By Albert Fenech
Thud, whistle, flash and bang … strong memories of our childhood in the Maltese Islands and still form an integral part of our lives today and that of our children and grandchildren. These are the sounds of fireworks shooting out of their canisters, speeding and whistling off into the night sky, opening up in a flash of brilliance and dominated by a thundering bang.
The historic transitions over many centuries that have compounded the reality of Malta and Gozo today are inundated by the panoramic views of wondrous night skies lit by a brilliance of gunpowder stars that cause amazement and wonder.
Whatever the occasion, a parish festa, a new parish priest, a new or renovated statue, the appointment of a Bishop, a favoured football team winning a trophy, a political party with a positive electoral result, the appointment of a new political leader … all have to be commemorated with thud, flash and bang … and preferably heard all over the islands!
Almost every parish throughout the islands has its own fireworks factory and mount their particular displays and some have their own particular trademark. All those manufacturing are pure amateurs with their own devotions and ambitions and all prepared to risk their lives in the volatile environment of gunpowder.
In the past, regular accidents were spectacular and fatal with tremendous explosions, deaths and charred body parts – but have never been a deterrent to scores of volunteers prepared to take the risks to manifest their local pride. The motto has always been “anything you can do, we can do better”.
Tragically, health and safety had little priority. Despite the risks some people still smoked in fireworks factories while preparing the fireworks as well as lack of awareness in mixing certain chemicals with gunpowder. On one occasion, five people were killed instantly by an explosion and damages were caused to nearby private properties.
In recent years the regulations have been added and enforced through regular inspections by Government H&S officials and the accidents rate has dropped.
Although I have always been fascinated by fireworks I have always refrained from going anywhere near such factories, let alone inside them! My fascination is the complexity of compilation of such devices.
The nearest I came was some 25 year ago when two German students I was tutoring to help them learn English decided to visit Wied iz-Zurrieq. As we neared Zurrieq there was a tremendous explosion and as we drove in the valley leading to the Wied we saw a tremendous commotion of people frantically running around, clouds of smoke billowing everywhere and huge stone fragment in the road.
I stopped and asked a woman what had happened; the local fireworks factory had just exploded. If I remember correctly two persons working in the factory at the time lost their lives.
The skills have always been that of initially firing the cylindered firework from a canister and providing enough power to fire it out upwards and into the sky. Then an intricate number of time switches open the firework and more time switches open and power different formations, create minor and major explosions and then open the final firework.
This takes skill and the whole scientific process escapes my imagination yet the unpaid volunteers have no scientific qualifications and normally are poor achievers in the educational sector.
However, their skills have extended beyond Malta’s shores and Maltese fireworks teams are often invited to places like London and Sydney for New Year displays as well as the USA, Canada and a number of other places.
Some 25 years ago the Government, having assessed local popularity and the great interest and wonder expressed by tourists began organising the Malta International Fireworks Festival involving mainly local manufacturers but annually inviting a number of overseas teams to compete for various prizes.
Sadly there were setbacks over the last two years with the onset of the pandemic. Many local festas had to be cancelled and hence also their fireworks displays and although some continued to display, these were highly restricted and did not match the real enthusiasm.
However, this year, to use the pun, the Festival went off with a bang and was held at the beginning of May. The 21st edition of the Festival stretched over six days with displays in different localities around the Islands, fittingly enough starting over and ending over Valletta’s beautiful Grand Harbour.
The return on a grand scale attracted the participation of 24 local factories and 52 organisations. In the competitive part of the Festival, six local entities took part and three international organisations from Italy, the UK and Estonia.
Top display award went to the Phoenix organisation from London, the Magic Fire organisation from Italy placed second and third place went locally to Luqa’s St Andrew’s Fireworks Factory.
Summer is well on the way and many pandemic restrictions have been removed and will therefore see a return of public displays and mass events for the festa season and undoubtedly our fireworks factories will be back at their very best.
Pictures thanks to TVMnews.com
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“As he develops the stupider he becomes”
Said of a person who in development becomes more stupid, less wise and less logical.
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