The Gozo Carnival: Has Malta’s ‘controversial carnival’ lost its edge?

It’s known as Malta’s most controversial public event of the year. But has the Nadur Carnival actually mellowed, asks Sam Farrugia, British Council Capturing Valletta journalist from the University of Malta.

Anarchic, chaotic, contentious – these are the words that are usually applied to the Nadur Carnival, Malta’s truly traditional, locally-driven festival. No public body or committee organises it. There are no rules. 

On Saturday, 12 February, there was the usual political caravan, poking fun at politicians. This year it was named Cafe Delia, after the leader of the opposition party, Adrian Delia. It sold food with Maltese puns on politicians’ names, such as ‘Bezzun Shun’ (Hot Ciabbata) and ‘Bajd maz Zalzett’ (Eggs and Sausages).

Alcohol stands lined the roads, and you could even buy special satirical shots including ‘Horny Konrad’ (after Minister of Health, Konrad Mizzi) and and ‘Delia Lime’ (which also took its name after the Leader of the Opposition).

Debate raged over the appearance of a van painted as the ‘Mount Carmel Van’, after Malta’s psychiatric hospital Mount Carmel – alongside the words ‘the crazy people taxi’. 

‘Carnival is carnival,’ said Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri, commenting on this van. 

But is it?

On Saturday the crowds filling Nadur included teenagers, young people and parents with their children. This came as a surprise as usually the Nadur festival is considered an adult festival, where there are few holds barred on the costumes and caravans on display.  

But this year there was much for the perhaps more innocent Nadur audience to enjoy. 

There were different animal costumes as well as an animal themed caravan. There were various onesies of many shapes and colours, and jokey versions of children’s characters, such as a male Cruela De Vil and a superman in mid-costume change. Street mimes were also spotted as well as a pack of teenage Pandas.

This didn’t affect the experience of all festival goers. Many went to see people in costumes and colourful caravans and got what they wanted. It lived up to the hype of being a exciting festival.  

‘It’s traditional by now,’ said one. ‘We have been going for three years and this time we are spending the weekend.’

However, others commented that the Nadur festival could have been more controversial, more creative – and tell some more important messages too. 

One festival goer said: ‘I expected more political satire given last year’s political events both in Malta and the World.’

In a way, the no-holds-barred attitude of the Nadur Carnival is what highlights issues which need to be addressed. It makes people sit up and listen to the questions it asks, both politically and those of society.  But there is a fine line between asking questions of politics and society, and causing controversy that simply offends.

What’s more, making these festivals, which are so close to Maltese culture and tradition, more accessible to people of different ages is important, especially in the year in which Valletta holds the European Capital of Culture. But when does this become detrimental to their uniqueness?

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