I had my Easter celebrations this year in Malta and Gozo, the beautiful Islands that are located right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and home to a little over four hundred thousand people. This is where the Acts of Apostles reports that Paul had his shipwreck experience. After being miraculously saved from drowning, Paul found himself (along with his companions) in the Island called Malta. He then spent sometime there, preaching the Gospel of Christ and establishing Churches. Christianity here therefore dates back to Apostolic times, and everywhere in the land, there are loud portraits of ancient Christian civilization.
The climate and vegetation of Malta fall half-way between the tropical and the temperate. The landscape is a sight to behold: the exquisite assemblage of hills and valleys which are often adorned with giant cactus hedges and flowers; the beautiful beaches, gorgeous harbours and adorable water-fronts that are the tourists delight; the awe-inspiring rock formations, expansive caves, the salt lakes which dot the landscape, and the rich deposit of volcanic (cream-coloured) limestone, decked with sea shells and skeletal remains of pre-historic aquatic life. Ah, driving through the modern highways and tunnels of the capital city of Valetta, visiting the architectural masterpieces and fortresses of the Knights of Malta in the ancient settlement of Mdina, and riding a boat across the sparkling blue sea from Malta to Gozo, I had a brief but privileged and unforgettable encounter with some of nature’s most beautiful sites!
Yet Malta and Gozo have had a most chequered political history. In the last 3000 years inhabitants of these Islands have been victims of foreign occupation, military conquests, mass deportation, colonial rule, and finally, reckless bombardment during World War II. Beginning with the incursion of the Phoenicians in 800 BC and followed by the Roman imperial forces around the year 218 BC, the Islands of Malta and Gozo have been repeatedly coveted, conquered, occupied and exploited by one Empire after another. They include the Normans, the Arabs (Ottoman Empire), the Empire of Sicily, the famous Knights of Malta who moved to Malta after losing their base in Jerusalem and Rhodes, then the French (under Napoleon), and finally the British.
The transition from one imperial control to the other was often marked by brutal wars that ravaged and impoverished the local inhabitants. In the year 1551 for example, nearly all the people of Gozo (put at about 5000) were said to have been captured and transported by the agents of the Ottoman Empire to Libya for slave labour. Under Napoleon Bonaparte, the French were said to have engaged in such reckless looting of the ancient treasures of the land (including church sanctuary ornaments), that the poor peasants of Malta rose up in revolt against the occupation force. Malta became independent of colonial rule only in September 1964, and assumed the status of a Republic ten years later. It joined the European Union in 2004. The political history of Malta and Gozo is to my mind calligraphy of human greed and lust for power that are well-neigh insatiable, but which have brought upon humanity so much violence, so much pain.
On account of the peculiar history of conquests and occupation briefly sketched above, what we see today in Malta is a mosaic of cultural features - Ancient Sicilian, Roman (Latin), Arabic, French, English and more. The Maltese language is a hybrid whose major roots come from Arabic. But the other languages have each left their own mark too. Malta is today a very peaceful society with a fast growing economy and one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. The people are generally simple, warm, welcoming and friendly. They exhibit a high degree of resilience - determined to build a new peaceful and prosperous country upon the ruins, the rubbles and the ashes of an inglorious past.
Thus, apart from savouring the parade of nature's beauty in these Islands, my Easter visit has rekindled my hope that as God lives, my homeland shall, like Malta, one day rise from the ruins and rubbles of the devastation to which the land is today subjected by local conquerors and their foreign collaborators. Yes, I believe that as in the case of Malta, the era of callous rape and the regime of reckless pillage shall pass away, and Nigerians shall rise again to a life of peace, stability and prosperity.