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The tonnara and the last rais of the Tyrrhenian


by Graziano Petrucci

His motto, if it were in today's globalized market, would have been "tuna, now". They called him Minichiello, perhaps because he was short in stature. “Tonnava”, it is appropriate to say, in Lacco Ameno, from March to September and leaned on the house of her niece Carmela. He had seven children, four boys and three girls. He came from Procida. Even if today we buy it canned, Domenico Intartaglia went hunting for tuna and blue fish. It was the Rais of the tonnara of Lacco Ameno. Also called Arraise, it managed the fishing system that existed since 1743 and lasted until 1959, the year in which Domenico celebrated his 89th birthday. It was one of the last plants in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and he was the last Rais in the Gulf of Naples. 

The trap was established thanks to the privileges granted by the Aragonese in 1501, confirmed in Bologna in 1533. "The shores, beaches, promontories and half a mile of sea around its territory" were granted to the island of Ischia.
The property could be disposed of by the administrative authorities of the island: "either in favor of the inhabitants or by granting it in concession for a fair profit". One third of the fresh catch, collected in the sea under concession, had to be sold, without duties, to the inhabitants of the island. In 1743 the Casali di Lacco Ameno decided to rent the part in front of the sea in front of the town to have one of the most famous traps of our sea installed. In 1889 a dispute between the “city” of Ischia and the other municipalities questioned the privileges. It was resolved by the Court of Naples in favor of the tenant of the tonnaia, who was allowed to continue fishing. Much of the local population was employed in the economic system generated by the plant. "The refurbishment of the woods, the making of the nets, and the selections to complete the fishing crew" were the economic drivers of the time.


"Arraise has arrived, Minichiello has arrived", Professor Giuseppe Silvestri describes it well, in the book La tonnara by Lacco Ameno and other fishing professions on the island of Ischia (Imagaenaria, 2003). The rumor of Domenico's landing on the island spread quickly. After his arrival the boats woke up from their long winter sleep to sink with both hands in the joy of the fishermen for the reborn work, generator of the fantastic and poetic idea that, shortly after, Nature would have repaid them. Minichiello supervised the activities that would lead to the construction of the trap. It would spread like an even cloth on the surface of the sea. From the barge, the Rais managed and viewed the operations that took shape from April. He couldn't read. To sign contracts with the contractor, Giovanni, one of his sons, assisted him in his work. However, he knew a lot about the motion of currents and fish since the age of twelve. An old fisherman had transmitted to him, in the traditional way, from mouth to ear, all the secrets of the currents around Procida and Vivara, in Ischia as well as the entire Gulf of Naples. He learned the knowledge of the seabed, the depth of the sea and the path that would have followed the long trail of nature broken up into marine fauna. Information that would serve him to learn the trade and become "commander" of the Caparaise. It was his burden of stationing on the surface of the sea, above the death chamber of the tonnaia. The plant stretched for 500 meters, in the waters in front of Lacco Ameno, in a north-easterly direction from the Punta di Monte di Vico. The Caparaise "was held by cables that departed from the bow and stern, tied to large anchors about eighty meters deep". On the other hand, from the eastern side, up to the other boat, the Scieve, the main network departed. The start of the pedal was located 200 meters from the land, in the sea. Farther up the Abbey, the other boat, was the signal light.


Still, motionless, like a general waiting for the right moment to launch the attack, standing on his boat, when he saw the shoals of fish passing inside, he was animated to get out of the meditative silence. He also spoke to the tonnarotti with his eyes, but when the fish came out of the womb of the sea it was another thing. Aizate, he ordered the Masonico, so called for its long silences interrupted only when necessary. After the order, the thirty fishermen, lined up and covered, heads of families from the Mezzavia and Ortola districts, came out of waiting bringing the net to the surface, closed the trap door and the slaughter began. Tuna, tuna, and more tuna, and then mackerel, swordfish, longline and moonfish obscured the sea to take shape in an enormous marine and infernal being struggling and avoiding crucifixion. However, nothing would have escaped the system which in a short time was again ready to welcome other bags of loot, even at night. Vopes, bream, glances, set off in the net to remain prisoners, led by the light of a summer moon ready to wish man's intimate victory to guarantee his survival. Domenico knew how to listen to the sea. From an early age, from the shore on Ciraccio beach in Procida, he spied on it, scrutinized it curiously, studied it by observing its waves, how the winds turned or the schools of fish fluttered. He was welcomed by the old Rais of the island's tonnara. He absorbed their words, behaviors, minds and commands. Every year he followed the fishermen who prepared the system of cables, nets and floats of cork or glass, on the beach before becoming, once immersed in the water, the fishing plant. From them he learned the movements during the construction of the system and with his enormous wealth of culture and knowledge of the sea, now ready, from an early age he took over the management of the plant in Lacco Ameno, owned by Commendatore De Luca.


The rites, superstitions and devotions of the men of the sea revolved around the tonnara. Domenico was a fervent religious. The tonnarotti in his service were almost obliged, every Sunday, to interrupt work to disembark and attend mass. Or at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie or in the Basilica of Santa Restituta. "Out of devotion to Santa Restituta, the fishermen donated a tuna," says Professor Silvestri. Among its patron saints there was also San Michele di Procida. The daily work of the Rais was marked by the recitation of the Rosary and by the prayers that could favor fishing. "Most of the catch was made up of mackerel and bonito, and sunfish," says Giuseppe Silvestri. "The mackerel were cooked with potatoes, while the longlines, full of thorns, had to be cleaned by the fishermen who knew how to perform the operation. The fish was then cooked in sauce or with tomatoes ». At the end of the season, before leaving for Procida, the Rais left part of the wages collected during the months of work to the Patroness of Lacco Ameno, made up at five in the morning to return to land at sunset. In the feeling of the tragic testimony that life is a struggle, it must be built, fought, celebrated with the commitment to change the things of the world and make the dawn rise from the bottom of the sea if the goal is survival.


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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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