By Doris Fenech
Maltese families always considered children as a great gift from God. Babies were given birth at home, with the help of a midwife ("qabla"), village women use to help the mother to give birth to the child, when the midwife was not found. Due the lack of medicine and hospitals many infants did not live long.
It was very common to hear the church bells tolling the death of a baby ("frejħa"). A priest accompanied the coffin reciting prayers with some alter boys. Children throughout flowers in front of the little white coffin, cared on hands by the baby's brothers and sisters on the way to church.
Many babies were baptised by a family member on the same day they were born, because they believed that if the Lord call the baby, he or she will go to limbo ("limbu"). If the mother was in good health in the next two days, she will accompany her husband to church on foot for the child baptism.
As a sign of respect the first babies were named after one of the grandfather or grandmother. Relatives members were chosen to be the baby's godmother and godfather. A young lady use to hold the baby all dressed up in baptism clothes during the ceremony, while the priest administer the Christening sacrament in Latin.
Mothers breast ("tradda"), their babies and were swathe in swaddling-band ("fisqija"), to protect their back. Diapers were made of a cotton cloth ("qlejba"), over a piece of toweling cloth ("ħarqa") and fasten with a safety pin ("labra tas- sarwal").
With great affection mother rocked ("tbennen"), her baby in a cradle made of a sack spread out and hung in a corner of the house to serve as a hammock ("benniena"), and pulled with a rope to make it swing. A dummy was dipped in honey and given to the child not to cry and lullabies ("għanjiet tat-tfal"), were sung to soothe the child to sleep.
The first nursery rhymes ("taqbiliet"), and songs ("għamjiet"), where sung to the children while rocked on their parents knees, trilling a baby rattle ("ċekċieka"), or clapping the baby's hands.
Dialect and baby talk were spoken to the infants, all the words had none to do with the grownups Maltese language ex. bread "ħobż - pappa", cheese "ġobon - ġuġu", egg "bajda - kukka", dress "libsa - buba", drink "ixrob - bumbu", eat "kul - pappi", sweets "ħelu - ċejċa", sit down "bilqeda - beqqi" and many others.
Ninni ninni ruħi ninni
Ninni ninni ruħi ninni, Sleep sleep my darling sleep,
fil-benniena tal-ħarir. in a cradle made of silk.
Għandek ommhok il-Madonna, The Madonna is your mother
u missierek il-Bambin. And Lord Jesus is your father.
Banni bannożżi, Banni banniżż
gej it-tata gej. daddy is coming soon.
Kollox għal-Baby Everything for Baby
u għad-Daddy xejn and for Daddy none at all
Some villages had nursery-school ("skola tan-nuna"), run by elderly women. In 1938, Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus ("Ulied il-Qalb ta' Gesu"), had the permission to run a convent at 104, "Strada Reale" (1859 -1942), Mellieħa. The nuns converted three rooms of the convent as nursery school.
The infants who attend the kindergarten had the ages from three to five years. Since Mellieħa people were very poor, the nun' s fee was only 25c for the hole month ("żewġ xelini fix-xahar"). The school started at 8.00a.m until noon.
All the children use to wear a black dress as uniform, decorated with red trimmings around the collar and on the waist of the dress. Girls used big white bows on their hair.
Children had great fun with the sister' s activities. A Christmas gift was given to each child, the favorite one who we all remember was a little decorated paper hand basket with a small baby Jesus in the middle. Children were very thankful for the present because they did not received many gifts.
L-Madonna fuq rasi
Kristu fuq l-artal
qed ibierek it-tfal żgħar
dawn it-tfal imberkin
għax se jsiru qaddisin.
Madonna ta' Pompeii
Ħarisna bi nhar u bil-lejl.
For Mellieħa people the Sister's congregation was a gift from God, they were very grateful for the great work they made in the community. Early in the morning nuns even use to help the priest with the children catechism at the Sanctuary square rooms.
In 1944 nuns moved to a new premises at 142 -143, Triq il-Kbira (1943), with larger classrooms and a space for the children to play. For school activities they where given permission by the church to use the building "il-barrakka" at the back of the valley.
The building was erected in 1940, on church land by the King"s Own Regiment (KOMR), to be used as mess and a kitchen for the soldiers stationed at Mellieħa, Selmun, Għadira and L-Aħrax.
Children' s books were hard to find, teachers had to teach all the nursery rhymes, folktales ("ħrejjef"), tongue twisters ("xolji lingwa") and prayers ("talb"), by repeated over and over again, until the children memorised them by heart.
Pizzi pizzi Kammillor
Pizzi pizzi kammillor, Pizzi pizzi kammillor,
eppe pija eppe po, eppe pijja eppe po,
bella..., gagga..., giggifog. bella...., gagga..., giggifok.
