Two Maltese folktales

The ‘Sarangu’s World‘ is a research project set in 1813 Malta during the Bubonic plague pandemic with particular attention to Maltese folk.

We are uploading two Maltese folktales compiled by G. Cassar. Pullicino.

‘Il Kap Ta’ Izbanduti’ and ‘Il Hrafa tax Xemx u L Qamar’ [Stories in Maltese]


A project supported by the Arts Council Malta
limited edition prints of FILFLA – the short animation – are available

How did a quarantine look like in 1800?

Pretty much what you would expect … plus the death penalty!

The same concept of containment of the diseases was applied then: Identify, isolate, treat.

For such a system to be effective, the chain of transmission needs to be cut off. Thus, quarantine measures were applied.

Among the measures the Committee of Health ordered:

  • No crowding
  • Closure of schools
  • Stay at home
  • Keep houses clean (the poorer areas were the most hit. The bubonic diseases is transmitted by fleas)
  • A stop to the selling of clothes, skins
  • No Mendicants
  • Suspension of the departure of ships
  • Shutting down of the Court, theatre and places of crowding
  • Restriction of government offices

The three cities, Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua were put under the direct supervision of physicians with daily visits.

People were advised to keep dogs and cats indoors. In some case people resorted in shooting them. As this print (below) shows:

When these measures were not enough and because many did were still not taking the plague seriously enough, the Govt put in place the death penalty. This was also done as a detriment to looting and crime.

PT5: Snippets of the 1813 Bubonic Plague

Sarangu’s World is supported by Arts Council Malta – Malta Arts Fund


How Senglea survived the plague

The use of quarantine measures is nothing new.

Quarantine is an old method utilised by authorities and communities to contain or slow down the spread of a diseases as much as possible. It provides the opportunities to provide effective care to the victims.

The town of Senglea managed to survive the 1813 Bubonic plague by sealing itself to the exterior world by placing itself into self-quarantine.

This was quite successful because despite being a harbour town (thus, highly vulnerable to infections) none of its inhabitants died from the disease.

Quarantine was one measure adopted by the authorities to slow down the spread of the disease.

Senglea has the advantage of being a peninsula with three sides being naturally closed off by the sea. The narrow entrance to the town was closed off by its historic gates. Qrendi, Gharghur, Balzan, Kirkop, Ghaxaq and Safi were two other towns which avoided the plague.

Other towns were less fortunate. After Valletta, the disease soon spread to the towns of Birkirkara, Qormi and Zebbug leaving a high death toll.

After the plague was over, a number of ‘Ex-Voto’ painting were donated to churches. A case in point is the ‘Ex-Voto’ of Andrea Calleja, a doorman of the Floriana Hospital, who offered his painting to ‘Tal-Herba’ in Mellieha (Featured image, Treasures of Malta)

Areas in Malta that were quarantined in 1813

PT4: Snippets of the 1813 Bubonic Plague

Sarangu’s World is supported by Arts Council Malta – Malta Arts Fund


This is how Manoel Island looked in the 1800s

Image of Manoel Island (1800s) by Giorgio Pullicino

Manoel Island and the surrounding area of Gzira was very different from today (and from that of tomorrow). It was mainly a rural area surrounded by fields and a few farm houses. Without the lights of today, the road to Sliema must have looked pretty bleak at night.

Manoel Island’s role in 1813 was that of a quarantine area for infected people with the Bubonic plague. The ship’s Captain and his crew of men, who had arrived with the San Nicola Brig from the Alexandria port, were quarantined at the Lanzaretto hospital. Two crew members had died during the trip to Malta.

The captain did not show any signs of illness at first. However, a headache soon developed into a fever and vomiting. He died after a few days from the infection of the disease.

