Sea People: memories for future

Italy
Laura Menin
Community engagement, Diversity, Education, Youth oriented
Digital, Intangible, Tangible
2019
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Beginning in the 1920s, the passage from the lugsail fishing boats to the motorized propulsion system started radically to change the complex interdependence between the human and the sea in the coastal towns of the Italian Middle-Adriatic Sea. For centuries, fishermen had been confronted with the vagaries of the sea, and had developed sophisticated practical knowledge and magical-religious beliefs to reckon with the perils of the marine streams, tornadoes and storms. The 1950s marked a real watershed in the centuries-old history of the traditional seamanship in Central Italy as the motorboats, in tandem with the new technological devices for navigation, enabled fishermen to control the radical unpredictability that had long marked their everyday worlds and imaginations. On the other hand, the massive exploitation of the marine resources, made possible by these technological developments, has triggered unprecedented transformations. Because of the increasing degradation of the seafloors, the restrictions imposed by the European Community (e.g. the ban on the use of drift nets in 1997) to ensure viable fisheries have posed new challenges for the fishing communities, who have faced seasons of crisis and now have to envision sustainable futures. The Museo la Regina of Municipality of Cattolica (Rimini) has dedicated an entire section to the local seamanship and, in 2002, realized the documentary feature ‘Living Archives of the Sea’ (Archivi viventi del mare, Ceschi) based on 14 interviews with old fishermen. However, the history of the motorization of the traditional fisheries, embodied in the memories of a generation of fishermen that is slowly disappearing, with its socioeconomic and ecological implications, still needs to be fully recovered. Sea people’s personal memories are an integral part of an intangible heritage, with deep transregional dimensions, which has the potential to trigger inter-generational dialogue, to raise public awareness of historical roots of the present and to foster the imagination of sustainable futures.

