These unusual Maltese handmade souvenirs are like nothing you’ve ever seen before
An interesting break from the norm.
Handmade souvenirs are big in Malta, encapsulating the country’s history and heritage. And while there are different kinds of souvenirs you can find around the Islands, some are lesser known than others. My grandfather, John Theuma, has been making such souvenirs since he was a young boy.
“It all started as a hobby helping out my brother, Salv, in his workshop. I used to help him make all sorts of things. When he passed away, I continued his craft, making the souvenirs and selling them to souvenir shops all over the island. I made souvenirs for 36 years before stopping because I was getting older, and retiring to spend time with my family.” He explains that he used to buy 8ft by 4ft plywood sheets and cut the dimensions himself with a band saw or a circular saw, depending on the souvenir. Each one was different in its own right, depicting some part of Malta's heritage.
Excited to show me everything he has left, my grandfather walks me over to his workshop and brings out the bits and bobs of his souvenir-making days. The first thing he shows are the materials to make a craftsman’s brush. “I would cover the brush in one of the coloured velvet pieces, and stick on two or three veduti (small postcard photos) of different places around the islands, a Maltese cross and the word ‘Malta’ at the bottom end of the brush.” He explains that he sold a lot of these brushes - particularly the black velvet ones.
Another favourite souvenir he used to make was the dgħajsa tal-pass (a small replica of a boat similar to the traditional luzzu). Just like the craftsman’s brush, he says, “I would cut the plywood accordingly to form the shape, sand down the wood to make the belly of the boat, and then carve the inner parts. The decoration would come next, usually a braid on the side, and penned wording at the bow.”
Apart from these trinkets that were perfect for foreigners to gift their families and friends, he also made more practical items that were enjoyed by the locals. “This barrel used to be part of an ashtray set. Just like everything else, I would cut out the slab of wood and shape it in a long octagonal shape that would be the base. I would then attach a circular tray for the ashes, and this barrel would be next to it, to hold the cigarettes. Obviously, I would also add the word ‘Malta’ at the bottom, and sometimes even the Maltese cross at the top,” he eagerly explains.
Other practical souvenirs included calendars with different postcard photos of the Maltese Islands, days, dates and months; a notebook pad and pencil, sets of six coasters also with different places around the islands, and key hangers.
The last thing he shows me before we sit down for lunch is a wooden plate that still hangs in the living room. He happily explains the process of making one of these souvenirs, saying, “I would cut out a square of plywood, and then make the circular shape with the wood turner and carve it accordingly. The plates weren’t very deep, just enough to fit the painted veduta in the middle.” He would then add braiding in the middle and add ‘Malta’ at the bottom.
Finally, he adds, every souvenir had a 'Handmade in Malta' stamp on the bottom, preserving the authentic, traditional and local aspects of Malta.
Have you ever seen one of these souvenirs? Let us know in the comments below!