Gozo book launch sheds light on – Women in 18th century Malta
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Yosanne Vella’s new book on – Women in 18th century Malta – has been officially launched at the Megalithic Temples of Ggantija Gozo.
300 years ago these temples were surrounded by large cotton fields with the active participation of Gozitan women in one of the most thriving industries on the Maltese islands.
The historian said that “Maltese and Gozitan women were to be found in a variety of occupations, as farmers, cotton spinners, dressmakers, washerwomen, bakers, shop owners, actresses. Textile production was particularly demanding of female labour as well as the corsairing industry which also flourished at that time.”
Yosanne Vella remarked, “Maltese women in the 18th century were not always personally or directly involved in any great movements or major political events. They suffered many restrictions and limitations in legal and social rights but still they were neither invisible, inaudible nor unimportant.”
“However, their contribution in various sectors to the growth and development of their society was significant and should not be overlooked or undervalued,” she added.
Minister for Minister Justyne Caruana, attended the book launch. She maintained that the publication was an important addition to Maltese literature and scholarship since women have historically, culturally and politically been by far the neglected protagonists, and sometimes even the heroes, of Maltese and Gozitan society. “This publication begins to set the record straight,” she said.
Authentic stories of Maltese women appearing before the Courts of Justice accused of criminal activity, including thefts, physical assaults and prostitution, are unveiled in the publication.
Court records also uncovered by the author include accusations against women both from Valletta and the villages of abusive and blasphemous conduct, drunkenness, theft offences, molesting, fighting and beating up people.
The Inquisitor’s archives were also researched by the author, and these shed new light on life in monasteries.
She discovered that “one Carmelite nun became pregnant in 1730 and tried to make an abortion. Nuns at the Monastery of Santa Scholastica were accused of scandalous and pagan behaviour, one nun being accused of having sexual intercourse with the Devil.”
“Three hundred years ago the majority of Maltese women as well as men were illiterate. However some nuns could probably read the breviary, which was in Latin and taught catechism to girls,” Ms Vella said.
Encounters between Maltese women and Knights from various Languages and the presence of Muslim female slaves have been revealed in the publication. “Some female slaves seem to have been equally high spirited and far from being intimidated often quarrelled openly and insulted Maltese women, even their own mistresses.”
The author delves into court cases involving adultery and sexual offences. “Maltese women were victims of unwanted attention by the Knights who were loathed for the way they took advantage of them. Maltese women, who could be very sensual in their appearance, also sought to lure innocent Knights,” she said.
Ms Vella noted that “in many cases women were the victims of injustices and criminal acts. However, at other times it was the women themselves who were personally involved and committed the crimes.”
“Violence against women occurred quite frequently. Most frequently much of the suffering was inflicted on the women by their own husbands. It seems that for a large number of Maltese wives beatings were part and parcel of married life,” she remarked.
Yosanne Vella is an Associate Professor at the University of Malta and the History and Social Studies coordinator of the Faculty of Education.
The book, illustrated with paintings from public and private collections in Malta, Paris and St Petersburg, will sell at €25 from local booksellers but will be sold at the special price of €20 from the SKS Stand at the Malta Book Festival at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta between 8-12 November.
The author will attend the Book Festival on Saturday, the 11th of November between 6pm-8pm and sign copies of her latest publication.