“The marine engine is both joy and pain, like women, as people used to say at that time” says Mario Tamburini, a fisherman born in Cattolica in 1911. “Between sail and engine there is a big difference: with the sail, when there was dead calm (bonaccia), the boat stayed still and we could not even catch enough fish for eating”, explains Vittorio Ercoles, born in 1920, and continues, “the first engines got to 24-25 hoursepower engines, so we had to keep the sails, as when there wasn’t wind we could hardly fish. Having the sails, when there was a bit of wind, we empowered the engine with the use of the sails”. “Toward the 1930s, more powerful marine engines began to be installed and this improved our activity, but they were still too small”, explains Colombo Bontempi, born in 1915. “In the latest years, we reached real desperation. The others [motorized boats] named us, the sailing boats, the squadron of the unluckies (squadriglia del baloc), because we didn’t fish anything”, remembers Marcello Prioli, born in 1921, and adds, “When there was dead calm (bonaccia), the motorboats fished a bit, in spite of the engine’s limitations, whereas us, we were unable to tow the net. When there was a seastorm, then, we had to go back”. The owners of the motorized boats were mainly ‘land people’, as the fisherman call those people who were not engaged in the handling, working and navigating a ship. Sea people, indeed, inhabited a life-world - with its distictive traditions, knowledge and beliefs - which was at once set apart from the broader community, by which they were marginalized and depreciated, and an integral part of it. “Fishermen didn’t have money, wholesalers bought the marine engine … they supported the costs and said ‘I will sell the fish and keep a percentage of the gain’, but they were always the bosses” says Prioli to emphasize the divide between the “sea people” and the “land people”. “Now, when they sailed the sea, fishing boats are like hotels, they have all imaginable technological devices, starting from radar, sonar, automatic pilot, radiators, they cook pasta two times a day” concludes Piero Lucarelli, former president of the Fisherman’s House, fishermen’s cooperative established in 1923. These voices belong to a generation of fishermen in the coastal towns of the Italian Middle-Adriatic Sea who experienced the passage from the lugsail fishing boats to the motorized propulsion system between the 1920s and the 1950s. Taken together, their personal memories compose the multivocal history of the deep transformations that affected traditional seamanship – conceived both as the nautical arts and the sea people’s everyday practices and religious imaginations - in the XX century. For centuries, indeed, fishermen in the Adriatic Sea, and in the Mediterranean Sea more broadly, had been confronted with the vagaries of the sea and the weather, and had developed sophisticated practical knowledge (for navigation and orientation) and magical-religious beliefs to reckon with the perils of the marine streams, the tornadoes and the winds. In particular, the 1950s marked a real watershed in the centuries-old history of the traditional seamanship in Central Italy as the motorization of the fishing boats, in tandem with the new technological devices for navigation, enabled fishermen to exert control on the radical unpredictability that had long marked the complex interdependence between human and the sea. On the other hand, the massive exploitation of the marine resources, made possible by these technological developments, has triggered unprecedented societal and environmental transformations. Because of the increasing degradation of the seafloors, the restrictions imposed by the European Community (e.g. the ban on the use of drift nets in 1997) to ensure viable fisheries have posed new challenges for the fishermen and the local communities, who have faced seasons of crisis and now have to envision sustainable futures. Today, fishermen are confronted with the consequences of decades of exploitation of the marine resources and the plastic litter, two big questions that deeply affect the Adriatic Sea. To face these global challenges, on 6 April 2019, the Italian Government approved a bill that reforms the previous law by making fishermen central actors in the collection of the plastic waste in the sea. The previous law (152/2006) put the fishermen in the paradoxical situation of risking being fined for ‘illegal transport of waste’ if they brought the waste found in sea and the plastic caught in their fishing nests to the port. The Museo della Regina, Municipality of Cattolica (Rimini) has an ethnographic section entirely devoted to naval archeology and the everyday lives of the fishing community. In this section there are unique gems including the first naval engine ever installed in Cattolica, precise models of the ships in different stages of construction, an actual section of a sailboat, and original sails and shipbuildres’ utensils. Building on the tangible heritage on the Adriatic seamanship collected in this section, the museum has developed an educational programme for school. Over the past few decades, the Museo della Regina has contributed to historical research and dissemination on the topic through conferences, public events, publications as well as a School of Naval history and Archeology (1995-2006) organized in collaboration with ISTIAEN. In 2002, it realized the documentary feature ‘Living Archives of the Sea’ (Archivi viventi del mare, Ceschi 2002), drawing on 14 interviews with the oldest fishermen collected in 1995. In 2016, the Museo della Regina dedicated the European Heritage Days precisely to the traditional fishing vessel ‘trabaccolo’ and to the intangible heritage surrounding it (Bordinzando col trabaccolo: storia, tecnica e conservazione della barca regina dell’Adriatico). However, the history of the motorization of the traditional Italian fisheries still needs to be fully investigated, through the analysis of the fading memories of the fishermen who lived an unprecedented socio-economic and ecological transormations. Sea people’s personal memories are part of an intangible heritage, with deep transregional historical dimensions, which can play a fundamental role in the historical reconstruction of past events. In addition to enhancing our shared knowledge of the past, this intangible heritage - if properly recovered and shared - has the potential to trigger inter-generational exchange, to raise public awareness of the historical roots of the present and to foster the imagination of sustainable futures. Contact details: Museo della Regina di Cattolica Via Pascoli, 23 47841 CATTOLICA (RN) Tel. +39. 0541 966577; e-mail: museo@cattolica.net; http://www.cattolica.net https://www.facebook.com/museodellaregina/

European Dimension

The story of the decades-long passage from the lugsail fishing boats to the motorized boats, gazed from the perspectives of the fishermen in Central Italy, has strong historical and transregional dimensions, which makes it an integral part of the history of the Adriatic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea more broadly. Since the ancient times, indeed, the Adriatic Sea has been a channel of communication and a space of mediation between different communities living along the Mediterranean shores (consider, for example, the influence of the Phoenician seamanship in the Aegean Sea in the V century B.C.). Wars, commerce and cultural exchanges significantly contributed to cross-cultural fertilization of local seamanship. The traces of these historical entanglements were vividly present - until the first decades of the XX century - in the cultures, languages, knowledge of the Sea peoples in the Mediterranean basin, and still reverberate in the testimonies of the older generations of fishermen in Central Italy. Recoveing and sharing this cultural heritage, embedded in the memories and life-worlds of the Sea People in Central Italy, can contribute to reinforcing a sense of belonging to the European common space in three main ways: first, by revealing the historical entanglements between different peoples and cultural traditions running through the Middle-Adriatic seamanship, second, by foregrounding the key role of the sea as a space of mediation and communication, and third, by raising awareness about the global challenges (such as the disrupting effects of massive exploitation of the marine resounces and the plastic litter in the sea) European countries are facing and the need to work toward a sustainable future. Our vision of cultural heritage, indeed, highlights its transformative potentials: its capacity to pave the way for inter-generation dialogue, to raise public awareness and to promote community engagement.

