Nelly Cattaneo (Politecnico di Milano)

Tessenei (1905-1941): Intensive Farming Shaping Landscape and Social Relations in Colonial Eritrea

In the early 20th century, the agrarian policies of the Colonial Government in Eritrea moved from the promotion of Italian family homesteads on the highlands to the exploitation of wide semi-arid areas in the lowlands; in particular, the surroundings of Tessenei, close to the Sudanese border, for its geomorphological and hydrographic features, were appropriate for a wide intensive plantation of cotton. Here, in 1905, the most meaningful intervention of colonial agrarian valorization in Eritrea was being planned, but it was realized at the end of the Twenties. Barriers, embankments, canals and drains caused then a radical change in the landscape, imposing a severe geometry over 10.000 hectares of smoothly corrugated lands around the Gash River. Production activities were mainly based on salaried local workers: this had a dramatic impact on traditional culture and social relations, stressed by the fact that, in a short while, migration from Sudan and Ethiopia was encouraged. By analyzing the main features of the spatial organization designed in Tessenei, an attempt to outline the relation between the colonial government and local cultural system will be made; the comprehension of this relation would be important to understand the legacies of the project and its potentialities at present.

Full-text available here: DOI: 10.1051/SHSCONF/20196305002