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  The Maltese Culture, Culture of Malta

The Maltese Culture

 

An interesting mix of customs and traditions that make the Maltese people truly unique

 

How can one best describe Maltese Culture?

 

In order to try to understand why the Maltese people are how they are today, one must look back to history for answers.

 

Picture this … A small seemingly defenseless island in the middle of the Mediterranean.

An island which saw one ruler after another, one nation after another, one empire after another invade or attempt to invade its shores.

 

A nation that fought hard to keep aggressors away, sometimes succeeding, other times failing.

 

A people that had to endure several years of foreign rule before it could finally claim independence and govern its own country.

 

7000 years of all this is no joke!

 

The Maltese People: It’s the people that ultimately make a nation. The Maltese people are known worldwide for their friendly nature and for their generosity.

 

However, their Mediterranean temperament is very evident in everyday life and although it rarely ever results in conflict, the locals can easily get too worked up on what they’re most passionate about … be it family, religion, politics or anything else.

 

It seems that choosing sides is a national pastime, from rooting for a particular football team, glorifying a particular band club or blindly supporting a political party. In reality, it all boils down to the basic human need of belonging.

 

And what person doesn’t want that?

 

It is amazing how such a small island could go through so much and yet still establish its own unique identity.

 

Visitors to the island will probably notice that although very friendly and welcoming, Maltese people are a bit more reserved then their Mediterranean neighbours. Perhaps this is a direct influence from the British period. No one really knows.

 

Oral communication can be much louder than in Northern Europe and what may sound like shouting to you, could very well be normal everyday talk to the locals…

 

Malta Government and Political issues: The Maltese political system consists of two large political parties, namely the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party and a few smaller movements. Although the number of smaller parties have increased over the past decade, their popularity did not increase enough for them to be able to obtain a seat in parliament.

 

This has invariably given the two major parties a lot of power. Rivalry between the two is great and you get generations upon generations of families voting for the same party over and over again. This fanatical behaviour has decreased over recent years, making the Maltese political arena “healthier.”

 

Maltese Culture: Religion in Malta: Malta is predominately Roman Catholic. The country acknowledges freedom of religion but according to the constitution of Malta, Roman Catholicism is the state religion.

 

Although some 98% of the population profess that they’re Roman Catholics, only about 50% of the population attend religious services on a regular basis.

There are over 350 churches on the Maltese islands – that’s almost 1 church for every 1000 inhabitants.

 

Each town and village has its own parish Catholic church which is the focal point, with most localities having multiple churches scattered across the locality. Most of the churches were built in the 17th century and are fine Baroque architecture examples. A large percentage of the Maltese population takes an active part in the local village festa. The festa marks the feast day of the patron saint of the town or village.

 

Maltese Culture: The Festa … a joyous event in the yearly calendar of each Maltese village or town

 

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the essence of Malta culture better than the village festa. This Maltese tradition started way back in the 16th century. It is essentially a religious festival that spans across an entire week, with the climax reached during the weekend and particularly on Sunday when a parade with the saint’s statue is held.

 

The glorious Maltese summer allows the Maltese people to have many entertaining outdoor celebrations and the festa is the most renowned local tradition of them all. Between May and September, there are countless village festas to participate in. Every Maltese village or town celebrates one parish patron saint once a year. Some locations have more than one festa!

 

During festa week, the whole village or town is decorated for the occasion and the area comes alive with various events such as fireworks, religious services, brass band music and more. The parish church façade is decorated with countless bulbs. The interior is adorned with other decorations that commemorate the life of the particular saint.

 

Over the weekend, the streets are full of stall holders that sell food and qubbajt (Maltese nougat). Qubbajt is a sweet delicacy made from raisin juice, nuts, sesame and honey.

Families and friends from outside the village or town are invited for Sunday lunch or for drinks.

 

To this day, the festa is still considered to be the main yearly social event of the locality. It is a time for spiritual contemplation, celebration, unity among families and friends and great food and drink! The Monday after the festa, some will continue celebrating by taking the day off and heading out to the beach for what is known as the xalata. This is basically another “excuse” for more food, drink and fun…

 

Festas are not only popular with the locals. In fact, over the years, the village festa has become one of the most sought after tourist attractions in Malta. So if you want to experience an integral part of Malta culture, pay a visit to at least one of the many festas that are held in spring or summer.

 

Maltese Traditions: The Maltese islands have a long history of foreign occupation and so it is only natural that some local traditions were adopted as a result of years of foreign occupancy.

 

These “imported” traditions include having turkey for Christmas lunch for example. However, make no mistake … there are countless customs and traditions that are unique to the island and an integral part of Maltese culture. Like the Priedka tat-tifel for example, which literally means “The Child’s Sermon”.

