Italian traditions: A newfound nativity. The pastoral in the Agrigento province

Nov 17, 2018 463

Among the rituals of the Christmas cycle that characterize the festive landscape of the territory of Agrigento, along with fires and puppets lit ceremonial for the Immaculate (luminari in San Biagio Platani, vamparotti ri la Maculata in Ravanusa and Canicattì, U Diavulazzu in Caltabellotta) or on the occasion of travelling novenas at richly decorated votive shrines (fiureddri) in Montaperto, Aragona and Licata, a very important place is occupied by particular forms of representation of the Nativity called Pastoral and staged between Christmas and the Epiphany in the municipalities of Licata, Sant'Angelo Muxaro and Santa Elisabetta.

They can be traced back to the medieval officia pastorum and are extensively documented by Pitrè, who attested to their popular spread in Sicily between the 17th and 18th centuries. These forms of sacred drama are a very interesting example of the festive heritage resulting from stratifications, re-adaptations and re-elaborations of cultured and folkloric origin that are still particularly vital today at a local level.

Despite the profound socio-economic changes that have taken place within the local productive structures, the ritual actions repeated in the Agrigento Pastorali (masking, dancing, sounds, comic-oscene actions) reveal an archaic mythical-ceremonial code in which the shepherd emerges as a liminal figure, agent of the transition from chaos to cosmos present in the winter-spring ceremonies in Sicily and in the Euro-Mediterranean area.

This is related to the festive climate that pervades the villages of the Pastorali in which the inevitable and typical "Sagre della ricotta" (Ricotta festivals) or other activities of tourist attraction are coupled with wooden huts/caves and vegetable fragments at shrines and votive squares, with the presence of flocks and sounds (bells, bagpipes, etc..), with immoderate consumption of drinks and food (wine, meat and cheese prepared on the spot) that reveal the value of seasonal re-establishment of these ceremonies and re-enactment of the local pastoral memory as happens in Sant'Angelo Muxaro and Santa Elisabetta.

In Licata, a large port on the coast of Agrigento, La Pasturali takes place from December 26 to January 6. The protagonists are three Shepherds (Bbardassaru, Marsioni and Titu) accompanied by a Curatulu and two players who stage a performance in which, alongside dialogues in Italian, lively improvised jokes in dialect alternate with a comic and obscene background. Arrived at the hut/cave to the sound of bagpipes (ciarameddri) and headband (cimmulu) the Shepherds try to fall asleep waiting for the Birth of the Messiah who, announced by the Curatulu, is celebrated with impromptu dances with the defendants, the distribution of food and drink and the destruction of the hut to feed the bonfire.

In Sant'Angelo Muxaro and Santa Elisabetta, neighboring municipalities near the Sicanian Mountains still strongly linked to an economy of agro-pastoral type, for the Epiphany take place particular forms of pastorali locally called “a vastasata di Nardu e Riberiu” and “u se innaru”. In these representations, compared to the Licata Pastorale, emerges in a much more explicit way the carnival otherness embodied by the figures of the Shepherds that ends definitively with the birth of the Child and the Adoration of the Magi.

In Sant'Angelo Muxaro, Nardu and Riberiu cross the village on the back of a mule, leading the flock continuously recalled by U Camperi who in vain tries to stem the countless falls, the abrupt stops and other comic-known actions staged by the protagonists often interspersed with abundant consumption/distribution of wine, cheese and sausage. When they reach the farm set up in the square, after having prepared the ricotta, Nardu and Riberiu try to rest but are promptly awakened by the Angel of the Lord who accompanied by virgineddri exhorts them to venerate the Child.

In Santa Elisabetta, the Pastoral requires the action of various characters (i pastura, u curatulu, i cavaleri, u vurdunaru, etc.) where the figure of Nardu stands out. According to local testimonies, he embodies u sfacinnatu, a marginal figure in the pastoral hierarchy. Since the morning of January 6, small groups of bagpipers and drummers, along with the band, wander around through the streets of the town waiting for the arrival of the shepherds and the flocks. Around 1 PM Nardu breaks into the procession from the Church announced by gunshots and sounds of bagpipe. With his face covered in white make up, encapsulated in a bag of jute held by a belt of ddisa (ampelodesm) and perpetually hung on his cane, he is dragged and continuously recalled by the shepherds to Piazza San Carlo transformed into a farm.

The scenes follow one another immersed in a context characterized by screams, gunshots and noise and by the systematic reversal of work activities in chaotic and transgressive occasions that Nardu stages. Indolence and sudden panic shots, erotic allusions, spitting pasta and ricotta like the launch of the same tools of work (fasceddri) and the ddisa on the complacent public end with the arrival of the Magi on horseback that put an end to this authentic pastoral carnival. The Pastorals that every year renew the sacred times and spaces of these small communities of the Agrigento hinterland seem to assume, in the light of the unstoppable cultural impoverishment of the digital and mediatic-consumptionist births as well as of some identity-localistic responses proliferating with "traditional" living nativity scenes, the particular testimonial value of a rediscovered Nativity.

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