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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28 Comments Add yours

  1. Guy Flaneur says:

    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. Angela fai says:

      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.


  2. Pat says:

    I love this blog, Veronica. I get inquiries from wary friends and family in the states all the time. This says it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Please spread the word as much as you can!
      I really need to write a few more posts like this – people’s ideas about what the immigrants are doing in Sicily is so far off the mark.


  3. Ellen Hawley says:

    I just finished my haggis pancakes with soy sauce and truffles. Yumm.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ha ha haaa! We should collaborate to write a cookery book together, shouldn’t we? And send it to her as a Hannuchristmas gift!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha ha haaa! It looked like jamon serrano crammed into french baguettes!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ellen Hawley says:

        Frightening idea. Let’s do it. My first contribution to it is bacon and Spam hamantaschen.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. OPK, and I’ll add shark schitzel with jalapeno dumplings.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Whaddayamean that man doesn’t have a stall??? You cannot fathom the depth of my disappointment…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have invited him to migrate to Sicily, but apparently a friend in Germany is inviting him there too so we’ll have to see what he decides!!! 😛


      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. What’s your name on Facebook? I’ll go and look – I have clicked a few requests in a haze over the last few days and may have given it the OK thinking you were someone else!!


  5. Mary Vella says:

    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

  6. bonniegm says:

    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

  7. I recommend this strategy for you……Start making some inventory for that mercatino di Natale-but leave it all ‘almost’ finished. Then you can finish while you are selling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think that’s exactly what I need to do! I’ll just have to figure out how to stop it falling to bits on the way there if it isn’t fully done!


  8. vera ersilia says:

    I loved to read about the bowl of old bread and hot milk and sugar ! We children had it for supper (at 8 p.m. naturally) and I am from the other end of Italy, Piemonte . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually my grandfather in England used to give me exactly that when I was ill as a child…


  9. vera ersilia says:

    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

    1. AH, that sounds more Italian!
      They still use sugar water a lot – I was also given sugar water in Turkey after a nasty scare.
      In England we give tea with sugar instead, as of course all true English people know that tea has medicinal properties!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. dinahmow says:

    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.


    1. I really hoped this post would get a lot more Facebook and Twitter shares than it has done… I do think more people need to hear this message.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Bartolomeo Termini says:

    My maternal grandfather was born in Tunis and my grandmother in Pantelleria. My patrernal grandparents were born in Baucina, Provinci di Palermo. My fatherr’s mother was big on serving bead, milk, and sugar. Her cuisine tended to be plain. I didn’t know my maternal grandparents but their cuisine lived on through my mother and aunt. it was a marriage of flavors and ingredients. Olive oil, artichokes, raisons, dates, capers, pine nuts, sweet and sour, parsley. basil. rosemary. garlic, garlic, and more garlic. The cuisine often relied on freshness and quality of ingredients. In Brooklyn at school for lunch mother gave us typical Sicilian flavors. The Irish and German kids wanted to trade their sad peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the Italian students. A typical Sicilian packed lunch was a fritatta of hot italian sausage, provolone, onions, bell peppers and mushrooms. in a sandwich of crusty seeded Italian bread. We didn’t trade!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VDG says:

      Oh this reminds me of my school.
      In my case, at school in East London, it was the Jewish kids with amazing packed lunches whilst I had sad beef or cheese sandwiches every day. And like you, they would never trade! LOL!!


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