The Malta-Pachino connection | Arnold Cassola

We speak to Arnold Cassola about ‘Malta-Pachino – ritorno alle origini’, which co-authored with Silvio Aliffi and which he’ll be discussing at this year’s edition of the National Book Festival.

Arnold Cassola
Arnold Cassola

What kind of research led you to discover the Malta-Pachino connection?

It would be presumptuous of me to say that I discovered the link.  A number of Sicilian writers had already written about this connection when writing about the history of Pachino, but this was very little known in Malta, even though people like Joseph Bezzina, Frans Ciappara and Ray Bondin have shown interest in the Malta -Pachino connection.  As for myself, my curiosity was aroused by the co-author of the book, Silvio Aliffi, who is himself a Pachinese of Maltese origin, his mother being a Mallia.

How did you discover that the Maltese were “warmly welcomed” in Pachino, as you conclude in your research?

Pachino was founded and built on a former swamp and marshland in 1760.  Although legally and technically it was only Illirian, Albanian and Greek Catholics who were supposed to populate the new land, after a few months the presence of Maltese and Gozitans is already recorded there. Indeed, the Prince of Giardinelli had sent over to Malta some men, including a certain Sinatra and a certain Andrea Grech, in order to encourage the Maltese to settle there. The promise of free land and the possibility of work in the new land proved to be quite attractive in a period where the economy was not always flourishing in Malta.

What kind of time period does your research cover? Why did you decide to focus on this particular period?

As mentioned, we are talking here mainly about the period 1760-175.  I focused on this period because I was interested in how the Maltese got there, what were the most common means of transport to get to Marzamemi (the port of Pachino), what jobs the Maltese were involved in, where they lived in Pachino and so on.

Where did the Maltese who moved to Pachino come from, and how many generations of them remained there?

A good number of them seem to have come from Gozo, since the Gozitans are given a particular mention with regards to the setting up of the cotton industry in Pachino. But recent research by Sicilian scholar Rosa Savarino shows that many also hailed from Haz-Zebbug and Casal Pinto (Qormi). The Maltese were mainly involved in the cotton industry, the making of cheeselets and in the building industry. Today about 30% of the Pachino population still carries Maltese surnames. So the Malta-Pachino ink is still alive and kicking.

What are some of the most common ‘remnants’ of the Pachino connection in contemporary Malta?

Well, as a result of the publication of our book, a twinning process between Pachino and Xewkija in Gozo has been started. The link between the two, established also thanks to Ray Bondin, is the veneration of Saint Elias. A statue of Sant’Elia was brought over from Malta to Pachino by some of the first Maltese inhabitants in the 18th century. It was Xewkija that venerated this saint in this period.

But it would also be interesting some of the old buildings in Pachino that bear a very strong resemblance to some buildings in 18th century rural Malta. With the documented presence of Maltese builders in Pachino, it is very plausible that the Maltese and Gozitan masons took their building practices with them to the new Sicilian town being built.

What do you think this says about our current attitude towards migrants who come to Malta? Do you think Maltese people will ever wake up to this double-standard?

Indeed, I hope that this publication will not only provide contemporary Maltese with new insights into Maltese migration abroad in olden times, but will also raise awareness about the fact that the Mediterranean sea – which today has become a veritable cemetery for thousands of people – has always been a route utilised by migrants to travel from one place to another in order to find a better future.

Arnold Cassola and Silvio Aliffi will be discussing the book at the Common Area of the Natioanl Book Festival at the Malta Mediterranean Conference Centre, on November 14 at 18:00. The book is published by Morrone Editore.