Guze Cassar Pullicino : Folklore of Mosta 

"Torri Cumbo"

The Ballad of the Bride o Mosta

The legend has been handed down by tradition in ballad form, of which there are two versions. The story recounts how a Maltese maiden from Mosta was carried away into slavery on her wedding day. The Ballad has a historical basis, for it has been established that the Turks (Moors) did, in fact, raid and sack the village of Mosta in 1526, taking almost 400 prisoners, ‘including a bride, together with the guests all dressed up for the wedding’.

The traditional version of the ballad is given by Annibale Preca in his Malta Cananea, published posthumously in 1904. It was first printed in 1895 by Prof. Luigi Bonelli, of Naples, who took the text of the song from Preca. Preca himself got the words from a manuscript given to him by his friend Fr. Paul Chetcuti of Mosta, to whom the were dictated by an old aunt.

Its structure conforms to the type of song on the theme of the Rescued Maiden, which the members of the family, together with the beloved one, are designated. The latter is placed in opposition to the family members so that he is the only one who tackles the task the others decline to do, i.e. ransoming the bride

from slavery. After her mother and aunt refuse to pay her ransom. The bridegroom is prepared to make every sacrifice to free her. The song illustrates the motif found in the myth of Alcestis in Greek mythology, that the ties of love are stronger than those of consanguinity.

The more modern version of the ballad in the printed form is obviously based on Muscat Azzopardi’s novel L-Gbarusa tal-Mosta (1879, re-printed in 1909 and 1927) It tells how, in or about 1526, there was a palace in Mosta known as the Torri Cumbo, owned by Julius Cumbo, one of the four jurats of the Mdina town council (Universita) Cumbo had an only daughter, Marianna, an exceedingly beautiful girl who was betrothed to Toni, a scion of the Manduca family. They were making last-minute preparations for the wedding feast when the Barbary corsairs landed and with the connivance of Muley, a one-time slave of the Cumbo household, entered the palace, carried off Marianna and sailed away on a xebec to Tripoli.

Toni went to the city disguised as a wool merchant and with the help of Assena, daughter of the Sultan of Tripoli; he succeeded in freeing Marianna.He brought her back to Malta on a Venetian vessel, but the sufferings she had to endure during her captivity had greatly weakened poor Marianna, to the extent that shortly after her return she died, mourned by the whole island. Toni Manduca left Malta on the Order’s galleys to go and fight the Turks and he died bravely in battle.

The text of the traditional version is of the utmost importance as an example of folk composition. It has been considerably augmented by various stanza heard or published since its first publication by Bonelli in 1895. The full text may be reconstructed as follows:

Lines 1-12              The Barbary corsairs carry the bride away during the wedding feast,

Lines 13-36            The bride’s anguish during the voyage to the cities on Barbary Coast,

Lines 37-68            The bride is presented to the pasha who decided to keep her in his harem. In various ways she  refused to accept her life as a slave,

Lines 69-80            The bride is rescued and ransomed by the groom.

The Bride of  Mosta

Poor Maid of Mosta!

Sad things awaited her on that Monday morn!

The Turks came and carried her away 

When she least expected them.

When those cursed Turks  came

The cock began to crow,

The guests  weere ready downstairs,

And the groom in the upper room.

‘Go, my master, go,

Here, take these 900 (scudi)

And if they’re not enough

I’ll bring you an ass’s load (of money).’

The Turks came and took her,

They carried her away on a vessel;

The made her look towards the sea

And turn her back upon her village.

They took her away with them,

And turned her face towards the East,

They  made her  change her Maltese clothes

And they wound a turban round her head.

They took her away  with them

And made  her sit at the poop;

They made her change her Maltese clothes

And wear instead the Turkish jacket.

‘O  mistress mine, sit down,

Here’s the table, sit down and eat.’

She said, ‘I  don’t want any food

Once I’ve fallen a slave of Jews.’

‘Sit down, my mistress, sit down

There’s the bed, sleep and rest.’

She told him, “I don’t want to sleep

Once  I’ve fallen  into the hands of the dogs.’

Poor maid of Mosta!

Sad things awaited heer on that Monday morn!

Her heart was beating fast,

All that night she spent in anguish.

They took heer away with them,

And gave her as a gift to the pasha;

Everyone welcomed her,

Young and old attended to her needs.

‘Take  this  veil, arrange your hair,

Take the key, eat and drink.’

‘I will not eat any food

Before I return to my Mosta.’

My  hair I will not comb

Before I return to Mosta my village;

My dear mother will comb my flowing hair

And my aunt Kozza will plait it’.

O bride, don’t be downheaarted,

We shall make you queen of  Jerba.’

‘What avails it that I be made queen

Once I’ve fallen in the hands of the Berbers?’

O bride, don’t be downhearted,

We shall make you queen of the cities.’

‘Whaat avails it that I be made queen

Once I’ve fallen in  the hands of the dogs?’

‘Grieve not, not, o mistress mine,

Put on these fine clothes, adorn yourself’.

‘Put on fine dresses! Shame on you,

All my life I shall remain a slave.’

‘My child, put on these clothes

There’s the chest, dress up, adorn yourself.’

‘How can I drss? Woe is me,

I am now a slave for evermore!’

Sleep, my child, sleep.

There’s the bed, lie down and rest.’

‘How can I rest?  Woe is me,

I’ve fallen in th;e hands of the dogs!

‘Go and tell my dear mother

That the price  of my ransom is 700 (scudi).’

Better 700 in the chest,

Than my daughter ransomed.’

‘Go and tell my auntie Kozza

That the price of my ransom is 700.’

‘Better 700  in the chest

Thaan my sister’s  daughter ransomed.’

‘Go and tell my beloved

That the price of my ransom is 700.’

“I’ll  sell  even my field

To see my beloved ransomed.’

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"Torri Cumbo"

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