Gestures and traditions: Irene Di Liberto tells us about the importance of hand gestures for the Sicilians.
I remember that when I was a “picciridda” (a child), the most solemn weekly ritual for my family was Sunday lunch.
We met during this particular moment of socialisation and chatted about this and that, talking and arguing with the other cousins. Indeed, it would be better to say that we spoke; men (fathers, uncles and grandparents) little, the absolute minimum.
They avoided talking to such an extent that to ask for anything, bread, water, fruit, salt or vinegar, they simply raised the index finger of the right hand and directed it towards the desired object.
So, me, my mother, my cousins and my aunts, sometimes with a certain sadism, we pretended not to understand what they wanted and they, irritated, kept not talking, but nervously and with strange moans kept on raising their hands, to then give up exhausted and shout: “water…”.
The gesture language of the Sicilians presents a repertoire that is very rich in symbolic gestures: intentional signals that can be translated directly into words; among these symbolic gestures, some of them (e.g. shake hands in greeting, indicate, call) are so explicit to replace the content of verbal communication.
In any case, used to complement the spoken language or to deny it, hand gestures are linked to the mental structure of Sicilian people, to their very personal way of perceiving the world. Often reference is made to the language of gestures to achieve male communication: in fact, it is not uncommon for men, more than women, to refer to a specific symbolism that evokes different fields of everyday life, such as sexuality, fortune or misfortune, religion…
We Sicilians are famous in the world for communicating through gestures.
Accompanying a thought with the help of hands is written in our DNA, but the explanation of hand gestures is above all historical and must be sought in the commercial relations of the island with the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean area. The great variety of languages and peoples has indeed favoured the use of gestures to understand each other better.
Pitrè also took care of Sicilian hand gestures in: “Uses and customs, beliefs and prejudices of the Sicilian people” (1889) reporting a legend that tells of a foreign king who arrived in Sicily and wanted to verify the ability of the Sicilians to talk without words. He put two subjects to the test, who managed to understand each other perfectly without making any sound. With hand gestures, it is undeniable that you want to express more strength to your emotions, entering the living space of your interlocutor, even touching him or her. The theatricality of the Sicilians is also their intrinsic strength because it is a way to express their creativity.
Examples of Sicilian hand gestures can be found in Pirandello‘s “La patente”: horns, various spells, touches under the belt are the background to this novel.
Sciascia said that “the whole of Sicily is a fantastic dimension. How can you live without imagination?” In the same way, how to imagine the Sicilians lacking their hand gestures, delusions, their way of expressing themselves, without which it is impossible to glimpse their vices, virtues and passions.
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