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ETHNONYM: il-Maltin


Identification. Malta and her sister islands, Gozo and Comino, together with the uninhabited islets of Filfla and Cominotto, make up the Maltese Archipelago.

Location. The Maltese islands lie midway between Gibraltar and the Lebanon, at almost the exact geographical center of the Mediterranean Sea. Sicily is 93 kilometers to the north, and Tunis just over 320 kilometers to the west. Malta, the largest and southernmost island, is 27 kilometers long and 14.4 kilometers wide, and it covers an area of 247 square kilometers. Gozo is only 14.4 kilometers by 8 kilometers, with an area of 67.6 square kilometers. The little islands of Comino and Cominotto, which lie in the 4.8-kilometer-wide channel separating the two larger islands, together have an area of 2.6 square kilometers. Filila, a large rock that was used for gunnery practice, lies 4.8 kilometers off the southwest coast of Malta. The climate is typically Mediterranean, with long hot summers and cold wet winters. Average annual Precipitation is about 58 centimeters. Temperatures vary from a mean maximum of 31.6° C in July to a mean minimum in January of 9.3° C. In general the sea insulates the islands against extreme temperatures, though July temperatures occasionally rise to around 40° C and can drop to just above freezing in January.

Demography. In 1989 approximately 350,000 persons lived on the islands' 317 square kilometers. This makes the Maltese archipelago, with a population density of 1,104 per square kilometer, one of the world's most thickly populated countries. The birthrate declined sharply following World War II and in 1987 stood at 15.4 live births per 1,000 People. As infant mortality also declined (in 1987 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births) and net emigration ceased by the mid-1970s, the population has been expanding since the 1960s (population in 1967 was 314,000).

Linguistic Affiliation. Maltese is a Semitic language. It is morphologically related to North African Arabic but draws much of its vocabulary and idiom from Sicilian and, more Recently, from English. This interesting and difficult language is spoken by all classes, but it did not become an official Language of the law courts until 1934, when it replaced Italian. It has been a written language since the middle of the last Century and uses the Latin alphabet. Much of the instruction at the University of Malta and in secondary schools is given in English, which is widely spoken.

History and Cultural Relations

Malta's strategic location and its large sheltered deep-water harbors have influenced its history in no small measure. Malta has belonged to a succession of major Mediterranean powers. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs occupied the islands. Following conquest by the Normans in 1070, Malta shared the fate of Sicily and passed successively to the Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, and Castilians. In 1530 the islands were handed by Emperor Charles V to the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem. This powerful body of wealthy European nobles, dedicated to helping the poor and sick and to waging war on Islam, in their turn were driven from Malta in 1798 by Napoleon. Britain replaced France in 1800 and controlled the islands until the country gained its independence in 1964.

The legacy of its checkered history as a bastion of Christianity and an island fortress is still very much evident: relative prosperity; a high degree of centralization; the power of the Roman Catholic church; an ability to adapt to new Economic, political, and cultural influences; and a deep-seated cultural orientation toward Europe.


In spite of the intense crowding, there is considerable open land away from the industrial and residential conurbation surrounding Valletta and the harbor area. There are more than fifty villages and towns, which range in size from 1,000 to 15,000 inhabitants.

Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, villages and towns were located on inland hills and around the fortified Grand Harbour. Houses were tightly clustered around enormous churches. This settlement pattern was dictated by the need to shelter from marauding pirates, especially Muslim corsairs, and from the malaria that flourished in the coastal marshes. Since the pacification of the central Mediterranean early in the nineteenth century, seven coastal parishes have been established.

The houses are constructed from limestone blocks, are flat-roofed, and traditionally have been built around a central courtyard. Most of the important associations, shops, and residences were clustered in and around the square in front of the church or in the streets leading to it. Thus, the pattern of residence was concentric, and it also reflected the distribution of economic and political power. Those with the highest status tended to live nearest the church and those with the lowest status farthest away, in little alleys that backed on to open fields or in rural hamlets. Residence in the village center conferred prestige, for the built-up village traditionally was associated with the culture of the town, with "civilization." The periphery of the village was associated with the countryside and agricultural work, which in Malta had low status, being linked with poverty, physically punishing work, and cultural and social deprivation. A Maltese village was thus inward-looking, focusing on the parish church and the intense social, political, economic, and ceremonial life that took place in and around the central square. This concentric pattern has changed since 1964.

Government programs to build new roads and housing, together with rising prosperity, resulted in a building boom. An influx of foreign residents keen on living near the open country and/or in traditional village houses introduced new housing standards. These have radically affected the utilization of social space.

