Keynote Address - Professor Henry Frendo

Professor Henry Frendo opened up the Keynote address by recalling on the time of his arrival in Australia from Papua New Guinea, back in 1985 following a three-year stint in Egypt. 'What does the future hold for realistic cultural ties and ethnic identity?' This was the question he asked at a lecture he gave to the Maltese Literature Group at the Maltese Centre in Parkville. In a different context, today he was asking the same question, with suggestions of some means of help.

He explained that those who migrated know what it feels to be torn between two countries, the nostalgia, homesickness and heartache.

He compared the migrant concept with that of an orphan that was adopted and grew into adulthood; he remained however eager or perhaps more curious to know about parentage comforts. But once the social-physical ties break up, how far does the parent recognise the offspring, or the offspring understands or desires the parent?

It is fascinating, that this small and isolated island of Malta was in fact so spread and even affluent, enriched with descendants that somehow still felt and identified her as a matrix of ethnics with valued and enjoyable memories. Like a mountain stream that becomes a river and flows from country to country until it ends into the vast open seas.

I will never forget the words of my mother's uncle who lived in the USA. He was over ninety. After a visit, before I left, he put his hands on my shoulders and said: "My son, there is no place like home, even if it is a chink in the wall." Memorable words! Who wants to be a chink in the wall? Who isn't?

It is unfortunate that very few migrants used their intelligence to delve into their grass roots and benefit from the developments of the country where they were born. As settlers in foreign countries they also faced racial disadvantages and struggled to overcome the poverty, which caused them to leave their native shores. The Church played an important part in caring for the needs (social and religious) of the migrants. In some places of the Middle East (Arab and Muslim states) the Maltese were identified through their Christian faith and practices. The presence of Maltese priests enhanced the survival of the culture, together with other traditional practices such as band music, folklore, recipes, waistcoats, and the retention of the language.

There are disadvantages too. Migrants from colonised countries were seen to have been dominated by Military forces and other subtle means, such as being given a British passport ' By comparison with other immigrants (Greeks, Italians, etc) the retention of the Maltese language was poor and this did not help matters. The link starts breaking at this point.

Immigrants do not learn about their native country once they are away from it. This results in lack of transmission of language, culture and traditions to their offspring. Even less is taught or mentioned about the history of Malta among the overseas Maltese-born children.

What does the Maltese identity stand on among Migrants? Is there a burning desire for identity and sense of belonging? The younger (second) generation of Maltese cannot uphold the Maltese identity unless encouraged and aided by their own elderly folk. It is feared that it will be impossible to achieve this in the next few decades. The norm is that culture and national identity and perceptions (recognition, learning, ideas and experiences) are transmitted naturally from the parents. It is harder to achieve all this when residing far away from the cultural source.

Since obtaining Independence, Malta is moving fast into being its own organic entity and without depending on other countries. In other words, it is cultivating itself. A Convention of Emigrants every thirty years will not suffice.

Efforts are needed to implant the Maltese culture and heritage into the minds of second and third generation Maltese. Promoting folklore and old traditions are not the method to achieve these aims.

Professor Frendo made a number of suggestions for issues to be taken on board, namely

  1. A focal point to serve as a sounding board is needed. This should include researches, exchanges and sources of information from Malta accessible among the migrants.
  2. A Universal Maltese Federation (already suggested by the expert Ropa) should not go unheeded. Modern technology should facilitate the widespread of writings and audio-visual programs via the Internet and other media.
  3. The students at Malta University held seminars during the past I 1 years on "Maltese Migration and Overseas Settlements" information sources from the Maltese abroad.

Malta should remain the matrix and origin of any Maltese cultural trend. Emphasis should be made to extract information from the existing libraries in Malta and overseas. For example, refer to the book Malta: Culture and Identity which comprises various aspects of culture. The following is a list of cultural issues:

  • National identity, Literature, Language (spoken and written), Archaeology, Law, Medicine,
  • Architecture, Folklore, Music, Natural heritage,
  • Art, Poetry, Economy, Emigration, Pastoral work,
  • Politics, Commerce, Citizenship.

Dwelling only on the past is not conducive to any country's culture. Past, Present and Future should be the target of information and research on cultural aspects. Many are those Maltese who hold the Maltese Culture dear to their hearts. Others have contributed through their writings, poetry, literature, arts and history.

Professor Frendo ended his speech by giving the following warning:

'Unless the recommendations of today are heeded and dealt with seriously, another Convention in thirty years ahead will be void and unproductive, since the Maltese Voices Overseas will have gone quiet, and only their echoes will remain heard from a distance, and no one is there to listen and answer them.'

Source: 'Malta' - Maltese Culture Movement, Issues 4,5,6, 2000.

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