The nation state of Malta consists of three inhabited islands and several uninhabited ones located in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, with Sicily to the north and Tunisia to the south. Malta has approximately 1,250 inhabitants per square kilometre, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Maltese culture contains a mixture of influences brought to the islands by the various powers and invaders Malta has seen come and go over many centuries. The Roman Catholic Church also continues to have a significant influence on the culture, with various traditions having evolved around religious celebrations.
Ethnicity, Language and Identity
Nearly the entire population of Malta is ethnically Maltese, which is a mixture of numerous modern and ancient . This means that, in terms of , Malta is relatively homogeneous. Aside from the Maltese population, there are small communities of British, Sindhis, Palestinians and Greeks on the islands.
‘Maltese’ for many people from Malta is considered to be an as well as a nationality and language. The Maltese language (Malti) is the only European language in the Afro-Asiatic family, making Malta linguistically unique. Maltese is universally understood by citizens and has minimal differences across dialects. This means that language plays an important role in creating a unified sense of identity among the Maltese people. Nonetheless, nearly all Maltese speak English and some understand Italian.
Maltese tend not to identify as ‘European’ despite being a part of the EU. Rather, there is a general perception that Malta is a unique country that acts as a bridge between Europe and Northern Africa. Moreover, it is believed that there is a shared and unique history, culture and language among the islands. On a secondary level and among themselves, many Maltese identify by their island – for example, ‘Maltese’ for the people from the island of Malta or ‘Gozitan’ for the people from the island of Gozo.
Geography and Lifestyle
Malta’s geography plays an important role in shaping the culture and lifestyle of its people. Located in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, the Maltese archipelago consists of Malta, Gozo, Comino, Cominotto and Filfla. Most of the population reside on Malta – the largest island – and the rest live on Gozo, with the exception of a few farmers on Comino. Those who reside on Gozo may refer to themselves as Gozitans to identify themselves regionally when conversing with other Maltese.
Generally speaking, there is social and cultural among Maltese villages. The structure of urban and rural areas tends to be similar, with people residing in villages that surround a local parish church. The local community and family play an important role in the social structure of Malta (see ‘Social Interactions’ below). In part due to the size of the islands and villages, privacy is rare and attempts to be anonymous may prove challenging.
The pace of life in Malta tends to be slow and relaxed, in part due to the seaside, small-town environment paired with sunny weather. The warm climate allows for many outdoor settings for socialising; for example, many will go out to the piazza to socialise. Some say that life in Malta is somewhat isolated due to the location of the islands. Nonetheless, technology has enabled Maltese to be in touch with the world, particularly the European continent. Given that Maltese are well aware of the world around them, they acknowledge and generally accept differences in opinions and behaviours but do not easily tolerate those with a fast-paced approach to life.
Malta has been the crossroads between Europe and Northern Africa for centuries, a fact that is reflected in the people, culture and lifestyle of contemporary Maltese. Arabic cultures (mainly those from Northern Africa) have made an imprint on Maltese culture. For example, Maltese cuisine, artistic expressions, religion and language show elements of Malta’s history of Arab conquest.
There is also a cultural and economic connection between Malta and the European continent, particularly southern Europe (such as Italy and Greece). For example, access to Italian television has been available in Malta since the 1950s. Malta’s connection to Europe solidified when Malta joined the EU in 2004 and adopted the Euro as its currency.
The modern history of Malta involved frequent interactions with Britain. Indeed, Malta was once a colony of Britain (1814) and remained a part of the Commonwealth until it became an independent state in 1964. Remnants of Britain’s presence remain – for example, the prevalence of the English language.
Malta is a hierarchical society and stratification tends to occur through education and economic status. This plays a large role in social interactions, as what is considered to be ‘correct’ behaviour is dependent on one’s status, the degree of familiarity, age and social connections. There is an expectation that one will be modest and will avoid boasting about one’s wealth, putting oneself above others or dressing provocatively. Moreover, maintaining one’s reputation and dignity is considerably important to ensure one is respected as an individual as well as to protect the honour of one’s family. Indeed, every level of interaction is shaped by the family structure in Malta. This is partly due to the population density, meaning family reputations are well-known between generations. As such, the family one comes from is an important determinant in constructing one’s public and private identity.
The younger generation tends to be more while older generations generally maintain a attitude. Though the younger generation of Malta are proud of their country’s history, many attempt to distance themselves from what they consider to be the ‘traditional’ Maltese way of life. For them, Maltese culture is often thought of as unchanging or static. The youth tend to prefer to associate with the culture and attitudes from Western Europe, Britain and the United States that they can access through social media.
At times, Maltese people may seem reserved. However, they are quite warm and often very hospitable and generous towards family and friends. Among those they are close to, Maltese communicate expressively, one example being passionate debates and discussions. Generally, no topic is taboo as Maltese are open to discussing their thoughts and opinions on any matter.
The concept of ‘pika’ roughly translates as the desire to do better than one’s neighbour or rival as well as the sense of pride gained after ‘beating’ one’s rival. Towns and villages may seem competitive on various levels due to pika. For example, two neighbouring villages may compete with one another to build a bigger church than their neighbour. Pika is particularly notable during festa season. Towns will compete on who can offer the grandest fireworks display. For the most part, pika is out of good humour and intention. Indeed, towns that may appear to be ‘rivals’ are often close allies, particularly in times of need.
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