 

Priedka tat-Tifel: Perhaps one of the cutest Xmas traditions that you will come across in Malta, is the “Priedka tat-Tifel” which means the child’s sermon. This Maltese Christmas tradition was first started in 1883, when a little boy by the name of George Sapiano delivered a sermon on Christmas Eve. George became the first altar boy to deliver the sermon instead of the priest. This event took place in Luqa.

 

From that year onwards, a yearly tradition was born. On Christmas Eve and also during mass the following day, a little boy or girl is entrusted to do the sermon. The priest takes the day off from the sermon…

 

The child is usually between 7 to 10 years old. Of course, the smaller the child is, the greater difficulty he or she has in learning the sermon by heart! Usually it takes the child some 5 weeks to learn it all.

 

On the day of the sermon, you can literally feel the anxiety and nervousness of the parents, who sit at the very front rows of the church to support their child. Sometimes you will see the mother and father miming the words along. The mother would have probably spent the previous five weeks teaching and rehearsing the sermon with her child…

 

The boy or girl stands in front of the main altar and tells the story of baby Jesus, adding that personal touch to the story which invariably touches the hearts of all present. It’s not uncommon to see some people get teary as well. The child also uses gestures to accentuate the meaning of certain words and phrases.

 

When the child finishes the sermon, all those present break out in loud applause. The happy and satisfied look on the child’s face is priceless :)

 

Other Xmas Traditions; At school, children are taught how to make gulbiena.

 

Gulbiena is prepared by sowing wheat, grain and canary seed on cotton buds a few weeks before Christmas. The buds are left in the dark until the seeds grown into white grass-like shoots. They are then used as a decoration for the Christmas cribs or placed near statues of Baby Jesus.

 

Maltese Culture: Education in Malta

 

School is compulsory from age 5 up to 16 years.

 

The state provides excellent education free of charge. The Church and the private sector also have a number of schools ranging from elementary to secondary and even post graduate, in various localities in Malta and Gozo.

 

The Maltese Language: The native language of Malta is the Malti. The Maltese language is the only official Semitic language within the EU and it is written in Latin script. English is considered as the second language. Italian is also widely spoken. If you want more detailed information on the Maltese language and also perhaps learn a few easy Maltese phrases;

 

Want to learn Maltese?

Here's a few Maltese phrases to get you started ...

 

It's not necessary to learn Maltese while holidaying in Malta. However, most visitors would still usually like to learn a few Maltese phrases. So if you’d like to learn some Maltese words, read on …

 

The Maltese language (Malti) is a member of the Semitic language group. This group includes Arabic, Hebrew and Amharic. Some believe that Maltese is a descendant of the language that was spoken by the Phoenicians.

 

However, most linguists think that it is related to the Arabic dialects of western North Africa. What makes Maltese hugely different from other semitic languages is the fact that it is the only language that is written in Latin script.

 

Almost everyone in Malta speaks English. English is in fact considered the second language. So if you speak English, you will have no trouble at all to converse with the locals.

 

It’s always nice to try to learn a couple of phrases in the native language of the country that you’re visiting though.

 

In fact, most travelers love to use the local equivalent for essential words like “thank you”, “please”, etc when they're talking to Maltese people.

 

The Maltese Alphabet: The Maltese alphabet has 29 letters that consist of 5 vowels (as in English) and 24 consonants. Perhaps the hardest thing that visitors usually find is the pronunciation, since it differs from English.

 

Some of the main differences are listed below:

ċ as ch in church

ġ as in j of jolly

ħ as in h of hot

ј as in y of yes

x as in sh of shoe

ż as in z of zebra

għ is silent in most cases

q is a glottal stop (like the sound in the beginning and middle of “uh-oh”)

 

Maltese Vocabulary: If you’re an English speaker you will recognize many English words that over the years were assimilated by the locals.

 

This influx of new foreign terms that are integrated into the Maltese language continues to this day. Other words were derived from Italian or Sicilian dialects. You will also recognize a direct French influence too.

 

Learn Maltese: Basic Conversation

 

Good Morning … Bonġu

Good Evening … Bonswa

Goodbye …. Saħħa

Yes …. Iva

No … Le

Please … Jekk jogħġbok

Thank you …. Grazzi

Excuse me … Skużani

How are you? … Kif inti?

I’m fine, thank you …. Tajjeb, grazzi (for a man) … Tajba, grazzi (if you’re a woman)

Do you speak English? … Titkellem bl-Ingliż?

What’s your name? …X’jismek?

My Name is …. Jisimni

When does the bus leave/arrive? ….. Meta titlaq/tasal ix-xarabank?

I’d like to hire a car …. Nixtieq nikri karozza.

Today …. Illum

Yesterday …. Il-bieraħ

Morning …. Filgħodu

Afternoon …. Wara nofs in-nhar

Evening …. Fl-għaxija

 

Learn Maltese: Shopping phrases and related words ...

