Aspects of GĦARB I
Photos by Daniel Cilia
n the far north of Gozo lies a village with an atmosphere all of its own. Bordered by fields; edged by cliffs and the sea, both reached via a long, quiet valley, and neighbouring Wied ilMielaħ, which now fills in for Dwejra’s Azure window. Gћarb has a very special atmosphere, not only for its residents but for visitors too. Patrick Formosa, who grew up in the village over 80 years ago, has written The History of Gћarb. It is a beautifully illustrated book which includes interviews he recorded some 50 years ago, with
several Gћarbin from the whole community and recalls a way of life that we can only imagine today. With experience and affection he shows that while, obviously, life in the village has changed; in many ways it remains fundamentally the same. Reading accounts of how people managed in what, today seem like almost primitive ways, emphasises the difficulties and limitations with which they coped. But it also highlights the value and security of living in a community which understands the need to be almost completely
self sufficient, and sees those within its environs as extended family. The stories collected are totally authentic, and can also be enjoyed through the addition of a USB stick tucked in the sleeve of the book. Readers can hear the residents‘ stories and memories, just as if they were meeting in the bakers, bar, or band club. Mr Formosa was prompted to publish this work by the fact that quite recent ways of life are rapidly become distant memories. But for the generations that make up
Gћarb’s population there are some things that show no sign of changing; their links with the important traditions they have always known – the ability to face what comes and goes; to work, study and play through ambition or simply for the sake of it; and to, in so many thoughtful and satisfying ways, welcome and help those they meet. And finally, to share the affection and pride they have in their village with those who are lucky enough to spend time there and really explore its depths.
positive ways? Foreign residents add a touch of cosmopolitanism to an otherwise provincial way of life. Għarb is a place where cultures meet, talk and live harmoniously. The fact that Gozitans often maintain residences owned by foreigners provides for possibilities of productive encounters and crosshospitality. It is not only the people of Għarb who are sharing spaces with foreigners, the latter are often opening their private spaces, formerly owned by Għarb people, including members of my family, for human encounters. While the community is heterogeneous and mobile, people are still curious about each other, and crosscultural conversations do happen. Għarb is a place where permanence meets mobility, where transience is a way of life as much as fixed presence. Goodbyes are often temporary since Għarb is revisited repeatedly because it offers the
tranquillity that has long been lost elsewhere.
GĦARB though time We asked My Formosa about growing up in Għarb and his hopes for its future. What were some of the best things you remember about growing up in Gћarb? Għarb was a quaint village with very limited communication with the rest of the world. This explains our distinctive dialect and wellpreserved traditions. I remember fellow villagers who had never stepped outside Għarb. Victoria was too far away for some. Everything revolved around the church and the Catholic calendar. The Church was ubiquitous. Play included simulations of rituals that we, as children baptised within the Catholic Church, witnessed on a daily basis. Many children had a small church or an altar to play with. Toys were mostly improvised. My favourite toy was a wooden spinning top. I distinctively remember playing on the parvis of the church of the village, in the presence of Mario and Salvino Testaferrata, teenagers back then, who came to Għarb as refugees, during World War II. While Għarb did not suffer much during World War II, it left a mark on me as a child. I remember vividly an episode where an Italian warplane was shot down. People spotted the pilot coming down with his parachute at Ta’ Għammar. Parachute silk shirts were very visible in the weeks that followed!
Schooling at Għarb is something I remember vividly and with great fondness. It was a small school, one class per grade. I remember a very good headmaster who lived in Għarb, Mr Richard Buhagiar, who used to give after-school lessons to prepare us for the Lyceum exam. Mr Buhagiar role-modelled pride, competence and dedication. Christmas, carnival, Easter and the village festa were all celebrated, with simplicity and modesty as recurrent themes. I remember the passion plays. Many people from the village took part in its production. It involved lots of preparation, from costume design to acting. Several people came to watch, including non-Gozitans. The open spaces were all communal and free for the community to enjoy. With very few cars around, wandering about the village and its surrounding fields was healthy and safe. What were the most important ways for a village like Gћarb to maintain its sense of community? As indicated earlier, Għarb was a small, tightly knit community. Solidarity was the order of the day. For example, when someone died, neighbours would cook for the family of the deceased. Since
public transport from and to Għarb was practically non-existent, save for Sundays, neighbours going to Victoria on foot would run errands for their neighbours. From hunting to popular celebrations, life was mostly shared and experienced in communion with others. Everything was cottage-based, often bartered and, given the intimacy that reflected geographical smallness and proximity, always transparent and in open view of the community. In what ways can foreign residents alter the local way of life, for good or in not so
How would you like to see Gћarb’s history continue for its locals, and those who have chosen to make the village their home? The Gћarb I lived in as a child will never come back. What I long for is an Għarb that is fully aware of its history, culture and geographical signposts; awareness that should lead to a zealous defence of its architectural heritage, streetscapes, landscapes and quaint character, with a longsighted approach to preservation and conservation that will keep Għarb on the upper rungs of the social, cultural and environmental ladder. Għarb should be a beacon to quality of life on the islands. The History of Gћarb is available from the author who can be contacted on calling 7944/0029, 9949 0191 or 9982 2805, or from Gћarb local council.