Every spring and autumn, during the birds’ migratory seasons, the ‘namra’ ignites around 2000 Maltese trappers who ache in their longing to sit in nature at dawn waiting for the songbirds. ‘Namra’ is a Maltese word that is best described as “a lifelong passion”; “a folly that appears all but incomprehensible to the casual observer”. Namra is believed to be inherited.
My father together with his father-in-law on the trapping site. Photographed by my mother, il-Qrendi, Malta (ca 1977)
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Nassaba: Song of a Bird (2018)
S.O.A.B.: The Choir (2018)
The place selected for the stretching out of nets (snares) to catch birds, rabbits etc ;
"Three years ago I left Malta for Amsterdam.
But as you might know when you leave there is always something that sticks to you from where you come, something that calls you back, something that keeps humming at the back of your mind...
What stayed with me was the whistle of a bird produced by a man.”
Song of a Bird involves the micro community of those who know how to whistle like migratory singing birds- 'in-Nassaba' (the bird-trappers), now on the other side of the European law. One of these men is my father and together with him I have been archiving this inherited practice.
We have translated a part of it into a fragile monument; the performance of singing (whistling) bird trappers - the Choir. The Choir is composed of men who like my father studied their parts for twenty-thirty years.
In 2018 trapping in Malta has been declared illegal by the European Court of Justice. The live-capturing of seven species of wild finches was a practise of 4,000 bird- trappers across Malta and Gozo. Today they are being highly policed. There is something beyond the trapping of the bird; a whole universe of knowledge unfolds, a new vocabulary, a technology, the skill of whistling and singing.
This performance is drawn from my childhood recollections of the many conversations I would have with my father and his peers - those nature enthusiasts who possessed the knowledge of singing and reproducing sounds of singing birds on the Island of Malta: the bird-trappers.
During the past decade, Malta has undergone huge developments and modernisations.
This kind of growth does not always happen hand in hand with traditions and popular-folk,
especially with particular aspects of local culture which might be envisioned as backwards or uncivilized.
Much of what occupied older generations has now been lost.
The Islanders have adapted to a faster rhythm of life and abandoned their 'delizzju' (passtime).
In order to make a trap for lizards, you need to select the stalk of a ‘wild oat’ It is the one you can grab along the bottom and pull upwards. You first strip all the seeds and branches off of the stalk and tie a bowline knot at the tip, soaking it with saliva (the latter being my father’s secret tip). You then sit back and wait for as long as it takes a thirsty lizard to come out of the rubble walls and lick the moist saliva off the trap. When this happens, you tug at the string, tightening the knot, trapping the lizard from its neck.
This is one of my first childhood memories, the knowledge my father imparted to me on one of the long days spent together in the countryside. Most of the time I would wait for hours in the scorching sun, left alone with the harsh dry landscapes and the loud sounds of cicadas fluttering their wings. I often got carried away in these idyllic scenes and missed the very agile target.
Whilst bird trapping is a dying (and somewhat controversial) practice, I consider the ability to reproduce bird sounds worth researching .