Píobaire, An, Volume 1, Issue 10, Page 2
Píobaire, An, Volume 1, Issue 10, Page 2
Na Píobairí Uilleann
(76)THE MALTESE ZAKKLast December I was fortunate enough to be able to spend my Christmas hotid ys in Malta. Isoy fortunate because some months before I had come across Baines- (1) tantalizingly scantreport of the possible existence of a bagpipe in the Maltese Islands and here was a first classopportunity to do some interesting field research on the subject.No sooner had I arrived than J began making my enquiries among the local peasantry,whom Iguessed would k iow the whereabouts of any pipes,if any did indeed still exist. It was not longbefore I had sudcess. An old man of about seventy whom I met tending his goats in a field,recollected playing the tambourine along with a piper many years ago. This man is known bythe name of Lazarou, he told me, and he lives right here in Mosta. He directed me to hishouse and next day I paid him a visit. Lazarou was engaged in his siesta when I called but hedidnt seem to mind being disturbed, especially by an lnglisi. He was an old veteran of theItalian Campaign in W.W. II and was wearing his khaki pullover to prove it. As it happened,I got more out of him about his miUtary service than I did about bagpipes. At first he dis-claimed any knowledge of the zakk but as we chatted he came round to me and, in the end,he produced everything but the bag. His chanter was cracked and in poor shape and it wasobvious he was past his best as far as piping went. His good pipes he had sold to an Americanseveral years ago 1 he told me. He knew of no other pipers in the area. Believing that thiswas a general reflection of the state of the zakk throughout Malta I took a few photos ofLazarou, thanked him and we bid our goodbyes.Back to the man with the goats I went to find out if he knew of any other pipers around. Heinformed me then about a man up in Naxxar, not two miles away, who ploys the zakk. Hisname was Hamroun. I soon discovered that Hamroun was well known about Naxxar and themen standing in the village square obligingly directed me to his door. His son answered itand I was invited inside. Upon hearing what I had come for, Hamroun, who was aged aboutfifty, disappeared off and to my great delight reappeared with his pipes. He seemed pleasedto play for me the 1une et out belov a highly repetitive and very simple little tune,butcatchy all the same (2). The sound was not altogether displeasing to western ears, though itsorigins are probably Arabic, and the harmony between drone pipe and melody pipe seemedconventional. Wishing to discover what his repetoire of tunes was like I asked him how manyhe knew. I was amazed to learn that the tune he had just been playing was the only one hehad, though he had been playing the instrument for well over thirty years. According to onesource many of the old Maltese pipe melodies died out as a consequence of the increasedpopularity of itinerant fiddlers in the early part of the nineteenth century. How many tunesare still extant is not known.Hamroun possessed several chanters, all of them identical to that shown in the drawing.However, the material of which the actual pipe was made varied. He had one made from caneformerly the only material available for pipe chanters, and also one of brass which he made outof some piping taken from a German aircraft shot down during the War. The chanter he sold tome was made from lead piping, though the tone sounded no different from the others whenplayed.I had little difficulty persuading Hamroun to sell me a zakk. He was ob iousIy an active pipemaker who got great pleasure out of making and playing his instrument. He was, it appeared,a solitary island of tradition thaf had survived the successive waves of alien cultures that haveswept over Malta and is possibly the last surviving remnant of a very old tradition. He toldme he would gladly teach any young Maltese boys who came to him the intricacies of the zakk;however, none including his six sons, are interested. And so, whilst Malta boasts a scouttroop that has an excellent Scots pipe band her own native bagpipe slips unnoticed towardsextinction. It is sad to think that such a fine instrument as this should be so close to beinglost forever.Well, at last I said goodbye to the piper and his family and headed off down the roadtowards Mosta, turning the events of the past few weeks over in my mind as I went. Here,yet again, was another interesting tradition upon the verge of annihilation. Here were peoplerejecting forever an integral part of their culture, that had taken thousands of years to evolve,for the momentary allurements of the twentieth century. Anyway,whatever happened I wascompletely powerless to do anything about it. All I could do was to mourn in advance thelikely passing of the zakk.
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