What are these Africans doing in Sicily?

What effect are all the African migrants having on Sicily these days? Three documentary makers and a great many blog readers have asked me about African immigrants in Sicily, and about “cultural fusion”. Until now I had seen literally no sign of any impact at all; it was as if they were all invisible.

wooden%20owlOne documentary maker, who claimed to be from America but was almost certainly from Cloud Cuckoo Land, wanted to make a multicultural film about the “dynamic new African-Sicilian fusion cookery in Sicily.” It’s obvious I know nothing about how television works. I thought you were supposed to find out if things actually exist before planning to make documentaries about them.

This bloke doesn't actually work in our local craft market... he's a famous model
This bloke doesn’t actually work in our local craft market… he’s a famous model

I offered as many helpful suggestions as I could, but never heard back. I presume she is cowering behind a desk in California, cringing with embarrassment as she tucks into peperoni sushi for lunch, or perhaps a tofu pizza.

Yesterday evening we walked along the sea front in our village. Unexpectedly, I saw African and Middle-Eastern migrants with market stalls, selling crafts that they made. Having grown up in London, the sight of black people here in Sicily always gives me a little frisson of homesick excitement. Or brown people. Or yellow people. In fact anyone who could remotely justify calling this place “multicultural.” When you come here on holiday, Sicilians being Sicilian are all you need, but after eleven years it all starts to feel a bit Stepford Wives.

DSC01122_grande_largeWell, when the “multicultural” people have a bunch of interesting loot for sale, the excitement reaches a whole new level. Markets in Sicily are usually full of low-quality imported products from China, and limited to socks, table cloths and dangerous plastic toys which soon break. Last night there was a Moroccan tooling leather, and another selling exotic jewellery boxes; A sub-Saharan African (wearing a jumper over his T-shirt in Sicily in August!!!!!) making custom pendants, with people’s names on, from mother-of-pearl; and a charmingly smiley Syrian selling toys. There were more Africans selling wood carvings, and organic perfumes from large crystal decanters that they poured into little bottles. A Moroccan woman in flowing robes and a headscarf had a fabulous collection of hand painted bowls and other ceramics.


To keep Little Miss Sauerkraut Burrito in California happy, I should mention that we’ve had a small population of North Africans here for donkeys’ years.  Many of them sell electronic items on street stalls. Sicilians always say “Vado dai Marocchini” (I’m going to the Moroccans) when they need a new light bulb, have lost their phone charger, or want an MP3 player that works, for about 10 Euros. They’ve been part of Sicilian society for several decades. I am not sure what they eat, but it definitely isn’t spleen falafels.

All the girls in the village are wearing these North African/ Middle Eastern charms against the evil eye nowadays! I had a fascinated group of them around me last night hearing me explain what the latest trend really means!
All the girls in the village are wearing these North African/ Middle Eastern charms against the evil eye nowadays! I had a fascinated group of them around me last night hearing me explain what the latest trend really means!

It felt good to see these newcomers finding their feet and taking steps to become part of the mainstream community. Their children were running around playing with the local children. Knowing how difficult it can be to get accepted as a foreigner in Sicily, I probably feel for them more than most.

It was striking that the Sicilians selling mass-produced clothes and household goods all imported from China were getting far fewer customers.  People want to buy original items made in Sicily, no matter who makes them. The one Sicilian doing good business with his jewellery stall was sitting in the street making it in front of people’s eyes, the same way the Africans did.

I once tried selling some of my jewellery in the Christmas market. I got frozen and didn’t sell anything. If I try again this year I shall be taking my pliers with me!

Anyway, to return to the original question: What are these Africans doing in Sicily? I think, just maybe, the answer is that they are beginning to show the Sicilians a new, and better, way to do business.



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26 thoughts on “What are these Africans doing in Sicily?

  1. There has always been an African involvement. More recently: The history of Libya as an Italian colony began in the 1910s and lasted until February 1947, when Italy officially lost all the colonies of the former Italian Empire. It can be divided in two periods: the first from 1911 to 1934 called “Italian colonization” and the second from 1934 called “Italian Libya” (after the creation of “Libya” as a political entity).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes I know that well. In those years my uncle toto had established a dynamic business i
      In the Italian colony and when italy lost everything my uncle was booted out with only only the shirt on his back and at 45 he had to start all over again in Palermo. However, he did become successful again.


      1. OK… I see there is a long, long line… sigh.

        BTW, I sent you a fb request earlier on, but since the system no longer prompts you (as it once did) to include a message, I just want to make sure you know it’s me 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely love all your comments. I am learning more about my Sicily than the history books. I also think that I am a Jewish Sicilian, always have. Love “u pane ca meusa”. Loved all the street foods especially i panelli. When I was a child in the morning I had to decide if I wanted ricotta, fave, panelli or pane cu latte. When the little goat would come with its owner and knock on the door and my mom would go down with a container and wait for the milk from the goat while we waited to be done my dad would get the coffee ready and the fresh mixture put in our bowls with day old bread and a little sugar (actually a lot of sugar) on top. I just finished having that for breakfast at 67 years old and it does bring back wonderful memories. Thank you for your insightful collections of history. Love it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow! I LOVE your stories about life in Sicily’s recent past. It must have changed such a lot.

      Last summer in a hotel in Siracusa I met a couple who reminisced about how they used to buy hot chocolate with blood in it – they were a little older than my husband and it had already died out when he was a kid. I tried to trace the tradition and I think it dated from the Aztec custom which was brought over to Sicily unchanged by the Spanish (along with Modica chocolate, also still unchanged).
      My husband did remember having milk straight from the cow sometimes sold by vendors who would tie their cow up to a lamppost and sell the milk by the cup till the cow was empty!!!!! Very Sicilian!

      Thanks for sharing your memories!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating!! We have yet to visit Sicily – it’s on the list! However, we have spent many weeks over the past 12 years visiting the rest of Italy, from Milano down to Soverato in Calabria. In most other areas the African immigrants (and Pakistanis) are on the street selling cheap Chinese crap illegally. How wonderful to know that in Sicily people are making a living through their art and crafting.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Totally agree! It’s really refreshing to see people moving away from the cheap Chinese crap!
      No offence towards the Chinese is intended, but we end up with badly made stuff that doesn’t comply with safety regs, and it is probably condemned stock that failed quality controls!!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Interesting! Instead I was given chicken broth with grated Parmesan in it, and also a tablespoon of sugar soaked in brandy… it took me years to learn to like brandy when I grew up, it was medicine for me. Sugar was considered some sort of medicament, sugar water was given to people, children or adults when feeling ill or weak… How the world has changed! … But in some families they still use the sugar water.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sicily has absorbed/endured so many waves of migration over the centuries. I’d like to see this post as a poster .It might take the sting out of some of the derogatory things I hear.


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