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This blog is dedicated to Malta - my island home. My aim is not to bore you with history but to share my thoughts and a few facts together with a photo or two. For a more in -depth background of the island please go here. The purpose of this blog is not to point out the short-comings of the island. There are plenty that do that already. My wish is to show you the beauty of an island at the cross roads of the Mediterranean, a melting pot of history; a place where fact and fiction are sometimes fused to create unique myths and legends; a country that has been conquered so many times that our culture is a mish mesh of the lands that surround us and of lands far away. I confess that my greatest desire is to make you fall in love with this tiny enchanting island.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Maltese Traditions (2): L-Imnarja

The feast of Mnarja (pronounced imnarya) held annually on June 29 traditionally celebrates the martyrdom of saints Peter and Paul. However, this feast has its roots in antiquity, to the time when Malta formed part of the Roman Empire and the feast of Luminaria was celebrated around this time. This short night in early summer was celebrated by lighting torches and bonfires. Gradually the feast became Christianised and continued to be celebrated, especially by farmers, since in essence it is a type of harvest festival. Mnarja is celebrated in Buskett, a wooded area on the outskirts of the town of Rabat. When the Knights ruled Malta they built a castle in Buskett (Verdala Palace) and used it as a summer residence and hunting lodge.

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The Maltese were not allowed to enter or hunt in the wooded grounds of the castle except on one day of the year: June 29. During British rule, governor William Reid introduced an agricultural show which is held to this day. The celebration of  Mnarja starts on the evening  prior to the feast with traditional singing, known as ghana (pnounced aana), and the cooking of food in Buskett. The dishes most commonly associated with Mnarja are rabbit stew and pork cooked on a spit, followed by imqaret (a concoction of dates enclosed in dough and deep fried) for dessert. Nowadays, foreign influence can be seen in the stalls selling burgers and fries, ice-cream cones and candy floss (or cotton candy for my American readers Smile).

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On the day of the feast, produce and livestock participating in the agricultural show are judged and prizes awarded.

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The religious aspect of the feast is celebrated at the Cathedral of St Paul in Mdina. In the past, it was considered good luck for a husband to take his newly-wed wife to Buskett for Mnarja during their first year of marriage. This tradition has long since died out.

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The atmosphere at  Buskett has naturally changed over the years. The amount of animals on show keeps decreasing year by year as less and less people are earning their livelihood by farming and also because many of our open spaces are dwindling as permits continue to be granted to so called ‘entrepreneurs’ who persist in building flats and houses that seem to take ages to sell. With respect to Buskett itself, environmentalists complain that the crowds that flock to the area do not show enough respect to their surroundings since they trample and uproot vegetation in the whole area including the surrounding valley known as Wied il-Luq.

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It has been many years since I ventured to Buskett for this feast but, this year two things made me decide to go. The first is this blog since I felt that I should introduce my readers to some local traditions and it would also be a good photo-taking opportunity for me. Secondly, now that my son is 5 years old, I thought he might enjoy an outing that would include animals together with traditions that date back thousands of years. Unfortunately we arrived too late in the day to see the livestock since their owners take them back home before the day heats up too much but we were able to enjoy the smaller animals like rabbits, geese, ducks, hens and other birds as these are kept in a shaded area.

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In a country where wooded areas are very scarce, Buskett is definitely a treasure that needs to be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Although today I was more intent on capturing some shots of the Mnarja festival, I will return in future to take more photos of this lovely place – when there are no crowds and I can enjoy the buzzing bees and the cicadas and watch the lizards and geckos lap up the sun; when peace and tranquility reign, I promise I will be back.

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10 comments:

  1. I love the photos of the produce; they're so colorful. It's interesting that cotton candy is called cotton floss :).

    Is this short night similar to the white nights in the Scandinavian area?

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  2. Now that is something that I would adore. I really love all your photos, especially the last two!

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  3. 'In the past, it was considered good luck for a husband to take his newly-wed wife to Buskett for Mnarja during their first year of marriage. This tradition has long since died out.'

    That's too bad. It sounds like something my husband would have done the first year of our marriage-- had we known about it and had the means to travel that far.

    Also, I love the wording of 'candy floss.' :)

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  4. and 'Fairy Floss' for your aussie readers hehe..

    Well I have always wanted to see a feast day when I was travelling europe but always seemed to miss them all... so thanks for taking me along on for the feast of Mnarja

    Those last two shots are such a delicious green!!! beautiful..

    Have a lovely week and thanks for sharing your world with us.. ciao xxx Julie

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  5. The Feast of Mnarja celebration reminds me of our autumn days of harvest and our celebration of Thanksgiving!

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  6. Your photos and story always transport us for an experience in your beautiful island country. (You should get an award for your coverage, mon amie!) The history is rich and the tales are captivating with your photo illustrations.

    More, please...

    Bises,
    Genie

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  7. Very interesting post and such beautiful pictures ! It's always so nice to learn something special about a country. I learn more with blogs than with the travel guide books !!

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  8. Beautiful photos.. I would love to experience such an event. The fresh fruits and vegetables look delicious! I love shopping local farmer's markets.. wish we had more!
    Wishing you a lovely weekend!! xoxo, B

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  9. Lovely...
    Greetings from France,

    Pierre

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  10. gorgeous photos, and i remember reading about "luminaria" in some roman historical fiction, not too long ago. very interesting post!

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