“Fimmene, Fimmene”: A song for the distaff line

I have a friend whose family tree has been traced back a thousand years, but no women exist on it. She just discovered that she herself did not exist, but here brothers did. Her mother did not exist, and nor did her father’s mother. Or her mother’s father. There were no grandmothers. Fathers have sons and grandsons and so the lineage goes, with the name passed on…

Eliminate your mother, then your two grandmothers, then your four great-grandmothers. Go back more generations and hundreds, then thousands disappear. Mothers vanish, and the fathers and mothers of those mothers. Ever more lives disappear as if unlived until you have narrowed a forest down to a tree, a web down to a line. This is what it takes to construct a linear narrative of blood or influence or meaning.

Rebecca Solnit, “Grandmother Spider”. From Men Explain Things to Me. 

I have long associated “Fimmene, Fimmene” with my ancestral practice, and with my female ancestors in particular. I remember the first time I heard it, at a ritual/play performed by Alessandra Belloni and I Giullari di Piazza on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul 2016. I remember hearing Emanuele Licci from CGS play it as a solo during a concert on the second anniversary of my grandmother’s death. My husband, who was not familiar with the song or its personal importance, turned to me with a tear in his eye and said, “That man is very connected to his female ancestors.”

“Fimmene, Fimmene” is a song for and about women. It is an unabashedly political critique of working conditions and sexual assault. When singing or listening to the song, the heart is moved, the eyes water, the connection to the womb and ancestral memory becomes activated in the body. Women are born with all the ova they will ever produce in their lifetimes, so the ova that became you was alive within your mother, when she was still in your grandmother’s womb! This is a special relationship that we all have with our female ancestors, regardless of our gender.  

It’s also an excellent song for people who are new to Southern Italian musical traditions, or who think they can’t incorporate music into their personal devotions because they don’t have formal training. The rhythm is simple and slow enough to tap out even if you’ve never held a tamburello before. The lyrics in the video below are slow and well-articulated, so you can pick them up easily with practice. And, with the invocation at the end to Saint Paul, patron of tarantella, you’ll be singing and dancing in no time!

Salentino

Fimmene fimmene ca sciati allu tabbaccu,
‘nde sciati ddoi e ne turnati quattru!

Ci bbu la dice cu chiantati lu tabbaccu?
Lu sule è forte e bbe lu sicca tuttu.

Fimmene fimmene ca sciati a vinnimiare
e sutta a lu ceppune bbu la faciti fare.

Ue santu Paulu miu de Galatina
famme ‘nde cuntentà ‘sta signurina

Ue santu Paulu miu de le tarante
pizzechi le caruse mmienzu’ll’anche!

Ue santu Paulu miu de li scurzuni
pizzeche li carusi alli cujuni.

English

Women, women who go to the tobacco,
They walk out at two and return at four.

Who told you to plant the tobacco?
The sun is strong and dries you all out!

Women, women who go to harvest
And under the vine you have it done to yourselves.

My Saint Paul of Galatina,
Work a miracle for this young woman.

My Saint Paul of the spiders,
Bite the girls between their thighs.

My Saint Paul of the snakes,
Bite the boys on their balls.

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