"U pisci a mari"

Every year, in Acitrezza, ancient village of Malavoglia, novel of Verga, during the festivity of S. John Baptist, the 24th June, there is an old tradition for the inauguration of the wooden statue of the Baptist, since 1750. This tradition is the pantomime of “u pisci a mari” propitiatory ritual, parody of the sword-fish fishing that was performed in the strait of Messina. The fishing of the sword-fish represents, for people protagonist, the continuous fight with the natural elements, to survive in a land thanks to the fish.

Picture A. Fragalà

Old people remember that until to 1870, the place came adorned with pennons and flags and illuminated with oil lamp of terracotta. The day before the festivity, the “trezzoti” ate the new broad beans because they thought that it eliminated their sins. Some people collected the “erba puleggia” (grass “pulley”), whose vapours calm to the facial pains while other people, especially who had a disease to the eyes, made a swim the day of S. John Baptist that they believed it was miraculous. Women and children wore (and still today they do it) red and yellow clothes.

The evening of the day before the festivity of S. John, at the end of the procession, the priest who took the relics of the saint around, he was on the public square in front of the church and, in an atmosphere of great suggestion, blessed the sea, only judge, with God, to give the life or the death to the fishermen.
About 1822, in occasion of the festivity, it has been told that the “trezzoti” performed " the Conquest of Algiers ", the bombardment and the assault to the Turkeish fortresses by the Christian fleet, important episode of the battle of Carl V in the 1541.

Today "U Pisci a mari" is different. In the enormous crowd who standing on the arms of the port, “U Raisi” who leads the fishing, he goes on the beach dancing, showing shorts, a straw hat, red and yellow rags, and carrying some purple belt across his back. He moves by the right hand a cane with some leaves and an umbrella on the left hand. Some fishermen, wearing red rags, begin to destroy the boat. The begin of "du pisci", is represented from an expert swimmer who dips in the part of the sea that is theatre of the pantomime, hiding among the numerous boats full of people that observe closer the show and shout to the protagonists incite them.

The “Raisi”, from a rock, noticed where the fish was, made a signal, shouting phrases in old dialect and inciting the sailors to catch it. After some tries, the fish is taken and puts on the boat, but it went away. The fishermen curse against the bad luck and the “Raisi”, hopeless, is thrown in the sea. The chase of the fish goes on . It is begun the true fight and this time the fish was hurt and caught, and the sea is full of its red blood.
Two fishermen steadily hold the man-fish for the arms and legs and while they try to kill him by a large axe, he is conscious of his destiny.

While the fishermen kept shouting for their happiness, for the fish is over. But at few metres from the coast it went away definitively, disappearing among the boats. The spectators shout, the fishermen discouraged turn over the boat, young people diving into the sea, under a  summery sun, it closed the representation of the eternal fight to survive in these places.

Copyright© 2000-2002 Grasso Giovanni - Antonio Guarnera. Tradotto da Mario Grasso. Translated by Mario Grasso. Tutti i diritti sono riservati. All rights reserved. Vietata la riproduzione anche parziale

Renewed: 04-02-02 .