is perhaps the least known, although it had crucial impact on the future of Somalia. Instead, most Somalis are not aware of this event while the Italians had built a monument for Antonio Cecchi in Lafole which still stands in the bush unvisited, while throughout the Banadir 1896 is remembered in the count of the years as Axad Shiiki, the ‘Sunday Year of Cecchi’.
To present an elaborate account of this event, we need to start with the context. Who were the main groups in the Banadir region? Who was Antonio Cecchi and what was his role in the Italian expansion into Somalia? And what were the consequences of this event both for the Somali groups and Italy?
In a number of series we’ll present the complete story, and show why this event and the shockwave it send throughout Banadir and Southern Somalia is still relevant to this day.
1: Backrgound on Banadir region
Banadir region consists of the four Banadir ports of: Warsheekh, Mogadishu, Merca and Baraawe. These four port-cities were inhabited by Somali groups along with Arabs and people of mixed origins (Persian, Indian etc) and traders from the Indian Ocean. The authority of Mogadishu for example was nominally under Omani rule, but the city had two real administrations, one in Xamarweyne and the other in Shangaani. These four Banadir ports were the linkages between the Somali hinterlands of the Horn region and the Indian Ocean trade. Caravan trade flourished in these hinterlands, connecting trade centre’s of Harar and elsewhere in Abyssinia to the Banadir ports, through the trade towns of Lugh, Baardheere and Geledi (present-day Afgoye). In the hinterland of Benadir diverse groups existed and to this day exist, like Geledi, Hintire, Wacdaan, Biyamaal, Murusade, Abgal, Silcis, Shidle, Moobleen, Hilibi etc.
The relevant groups in this discussion of Axad Shiiki are: Geledi Sultanate, Wacdaan, Biyamaal and Murusade.
The Geledi Sultanate
The Geledi Sultanate was a sultanate that came into existence when the clans of Geledi and Wacdaan made an alliance against the Silcis group who then ruled the Shabelle Valley. After this successful revolt, the two clans lived together and linked their future which gradually led to the formation of the Geledi Sultanate. For two centuries or so the Geledi and their Wacdaan allies had formed a small independent state, that prospered by trade, which they attempted to control, and had for a time held together a much wider clan ‘empire’. In spite of the differences between them in way of life, language and traditions, Geledi and Wacdaan formed a close and lasting alliance. They were joined later – sometime early in the 19th century – by a section of another Hawiye clan, the Murursade. (Virginia Luling 2002)
The Wacdaan is a Mudulood group that settled in Lower Shabelle as early as the 18th century. They were allied with Geledi and Murursade, and lived between Afgoye and the coast region around Mogadishu.
The Biyamaal arrived in the Lower Shabelle around the end of 17th century and established control over Merca and the hinterlands. The Biyamaal were in constant war with the Geledi Sultanate, and even killed 2 Sultans of Geledi through out the war.
The Murursade joined the alliance between Wacdaan and Geledi and were granted land northeast of Geledi town, where they established four villages. references; Italian Colonialism in Somalia, Robert L. Hess 1966