The traditional feast of St Peter and
of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th marks
in important event in the calendar of
Maltese popular customs and festivities.
Traditionally known as "l-Imnarja",
it goes back further to even before the
coming of the Knights in 1530 and is
essentially a country folk-festival.
Following closely the hard toils of harvest
time, it made a pleasant break in the dull
everyday routine that made up the peasant's
life in the past: - a few crowded hours of
merrymaking and rustic song, amidst a yearly
routine of sweat and toil working the land.
The name 'L-Imarja' is a corruption
of Italian 'luminaria' -
illumination. Meant a Festival of Light It a
festival of light, recalling tile
illumination of the Mdina cathedral, the
city walls of the old capital, and of other
rural parts with lights, as a sign of
rejoicing on June 28th and 29th.
It is traditionally held that country girls used to
stipulate with their intended husbands that they
should take them once a year to the principal feasts
of the island, i.e. the feast of 'l-Imnarja'
and that of St. Gregory. The women appeared at the
Gardens of Buskett in their wedding dress,
irrespective of the season in which they were
Here and there one could see gowns of velvet and
fine silk together with bodices of rich material and
underskirts Of homespun cloth as recorded by the
French Knight F.E. De Guignard, Comte de Saint
Priest, in 1791. Fashions have now changed, and no
newly married bride would dream of going to Buskett
in her wedding dress. Still the many people who
gather there today are no less colourful and
weekend closest to St. John's Day,
celebrated on June 24th, a feast-day
formerly also associated with the lighting
of bonfires - it is customary to herald the
holding of 'I-Imnarja' by means of a simple
ceremony known as 'Il-Bandu'. The
word 'Bandu' means a proclamation issued for
the good order of the people and was
formerly read by the town-crier, 'Il-Banditore',
who announced its contents at certain
specified places of the old city.
This custom was revived, with certain
changes, some years ago on the initiative of
the 'Casino Notabile' and of the local
Agrarian Society who also organise the
yearly Agricultural Show held on the eve of
the feast, and the morning, of June 29th at
Nowadays, the 'Bandu' procession
starts from the Mdina Town Hall, known as
the 'Banca Giuratale', with a number of "boy
scouts', preceded by flute and drum and
accompanied by members of the Organising
Committee, who carry and display the 'palji',
or prizes, that are distributed after tile
horse races on June 29th.
The procession passes through the principal street
of Mdina and moves on to Rabat before it returns and
stops in front of St. Paul's niche in Saqajja
Square, where the blessing of the palji takes place.
THE EVE OF THE FEAST
On the eve
of the feast the scene shifts to Buskett
Gardens, a wooded Park in the outskirts of
Rabat. Here the cries of food and drink
vendors mingle with the boisterous crowd. By
this time the Agricultural Show would have
been blessed and declared open and visitors
flock to watch the display of animals,
vegetables, fruits, poultry, honey, local
and many other exhibits.
As the shades of evening fall slowly on the
enchanting valley surmounted by Verdala
Castle country-folk and other merrymakers
seek out trees where they intend to spend
the night beneath a flurry of leafy
Even today, from all parts of Malta, people
still make their way to Buskett, where the
scene is set for a feast of song and food
beneath the trees. The
appetising smell of
fried rabbit entices the merrymakers to indulge in a
good feed washed down with wine from the local vats.
The night is then spent in good-humoured mirth and
fun, while revellers compete in singing bouts to the
strains of Spanish guitars and the popular hands
from the various villages.
'L-IMNARJA'- ON THE DAY
afternoon of the 29th the 'Imnarja'
festivities reach their climax with the
traditional horse and donkey races held in
the vicinity of Mdina. Long before the
appointed time the' racecourse is lined with
throngs of people who defy the scorching
rays of the June sun to get a good view of
A characteristic of traditional horse races
in Malta is that animals are ridden
bare-backed, the jockeys gripping their
mount with the knees and urging on the
beasts with short sticks in either hand. In
the 17th and 18th centuries these races
generally, comprised seven events i.e. races
for boys, negro slaves, men, donkeys, mules,
mares and horses. With the abolition
of slavery by Napoleon in 1798 the
negroes came to an
end, and since the middle of the 18th century the
races for men and boys have been held in Imdina on
the occasion of the feast of Our Lady Of Mount
Carmel, observed on the third Sunday of July.
For about three centuries the loggia overlooking the
traditional racecourse at the foot of 'Saqajja' has
served for the distribution of the 'palji'. A Latin
motto inscribed on the wall reads as follows: "Cuicumque
Legitime Certaverit -1696", which may be freely
translated as "for all who lawfully strive to win."
After the races, the crowds disperse and return to
their homesteads by car, by bus or as was the case
in the past by the traditional horse-driven cart.
This event brings to a close this yearly summer folk
- festival amidst the lingering joyful shouts and
carefree songs of the merrymakers.