Author Archives: Kian Mirnezam

Sicilian Puppet Theater

One common passed down trait of Sicilian folklore is the Sicilian Puppet Theatre, also known as the Opera dei Pupi. Dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, it’s believed to be originally a Spanish tradition that came to Sicily through Spanish travellers that had settled in Naples. The puppets were generally knights in armour who, through their puppeteer, told stories of chivalry and honor. Created from wood and manipulated by strings and metal wires, their size varied according to the significance of their residence within Sicily – with those in the town of Catania being nearly twice the size of those used in the town of Palermo. The emphasis of these tales was put upon mythical battles, betrayals and classical tales of chivalry. While it’s become quite outdated in an era of technological entertainment, it carries on through it’s significance as a historical and cultural touchstone in Sicilian culture. Currently, there is a large collection of puppets that can still be visited at the Museo delle Marionette in Palermo, and performances present the same traditional stories. Within the museum’s collection, there are puppets of knights, dragons and comical Punch and Judy dolls.


The Sicilian Carnival

The Sicilian Carnival dates back to the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The annual Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore is held in Agrigento in early February against the backdrop of the UNESCO World Heritage Valley of the Temples. The carnival is meant to celebrate the upcoming spring season and has now become an international event, starting off with a torch lit procession from the Temple of Concordia, and subsequently featuring traditional music, folk dancing and fireworks.

Every single August, Piazza Armerina hosts the spectacular Norman Palio to commemorate the deeds of Roger de Hauteville, the legendary hero who rid Sicily of the Saracens. Today the event is celebrated with a series of events including a medieval jousting tournament. Essentially, the modern carnival is similar to what many people see as modern renaissance fair in the United States.

While the concepts of renaissance fairs are still relatively popular as a folklore movement in the United States, the concept of these fair history back to the activities of those who head to the carnival and how it is carried into modern children’s days story.The activities and tales presented at these fairs may be old as time, but the stories and messages they share are still prevalent and passed down at this exact moment.


The Mysteries of Trapani

This tradition is known amongst the local Sicilians as the “The Mysteries of the Trapani”. It follows  the transportation of a series of extraordinary full-size wooden statues, decorated with gold and coral, on a wooden structure through the streets of Trapani by the statue barriers created by everyone. Created in the 18th century out of cypress wood and cork, twenty groups of statues each represent typical working class jobs like fishermen and blacksmiths whose representatives are responsible for their general preservation.

On the day of, they are transported and adorned in purple tunics , celebrating the common man’s role in preserving the Sicilian spirit. This carries into Good Friday festivities, with the statues accompanied by local bands and vast numbers of spectators. This continues to progress until around midnight when the statues are returned to the Chiesa del Purgatorio in Via Francesco d’Assisi where they are kept. As one of the most ancient religious traditions in Europe, the Mysteries of the Trapani is proves that Sicily really does have deeply spiritual folk culture that can also cater to tourist interests

Karma: Is it Appropriated?

While karma is seen primarily as a western example of cultural appropriation, it started off initially in deeply religious Hindu roots. The common conception of karma is the belief that every action you do comes back to you,if you do something noble, something good will happen to you in return, and vice versa. While it has innately Indian origins, it essentially comes down to a tale of what can be seen as a good and humane thing to do versus what not to do.

Karma literally means action. We are referring to past action. From the moment you were born till this moment, the kind of family, the kind of home, the kind of friends, the things that you did and did not do, all these things are influencing you. Every thought, emotion and action comes only from past impressions that you have had within you. They decide who you are right now. The very way you think, feel and understand life is just the way you have assimilated inputs. We call this karma.


Dharma to Karma

For Hindus, the flip coin of karma is what is referred to as dharma: the moral order of the universe and a code of living that embodies the fundamental principles of law, religion and reality. The Hindu worldview asserts that is one by following one’s dharma, “a person can eventually achieve liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth, known as samsara. In the traditional Hindu view, a person’s duties are dependent upon his or her age, gender, occupation, and caste and it is no lie that dharma is construed at least in part in terms of prescribed rituals and caste obligations.

However, many Hindu reformers have interpreted dharma in multiple ways re-evaluating the role of dharma in Hindu society by highlighting its moral precepts and portrayed it as a dimension of human freedom.  In Hinduism, dharma is conceived as the moral precept that governs duty, religion, and law. Therefore, because dharma has the potential to affect all aspects of a believer’s life. Thus, colonists believed that these texts were the reason for prevailing caste practices and ritual obligation in society.

However, the relevance and potency of dharma is continuously challenged and even today the claim that dharma is compatible with a strict separation between the religious and secular realms is a matter of debate. The persistence of dharma in Indian society encourages spiritual practice and right conduct, but has also supported the persistence of the caste system. Even though the caste system was abolished when India gained independence from the British, it is still socially pervasive. Modern Hindu reformers argue that regardless of its connection to the rules of dharma expressed in ancient texts, the caste system is incompatible with democracy.