Legal body/representative

Museo della Regina del Comune di Cattolica (RN)

Laura Menin, director of the Museo della Regina del Comune di Cattolica

Description of the project

“Sea People: past memories for sustainable futures” is a pilot-project which aims to enhance and promote the local communities’ knowledge of the societal dynamics triggered by the motorization of the traditional fisheries in Central Italy (1920s-1950s) and of its effects on the Adriatic Sea. This project builds on research conducted by the Museo della Ragina on the tangible and intangible heritage connected with the local seamanship in the past three decades (for example, the Photographic Archive on the traditional seamanship, the documentary feature ‘Living Archives of the Sea’, 2002, publications, conferences and events) and on its educational programme with the school and the youth. At the same time, it also radically expands its scope by exploring the transformative potentials of cultural heritage – in the form of personal memory and storytelling - for raising public awareness and envisioning sustainable futures. Its goal is to promote a) a vision of the future rooted in the knowledge of the past, b) to use personal memory and storytelling to foster community’s engagement with cultural heritage as a resource for present and future and c) a sense of identity congnizant of, and open to, the multiple histories and cultural traditions that inhabit the community’s local history. This project will be the starting point for a long-term collaboration between the Museo della Regina of the Municipality of Cattolica and the Department of Cultural Heritage of the University of Bologna (Ravenna Campus) on the Middle-Adriatric seamenship and the societal and cultural dynamics triggered by the developments initiated in the 1950s. The Department of Cultural Heritage of the University of Bologna has an established research and conservation activity in both the fields of tangible and intangible heritage, with a specific focus on cultural memory and cultural landscapes; it also conducts research on environmental sustainability with reference to the future. Specifically, the pilot-project is articulated in two main actions - 1) Research & Documentation and 2) Participatory Actions - both of which target the local community, and the younger generations in particular; they both use personal memories and storytelling to promote the community’s engagement with the tangible and intangible heritage embedded in the Adriatic seamanship and its transregional dimensions. Action 1: Research & Documentation. This action aims to enhance our anthropological understanding of the motorization of the traditional fisheries and its enduring consequences by collecting ethnographic material and interviews with the older generations of fishermen and their descendents. These personal memories will offer deep insights into the unexplored dimensions of a cultural heritage which is currently risking disappearing with them, considering that the oldest fishermen are today aged between 85 and 100 years. The historical and ethnographic significance of this cultural heritage urges us to collect and preserve it in a digital archive so as to make it accessible to the local community, as well as the scientific community. In addition to conducting videotaped interviews with the older generations of fishermen in Cattolica and Gabicce and with their descendants, other key social actors will be involved in the research, such as the current and former president of the Fisherman’s House (Casa del Pescatore), one of the oldest fisherman’s cooperative in Italy. Moreover, we will collected interviews with the women sailmakers and their descendents. Women sailmakers, indeed, played a fundamental role in the traditional seamanship. Passed on from mother to daughter, their pratical knowledge and abilities in sewing and repainring the sails is embedded in their family memory and photographic archive. Together with the memories of the fishermen, women sailmakers’ oral testimonies will enrich our understanding of the gendered dimensions of local histories and intangible heritage. The cooperation between the Museo della Regina of the Municipality of Cattolica and the Department of Cultural Heritage of the University of Bologna (Ravenna Campus) will guarantee the scientific quality of the ethnographic research and dissemination. Short-term outputs include the creation of a digital archive, the analysis of the interviews whose main results will be presented in a conference and a public events hosted at Museo della Regina at the end of the project. The Museo la Regina will search for additional funding a) to realize a documentary feature based on the collected interviews and b) to increase the accessibility of the Museum’s seamanship section to children, disables and blind people by using audio-video material and storytelling as a strategy of museum exhibition and communication. Long-term outputs aims to valorize further the material collected and share it with the public through publications and through the creation of a museum path based on audio-video communication and storytelling. While the main goal of Action 1 is to expand research and knowledge on the intangible heritage connected with the evolving history of the local seamanship, it will also contribute to fostering community’s engagement with its cultural heritage and its trans-regional dimensions (see below). Action 2. Participatory actions. This action aims to engage the local community, and the younger generations in particular, through a number of participatory activities, creative and experimental workshops on the motorization of the traditional fisheries and its implications for the environment and the sea. In September, the Museo la Regina’s museum operators will begin to design two experimental workshops for selected elementary schools and nursery schools in Cattolica. The first pilot-project for elementary schools will be articulated in four meetings that will include at least a) a guided visit to the museum’s seamanship section; b) a meeting with fishermen who will tell about life before and after the motorization of the fisheries, c) a visit to the Fisherman’s House and the port guided by a fisherman and the museum operator, d) a workshop on the traditional fishing nets and the urgent problem of plastic on the sea. The second pilot-project with the nursery school is organized in two creative workshops during which a) the fisherman, together with the museum operator ,will illustrate the ways the nets were producted and repaired, sharing his memory of the life of the fishermen and b) the museum operator will show what today’s fishermen find in their nets, including plastic litter and will develop creative activities on recycle and ecological education. In both workshops, we will experiment the method of storytelling and personal memory and explore its potential for establishing intergenerational exchanges, engaging children with cultural heritage as a resource for both understanding their history and reflecting on the big challenges of our time (e.g. sustainable development, sea waste & recycling). These two pilot-projects are propaedeutic to the long-term objective of revisiting and innovating the educational programme on the seamanship developed over the past two decades of educational activity with the school and the youth. In addition to participatory activities with children, we also intend to involve the local community through guided visits in the museum’s seamanship section and to places of historical significance (the port and Casa del Pescatore) with fishermen and museum operators. Specific attention will be devoted to disables and blind people by experimenting a new communication strategy based on storytelling and digital technologies. As mentioned above, in the long term, the objective is to improve the heritage accessibility to vulnerable groups.

