by Bakary Sambou
At the beginning of each year, on January 6th, Sicilians from the province of Agrigento celebrate the Christian Epiphany holiday through one of the island’s most ancient and authentic festivals. The ‘Pastorale di Nardu’, as the festival is called, has been celebrated for over 70 years in the small town of Santa Elisabetta in the Sicilian hinterlands. But over the last five years there has been a big difference, because now the town celebrates together with the refugees who are living there.
This year, festival started in the morning with the procession of a band down the main street, which the townsfolk follow and sing along with. After lunch, the crowd swelled to over 600 people. Women, children and old people cheered on the local performers in celebration of the Epiphany, the day in which Christians believe Jesus’s divinity was announced to the world. Besides the music, magicians entertain the crowds with magic tricks.
The best part of the festival is the main act, in which Nardu, the town’s traditional figure, a type of jester representing honesty to the point of ingenuity, begins to make the typical pasta with ricotta cheese in the piazza with other people from the town. Nardu wears a white mask and goes around sharing his food with a spoon, putting it in people’s mouth. Many people were scared to get close to him, especially the children, because of the way he dressed.
Unlike in Gambia, the country some of the refugees in Santa Elizabetta are from, most of the crowd stands and watches while only a few people celebrate. In Gambia however, all of the people attending celebrate together. This festival is very different from a festival in Gambia because the people are from a different culture – they wear different masks, play different music, and dance different dances.
In the last part of the Pastorale di Nardu, the acting took on a more religious tone as the village elders and the mayor start reciting Christian prayers. After the prayers, young men smoked their traditional cigarettes, and the moment of the Epiphany was reenacted. Following the reenactment of the Epiphany, the band returned accompanied by young boys in their multi-colored traditional dress, and more acting and games took place. The festival ended by 7 p.m.