Domenico Mondelli: Eritrean-Italian General and a Grand Master Mason
The history of Eritrea (ancient & modern) and its people (inside & the diaspora) never cease to fascinate and amaze me. Without an exaggeration, I can confidently say that the more I do research on the aforementioned, the more I realize that I know so little. Mind you, it is not because I just started, but the sheer volume and depth of the research to be done (and yet to be discovered) is so vast, it is scarcely touched.
Six months ago, I started working on a fascinating story that I first heard from an Eritrean family. Since the research is still on-going, I will write more on this, in due time. While looking for a cross reference for the above story, a friend (thank you) alerted me to another incredible story.
The timing could not have come at a better moment for two reasons. First, in the story that I am working on, in the absence of documentation, the rough time reference given to me by the family was a challenge, therefore, the following story makes the time reference a possibility; and the timeline not totally off. Second, it was only last week that I watched the screening of “Blaxpoitalian: 100 Years of Blackness in the Italian Cinema” by Fred Kudjo Kuwornu at Stanford University. Eritrean actresses Zewdi Araia and Ines Pellegrini are briefly featured in the not yet released movie. It is a documentary about the black image on Italian Cinema. In other words, racism on Italian reel, hence a perfect segue to the following real story (also a victim of racism).
Professor Mauro Valeri is a sociologist at La Sapienza University who specializes in racism in Italy (sports, second generation immigrants, ethnic relationship and etc.). He wrote a 276-page biography (published by Odradek Edizioni in December 2015) entitled, IL GENERALE NERO Domenico Mondelli: bersagliere, aviatore e ardito (a rough google translation gives: THE BLACK GENERAL Domenico Mondelli: soldier, airman and bold).
The front cover of Prof. Valeri's book
According to Professor Valeri, Domenico Mondelli (born Wolde Selassie) was born in Eritrea in 1886 and came to Italy with Lt. Colonel Attilo Mondello in 1891. Domenico came to Italy when he was 5 years old. That is, only one year after Eritrea officially became Italy’s “primo genita”. Domenico grew up in Italy and later became an aviator and a soldier. He fought in World War I and in Libya. In a recent article by Gazzetta de Parma, Domenico Mondelli [during that time] had received two silver medals and two bronze medals won by fighting as an airman, soldier and commander of assault troops, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Only after the end of World War II did he manage to reach the rank of General of the Army Corps (With the rise and for the duration of fascism, Domenico Mondelli was discriminated against. The image of a black officer commanding white troops was just too much for fascism) (Note: Domenico Mondelli was the first black aviator in Italy. My great uncle, Fessehatsion Beyene, had his pilot’s license in 1928, a little more than 10 years later) During this period, according to the Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of Italy in Palazzo Giustiniani, Domenico Mondelli had joined the Freemasons in 1912 and by 1919, he had become a Master Free Mason. In 1956 Domenico Mondelli had become 33rd degree of the Scottish Rite (the highest degree). Finally the Gazzetta informed its readers that Professor Mauro Valeri had presented his book to the public at the Governor’s Palace of Parma and that the extraordinary story of Domenico Mondelli was reconstructed through the examination of the original documents thanks to two grandchildren who have recovered several news about him. Kudos to Professor Valeri, the librarians at Parma and Domenico Mondelli’s grandchildren for letting the world know about this extraordinary story of the human resilience. Check out the video link on General Domenico Mondelli (and the website of Blaxpoitalian) at the end of this article. The still shots are from the video from TG Parma.
Daniel: I was born in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia in April 1974, to Eritrean parents. As a child I was fortunate enough to travel the world, got a lot of exposure to different countries and looked at travel guide books because my father worked for Ethiopian Airlines. My mother is a special woman who to this day is the rock on my side who introduced us to business and entrepreneurship from a very young age. I attribute all of what I have done to them.
I left Ethiopia when I was 12 years old to Kenya during the Mengistu (the Derg) era as my parents were worried about the situation. Then, from there we moved to the UK when I turned 15. Life in the UK was tough and it was only me and my brother, Ben, who was 17. We were refugees with no supporting adult. All of this was to strengthen my character and carry on to study and gain a diploma at one of the the best art college in the UK - Central Saint Martins. I then studied graphics design for a year then later switched to Engineering Product Design and gained my first degree.