 

How much is it? …. Kemm?

What time does it open/close? …. Fi x’ħin jiftaħ/jagħlaq?

I’d like to buy some … Nixtieq nixtri ftit …

Water ... ilma

Milk ... ħalib

Wine ... inbid

Beer ... birra

Bread ... ħobż

Eggs ... bajd

Meat ... laħam

Fish ... ħut

Fruit ... frott

Greens ... ħaxix

Sugar ... zokkor

Salt ... melħ

Coffee ... kafe

Tea ... té

 

Learn Maltese: The days of the week ...

 

Monday ... It-Tnejn

Tuesday ... It-Tlieta

Wednesday ... L-Erbgħa

Thursday ... Il-Hamis

Friday ... Il-Ġimgħa

Saturday ... Is-Sibt

Sunday ... Il-Hadd

 

Learn Maltese: The Months ...

 

January ... Jannar

February ... Frar

March ... Marzu

April ... April

May ... Mejju

June ... Ġunju

July ... Lulju

August ... Awwissu

September ... Settembru

October ... Ottubru

November ... Novembru

December ... Diċembru

 

Have fun practicing your Maltese! :)

 

Maltese Culture: Sports in Malta

 

Football is huge in Malta and very much part of Maltese culture. Unfortunately, the local football league only has a number of professional players and the rest are amateurs.

 

This obviously hinders Maltese football teams from improving their game and so their standards of play are a bit below par compared to other football teams in Europe.

 

Nevertheless, the local league is followed by many enthusiastic supporters. The locals also support foreign clubs and national teams passionately. The majority of football lovers support either England or Italy. English teams are probably supported due to England’s long historical connection with the Maltese islands.

 

On the other hand, people support Italy and Italian teams largely due to the fact that the country is very close to Malta and also because many Italian TV channels are received in Malta and so supporters can easily follow their beloved teams.

 

This enthusiasm for foreign teams comes to a climax during important football tournaments such as the World Cup. If you’re ever in Malta during a World Cup, you will probably start thinking that you’re actually either in England or Italy with all the Union Jacks and Italian flags that you’ll see on the islands! :)

 

Waterpolo also has a devout and loyal following but it was never as widespread as football.

Horse racing is another very popular spectator sport and an integral part of Maltese culture.

 

Maltese Folk Music

 

Traditional Maltese folk music dates back to the 16th century and was always an important part in the everyday life of Maltese people.

 

This type of local folk music is called ghana in Maltese (not to be mistaken with the country Ghana).

 

Traditional Maltese folk music has deep roots that date back to the 16th century, since music has always played an important part in the every day life of Maltese people.

his type of local folk music is called ghana in Maltese (not to be mistaken with the country Ghana).

 

It can be safely said that folk music in Malta was heavily influenced by its geographical location. In fact, researchers state that ghana is a combination of the famous Sicilian ballad mixed with Arabic tunes.

 

In the old days, visitors to the Maltese islands used to comment that they were very impressed with the Maltese people’s seemingly natural ability to sing and ryhme.

This folk singing was widespread on the islands and you could hear men and women singing while doing their daily activities on the farm, in the fields or around the house.

 

Ghana was in fact the music of peasants, fishermen and working class men and women.

A close look at the lyrics will reveal that each song usually recounts a story about life in the village or some important event in Malta history.

 

Street hawkers used to sing folk songs to attract attention to their products and declare how their products where better than the ones the seller next them was selling! That’s traditional Maltese marketing for you :)

 

Nowadays the ghannej (meaning folk singer) is usually accompanied by three guitarists. However, in the old days there used to be other musicians accompanying the singer.

Musical instruments used included the zaqq (a form of bagpipes), the zavzava (a type of drum), the tambur (a tambourine), the argunett (a mouth harp) and the accordion.

 

Types of Ghana

 

There are many types of Maltese folk singing but perhaps the two main categories are the following:

 

BOTTA U RISPOSTA (or Spirtu Pront): This type of ghana requires a lot of skill and is the most popular form of ghana. Usually sung by two singers, this is more like a song-duel. Each singer has to come up with fresh verses on the spot so whoever’s singing must be a quick thinker and also has the uncanny ability to ryhme. Nothing is prepared beforehand so it’s all improvised singing!

 

GHANA TAL-FATT: This type of folk singing is very melancholic and in this type of ghana, the singer usually recounts a story that ends tragically.

 

Where can you hear traditional Maltese folk music and singing?

 

In the centre and south of Malta, some band clubs and bars organize Ghana Nights.

 

If you’re lucky, you might even come across some impromptu folk singing in a village bar!

 

Prominent heritage and cultural events usually include ghana singing as well.

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