“Despite her dark skin, her face was attractive”

Suppressing Identities in an Enlightened Malta

The eighth seminar in this year’s Work in Progress Seminar Series, that is focusing mainly on Understanding Cultural Diversity, will be held on Wednesday between 6 and 7.30 p.m. at the Mikiel Anton Vassalli Conference Centre (Gateway), Room 104. Dr. Adrian Grima of the Department of Maltese at the University of Malta will be giving a talk entitled, “Despite her dark skin, her face was attractive.” Suppressing Identities in an Enlightened Malta.

Hundreds of Maltese students preparing themselves to go University are once again studying Ġużè Aquilina’s supposedly enlightened novel Taħt Tliet Saltniet, published in 1938, a work which is giving these students a very particular vision of what it is to be Maltese in a rather uncritical academic environment that has not taken stock of the changes that have taken place over the past 65 years in the way we perceive and live identity.

The novel is set in the turbulent years between the collapse of the rule of the Knights of St. John brought about by the invasion of the French in 1798, and the arrival of the British in 1800; it deals with an important moment in the creation of a Maltese identity because in their uprising against the French, the Maltese displayed a national consciousness for the first time.

Aquilina’s reading of this historical moment is inevitably conditioned by his own particular ideology: despite the varied and multiethnic reality on the ground, especially in the urban centres, at the turn of the 19th century (and even in Aquilina’s own early 20th century), the novel constructs a Maltese identity that is completely dominated by elements that are typical of the perceptions of national identity of Maltese romantic literature, like the Roman Catholic faith and the idealized rural way of life and suppresses, or even excludes, other ways of “being Maltese”. For example, he only allows the Muslim slave “Il-Ħalwenija” the privilege of having a name, of being or becoming someone, when she converts to Christianity.

Maltese students who read this novel today must be aware of the crucial role played by language and literature in the construction of reality in general and national identity in particular. Many people in Malta seem to share Aquilina’s romantic views of national and cultural identity, and this is evident, for example, from the “oath” (Ħalfa) taken by a number of post-independence writers at the time of the EU referendum 2003. A “new” awareness is more important than ever now A “new” awareness of cultural identity is more important than ever now both because Malta has chosen to forge a new relationship with Europe and the Mediterranean, and also because it has to deal with the arrival of often “unwelcome” non-Europeans on its shores.

See also the full programme of the Works in Progress Seminar Series for 2004.

See also: The Sunday Times and The Malta Independent on Sunday (18 April, 2004)

8th Annual Work in Progress Seminar Series – Understanding Cultural Diversity

The eighth annual Work in Progress in the Social Studies seminars (WIPSS) kick off on Wednesday 18 February, 6 – 7.30p.m. in Gateway Building, Room 104, University of Malta. The seminars are convened by lecturers in the Mediterranean Institute, Faculty of Education and Faculty of Arts – Dr Vicki Ann Cremona, Dr Paul Clough, Dr Carmelo Vassallo, Professor Peter Mayo and Dr Mark Falzon. The public is cordially invited.

This year, most of the seminars and symposia are on the theme Understanding Cultural Diversity. The growing cultural diversity of the Maltese Islands is explored through papers on asylum seekers, ‘illegals’, and immigrants. There will be papers on gayness, the international dimensions of cultural intolerance after September 11, and the possibilities of Catholic-Muslim dialogue. Other speakers discuss ritual, Maltese identity, and art.

WIPSS gives researchers the chance to get feedback in an informal atmosphere. It acts as a forum for dialogue between the university and the community.

Get more information from the Communciations Office, University of Malta. E-mail: comms@um.edu.mt


18 Feb Ruth Farrugia
Law, University of Malta
Asylum Seekers in Transit – the Maltese Experience
Venue: Rm 104, Gateway Building,
University of Malta
25 Feb Carmel Cassar
History, University of Malta
The Cultural Roots of Maltese Identity – Christian Myths and Social Memory of a Mediterranean Frontier Society
Venue: Rm 104, Gateway Building,
University of Malta
3 Mar Fr Pierre Grech Maguerat
Ms. Marcia Grima
Dr Leo Bencini
Symposium: Refugees, `Illegals`, and Immigrants in Malta
Venue: LT1, Erin Serracino Inglott Hall,
University of Malta
10 Mar Dr Paul Clough
Anthropology, University of Malta
Why Catholicism can Understand Islam – Reflexive Anthropology and Religious Awareness
Venue: Rm 104, Gateway Building,
University of Malta
17 Mar James Laidlaw
Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Ritualisation and the Anthropology of Sacrifice
Venue: LT1, Erin Serracino Inglott Hall,
University of Malta
24 Mar Ivan Callus
English, University of Malta
“Philosophy in a Time of Terror”: The Theoretical Humanities after September 11
Venue: Rm 104, Gateway Building,
University of Malta
1 Apr Robert Mizzi
Queer Peace International
Unravelling Queerness in Social Research
Venue: Rm 156, Gateway Building,
University of Malta
21 Apr Adrian Grima
Maltese, University of Malta
“Despite her dark skin, her face was attractive”: Suppressing Identities in an Enlightened Malta
Venue: Rm 104, Gateway Building,
University of Malta
28 Apr Roundtable Session
Articulating the Klandestini Experience – Literary and Refugee Voices
Venue: Rm 122, Mediterranean Institute
University of Malta (behind HSBC Bldg.)
5 May Isabelle Borg
Art, University of Malta
Art in Ireland Today
Venue: Rm 104, Gateway Building,
University of Malta


Dr. Paul Clough (Mediterranean Institute)
Dr. Vicki Ann Cremona (Mediterranean Institute)
Dr. Mark-Anthony Falzon (Faculty of Arts)
Professor Peter Mayo (Faculty of Education)
Dr. Carmelo Vassallo (Mediterranean Institute)



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