I have worked for myself as a freelance graphic designer on contract. We have been active in other business ventures such as setting up a restaurant since my mother came to England to escape the 98 situation.
Currently, I manage the restaurant full-time, design & amp;business consultancy at Creativeonestop http://www.creativeonestop.com/ with my business partner, Henock.
Issayas: How did you come up with the idea of EriTrip?
Daniel: The initial ideas that sparked the project was a simmering lack of knowledge about Eritrea because I was born in Ethiopia. The sense of being Eritrean was made more evident when my family were displaced in the Ethio-Eritrea war in 1998. The self identity question was always a bother when someone asked about Eritrea. The worst times were when I find “non Eritreans that knew more than me” as I work in my family restaurant (Mosob Restaurant in London http://mosob.com/).
Furthermore, visiting Eritrea for the first time as an adult in 2011 strengthened my quest to know more and simplify the journey and experience for others like me. There are a lot of people that were like me, Eritreans that are either born outside the country or left when they were young. Although the trend of the usual visit to Eritrea mainly by the Diaspora can be summed up by Asmara, Massawa, Keren and a quick visit to home village (Adi). Eritrip's aim was to break the cycle to challenge visitors to travel the whole country to truly experience Eritrea.
I then, asked my friend, trusted cousin & business partner (Henock
Hailemariam) to help with the work. When Desta Haile, who is our distant
cousin saw the plan, in its infancy, she could relate and volunteered
to help with writing the content from the notes that were given to her
from my journey and more from her own research. She worked tirelessly to
make it fun and easy to read. She has done a brilliant job at that. My
brother Ben who is a natural born salesman also volunteered to help
to promote and sell the project.
other people who contributed to the project in many ways were: my sisters Selam
(who is a web developer and handled the glitches on the website) Jeremy
& Henry with proof reading and Quedest with moral
support. Meaza who is my other sister and her husband
Yohannes purchased the first copy, before the project was even finished. I
would also like to express my deepest gratitude to, Aman, Olga,
Haregu, Yosef, Fitzum/Jimi, Lidya, Sara, Ruth, Kass, Jorda, Leo, Medhane and
Ambesa. In Eritrea, many thanks to Brikti, Mary & Danait, Feven, Simon,
Teddy, Yonas, Tadese, Tesfai, Solomon, Aman, Said, Nebeyu, Ibrahim Qohaito,
Tesfai in Ministry of Tourism in Adi Keyeih, Rahwa and Giuseppe for their help
Issayas: The design and concept of the package are just wonderful. For me, at least, the design and purpose of the package is professional, essential, functional, and more. Am I correct in stating this? Would you tell us more about it?
Daniel: The plan from the start was to make a product that we would be proud off, and be the best among travel guide books. High in quality, in terms of print and the packaging, hence the reason as to why we did the printing in the UK, whereas the plastic cover was custom-made import from China. We followed the rule of three to make the three parts and the starting points are incorporated in the ideas below.
Issayas: What is the next step for EriTrip?
Daniel : Apps
Issayas: Does EriTrip organize trips to Eritrea? If not, do you plan to?
Daniel: No, the plan at the beginning was to only create a guide book but then collaborate with travel agencies and hotels in the future.
Issayas: Do you work with or coordinate with the Ministry of Tourism, travel agents or others in Eritrea? If not, do you plan to?
Daniel: I received fruitful and encouraging words from the Ministry of Tourism. They invited me in while I was in Eritrea and discussed the project at length with some good feedback. Yes in the future we aim to work with travel agencies.
The “default” for Eritreans is to help one another.
Issayas: Would you tell us about yourself?
Sara: My name is Sara Tracy Meretab. I’m currently a Senior at Stanford, graduating in March. I’m majoring in Economics, so I’m interested in business and finance. I grew up in Montclair, New Jersey. My father was born in Asmara and my mother is American.
Issayas: Your video is wonderful. What can you tell us about it?
