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The Maltese Islands

Maltese Folklore and Traditions


Like each and every other country, Malta has a rich element of traditions, which give the island its identity gleaned from its rich culture and various rulers. Some Maltese traditions are closely related to religious beliefs such as Festas and celebrations of historical events such as the Regatta.

 

Mnarja - 29th June (Feast of St. Peter & St. Paul)

This is a typical Maltese folklore festival with plenty of traditional Maltese music called Ghana, folk dancing, feasting and colourful horses and donkey races. On the eve of the Mnarja, referred to as a harvest festival which takes place at Buskett Gardens in the limits of Rabat, the traditional Maltese dish of stewed rabbit together with locally produced wine are consumed in a large outdoor dining area, while exhibitions of local productions, marching bands, decorated carts and singing competitions take place in the surroundings.

 

Regatta - 8th September (Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady)

This is held at the Grand Harbour to celebrate Malta's victories during the Great Siege of 1565 and the Second World War. People gather at the surrounding bastions to watch rowing races in the early afternoon. Rowing teams from the cities surrounding the Grand Harbour participate in a number of races marked by extreme rivalry. The best rowing people begin training for the races with passion for weeks before the date arrives.

 

Carnival

This three-day festival was introduced in Malta in 1535 under Grand Master del Ponte, five years after the Knights of St John took over the Island. The main celebration takes place in the capital city Valletta where children dress up in colourful costumes. The parade, which is very spectacular, includes King Carnival followed by highly professionally crafted floats, costume dances, competitions and the well known Kukkanja, an attraction which was added in 1721.

 

Luzzu

The Luzzu is a unique Maltese fishing boat painted in red, blue and yellow. One of the Luzzu's characteristics is the eye of Osiris painted or carved on the bow, a symbol brought to Malta by the Phoenicians. Nowadays the dghajsa tal-pass (without the eye, and a much longer and shallower transport boat) it is used as ferrying of locals and tourists across the Grand Harbour and the bastions & fortifications that surround Valletta and the Three Cities. The Luzzu, together with Kajjik, are still used for fishing in Marsaxlokk.

 

Karrozzin

The Karrozzin is a horse-drawn carriage that was introduced into Malta around 1859. This was the main means of transport for many years until the arrival of cars, trams and buses in the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Ghonella

Unfortunately, this traditional women's garment made of cotton or silk has vanished from the Maltese Islands. The origin of this stiffened headdress is not clear, however some say that it derives from the eastern veil or from the Spaniards. Others implicate that it was first introduced in 1222 as a sign of mourning by the Italian women who were expelled to Malta, following the death of their menfolk.

 

Quccija

This is an old custom celebrated on the first birthday of a child, where a basket filled with a number of objects related to various trades and professions is placed in front of the child and the first object that is grabbed foretells the little child's future. Some of the objects that people place in the basket include candles representing priesthood, a stethoscope representing a medical vocation and a calculator representing an accountant's profession.

 

Lacing

Maltese Lace is a traditional craft hand made by women. Visitors can watch women sitting at their doorsteps nimbly plying the flying bobbins to turn out a pattern.

 

Ghana

Maltese singing accompanied by guitarists has been with the Maltese nation for centuries and has always been regarded as the music of the working class. A typical Maltese quatrain is a four-line poem or stanza with each verse consisting mostly of eight syllables. The verses are half-oriented airs, something between a Sicilian ballad and the rhythmic wail of an Arabic tune. The three main types are known as spirtu pront , which is an extemporized form, long elaborate narratives known as fatt and songs in high register known as ghanja fil-gholi.

 

Feasts

Every village in Malta celebrates the local patron saint with a major festa that lasts for a week. The churches are beautifully decorated and lit up, whilst many of the village houses and roads are festooned with garlands, banners and flags. Brass bands march and play in competition all week long, while kiosks sell ice-cream, hot dogs, burgers, kebabs, chips and peanut or almond nougat.

On Saturday nights most of the villages display a spectacular show of fireworks produced by local supporters. There is a rivalry amongst Maltese villages to have the most spectacular feast, so each town strives to have the most extravagant fireworks and the most accomplished musicians. Festival organizers collect significant funds so they can add to their accumulation of statues, flags and banners.

 

The festa week also features many religious services with the main procession of the patron saint being held on Sunday evenings. This lively procession has rich music, incense, confetti thrown by bystanders and flowers. On returning to the church the statue is welcomed with clapping, crying and singing. Inside the church the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament follows which ends the week of festivity.

 

Pottery

Maltese pottery is one of the most ancient forms of Maltese crafts. Many remains unearthed from the Megalithic period are works of art in their own right, the most precious of all being ‘The Sleeping Lady’ found at the Hypogeum.

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