« PreviousContinue »
They are short, strong, plump, with curled hair, flat noses, turned up lips, and the colour of their skins is the same as that of the inhabitants of the States of Barbary ; their language is also so nearly the same, that they perfectly understand each other.
It is, perhaps, as much owing to the situation of Malta, as to the different strangers who have visited and conquered the island, that the Maltese have become very industrious, active, faithful, economical, courageous, and the best of sailors in the Mediterranean. But, notwithstanding these good qualities, they still retain some of the defects generally attributed to the Africans; and are mercenary, passionate, jealous, vindictive, and addicted to thieving. They have likewise sometimes recalled the idea of the Punica Fides. They are fantastical and superstitious in the highest degree, but their ignorance does not unfit them for the cultivation of the arts.
The Maltese habit (excepting those of the ecclesiastics, lawyers, and trades-people, who dress in the French style, and are few, compared to the people at large), consists of a large cotton shirt, and a waistcoat likewise very large, with silver, and sometimes gold, buttons; to these are added a caban and cloak reaching rather below the small of the back, and a very long girdle twisted several times round the waist, in which they constantly carry a knife in a sheath : they also wear long and full trowsers, with a sort of shoe called korch ; but they do not often make use of the latter, having almost both legs and feet entirely naked. This korch is merely a leathern sole, with strings to fasten it round the leg. They never wear hats, but blue, red, white, or striped caps. People of easy fortune usually carry fans in their hands, and wear blue or green glass spectacles; for such is the excessive heat occasioned by the reverberation of the rays of the sun from the stones, and the white tufa, that, notwithstanding this precaution, there are many blind people ; indeed the greatest number have very weak eyes.
The Maltese are remarkably sober; a clove of garlic, or an onion, anchovies dipped in oil, and salt-fish, being their usual diet.
There are no people in the world more attached to their country than the Maltese ; and their constant hope is to end their days in what they dig- . nify with the title of Fiore del Monde (The Flower of the World).
The Maltese women are little, and have beautiful hands and feet. They have fine biack eyes, though they sometimes appear to squint, owing to their always looking out of the same eye; half of the eye being covered with a sort of veil made of black silk, called faldetta, which they twist out very gracefully, and arrange with much elegance. The women, even of the highest rank, unlike their husbands, constantly preserve their costume; and any one who should adopt the French fashion would make herself very ridiculous. They are extremely fond of gold and sil
ver ornaments, and it is not uncommon to see even the peasants loaded with trinkets of those two metals.
The Maltese either from a wish to imitate the oriental manners, the severity of which they had witnessed in the Arabs, or from the example of the jealous Spaniards, formerly kept their wives in the strictest retirement. The prudent inhabitants of the country constantly repeated to their children, " that women should never appear but twice in public; the day they were married, and when they were buried.” They were therefore always employed within doors, and never went out, except at a very early hour to church, when they were entirely covered by a long and large mantle. This costume came originally from Sicily, and reached from the feet : the forehead and eyes alone were visible ; but the upper part of the mantle was cut in a different manner for unmarried women, the former wearing it round, and the latter in a pointed form.
Someti:ne afterwards, when the fair sex was allowed a proper degree of liberty, and the desire of pleasing increased with the opportunity of inspiring admiration, the women threw off this heavy garment, which not only kept them concealed, but was extremely unpleasant: they however constantly wore veils, which, they conceived, decency required to be black, and the only colour they could with propriety wear when absent from their own homes.
Marriages in Malta were always entirely
arranged by the parents; who consulted their own interest, and the suitableness of the connection, without attending to the inclinations of their children. The articles of the contract settled, and the portion ascertained, the young man sent his intended bride a present, consisting of a certain fish, ornamented with garlands of riband, and in the mouth of the finest among them a ring. The first interview was then fixed to take place in presence of the parents and their particular friends, who were regaled with sweetmeats and other refreshments; but just before this meeting, the two mothers of the young people retired, either into an arbour in the garden, or some separate apartment, where they prepared a mixture of anniseed, aromatic plants, salt, and honey, with which they rubbed the bride's lips, with the idea of rendering her affable and prudent. She was then conducted to the room where her future husband waited her arrival ; who presented her a ring on which were engraved two hands united, the emblem of mutual faith, together with bracelets, necklaces, and a gold chain, she giving him in her turn a handkerchief trimmed with lace and bows of riband.
On the day appointed for the celebration of the nuptials, the most respectable personages among the husband's relations threw a white and very fine veil over the bride's head ; who was extremely ornamented, and wore a velvet simarre, in which the other relations made certain rents, for the purpose of affixing small golden shells. They then proceeded to church for the haddara or ceremony, attended by performers on differ, ent instruments, and singers, who sang stanzas in praise of the young couple. These musicians were preceded by three men :- the first bearing on his head a basin of white earth, varnished and painted in arabesque, of a yellow colour ; this was filled with fresh brioches (a kind of cake), on the largest of which were placed two small figures : he also wore a scarf, with a round cake called collora hanging from it. The second car, ried a basket filled with sugar-plumbs and candied nuts, which one of the relations distributed among the acquaintances he happened to meet : in the middle of the basket was a handkerchief folded in the form of a pyramid, and ornamented with the images of the Virgin, St. Joseph, and the infant Jesus. The third was constantly employed in burning perfumes. The bride and bridegroom followed, under a canopy of crimson velvet festooned, carried by four of the principal persons who attended the wedding; and the rest of the relations closed the procession. This custom of the canopy continued in use till 1688, when it was forbidden by the bishop,
The arrival of the procession at the church was announced by the ringing of bells; and the priest was presented with a basin containing a cake, a handkerchief, and two bottles of wine, the usual fee on such occasions. The blessing given, they returned from church in the same order as they went. The whole of the ceremony ge