A leading Italian pasta maker has apologised for naming one of its products after Ethiopia, raking up memories of the country’s inglorious colonial past in the Horn of Africa country.
The rigatoni pasta, named Abissine in Italian, appeared to be an ill-considered nod to a tradition from the 1920s and ’30s of naming pasta after Italy’s colonies, including Tripoline and Bengasine, after Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya, and Abissine after Abyssinia, Ethiopia’s former name.
The firm, La Molisana, said it was sorry for having “recalled in an unacceptable way a dramatic page” in Italian history.
Italy attempted to invade and occupy Ethiopia in 1896 but its forces were defeated at the Battle of Adowa.
Under Mussolini, a second attempt was made, leading to a brutal conflict in the 1930s that saw the Italians kill thousands with mustard gas and aerial bombardments. Italy occupied the country from 1935-41, when it became part of the Italian East Africa colony.
La Molisana, based in the Molise region of southern Italy, said that it would change the name of the pasta to “conchiglie” – Italian for shells, in reference to the shape of the product.
The firm’s apology was welcomed by the National Association of Partisans, which represents the guerrilla fighters who battled Italian Fascist and German forces during the Second World War.
Michele Petraroia, the head of the association in Molise, said the pasta company had a proud tradition of standing up to fascism, recalling that its factory had been destroyed by retreating Axis forces during the war.
“Nevertheless, it was appropriate that La Molisana should clarify that it has nothing to do with fascism.”
Italy underwent less of a reckoning with its dark past than Germany and there is still a vocal minority of Italians who openly praise the fascist era.
There was controversy last May, during the first wave of the pandemic, when a company in Verona in northern Italy produced face masks adorned with the image of Mussolini.
The face masks were condemned as “deplorable” by MPs from the centre-Left Democratic Party, part of the ruling coalition.
Modern day fascists are regularly drawn to Predappio, the town in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna where Il Duce is buried.
A handful of shops in the town do a brisk trade in fascist memorabilia, including busts and keyrings, statues of Mussolini on a rearing stallion, pasta in the shape of his helmeted head and even Mussolini-themed babies’ bibs.
Neo-fascists gather in the town three times a year – on the anniversaries of Mussolini’s birth, death, and his March on Rome, the 1922 putsch which brought him to power.
Reminders of the fascist era are never far away in Italy – in Rome there is a towering stone obelisk that still bears the words “Mussolini Dux”, Latin for Duce or Leader.