The Maltese Cross
A concoction of cultural influences and a distinctive language make Malta’s national identity one that is intriguing.
As homogeneous as the Maltese population seems, the national identity is still a multifaceted one, influenced as it is by history, religion, the surrounding seas, a unique language, the politics that divide and unite, and bright and optimistic youths; Malta and the Maltese are as fascinating as they are unique.
History: The collective identity of a people is shaped by its history, and the Maltese are no different. In fact, one could argue that on this small island, dense with art, culture, and reminders of times gone by at every turn, the Maltese live and breathe their history. This proximity to the past has produced a nation of people who are, on the whole, more than eager to share an interesting nugget of knowledge. Just ask a Maltese person about the siege of 1565 and watch his eyes light up while he tells you about the vastly outnumbered knights valiantly defending their home. From school children recounting their trip to the Hypogeum, to the elderly who experienced the ravages of bombing during World War 2, the nation’s history and prehistory are a palpable presence in its identity.
Religion: Malta is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, and much of the yearly calendar revolves around special celebrations and festas. They’re taken very seriously, and the rivalries between neighbouring villages reach a fevered pitch in the summer – the height of festa season. Although the number of regular church-goers is decreasing, the majority of Maltese still take their faith seriously. It’s not uncommon for sacraments like baptisms, first holy communion, and confirmation to be celebrated with enthusiasm – usually in the form of a party thrown by the child’s parents where food and drinks are never in short supply.
Language: The Maltese are justifiably proud of their language. This Semitic language is the only one of its kind to be recognised as an official language of the European Union. Throughout its history, the various powers that colonised the island only served to enrich this unique language, rather than extinguish it. In fact, one can detect words of English, Italian, and French origin, on top of its Arabic roots. While both Maltese and English languages are specified in the Constitution as official languages, it is the former that holds sway in everyday life and more official state matters. However, the Maltese pride themselves on being a truly bilingual nation.
The Diaspora: Maltese communities can be found in all corners of the globe; the highest concentrations being in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. The numbers of Maltese seeking better economic prospects abroad dropped significantly after Independence in 1964. However, following Malta’s joining of the European Union in 2004, the Island started once again experiencing emigration to countries within the European Union. Maltese emigrants tend to hold on to their customs and language, with many returning to their homeland after decades away.
Politics: The Maltese are a passionate nation – whether it’s the celebration of the local saint in a village festa or cheering on the local football team, nothing is done without great enthusiasm. This passion is certainly present with another local obsession – politics. Possibly owing to the fact that the island only achieved independence recently, the political landscape is still highly polarised. The lighter side of this sees supporters of the winning party celebrating with carcades after the elections. Notwithstanding the zeal around politics, violent incidents are practically unheard of, and the political landscape is relatively stable, especially when compared to other Mediterranean neighbours like Italy and Greece.