UNESCO Grants Title of Intangible Cultural Heritage on Malta's Festa

Significant development for Malta's Cultural Landscape

Dr. Maria Chetcuti Cauchi | Published on 12 Dec 2023

Cultural Heritage on Maltas Festa

The Maltese festa is a yearly communal occasion originating from Malta’s religious background and occurs in the parishes of each town and village across the islands. 

November 2023 heralded the long-awaited news that the Malta Village Festa is now inscribed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The festa now claims the podium alongside the traditional Maltese folk song (Għana) and local style bread (ftira), previously listed in 2021 and 2020, respectively.

Though fragile, the act of preserving intangible cultural heritage of a community is pivotal in upholding cultural diversity amidst the rise of globalization. Intangible cultural heritage includes the practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities, groups and sometimes individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. To aid individuals comprehend intangible cultural heritage, the UNESCO Convention describes it in terms of five broad categories: Oral traditions and expressions; performing arts; social practices, rituals and festive events; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe and traditional craftsmanship.

Commencing late April and running through the beginning of October, Malta runs the ‘festa season’ and presents a series of cultural and social events in different locations across the country. With community volunteers industriously preparing for the festa all year-round, during the main season there are usually various festas happening across the island at the same time. The last day of the festa usually features a procession led by clergy, attended by parish members and marching bands. 

Celebrations include fireworks, concerts, band parades, chiming, and the sale of traditional, local cuisine which includes nougat, ftira (local tuna bread), ‘mqaret’ (date pies) and the infamous ‘pastizzi’ (flaky pastries filled with either ricotta cheese (pastizzi tal-irkotta) or a mushy pea mixture (pastizzi tal-piżelli).

To uphold the vigour of intangible heritage, such act needs to remain pertinent within a culture, be constantly practiced, and passed down across generations. The festa encapsules an array of traditions, where youths absorb village stories, songs, and learn how to engage in the traditions themselves. To achieve such engagement, some parishes even organize children's festas jointly with the ecclesiastical celebrations, involving kids in the processions and religious aspects too by carrying smaller statues through town, attending presentations and taking part in processions and bands. 

Malta remains steadfast in its hold of traditional practises and notwithstanding the proliferation of external secular pressure, it continues to embrace local Maltese traditions, mostly centred around the communal merging of families, locals, and tourists alike. The Malta Festa merits the heritage title bestowed on it. 

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