Sant’Anna of the fishermen


Giovan Giuseppe Esposito is 86 years old and doesn’t look his age having an exceptional memory. He has worked as fisherman all his life supporting his family: a wife and four children. Every morning, he ‘goes down’ to the Mandra, his neighborhood, on the beach of Pescatori to greet his friend Bruno who runs the chalet at the foot of the former district prison here called ‘il mulino’ (the mill) and that today is a lovely cultural center where there are exhibitions and theater shows signs of a remarkable cultural and civic vitality of this area.

The Municipality of Ischia is inhabited today by about a thousand people located near the Via Vittoria Colonna and a few hundred meters from the Village of Celsa, now called Ischia Ponte. It is the fishermen’s quarter. For centuries and until the mid-‘900, this beach was occupied by wooden boats that went out at dawn and returned at sunset. The men on the sea and the women in the home to look after children. They are tall houses to protect the inhabitants from the strong winds of the winter and the scorching sun of summer.
The Giovan Giuseppe family - as its name indicates – belongs to the working class, “le petit peuple” as the French say, and it is likely that one of his ancestors came to Ischia from Naples, from the house of foundlings, the Real Casa di Santa dell’ Annunziata, where single mothers abandoned their children in the ‘wheel’, they were considered the sons of guilt or sin, and where almost everyone was given the name of ‘Esposito’.
“Here at Mandra dozens of families despite having children, adopted a child of the Annunziata perhaps for devotion to St. Anna, mother of Mary, or perhaps because children were considered the true wealth of the family”, Bruno says to me, manager of the chalet.
The small chapel, located on the pedestrian street, dedicated to St. John Joseph of the Cross, Franciscan of the seventeenth century, Ischian and patron of Ischia, is set in an old building and has at the foot of the altar a small statue of “Our child Lady” - set in a boat with the inscription “S. Maria bambina”.
Giovan Giuseppe Esposito of the ‘Scaiton’ family, which is the nickname, everyone here has a nickname because the surnames are common and not indicative, still remembers the death of his father.
“His name was Gaetano and was a fisherman and died at 42 on February 12, 1934 by a storm of the north at sea with 5 other associates and his body was found five days later off the coast of Fiumicino. He went out on his boat, a fishing boat and had gone with his teammates taking to the open sea towards Ventotene, to fish for cod. The sea gives life but also death”, says Giovan Giuseppe  ‘Scaiton’ to me and to Ugo Vuoso, sociologist and anthropologist, a supporter of écoles des annales by Fernard Braudel, animator for years of Ethnographic Centre of the Mediterranean islands, who accompanies me to visit the fishing village. Here lives Ugo - who is writing a book about the life stories of local fishermen - in an old house along an alley dedicated to Ulysses, the greatest hero of Homer.
“I’ve collected 12 hours of recording from the fisherman Giovanni Rando, who lives with his wife in a small house next to mine, to tell the life stories of a past time that is likely remain unknown”, he points out while we have a coffee offered by Bruno on this hot June day.
“The community of fishermen lived here with a great spirit of solidarity. We helped one another. There were fishermen and farmers. The fishermen were professional. They were specialized in fishing. Most were not fishermen of deep-sea fishing but of coast-fishing. They went out at dawn with their fishing boats, sailing and rowing, and returned in the evening. It has been so for centuries until the mid -1950s with the arrival of the tourism”, Ugo Vuoso says.
“In the twentieth century there was also the great wave of migration to the Americas. After the Second World War hundreds of people went to the United States and Argentina. In Mar del Plata in Argentina there is a large community of Ischian people working in fishing and celebrating St. John Joseph, the patron saint of Ischia, as if they were here, to respect the tradition also in the distance”, explains Ugo.
But how did these fishermen, almost illiterate, orientate at night in these gulfs of Naples and Gaeta? I ask Giovan Giuseppe ‘Scaiton’.
“We could see the stars – replies ‘Scaiton’- and by the stars we know how orient ourselves. The ‘three stars of money’ on the top of the island of Vivara showed us the island of Ischia and then the stars of ‘chicken’. We had no compass”.
When they were on the ground they celebrated. The festivities were in honor of St. John Joseph, Mary, Anna. Despite the subsistence economy, this community regarded the Church, “member of the family”, as historian Monsignor Pasquale Polito said to me over twenty years ago telling about the lives of fishermen.
Giovan Giuseppe ‘Scaiton’ tells me that once on the occasion of the feast of St. John Joseph, master Musella came from Naples with a band of 140 musicians”.
Even the feast of Mary is warmly celebrated.
“In the church of Mandra, Mary is celebrated three times: on September 8, the day of birth, on September 12, the day of baptism and on August 15, the day of the death and the assumption into heaven”, explains Ugo Vuoso.
Perhaps due to these strong religious traditions, this community of Mandra enthusiastically welcomed a feast dedicated to Sant’ Anna, mother of Mary, on July 26, in the middle of summer and fully tied to the sea. When after World War II the tradition of the ‘Feast at the Sant’ Anna rocks’ developed with the construction of allegorical boats and their parade on the day of St. Anna in the stretch of water in front of the Castello Aragonese the inhabitants of Mandra, the ‘madraioli’, fishermen or their descendants, were the most enthusiastic and the most talented in the construction of boats.
“There was great enthusiasm in the construction of the boat. Also tourists took part throughout the neighborhood. To build the boat were employed at least 90 people. They started work in early July to end the day of St. Anna. The launching of the boat from the Beach of Pescatori was already a party. Our boats were built on huge iron drums for flotation and were 10 meters high over an area of 250 square meters. The walkers-on from 30 to 50 people”, explains another man named Giovan Giuseppe whose family name is Di Leva and is today 64 years old and that for over thirty years has taken part in the construction of the boat of St. Anna of Mandra.
“We have won dozens of editions of St. Anna with the first prize when the competition was spontaneous with the participation of fans of Ischia Ponte and some boats are unforgettable such  as “God Neptune”, perhaps the most beautiful of all, and again, ‘The old country’, ‘The attack of the Turks’, ‘The Turks in the marina’ and ‘Mandraioli’ have always been the strongest boats”, says with pride Giovan Giuseppe Di Leva, old sportsman who now runs the gym Gecko Club in Lacco Ameno, very good amateur paddler participating in summer sports clubs getting “10 cups”.
Today, the feast of St. Anna at sea was transformed by the establishment of the Palio between the municipalities of the Neapolitan islands. Maybe it’s improved the show and was completed the organization as S. Anna is the most important festival in the summer of the island of Ischia but now as then “mandraiuli”, those of the beach of pescatori, remain faithful to the party even if the fishing boats on the beach are becoming increasingly few while increasing the umbrellas as saying that an era disappears to be replaced by another one.


Wednesday, July 24:
at 18.00 sport competitions for the award of the order of boats parade in the bay of Cartaromana leaving from Ponte Aragonese

Thursday, July 25:
at 19.00 procession by boat leaving from the Ponte 'Corteglia' and S. Mass presided by His Excellency Archbishop Pietro Lagnese - Bishop of Ischia - at the old church with the blessing of the Prize and of women in labor
at 21.00 country show 'A'Mascarata'
Traditional Gastronomic Stand (parmigiana and watermelon)

Friday, July 26:
at 21.00 boats parade in the bay of Cartaromana
at 23.30 fire of the Aragonese Castle
at 24.00 pm Fireworks display by the fireworks company ‘Cavalier Ugo LIETO’


Photogallery Celebration at the Sea Sant'Anna rocks

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Info on Ischia island

  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
  • Coasts: 51.2 Km
  • Cities: 6
  • Inhabitants: 58.029


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