The village periphery, once socially marginal, and the open country, once stigmatized, have become sought-after residential areas. A ring of villas and housing estates encapsulate traditional village centers, many of which have been gentrified by elite outsiders seeking characteristic, rustic houses.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Malta is an industrialized society. In 1987 less than 2.5 percent of the 122,000 gainfully occupied population was employed fulltime in agriculture. Five times that amount worked as parttime farmers, reflecting the islands' recent agrarian past. Roughly 33 percent of the working population is employed by the government. The (ex-British naval) dockyard is the largest employer, but there are a growing number of smaller export-oriented manufacturing industries located in small industrial estates throughout the conurbation. Thus, though most people are employed outside the communities in which they live, no one has to travel very far. Tourism has become a major element in the Maltese economy. Between the mid-1960s and 1989, annual tourist arrivals increased from 20,000 to over 800,000. Employment in this sector has increased apace.

Traditionally, the Maltese rural and urban working class diet consisted mainly of bread and vegetable stew (minestra), fresh fruit in season, and occasionally meat, often rabbit. With the growth of prosperity since independence, the diet has become more varied and much richer.

Industrial Arts. Except for blacksmiths, cabinetmakers, and carpenters, for whose work the demand is declining rapidly, there are few artisans in Malta. In Gozo, however, there is still a lively tradition of female handicraft: weaving, lace making, and, stimulated by tourism, knitting pullovers.

Trade. Throughout Gozo and especially Malta there are modern stores, (weekly) open-air markets, and a stream of hawkers who sell local and imported household goods, tools, furnishings, and fresh meat, fish, and produce.

Division of Labor. Until the mid-1960s there was a pronounced gender-based division of labor. Women worked at home and helped in farming, while men worked outside the house. That arrangement has changed markedly. Today most unmarried women work outside the house for wages. Increasingly, women are continuing to work after marriage, and, if helpful relatives are nearby, even after their first children are born.

Land Tenure. Agricultural land is normally leased under emphyteutic contracts from government, church, or private landowners. Land rents generally were and still are modest, for they were tightly controlled by the British to avoid social exploitation and rural unrest.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Maltese reckon kin relationship equally through males and females. Each person is thus at the center of a wide network of cognates (qraba ) and affines (l-imhalltin ). While there are no descent groups, a Person feels dosest to his blood relatives, the cognates of his own parents, sometimes collectively referred to as one's razza. Generally maternal relatives are favored. The institution of godparenthood is well established, though it is less demanding than elsewhere in southern Europe and Latin America.

Kinship Terminology. Maltese kinship terminology generally resembles the form that is common throughout southwestern Europe. Maternal and paternal kin are addressed and referred to by similar terms, which are extended as a matter of courtesy to affines.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. There is no rule of village endogamy or exogamy. While postmarital residence ideally is neolocal, the strong tie between mothers and daughters ensures that couples tend to live nearer the wife's parents than those of the husband. However, when the husband's place of work is in his village, as with farmers, shopkeepers, and artisans, the couple will tend to live in the husband's village. Most Maltese now marry in their mid-twenties. Long engagements are Common, as couples work for several years to build and furnish their own house. The age at marriage as well as the scale and cost of wedding receptions have increased markedly during the past thirty years. While legal separation is possible, Divorce is not recognized by the church. Although the church prohibits contraceptive devices, many are legally obtainable. Abortion, though illegal, is fairly widely practiced.

Domestic Unit. The prevalent domestic unit is the Nuclear family, which may include an aging parent or an unmarried sibling. Generally children continue to live with their parents, even as adults, until they marry.

Inheritance. Under Maltese law male and female children inherit equally. Dowry, when given, is an anticipated portion of the inheritance. It remains inalienable. The husband obtains management and usufruct rights, but he cannot sell immovable dowry property without his wife's written consent. If she dies without children, the dowry property passes back to her parental family, unless she wills otherwise.

Socialization. Children are valued and indulged. Although corporal punishment occurs in moments of anger, it is not a common means of discipline. Older persons are Generally respected. Children are respectful and often silent in the presence of their father.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Maltese society is stratified. There are a small number of generally landed and comfortably well-off nobles, some of whose patents go back to the Middle Ages. Of the commoners, the professional classes, including the clergy, traditionally were accorded the highest esteem, and peasants the lowest. The considerable wealth acquired by many traders, business owners, contractors, and some politicians since independence has created a new elite. Generally, a rather egalitarian ideology prevails. With the exception of professionals, who are addressed by their titles, people are quick to use first names. In the villages and urban neighborhoods, nicknames are widely used as a term of reference and even address. In spite of a campaign of nation building and class-based political mobilization following World War II, family ties remain the primary focus of allegiance.

Political Organization. Malta is a republic with a sixty-five-member unicameral parliamentary government elected every five years by means of proportional representation, with single transferable votes from thirteen five-member constituencies. Political control since independence has passed Between the Malta Labour party (1971-1987) and the Nationalist party (1962-1971, 1987-). The voting strength of the two parties is almost equal. Administered for centuries as a fortress, the Malta government is still highly centralized. AU services are run from Valletta. There are no mayors, headmen, or councillors who represent or administer individual towns or villages.