Legacy of the project

The project will create a positive legacy for heritage and communities at different scales and in a number of different ways. First, it will enable us to collect and preserve an intangible heritage – made of knowledge, social practices, magical-religious beliefs, practical skills and oral traditions – which is embodied in the memories of a generation of fishermen and of sailmaker women who is slowly disappearing. In this sense, the creation of a Digital Archive based on the collected interviews has a value of its own insofar as it will contribute to the recovery and preservation of an intangible heritage which currently risk being lost, but also to guaranteeing its accessibility to both the local community and the scientific community, as well as to the next generations. Second, the organization of a number of participatory actions and educational workshops centered on the use of storytelling and personal memories (described above) will contribute to valorize and share this intangible heritage by engaging the local community and the youth in particular. This will give social and cultural value to the lived experiences of the older fishermen and, at the same time, open up a relational space for inter-generational dialogue where multiple stories can be shared and different histories can come into being. Above all, this intangible heritage is a powerful reminder of the centrality of the sea as a space of mediation and communication between different peoples and cultural traditions, marking key moments in the historical developments of Europe. Third, the valorization of the intimate interdependence between a human community and the sea, which is constitutive of this cultural heritage, will raise the community’s awareness of a number of questions of timely relevance, including the sustainability of production systems and the exploitation of resources. Our approach, indeed, highlights the connections and disjunctions between the present (marked by technological developments, but also by rescue operations in the sea and by ‘sea cleaning’) and the past of the traditional fishing community, which is a history of living and sailing the sea, with its distictive forms of sociality and solidarity, as well as of opposition and conflict internal to the broader community. Recovering these life-worlds - which have changed reflecting broader technological developments, the fish market and industry, as well as the eating habits - is a cultural process that can create important legacies in terms of identity, recognition, attachment to the territory, rediscovery (and re-elaboration) of culturally and historically specific modes of relatedness between human groups, and between human beings and the environment. Last but not least, this project will promote a comprehensive approach to the cultural and natural heritage together, thus overcoming the artificial dichotomic vision “culture” vs “nature”. Its specific focus on historical modes of interdependence and relatedness between people and the sea will contribute to expose the limitations of the paradigm of “men’s domination over nature”, which has irreparably damaged the enviroment, taking us into the geological era of the Anthropocene, a geological era deeply marked by human activity on Earth.

Budget breakdown

5,000 for Action 1: will support the creation of a Digital Achive with about 30 audio-video recorded interviews carried out by master’s candidates coordinated by Vincenzo Matera, Full Professor of Cultural Anthropology (Dept of Cultural Heritage, University of Bologna) and member of the CIRI: Ricerca Industriale Fonti Rinnovabili, Ambiente, Mare ed Energia [Research Centre on Industrial Research for Renewable Sources, Environment, Sea and Energy, https://frame.unibo.it]. The master’s candidates will be supported by Dr. Laura Menin, PhD in Social Anthropology and director of the Museo della Regina of the Municipality of Cattolica, and assisted by the museum staff. 5,000 for Action 2: will cover the direct costs of educational activity and participatory actions; specifically, the organization and realization of two pilot-projects with selected elementary schools and nursery schools, the organization and realization of guided visits at the museum for adults and vulnerable groups.

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