Italian imperialism and Benaadir resistance prt 3
4. The spark that lit the Banadir Resistance: Lafoole 25-26th of November 1896
Lafoole as explained earlier was within Wacdaan territory. It lay in an area with thick brush and scrub grass, a suitable spot for a well-prepared ambush. The Wacdaan were waiting for this moment, as Cecchi was despised by all Somali groups in the Banadir region, since he embodied colonial aggressiveness which became evident by his plans to ‘tap into the rich resources of Somalia’.
Also, the Wacdaan were from the beginning fiercely opposed to any compromise with the ‘infidels’. This attitude was persistent in the culture of the Wacdaan as explained earlier. Another impulse to this fierce anti-infidel attitude was the coming of Sheik Axmed Xaaji, the sheikh that found it intolerable to coexist with the ‘infidels’ in Mogadishu (see part 2). He lived among the Wacdaan, set up a jamaaca (religious school) and became the sheikh of the Wacdaan (religious leader). His ideas have apparently influenced the leader of the largest subgroup of Wacdaan (Abubakar Moldheere): Hassan Hussein.
Hassan Hussein, together with Sheikh Axmed Xaaji were instrumental in articulating the opposition to the Italian presence in Banadir. As already explained this too had its consequences for the political geography in Banadir, mainly the cooling of the alliance between Geledi and Wacdaan. Within the Geledi, the people wanted to resist the Italian expansion but the Sultan and the ones with authority choose for accommodation. In this the Wacdaan were slowly moving away from Geledi, and moving towards the Biyamaal, their erstwhile enemy.
The clash at Lafoole:
On 25th of November in 1896, the moment arrived in which the Italian government gave the approval to venture into the interior, thus effectively leaving the garrisons in Mogadishu. Cecchi too was waiting for this moment since he was eager to sign treaties with the Sultan of Geledi, which he still thought was powerful enough to be instrumental in the Italian plans for Somalia. What he didn’t know however was that the Sultan did not represent the feelings of the people, who were fiercely opposed to Italian expansion. Cecchi and the others in the expedition would find out too late about this fierce anti-infidel attitude of the Somalis.
This expedition consisted of Antonio Cecchi, Commander Ferdinando Maffei of the Staffetta, Commander Franscesco Mongiardini of the Volturno, and fourteen other Italians. In the evening when the expedition force set their camp at Lafoole, they were attacked in which a fierce fight followed. Apparently, this attack was not decisive enough to finish off the expedition. The next morning a renewed attack followed which successfully finished off the expedition, with only 3 survivors to tell the story.
”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.” (Robert. L Hess)
Who were these groups that attacked the Italian expedition?
In the Shaping of Somali Society, (Lee V. Cassanelli) it becomes clear that the group that attacked the Italians were of mainly Wacdaan warriors, accompanied by Murursade and Geledi warriors.
”In November 1896, he and a score of Arab askaris set out to meet with the presumably influential sultan of Geledi. It was the first colonial attempt to penetrate the interior with a military contingent, and it ended disastrously for the Italians. Cecchi’s expedition was besieged and most of it destroyed at a place called Lafoole, along the Muqdisho-Afgooye road by Somali warriors of the Wacdaan clan.”
In another passage the author reveals more about the composition:
”Geledi’s long-time allies the Wacdaan had apparently acted independently at Lafoole; and they had been assisted by a handful of warriors from the Murursade, also Geledi allies”
Virginia Luling instead talks about Wacdaan and others, which thus means Murursade and Geledi warriors, since the alliance consisted of these three groups:
”…Antonio Cecchi, famous as an explorer and one of the most enthusiastic and influential advocates of Italian colonisation, set out from Muqdisho for Geledi with a party of soldiers in Novermber 1896, intending to negotiate with Sultan Cusmaan Axmed.
They were surprised and attacked while camping in Wacdaan territory, at Laafoole at the edge of the deex, where the white earth meets the black, and the thorny bush gives way to more open country. Out of the seventeen Italians, only three survived.
The assailants were from the Wacdaan and perhaps other clans.”
Virginia Luling further sheds light on the location of Laafoole:
”It must be a particularly suitable place for surprise attacks, for fourteen years earlier, Révoil’s caravan had been attacked by Wacdaan at the same spot, and its name ‘place of bones’, comes from a much earlier slaughter, supposedely of the ‘gaalo madow’. ”
Reactions to the clash:
The ‘Lafoole Massacre’ as the Italian press called it, came less than a year after the humiliating Italian defeat at Adowa in Ethiopia. It was a severe physiological damage to Italian colonial ambitions.
