Culture
Marking the day: why is Sette Giugno (7th June) so important to the Maltese?
Nobody’s complaining here - a public holiday is a public holiday!

Kristina Cassar Dowling

Well, we all knew that the Maltese were pretty fond of their bread, but did you know they started a riot over it? And this actually explains the relevance of Sette Giugno. It wasn’t really about the bread but it was about the fact that a whole bunch of people on this little rock were starving due to insane grain prices and extremely low wages. (Sounds a little bit like today’s property market.)

And, there’s so much more to Sette Giugno.

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Like in all desperate situations, when your voice isn’t heard, you’ve got to take action. It was June 7th, 1919 and a war stricken Malta was facing environmental degradation, economic austerity and many people had to contend with health complications as a result of the upheavals caused by the First World War. Those who made it out alive and sane were battling a greater issue…starvation. As costs in the country rose, the working class of Malta were finding it hard to feed their families. Even after a 10% wage increase at the drydocks, the workers could not afford to buy the simplest of staples. Bread.

So, in Old Bakery Street, Valletta - which was, already then, the capital city and hub for commerce - thousands swarmed the streets, shouting in angst and terror, pleading to get their voices heard and their bellies filled. It was late afternoon, and despite being warned not to, the soldiers controlling the Maltese rebels shot low at the ground, hitting a man called Lorenzo Dyer who fearfully ran away but to no avail. Four Maltese people were killed that day, and fifty were wounded in the riot. A sculpture by Anton Aguis, commemorating the events - widely recognised as Malta's first steps towards independence - is found in Valletta in front of the Grandmasters’ Palace.

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Now that we know the reasons behind the public holiday, we might want to celebrate keeping in mind the human sacrifice which preceded Malta's independence! For, whatever the occasion, the Maltese know how to make the most of a public holiday, so if you’re eating a ftira or slice of Maltese hobza, know it was hard earned!

7th June 2019


Kristina Cassar Dowling
Written by
Kristina Cassar Dowling
A local writer in love with the Maltese islands, Kristina is a hunter for all things cultural both in Malta and outside its shores. A curious foodie, music fanatic, art lover and keen traveller with an open mind and a passion for writing.

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