Malta Diary Islands of a few kilometres by a few kilometres but the Maltese Diaspora is spread throughout world
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The surface area size of the Maltese Islands is 261 square kilometres, a miniscule crag in the Mediterranean when compared to all the other countries in the world. Yet, and yet, it has a Diaspora that spreads from New Zealand to Greece, from Algeria to Scandinavia, from Lebanon to Australia, from Gibraltar to Canada, from South Africa to Brazil, from Tunisia to the United States and of course from Malta to the United Kingdom.
It is estimated there are sizeable Maltese communities and fourth and fifth generation Maltese in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Egypt, Gibraltar, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The word ‘Diaspora’ originates from the Greek ‘diaspeirein’ meaning across+scatter most commonly used of course in the Jewish Diaspora, indicating forced emigration from the homeland for various reasons, materialised in the fall of Jerusalem and the condemnation that “thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth”.
In Malta’s case the dispersion was triggered by two major factors – myriads of intermarriages and forced economic reasons, particularly at a time when a typical Maltese family 100 years ago would be composed of a mother, father and anything up to 17 children!
One particular story that has remained embedded in my mind after reading it in a journal many years ago was that of a group of Maltese sailors who entered a port in north-east Russia and disembarked to walk around the small port area.
They came across a somewhat grotty restaurant and decided it was time for a meal. They entered and seated themselves and naturally, blabbed away in Maltese.
Moments later a gnarled old lady wearing an apron came out of the kitchen, her eyes bleared as tears streaked down her cheeks. She had not heard her mother national tongue for many decades – she was Maltese and did the cooking for the restaurant owned by her Russian husband who had taken her as a young bride and had taken her back to his homeland.
A glance through a Maltese telephone directory will reveal surnames from all over the world, not the thousands of foreigners currently in Malta, but generations of Maltese resulting from intermarriages and settlement in Malta – and these particularly around the port regions of Cospicua, Senglea, Vittoriosa and Valletta.
The Diaspora spread came initially from substantial emigration to nearby countries like Greece, The Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Italy of course and Gibraltar where a substantial percentage of today’s population are of Maltese descent. This happened at the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century.
Throughout most of the 20th Century there was a steady emigrant outflow to Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, South Africa and Great Britain. I hasten to add this was permitted and approved emigration and not just people packing and boarding boats to land anywhere and state “we are here to stay”.
Australia developed as the major host although early emigration ran into many difficulties. The first arrivals were promptly arrested and confined to detention camps or their ships as “aliens” until British military authorities hastily explained that Malta was a part of the British Empire and its citizens entitled to the protection of the British Crown and were not “aliens” but theoretically British citizens!
A couple of weeks ago Malta’s President Dr George Vella paid an official visit to Greece and went to the island of Corfu to meet a number of persons of Maltese descent. It was explained to him that the magnificent castle in Corfu had been built by Maltese builders with Maltese stone and Maltese builders had also had a hand in the building of what today is the Greek Parliament in Athens.
When the President or Malta’s Prime Ministers regularly visit Maltese communities in Britain, Australia, the United States or Canada they attend social occasions where they are met by scores of Maltese and those of Maltese descent and are given a rousing welcome.
Impressive too, that despite some being third and fourth generation and others having left Malta decades ago, they have retained the Maltese tongue, the customs and of course – most importantly – the food!
Indeed, in Australia, the Maltese established their own soccer clubs – among the first to be founded in Oz. One was in Melbourne and originally named George Cross FC, later changed to Sunshine George Cross FC and now Caroline Springs George Cross FC in compliance with Aussie FA rules that teams must have an Australian name.
Another is the Sydney based team originally Melita Eagles but now Paramatta Melita Eagles FC.
While visiting Australia in 1989 I chanced to attend a “derby” match between George Cross and Melita Eagles. The rivalry was fierce and thousands of Maltese fans attended. It was like being in Malta – and Maltese pastizzi were available too (puff pastry sleeves filled with peas and anchovies or ricotta cheese).
When I lived in London in the late 50s in the Brixton area there were so many Maltese living there we even had our own cafes and restaurants and of course the Maltese earned paramount notoriety in the 1950s with their running of striptease clubs, prostitution and porno joints in Soho. Some of the major henchmen in the Kray brothers’ band of villains were … Maltese.
Maltese and of Maltese descent Professor Edward Debono initiated and pioneered Lateral Thinking; Professor Arvid Pardo represented Malta in the United Nations and pioneered the first Law of the Seas; Sculptor Antonio Sciortino rose to world fame with his creations; and the specialist optician and former Malta President Vincent (Censu) Tabone
left his world mark for his pioneering work in curbing glaucoma – among many others who also left their mark like politician Dom Mintoff, Hollywood film stars Oreste Chircop and Joseph Callejja as well as international tenor Joseph Calleja.
Not bad for an island of a few kilometres by a few kilometres…
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A description of a totally possessive person whose possession has no bounds or limits.