Father Christmas ġibli Pupa
Father Christmas ġibli Pupa,
mhux tal-lastiku, tal-injam
ommi mejta missier ħaj
sufa ma sufa ħa ħa ħa
Maltese Tongue twisters
Toni taħna tani tina, Our Tony gave me a round fig.
talli tajtu tuta tajba. because I gave him a good berry.
Trid taraħ lil Toni tagħna You should see our Tony
tiela' it-tela tat-Tintillu. 'Hey Ton, give me 3 tuna fish.
Tatinix tonn tinten, Don't give me smelly tuna,
tin tonn tajjeb. ta' Ton'. give me good tuna, ta' Ton'.
Many parents considered waste of time for their grown up children to attend school, they believed that work preserves the body ("ix-xogħol salmura tal-ġisem"). From sunrise to sunset, young boys used to back-break toil in their father fields - hoe soil, ploughing, shoves strips of barley straw in harvest season, cutting carobs pods ("ħarrub"), picking olives, feed the livestock and not lest tend sheep and goats in the near by fields.
Early in the mooring boys hurried to get to the church, to pull the hand-bells, for the congregation to attend mass. With great enthusiasm boys carried lighten lanterns and accompanied the priest while taking the Holy Communion to a sick person's home. A young boy use to walk in front of the priest tinkling a small bell for people to go out to praise the victicum ("vjatku").
Maltese families had many children, parents pretended that the girls had to help their mother in raising the young ones, give a hand in house work, cooking, hand washing and many other farmhouse chores.
In spring time, girls use to help in the washing of the wool of their own sheep's and let dry well. Then they use a spindle ("magħżel"), for twisting and winding the tread before taken to a loom-weaver ("newl tal-insiġ"), to make loom-woven cloth ("drapp tal-insiġ"), for clothing or blankets. Young girls also learned how to sew, knit, crochet ("tpannit"), and make beautiful bobbin lace ("biżżella taċ-ċombini").
Ir-Razzett ta' Ġanni
Ġanni l-bidwi razzett għandu, John the farmer has a farmhouse,
fiħ irabbi l-annimali there he keeps his herd and flock.
mogħża u ħmara fiħ insibu Has also a goat,a donkey,
kif ukoll xr sitt majjali. and six piglets in his stock.
Għandu żiemel abjad kollu Has a horse as white as cotton,
baqra smina u tal-ħalib, a milking cow as fat can be,
tigieg, fliesles u kelb iswed, Hens and chicken, a black dog,
il ta' dawn l-ħabib. a drink of milk he all gave he.
For many years the street, fields and countryside were the children playground. A number of originate games had rhymes ("rimar"), some which evolved from the Middle Ages. Some of the popular streets games were skipping the rope, playing with glass beads, nuts, marbles, small standing stones, the blind hen ("it-tiġieġa l-għamja"), hob scotch ("passu"), knock, knock the door ("bumm bumm il-bieb"), and hide and seek ("noli"). Some times they tossed a penny to see who was going to start the game.
Many kind of hand made toys were made for children, wooden duck, dogs, horses, trains, trucks, doll houses and tops ("ċippitotu"). Girls played with cloth dolls, knitted toys, pretended to be housewife and enjoyed making buns with mud.
Boys had great fun making and flying colourful paper kits and running with a metal hoop ("iċ-ċirku"), all over the streets. They made wooden carts or scouters from unwanted wood and wheels were made by a friend carpenter. Gradually ball-bearing ("borrejs"), were placed to run faster when making street races.
For some boys street bully-rag was their favorite pass time, they were noisy, quarrelsome and intimidate other children. They use to call nicknames to the people going along the streets ("jittantaw ix-xemx għaddejja"), beat heavy on doors and run away and even teasing the street vendors by untied the rope of the mule from the door clapper ("ħabbata"), while he will be busy selling bread, paraffin or other goods.
Għandi kaxxa ġugarelli
Għandi kaxxa ġugarelli, I have a great big toy box,
din mimlija sa fuq nett, full of toys as it can be.
Għandi l-pupa u l-karożża A Barbie doll in her car,
u tat-te' jien għandi sett. and a set so I'll make tea.
Ballun ckejken u safrani, A teddy bear and a boat,
ors jiccaqlaq u vapur, and also a yellow ball.
hemm xadina qisha ħajja, Got a monkey and it moves,
pupa ħelu fuq mutur. a motorcycle with a doll.
Prepared food for babies was not found, small babies were given semolina ("smid"), and older children were use to eat like grownups ("x'joħroġ il-kunvent"). Mothers use to cool and chew the food for the child.
Children treats consisted of a piece of fresh bread, spread with butter and topped with sugar or a tea-spoon of home made honey, now and then. Children anxiously waited for baptisms, birthdays, weddings, traditions occasions and feast days, to taste delicious sweets or to get children special exquisite treats.
Although the children had to pass through many difficulties, they were always thankful for what they had and showed respect to their families for their love, sacrifices and the education they reserved to became respectable adults.