CRAFTS

Traditional crafts have been revived in recent years due to their indispensible cultural value. The Maltese had long since mastered knitwear, basket-weaving and lace techniques. Nowadays, this thriving industry is flooding the market with a variety of artisanal products.

Evidence of weaving and pottery date back to pre-historic times. In fact, the Hypogeum houses the “Sleeping Lady”, a clay figurine displaying excellent crafting skills. Fragments of red-dyed, flax textiles were also found at Tarxien Temples. Evidently, the pre-historic inhabitants already possessed remarkable crafting skills.

The arrival of the Arabs c. 870 A.D. saw the introduction of cotton and the complementing skills of weaving and dyes. From then on, the cotton industry became a major contributor to the economy, lasting till the early 19th century. Consequently, cotton goods were sold at exorbitant prices in mainland Europe. 

Weaving, embroidery and lace-making were encouraged, often by the Church as they were the main source of income for Gozo and other harsh, rural areas of Malta. During the 17th century, craftsmen had achieved such a high level of skill that the Grand Masters prohibited such garments due to their frivolousness and unconformity with the Order’s religious calling. 

A craft that really flourished under the Knights was gold and silver ware. Malta’s most precious production is filigree and jewellery. Today, the goldsmith industry is thriving and work of high calibre Maltese goldsmiths can be bought from major cities abroad.


FESTAS

The festival or festa  season in Malta is a series of extended weekends, starting from the end of May and lasting well into September. During this period, cities and villages take turns to celebrate their patron saint where everyone comes together in a spirit of comradery and a display of breathtaking pyrotechnics.  

The main streets are adorned with banners, papier maché statues and festoons. The inhabitants put up complementing decorations to accentuate the festivities. Rooftops become a spectrum of colours representing different patron saints. Flags are also hoisted in public places and private residences as a sign of participation.

A typical Maltese ‘festa’ lasts three days or longer. Hundreds of people take to the streets to celebrate into the early hours of the morning. Traditional food stands are erected one next to the other to sell their wares to the crowds of merry-makers. They also sell a variety of traditional foods including the Maltese nougats and other sweet delicacies. People are often invited over to their neighbours to help with the decorations and for a drink!

The festivals conclude with a spectacular display of ground and aerial fireworks displays in an explosion of colour, firecrackers and loud petards.


MUSIC & INSTRUMENTS

Evidence shows that traditional Maltese music stemmed from Sicilian ballad and Arabic tunes in the 16th century to create what is known as Għana. Its joyful tunes are deeply rooted in history and for good reason. Għana was held in high regard, inspired the arts and helped farmers and fishermen to soldier on with their work during the day.

Għana is played with a variety of handmade instruments, all part of Malta’s rich cultural heritage. The Ċuqlajta, a prime example, was a collection of wooden clappers and ratchets carefully crafted to complement the singers’ cheery rhymes.

A number of Għana types are still sung to this day; however, the most popular type is the Spirtu Pront, which is when 2 or more singers engage in a song duel. The singers have to improvise their lyrics and sing about tales of their respective towns and fellow villagers.

 

GAMES

Children were an integral part in establishing Malta’s traditional games. In what little time they had between chores and possibly formal education, children unknowingly contributed to our culture using nothing more than imagination and simple toys. Games like hopscotch or rope skipping are not intrinsically Maltese; however children used to synchronise notes from traditional songs to each step or skip.

Songs such as Bum Bum il-Bieb or iż-żunżana ddur ddur echoed through the labyrinthine streets of Imdina as children made their way to fetch water from the source. Children also loved to test each other’s mental skills through riddle-solving or Ħaġa Moħġaġa. As they grew older, children traditionally turned to the game Boċċi as a pastime. Boċċi is a more complex version of playing with marbles (żibeġ). It is one of the few traditions still alive today as Boċċi clubs are frequented by older men who gather to reminisce and share a drink .