Peasant Autonomy
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Story 108

A village on the coast of Sicily, Italy – 1948

A brawl, and a new insight

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Jim Waddington)


“Why do you think they released me? Well! I did something against the law. They could have hauled me to court, and given me two months in prison. Isn't that right?” Ntoni, a strong young fisherman with curly black hair, talks loudly and heatedly to his younger brother Cola, who doesn't know how to reply.

Yesterday there had been quite a big brawl on the pier. It was early morning, the small fishing boats had just returned with the fish caught during the night to sell to the merchants. As usual, they offered a disgracefully low price, and they refused flatly to give one lira more. The whole night the fishermen had laboured on the sea, they had gotten a good catch, but they got almost nothing for it. They lived in poverty, and the fish merchants pocketed the profits. That had been going on since time immemorial, till the pent-up anger came to a head, yesterday.
One of the younger fishermen, who could not control himself, had thrown a set of scales into the water, and that was the trigger for the other young men to attack the hated fish merchants. Soon the carabinieri arrived, arrested a dozen fighting fishermen, and brought them to the big police office in the nearby town, Catania. To their surprise, the fishermen were released the next day, and brought back in a truck to their village, Aci Trezza. There, they were welcomed as heroes.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Kapa123)


“Of course the carabinieri were not obliged to release us,” Ntoni goes on emotionally, “but I am certain they got a message from the fish merchants to let us go. They are afraid of the anger among the fishermen, the anger in the village. They need us! We are their drudges. When we no longer work for them, they will lose their comfortable life of luxury.” “Yes, they need us, but we also can't do without them,” Cola counters, “when they don't buy our fish, we will have no money to buy bread and wine.”

“There must be a solution,” Ntoni continues, now in a lower voice, with a meditative look in his dark eyes. Slowly, an idea takes shape in his mind. “We have to break free from them. We have to sell our fish ourselves, we have to set up for ourselves. Cola, you must understand it, and the others also. We have to set up for ourselves. We all should understand that.” Then, a smile appears on Ntoni’s face.


The movie La terra trema (The Earth Trembles, 1948) from the Italian director Luchini Visconti gives a splendid and lifelike picture of a small fishing village. All the actors are villagers who play themselves.

Go to:
= the next page: A real friend - a village in Northern Italy – 1948, story 109.
= the Table of contents, story 108.