Sara: I had so much fun making that video. I took that trip after my freshman year because I told my dad that I wanted to visit Eritrea again. It had been a couple years since my earlier visit, and I felt like there was a lot more value I would get out of the trip now that I was older. I recorded everything. That video is taken from hours and hours of footage! There were two reasons I made the video. The first was to immortalize my trip in my mind—re-watching it always triggers so many warm memories. The second reason was to show the country as I experienced. Both the highlands and the lowlands are beautiful in different ways, and the people have a unique warmth and sense of community. My goal was to convey that spirit in the video. Watch the video below.
Issayas: You and your fellow Eritrean students at Stanford University came to talk to the Adal Tigrinya School in San Jose. You came with the first group. How was your visit ?
Sara: I loved visiting the Adal Tigrinya School. I was so impressed and inspired by the young Eritrean students that I had the opportunity to teach. They’re not your average kids. A 5th grader asked how she could get ahead now so that she could take college courses in high school. A 7th grader took diligent notes on preparation strategies for the SATs. As I stood in front of them, I was in awe of how their parents have worked tirelessly to give them the best opportunities, and engrained a tremendous emphasis on education and a strong work ethic. Those hard working Eritrean kids make me so proud of my heritage. I hope the Adal Tigrinya School continues to grow and strengthen the Eritrean community—I would have loved to have been a part of that growing up!
Eritrean Stanford students Adel (left) and Sara (right) at Adal Tigrinya School.
Issayas: After your first visit to Adal Tigrinya School, you and your fellow Eritrean students at Stanford University decided to start the Stanford-Adal Mentorship Program with the Eritrean high
school students at Adal. This is a great idea. Do you think this could be a model to other Eritrean communities?
Sara: The Mentorship Program has so much potential in other Eritrean communities around the country. It plays to so many of the strengths that I see in nearly all Eritreans that I meet—hard work, determination, growth and communal support. The “default” for Eritreans is to help one another,
and that is truly special. The network of support for Eritreans could be extremely expansive—middle schoolers mentor elementary school students, high school students mentor middle school students, college students mentor high school students, and young working professional Eritreans mentor college students. We all want to see one another succeed, and as a united community, we have so many resources to help our youth do just that.
Eritrean Stanford students Lewam (left), Eden (center), and Adel (right) at Adal Tigrinya School.
Issayas: You are graduating next quarter, what is your plan?
Sara: When I graduate in March, I plan on taking a couple months to travel. There are many parts of Europe and Africa that I would like to see. I will also be spending some time with my family in Pennsylvania, before returning to San Francisco where I will start working at Visa in August.
Watch Sara's video below.
Sara's Gopro video
Issayas: When is your next trip to Eritrea?
Sara: I don’t have a tripped planned to Eritrea..yet! I was considering taking another trip with my father again after I graduate, or perhaps a trip alone. I also promised myself after the last visit that I would be much more comfortable with Tigrinya when I returned—so I’m still working on that!
Issayas: Thank you for your time and congratulations. Of course, we will keep in touch after you've graduated.
Palm dum harvesting in Aqordat and Keren. Dum is used to make buttons. In my interview with Emilio De Luigi, he mentioned that he had lived in Agordat for many years and dum is mentioned in his poem about Aqordat. Check out my interview with Emilio on this blog.
For the Ancient Egyptians, like myrrh and incense (check out my interview with Dr. Nate Dominy on this blog on the "Land of Punt"), the seed of the palm dum was considered a sacred and was used for rituals. Seeds of the palm dum were found in the tombs of many pharaohs including the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen (popularly known as King Tut).
One of the lessons for Eritrea is to investigate the various scientific researches and data collected by the various Italian universities during their administration (especially in the field of botany, zoology, and etc.) and explore their commercial applicability today.
Merenge Glass Factory Co. and its products. Glass is made from liquid sand and Eritrea has lots of sand. Of course, first, it needs very high temperature!
If my memory serves me right, I was told that, during the British Administration, three Eritrean glass makers (experts) were taken to Kenya to teach there. I heard the story in a different context, however, anyone with any information on this subject would be very much appreciated!