Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica : Journal of the Malta Historical Society. 6(1975)4(449-450)

ALEXANDER BONNICI: Familji Mfarrkin f’Malta ta’ l-Imgħoddi, Reliġjon u Ħajja, National Press, Malta, 1975, 35 pp., illus.

The unknown mass of people in a society has its history as much as the people in authority. Very often, however, historians tend to ignore its existence and its social problems. A. Bonnici has sought to examine one aspect of the daily life of the common people of Malta in the light of mss. found in the Inquisitorial Archives. This he has also done in his paper “Aspetti della Vita Cristiana nell’Isola di Malta verso la meta del seicento” (extract from Maltese Folklore Review, Malta 1974). The problems that led to broken families during the mid-17th century are examined.

It is noted that the various incidents such as the interference of parents in the choice of partners, the presence of foreigners in our islands, women’s weaknesses and man’s desires have, as ever, often been their causes. Corsairing and naval activities, which were an irksome business, often had their bad side effects on the Maltese. They are given as the main reason why there were broken families in Malta. Men often disappeared from the Islands and were assumed to be dead. Others came and found it too difficult to abstain from female company. This led to [p.450] frequent second marriages.

It was difficult to prove whether a person was free to marry especially when he was a foreigner, or that a husband had in fact died abroad. Research was done by the Malta Inquisition which was directed by Rome, but sometimes women who sought to live in concubinage ignored the Inquisition. It appears that there were men who also sought to earn a living by falsifying documents to cheat the Inquisitor!

P. Sebastiano Salelles, SJ, who served as counsellor of the Inquisition for about fifty years indicates that as a result, in spite of the high level of spirituality of the Maltese, there were many who committed themselves to polygamy. Illegitimate marriages could lead to a suspicion of heresy and self-confessed convicts could be punished. Although sentences could be harsh, e.g. 5-7 years or even life imprisonment, the Maltese Inquisitors were rather lenient: the punishments given usually included prayers, abstinence, frequent confessions and public acts of mortification. In one case a person was expected to kneel during Mass in the entrance of the Jesuits’ Church, Valletta, with a candle in hand and a clip on his tongue!

Bonnici’s monograph is small but concise. It throws more interesting light on the social history of the Maltese people.