Trapani 1400 AD: Maltese welcome

Maltese warmly welcomed into foreign communities, new book suggests.

Maltese immigrants looking to settle into Trapani in the 15th century were likely to receive a warm welcome, in stark contrast with the way contemporary Maltese deal with immigration to their own shores, a new book by Prof. Arnold Cassola suggests.

‘Malta: People, Toponymy, Language (4 B.C.-1600)’ will present rare and telling material about the Maltese people throughout the ages through a comparative analysis of place names, and aspects of the Maltese language.

The book reveals how 15th century Maltese immigrants did not only successfully integrate themselves into the Italian community of Trapani, but also managed to secure successful social positions – involving themselves in various trades and financial transactions.

And not once, Cassola writes, did the Trapanese feel the need to invoke nationalistic, xenophobic discourse against their Maltese visitors, unlike Maltese politicians of today.

“These politicians, intent solely on getting elected into power at any cost, are ready to refute diversity, alterity, the concept of sharing and solidarity, and the enhancement of communal well-being if the popular and populist trend is blowing in this direction.

“The result is xenophobic venom against those foreigners who look towards our country as a safe haven from suffering and all other kinds of atrocities,” Cassola, who is the Green Party’s spokesperson for foreign affairs, says.

“Compare this attitude with the welcoming mentality encountered by the sizeable community of Maltese who emigrated to Trapani more than five centuries ago. Those Maltese – the various Pinus Vigenus, Manus Mallia, Simon de Zuppardo and many others – who today would be considered economic refugees, found refuge, comfort, wealth and prosperity in Trapani.

“No sign at all of any local inhabitant rising up in the name of the ‘Trapanese interest’, to ask for the expulsion of the ‘Maltenses’ who were taking away jobs from the locals. It was certainly a different world from today’s,” Cassola writes in the introduction to the book.

The book will also analyse instances of Maltese placenames cropping up abroad –namely, in Italy – such as the instance of the archipelago in the Mediterranean’s earliest known portulan (nautical chart), dating back to the 4th century BC, while Cassola will also suggest that the place marked as ‘Lampas’, previously thought to be Lampedusa, in fact represents Comino.

Cassola goes on to locate and analyse the significance of the Maltese archipelago’s appearance in subsequent portulans, before rounding off his book with an analysis of how Maltese expressions – particularly those relating to placenames – were employed by foreigners in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The book, published by the Farsons Foundation, will be launched at the Farsons Brewery, Mriehel on 7 October.

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