Social Control. The country's small scale, large police force, established court system, and powerful church and its citizens' face-to-face knowledge of each other ensure tight Social control.

Conflict. Maltese society is riven with conflict. The corrosive competition between the Nationalist party and the Malta Labour party affects all dimensions of Maltese social life. The middle-of-the-road NP generally has the support of the professional classes, the self-employed, and the church. The Socialist MLP is generally favored by the industrialized working population. Many towns and villages are further divided by rivalry between those supporting different patron saints and parishes. Both national and parochial competition is often accompanied by excessive abuse and even physical violence. At the interpersonal level, the Maltese are very litigious.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. The principal religion of the Maltese is Roman Catholicism. The Maltese are devout: most men and women attend mass at least once a week. The religious practitioners are the diocesan and regular clergy. Among Roman Catholics, Malta has the highest ratio of priests to laypeople in the world.

The Maltese celebrate the liturgical calendar with great enthusiasm and pomp. Intricate and richly adorned outdoor processions form part of many rituals. For centuries, these have provided the principal entertainment of the population. The most devoutly celebrated rituals are those that take place during Holy Week (Our Lady of Sorrows, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter). In addition, each parish annually celebrates its patron saint with sacred rituals, joyous outdoor band marches, wild demonstrations, and lavish displays of fireworks, many of which are made by parishioners. Some parishes celebrate two saints in this fashion, thereby generating fierce rivalry.

Arts. There is a rich tradition of decorative art. There are many part-time sculptors and painters. Traditional extemporaneous competitive singing (ghana ), which had all but disappeared thirty years ago, is making a modest comeback.

Medicine. Western medicine has been universally practiced in Malta for centuries.

Death and Afterlife. The Maltese accept death and, in accord with Roman Catholic teaching regarding afterlife, great fear is associated with it. Funerals are held the day after death. Graves are tended and the dead are celebrated annually on All Souls' Day, 1 November. It is widely believed that the spirits of the dead (wahxi ) return to haunt the living if the religious arrangements for the repose of their souls have not been faithfully carried out.


Blouet, Brian (1989). The Story of Malta. Malta: Progress Press.

Boissevain, Jeremy (1965). Saints and Fireworks: Religion and Politics in Rural Malta. London: Athlone Press.

Boissevain, Jeremy (1980). A Village in Malta. New York and London: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Malta, Government of. Central Office of Statistics (1987). Annual Abstract of Statistics. Valletta.

Vassallo, Mario (1979). From Lordship to Stewardship: Religion and Social Change in Malta. The Hague: Mouton.


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Maltese (môltēz´), breed of very small toy dog of obscure origin that was widely popular in Europe by the beginning of the 19th cent. It stands about 5 in. (12.7 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs from 2 to 7 lb (0.9–1.4 kg). Its long, flat-lying, silky coat is pure white and hangs down on either side of the body almost to the ground. The Maltese is probably an ancient breed; dogs closely resembling the modern type were kept as lap dogs in Rome and Greece before the Christian era. Today's lively breed makes a popular house pet. See dog.

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Mal·tese1 / môlˈtēz/ • n. (pl. same) 1. a native or national of Malta or a person of Maltese descent. 2. the national language of Malta, a Semitic language derived from Arabic but much influenced by Italian, Spanish, and Norman French. • adj. of or relating to Malta, its people, or their language. Mal·tese2 (also Maltese terrier) • n. a dog of a very small long-haired breed, typically with white hair.

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"Maltese." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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MalteseAchinese, Ambonese, appease, Assamese, Balinese, Belize, Beninese, Bernese, bêtise, Bhutanese, breeze, Burmese, Cantonese, Castries, cerise, cheese, chemise, Chinese, Cingalese, Cleese, Congolese, Denise, Dodecanese, ease, éminence grise, expertise, Faroese, freeze, Fries, frieze, Gabonese, Genoese, Goanese, Guyanese, he's, Japanese, Javanese, jeez, journalese, Kanarese, Keys, Lebanese, lees, legalese, Louise, Macanese, Madurese, Maltese, marquise, Milanese, Nepalese, Nipponese, officialese, overseas, pease, Pekinese, Peloponnese, Piedmontese, please, Portuguese, Pyrenees, reprise, Rwandese, seise, seize, Senegalese, she's, Siamese, Sienese, Sikkimese, Sinhalese, sleaze, sneeze, squeeze, Stockton-on-Tees, Sudanese, Sundanese, Surinamese, Tabriz, Taiwanese, tease, Tees, telegraphese, these, Timorese, Togolese, trapeze, valise, Viennese, Vietnamese, vocalese, wheeze •superficies • Héloïse • Averroës •rabies • pubes • Maccabees •headcheese

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