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Title: Fenkata : an emblem of Maltese peasant resistance?
Authors: Cassar, Carmel
Keywords: Rabbit hunting -- Malta -- History
Government, Resistance to -- Malta -- History
Malta -- History -- Knights of Malta, 1530-1798
Issue Date: 1994
Publisher: Ministry for Youth and the Arts
Citation: Cassar, C. (1994). Fenkata : an emblem of Maltese peasant resistance? Malta: Ministry for Youth and the Arts.
Abstract: The process of shaping national culture often coincides with the production of traditions giving special meaning to an increasing number of elements of everyday life. This study discusses one example, relating to food, which seems older than the mass-production of traditions occurring during the nineteenth century. Geographically, Malta is sufficiently compact to have its own distinct identity. Yet it was only under the rule of the Order of Sf. John that a 'Maltese' culture came into being, one in which the mass of the native population participated. Prior to the Order's arrival, the Maltese islands had enjoyed a certain measure of autonomy as domainial towns of the Kingdom of Sicily. In fact both Malta and Gozo had their own Universita', or local municipal government, responsible for collecting taxes, administering justice, regulating the market, especially the grain supply - as well as seeing to public health. Typical of the medieval polity, the Universita' played the role of representative assembly of the Maltese, theoretically immune from arbitrary treatment by the ruler. In reality, the Universita' was dominated and controlled by an elite group of landowners comprising the higher clergy, the landowning gentry, judges notaries and lawyers. The advent of the Order led to a radical change of the institutional set up of the Maltese islands. The Grand Master ruled as feudal overlord. Yet the Maltese became so dependent on their ruler that by the lime of Grand Master La Valette (1558-1568), the area that remained free of his control was indeed very narrow. In fact, the more intensively the Grand Master dominated the local administration, the more the Maltese shilled their allegiance from their Universita' to the Grand Master. The more energetically the Grand Master's sovereign rights were exercised, the more restrictions there were on all sorts of common customary rights. In order to consolidate and extend their power, the later Grand Masters had to appropriate parts of the old system of authority and risk facing furious resistance as they did so. This authority was enforced and fully exercised by these Grand Masters who found themselves free to dictate matters on their authority as princes of Malta - a designation duly adopted by Grand Master Pinto (1741-1773). By then the sovereignty of the King of Sicily over Malta was exercised in name only. During the later decades of the eighteenth century, inspite of the enlightened despotism practised by the Grand Masters these still strove, amongst other, to impose a stricter ban on hunting rights. The move aroused the hostility of the Bishop, who felt his status menaced, and thus, together with the relatively numerous clerics, began to put up signs of resistance. The quarrel manifested itself both as political opposition, as well as in the production of national symbols, most notably rabbit hunting as a right over common land and as a measure to control a species which represented a threat to the annual crops. Rabbit, as a traditional peasant meal, came to symbolize the struggle against the Order's government; at the same time its culinary preparation received a boost, so that it soon came to be considered a refined Maltese dish.
Appears in Collections:Scholarly Works - FacEMATou

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