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The tuna fishing in Favignana

The “mattanza” the tuna fish catching. A millennium ritual

The “mattanza” is a practice which reminds us of the culture of the noble tradition of the tuna fishing that in the Middle Ages was one of the biggest resources of the Islands economy. It could seem a cruel ritual to people who come from “abroad” but it is simply an impressive remnant of the local thousand year old culture that now is not easy to understand; an archaic rite in which sacred and profane, death and respect are mixed up. Its ancient origin is demonstrated by the coloured painting in the Cave del Genovese in Levanzo dated back to the Neolithic age. Furthermore, tuna catching is still today a hard, patient, skillful job, ending in a violent death. It represents the fishermen fighting against the sea to survive. The name “mattanza” comes from the Latin word “mactare” and means to kill.

The tonnara

The tuna arrives in the Mediterranean Sea in the period of May and June moved by the need to find warmer waters in which to reproduce. So the fishermen, well known as “tonnaroti” drop a group of nets setting a bunch of rooms in order to lead them into the last net called the “death chamber”. They are lead by the chief, called rais, who is a sort of Shaman. He directs the work of the fishermen and he decides when they have to set out in their boats, to form a circle around the death chamber and to raise the net toward the surface. When the tuna emerge the fishermen harpooned them and while the water around the injured tuna becomes red with blood, the crew members intone a song that sounds like a prayer that reveals the true essence of this ancient rite. This song, called “cialome” is a sort of peace offering with a religious meaning, even though it is so old that some of its words have become meaningless to the fishermen. Then, with a profound feeling of respect for these sea giants, the tuna is loaded on to the boats using only the strength of fishermen arms. Nowadays this sort of fishing is not economically productive and it is destined to disappear. In fact, the changes in the fishing industry in the past years have had a dramatic impact upon tonnaroti causing the decline of tune fishing in Favignana. The last mattanza took place in 2005.