Landmark Maltese document recognized by UNESCO

Il Kantilena to form part of the UNESCO 'memory of the world' register.

Photo - DOI, Omar Camilleri
Photo - DOI, Omar Camilleri

During a press conference held at the Malta Archaelogy Museum, it was announced that the medieval Maltese Kantilena by Pietru Caxaro will be submitted to a UNESCO heritage register, securing its preservation and accessibility.

Jose Herrera was joined by UNESCO ambassador Joe Vella Gauci to inaugurate an "unprecedented" occasion. "This year will be marked by a number of national celebrations, but this event above all will focus on and give importance to the Maltese language first of all," Vella Gauci said.

Vella Gauci explained how this initiative is part and parcel of a UNESCO effort to secure the intangible heritage inherent in the Maltese language. 

He added that the aim of this 'memory of the world' register will serve to ensure that such documents will be preserved and made accessible to all. 

"Until now, we hadn't presented any documents to this register," Vella Gauci said, while emphasising the importance of the medieval poem to Malta's heritage.

Vella Gauci's speech was followed by a short documentary on the Kantilena, where representatives of the Notarial Archives spoke about the historical and linguistic value of the poem and its status as a unique, landmark document for Malta's literary history.

President of the Akkademja tal-Malti Olvin Vella spoke about the various parties involved in discovering and interpreting such documents, while Bernard Micallef, head of the Maltese department at the University of Malta, focused on the literary voice of the poem itself - a pean for perseverance.

"The poem is not a static thing, but a living voice that needs to be activated and rediscovered again and again."

After officially handing over the document for preservation, Jose Herrera said that apart from being an interesting year for national celebrations, it will also be a year of significant anniversaries, flagging up Mikiel Anton Vassalli as an example, a particularly relevant figure for the history of the Maltese language. 

He added that apart from ensuring that more of our historical sites are recognised as heritage sites, more effort should be made to ensure that our intangible heritage is given its due attention too.

"But I would especially like to emphasise that real effort should be made to preserve and improve on the National Archives. This is an important building that needs help, and I'm committed to ensuring that this is done," Herrera said.

He added that the Kantilena is evidence of the 'pedigree' of the Maltese language, as its linguistic mix hints at how the language evolved.

Il Kantilena is the oldest known literary text in the Maltese language, dating from the 15th century. It was found in the late 1960's in the author Pietru Caxaro's notarial register. It is an example of early Maltese from a time when it had not yet been influenced much English or Italian. 

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