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Photos courtesy of the Ministry for Gozo
Carnival: the few days a year when it is perfectly acceptable to take to the streets and indulge in harmless revelry. It is controlled subversion, taking place in full public view. Costumes transform our identities; masks give us anonymity. Adults and children all come together to let loose and enjoy the celebrations all over Malta and Gozo.
Over recent years, Gozo has become the preferred destination for local and foreign revellers wishing to enjoy the carnival festivities to their fullest. This is very likely because, during carnival week, Gozo is almost entirely transformed into an island of colour and activity.
Carnival celebrations are organised in different localities, each unique to itself, and quite unlike anything you might encounter anywhere else in the world. From the traditional to the macabre, the Gozo carnival has it all.
In Victoria, the island’s capital, the main events are centred around and in Independence Square. The town is brought to life by spectacular fluorescent floats, grotesque masks, and dancers in costume, parading their way through the square.
The highlight is by far the Grand Finale defilé, when Victoria is transformed into a sea of colour and magic, as the carnival celebrations are brought to a close.
Other highlights include the Children’s Carnival, which includes the participation of school children, as well as a number of exhibitions that are held in different venues around Victoria.
The National and Regional Celebrations Committee within the Ministry for Gozo also organises a number of competitions for the participants, from best individual costume to best float, and many others.
What makes Carnival so unique is that, as far as feasts go, it is a feast for the people, by the people, so to speak. In this collective spirit, each year, the people of Nadur take to the streets, when the sun sets, in various grotesque disguises for what is known as the spontaneous carnival.
The celebrations are not supervised by any organising committee, and their charm lies in their entirely impromptu and haphazard nature.
The tone is macabre and darkly humorous, as hoards of people march through the streets clad in coarse, sometimes vulgar guises.
Popular themes are inspired by local and international current events and political personages as well as ideas inspired from everyday life such as birth, sexuality, old age, death and work.
Apart from the silent and mysterious individual maskarati walking down the street, large floats represent whole scenes – such as weddings, operating theatres or even entire farms.
In recent years, the Carnival has attracted huge crowds but, particularly on Monday and Tuesday, strong echoes of the traditional Nadur Carnival remain.
More recently, the Nadur local council has started holding an organised carnival during the day, alongside the spontaneous carnival which, this year, will be held on 12 February.
This involves some more traditional celebrations, similar to those held in Victoria. The council also organises a number of competitions, attracting various participants from all over the island.
Carnival, besides being a colourful feast, is also a celebration of Gozitan identity. Folklore is an important part of the celebrations, especially in the village of Xagħra. Each year, in keeping with tradition, the village holds the Kumittiva – a folk dance dating back many years.
Traditionally, only men participated in the dance: half of whom were clad as women, borrowing items of clothing from female friends and family members.
Today, the dance is performed by men and women, who have learned the choreography from family members who have participated before them.
There are several movements, and all take around one and a half hours. Il-Mara Fuq Quddiem, Il-Mina, is-Salib, il-Franċiża, l-Ingliża and finally the Bixkilla also known as the Nsiġa.
The word “Kumittiva” actually refers to a collective of musicians commissioned by the local wine bar to play the accompaniment for the dancers. Like the steps of the dance, the musical score is passed on from one generation to the next. It is learnt by ear, and performed on folkloristic instruments.
Today, the Fondazzjoni Kumittiva Għawdex is doing its utmost to preserve this remnant of Gozitan culture which is in serious danger of being lost. Most important, perhaps, is its authenticity: the Kumittiva is an actual part of Gozitan heritage, a shard of the village’s collective memory.
This information was brought to you in collaboration with the Ministry for Gozo.
This year’s Carnival in Gozo, organised by the National and Regional Celebrations Committee, is spread over a period of five days with a Grand Defile’ and a Carnival street manifestation on the opening and closing days – Friday 17 and Tuesday 21 February respectively.
On 16 February the traditional “Giovedi Gras” meal and the official announcing of Carnival in Gozo will take place at the Cittadella Centre for Culture and Arts, while the 18 and 20 February will be dedicated to village Carnivals around the island.
The morning of Saturday 18 February will be dedicated to Children’s Carnival.
Guise and revelry during 2012’s Gozo Regional Carnival are at their most vivacious on Sunday 19 and Tuesday 21 February with organised defiles of triumphal floats and grotesque masks, dance groups and carnival bands.
Dance competitions in a specially mantled seating enclosure in Independence Square, Victoria, will be held.
These same five days of Carnival – between 17 and 21 February – will also see a unique spontaneous late night carnival in Nadur.
At the time of publishing this article, a decision had not yet been taken on whether the Kumittiva will be held this year.
For more info on the regional carnival, contact the Culture Office in Independence Square, Victoria, call 2155 6125 or visit www.gozoculture.com. For the Xaghra Kumittiva call Frances Busuttil on 7920 5316.
For more info on the various village celebrations visit the local councils’ websites.
Take a look at a picture gallery of Carnival celebrations from across the globe here