A map of the area around Manoel Island. Feature image by Giorgio Pullicino (1779-1851) – view of Manoel Island

PT3: Snippets of the 1813 Bubonic Plague

Sarangu’s World is supported by Arts Council Malta – Malta Arts Fund


Sarangu’s World: The role of French war prisoners in the 1813 Malta Bubonic plague

The Bubonic Plague was increasing at such an alarming rate that its death trail was starting to include servants, people responsible to purify the infected houses and gravediggers. Leaving no one to care for the victims. 

The British Government resorted to using French prisoners for such chores. In 1813 Malta had around 900 French prisoners as a result from the various conflicts between the British and French Empires. 

The Government offered freedom to the French prisoners in exchange for serving within the Public Health Authority. 

Immediately, 60 French prisoners offered their services. Within two weeks they were almost all dead. 

A new call was made. This time, the prisoners were more reluctant to accept the offer. 

For those who took the chance the same fate awaited them. 

During this period, the French inmates were responsible for looting, rape and theft.

Apainting by Pietro Paolo Caruana showing people receiving the Holy Eucarist during the plague of 1813. The painting also records the French inmates during this period.

PT2: Snippets of the 1813 Bubonic Plague

Sarangu’s World is supported by Arts Council Malta – Malta Arts Fund

Sarangu’s World: The 1813 Bubonic Plague

In March of 1813, three ships (known as brigs) arrived from the port Alexandria, which was infected with the Bubonic plague.

The brigs were put into quarantine. One of them  – the San Nicola – was quarantined at the Lanzaretto Creek for 14 days until it left again to Alexandria. The Authorities wanted the brig out of the harbour right away. The owners wanted compensation. 

It is believed that Salvu Borg, a shoemaker and smuggler from Valletta, purchased some stolen goods, including some items from the San Nicola Brig, from a wine shop in Sliema.

Him and his family were the first to die of the bubonic plague. They were followed by neighbours in the St Paul’s Street area – at the time a poor area of Valletta. 

The authorities were initially unable to contain the disease. 

The result was 4,500 dead by the end of that summer. 

PT1: Snippets of the 1813 Bubonic Plague

Sarangu’s World is supported by Arts Council Malta – Malta Arts Fund

This project is supported by Arts Council Malta – The Malta Arts Fund

Featured image: An ex-voto of the Plague of 17 Aug 1813 of Anna Lungaro showing the pest Hospital Valletta.


MR TEDDY IS ANGRY is Filfla Studio’s new short animation after Filfla

Filfla Studio was awarded a new talent grant by the Malta Film Commission for the production of MR TEDDY IS ANGRY.

This is the second short animation produced by Filfla Studio after FILFLA.

MR TEDDY IS ANGRY follows the story of a Giant Teddy Bear who runs havoc in Valletta. The animation is expected to be finished by mid 2020 and go through a film festival cycle before being publicly released.

Story, art and animation by Fabrizio Ellul. MR TEDDY IS ANGRY is a digital hand drawn frame by frame animation.

with the support of the Malta Film Fund

Follow this space for more news updates.

The Sarangu’s World

Filfla Studio has been granted a ‘Research Support Grant’ by Arts Council Malta to explore further the world of Filfla by focusing on the mysterious creature in the animation – The Sarangu (the sack man).

The grant will permit to conduct research on the backstory of this creature – a mythological creature in Maltese folk. Set in 1813 Malta, during an outbreak of Bubonic plague, which left a death toll of 4,500 corpses, the grant will provide the opportunity to re-create the environment, context and research documentation of the period through traditional methods of Fine Arts and methodology.

World Building is an important aspect of any storytelling. It needs to provide a sense of immersive realism to create depth and richness to draw the public into it. The research grant will precisely achieve the scope of creating a world where the Sarangu lives and where the public can navigate into.

The research will lead to the eventual development of a graphic novel around the Sarangu – the sack man.

A story revolving around facts, fiction and myth, ‘The Sarangu’s World’ is set as an opportunity to explore further the darker side of Maltese folk and fairytale.

This project is supported by Arts Council Malta – Malta Arts Fund