For Somalis, it was a great day, which send a shockwave throughout the Banadir region. The ‘Lafoole Massacre’ which already severely shocked the Italian colonialists, was immediately followed by sporadic incidents along the whole Banadir coast.
In Mogadishu 100 or more Italians were wounded in a general uprising. In Marka, a young Somali, Omar Hassan Yusuf, assassinated the Italian resident, Giacomo Trevis. According to local accounts, Omar emerged after praying in the small mosque of Shaykh Osman ‘Marka-yaalle’ and knifed the ‘infidel’ Trevis as he walked along the beach. Giacomo Trevis was a hated man in Marka for a lot of reasons, besides been an unwanted colonialist, he was also hated for his policy of compulsory labor. In Warsheekh, a government askari was confronted as he stepped outside the garrison. In Baraawe, the well-known and influential Haji Shaykh Abbas railed against his Somali compatriots and called them ‘woman’ for allowing the Italians free movement there. ( Lee V. Cassanelli).
The Italians in Banadir were shocked, and when the news reached Rome, the foreign minister immediately appointed Commander Giorgio Sorrentino as royal commissioner extraordinary for the Banadir. Initially, the Italians thought that Lafoole was an Ethiopian ambush since Ethiopians were besieging Lugh at that time and since there were rumours of an Ethiopian invasion of Banadir region. When Sorrentino landed in Mogadishu, on 26th of January 1897, he immediately started the investigation of Lafole.
”Within ten days he had determined that Lafolé was neither the precursor of a general urprising against the Italians nor an Ethiopian ambush but an isolated case of action by Wadan tribesmen and the tribes of Geledi; who had been spurred to the act by two Arabs from Mogadishu’’ (Robert L. Hess)
This was a gross understatement of the Lafoole incident, and of the attitude of the Benadir groups to the Italian presence.
Throughout the Banadir, from Warsheekh to Baraawe, 1896-97 is remembered as Axad Shiiki ( the ‘Sunday year of Cecchi’). The Biyamaal date the beginning of their twelve-year resistance at Axad Shiiki. ( Lee V. Cassanelli).
The clash at Lafoole is immortalized by this shirib:
Shiin digow Sheikh Axmed Xaaji
Shiiki sheydaan mooho?
Writer of (the Koranic verse) shiin, Sheikh Axmed Xaaji
Is not Cecchi a devil?
Sheikh Axmed Xaaji is the well-known religious leader of the Wacdaan who had established the jamaaca to teach Quran, religon etc
The Italians have misinterpreted the signs of the coming storm which would engulf the Banadir region.
In the coming part, we’ll explain the immediate consequences of the clash at Lafoole. How the Italians reacted to the ‘Lafoole Massacre’ and how the different Somali groups in Banadir reacted to the event and the wider issue of Italian presence in the Banadir coast. Slowly on from there we will arrive at the heroic struggle of the Biyamaal and their allies, amongst which their erstwhile enemy Wacdaan, against the Italian expansion.
SOMALIS TO BE PUNISHED.
For the Murder of Italians at Magadoxo, Africa.
Rome, Dec. 3.—In the chamber of Deputies today the Marquis Visconti Venosti, Minister of Foreign Affaires, confirmed the reports from Zanzibar of the murder of the Italian Consul, Signor Cecchi, the Captains, and a number of officers of the Italian warships Volturno and Staffeta, and the wounding of 100 or more other Italians by Somalis at Magadoxo. The men had fallen into an ambuscade and were attacked without warning.
The Government , the Minister said, would take energetic measures to punish the Somalis who were guilty of the outrage.
The Marquis said that the confirmatory reports showed that fourteen Italians had been killed, together with a number of the escorts of the Italians whose caravan was attacked during the night. Twenty-seven bodies were recovered by a rescue party when hurried to the scene from Magadoxo when the news of fighting reached there. The rescuers arrested a number of the Somalis who participated in the massacre and punished them appropriately. Many of the Somalis tribesmen were also killed by the Italians in the fight that followed the attack on the caravan.
The New York Times
Published: December 4, 1986
references; Italian Colonialism in Somalia, Robert L. Hess 1966