At 10:45 in the morning, on Saturday the 8th of September 2022, Monique Agius a journalist working for Newsbook reported that the Flamingo shot the previous Saturday died on that same day. Sadly, a regular occurrence in Malta. I am always aggrieved by men shooting flamingos, or other large birds like Swans, (as reported in October 2014), for pleasure. Of course, for all birds really, and yet when I read that a flamingo or a swan was shot down, I always do ask myself, who or what is he really shooting at? Is this act linked to our deeply ingrained cultural misogyny, or rather, a more pronounced hatred towards that which speaks the language of the feminine?
I ask myself why it may be so addictive, and why (mostly) men enjoy such killings, on an island where migratory birds stop to rest. Geographically speaking, we are on their route when flying to mainland Europe or to the Continent of Africa, depending on the season. We do not offer much of a friendly reception to migratory birds, knowing that they need to stop here from their journey; to rest, to eat, to drink, and to fly on. Many don’t make it, as they are either trapped or shot down, because of their beauty, be it colour, song or flight itself. Moreover, the landscape has changed, “blasted”3 really, as habitat loss makes it even harder for them, and us. I always felt that the hunting culture in Malta reveals something deeper about our relationship dynamics as a society. I say this, not as someone onlooking from the outside, but as someone who comes from a family of hunters and who always protested to that. Birds are part of my intimate life, a family matter.
What is it about the beauty of the flamingo, in all its pink feathery glory and coming from elsewhere, that men cannot stand? Is it because as Maltese, we are only able to construct an identity through the history narratives we were taught at school? That though a kind people, we had to learn to destroy the enemy, it-Tork, as the years marched on? And the list of enemies is indeed a long one and keeps getting longer. Of course, it is not only the birds who migrate to Malta, and the parallel is an obvious one.
Those seeking refuge in Malta end up in detention centers, with the present administration allowing for some of them to drown, it seems through unresponsiveness. Is there a sadistic pleasure in all of that, like that experienced when flamingos are shot down, pink feathers stained with red blood? Is it akin to Madrid’s bullfighting culture, confronting the rest of us with that collective shadow we often fail to confront, what psychoanalysis calls Mortido, or the seriousness and the inevitability of death? Is there such a thing as reading too much into the shooting of a bird?
What is the real Maltese identity as opposed to the hyperbolic version we are told in history classes at secondary school? I turn to our own landscape and the birds for an answer; I turn to the cries, the shrills and the squeaks of the Scopoli’s shearwater, iċ-Ċief, that give me a sense of place, though tinged with ecological grief. There is something primordial about their call, perhaps something of the ancient Mediterranean, already marked by violent conflicts including gender wars. For those who go out to watch them during the summer months they know that their flight is breath-taking, especially when they come close, terrifyingly, and exhilaratingly close. It is as if they touch you without touching you. It is the closest thing to the feeling of being loved by the Creator. Does beauty-overwhelm lead some men to pull the trigger? I don’t know what it is, but I know feathers speak of beauty, and the feminine. Having said that, the bull’s masculinity triggered into aggressiveness leads to the same end, “the last serious thing” Lorca writes, perhaps, René Girard would reply, “scapegoat” really.
Like Pope Francis, I am also inspired by the ancient pagan Maltese once described as kind. Perhaps they knew something about the Shearwaters’ cry, and how to listen to their language.
In Christianity we learn that a central expression of faith is remembrance. As Pope Francis told us in his visit to Malta this year, we need to remember how to be kind, also to our land.