“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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Fimmene Fimmene

Original

Fimmene fimmene ca sciati allu tabaccu
ne sciati doi e ne turnati quattru.

Ci bu la tice cu chiantati lu tabaccu
la ditta nu bu tae li taraletti.

Ca poi li sordi bu li benedicu
bu ‘nde ccattati nuci per Natale.

Te dicu sempre cu nu chianti lu tabaccu
lu sule è forte e te lu sicca tuttu.

Fimmene fimmene ca sciati alle ulìe
cugghitinde le fitte e le cigghiare1.

Fimmene fimmene ca sciati a vindimare
e sutta lu ceppune bu la faciti fare.

E Santu Paulu meu te Galatina
fammende ccuntetà sta signurina.

E Santu Paulu meu te le tarante
pizzichi le caruse a mmienzu all’anche.

E Santu Paulu miu te li scurzuni
pizzichi li carusi alli cujuni.
Translation in Italian

Femmine femmine che andate al tabacco
ve ne andate in due e tornate in quattro.

Chi vi dice di piantare il tabacco
la ditta non vi dà neanche i telaietti.

Che poi i soldi ve li benedico
che vi comprate le noci per Natale

Ti dico sempre di non piantare il tabacco
il sole è forte e lo secca tutto.

Femmine femmine che raccogliete le olive
raccogliete le vicine e le sparse

Femmine femmine che andate a vendemmiare
sotto la vigna ve la fate fare.

E San Paolo mio di Galatina
fammi accontentare questa signorina

E San Paolo mio delle tarante
pizzichi le ragazze in mezzo alle gambe.

E San Paolo mio dei serpenti
pizzichi i maschi fra i coglioni.

tammurriata pompei
Above: A mosaic from Pompeii which appears to depict the tammurriata being played and danced in Antiquity. 

“The arms are held in front of the body with the elbows outward, and the movements that they make are basically two, inspired by agricultural activities. The first is a downwards gesture of sowing. The second is an upwards gesture that resembles the movements made when collecting fruit from trees. The steps of the tammurriata follow the rhythm of the drums and are characterized by mirrored movement of the feet, side-to-side, back and forth, or toe-to-heel of the two dancers. All in all, the dancers move in circles.” – Arianna Sacco

Dancing as Life

“Life causes motion, and motion can give evidence of life. This becomes: ‘Life causes motion, hence motion is evidence of life.’ Humans can see that the motions of work have a direct purpose, but motion for motion’s sake is something else–‘dance’ broadly taken. (In the languages of eastern Europe, the same word often means both ‘dance’ and ‘play,’ and other nondirect motions like swinging, tickling, and laughing may fall in this basket. Medieval western Europeans, too, called the nocturnal dancing and feasting of the spirits the game, its goal being an abundance of crops called luck.) Supernatural powers, of course, need not work to survive; hence divine life simply ‘dances’ and in this very act of dancing is thought to create life. …

“The spirits that villagers sought to influence were the spirits of the dead. But different categories of dead existed, with different powers and different connections to the living.

“First, one’s dead ancestors. Since they had begotten the living, one could reasonably appeal to them to help their offspring survive. And because these ancestors had been buried in the ground (where their spirits were assumed to pass much of their time), presumably they could help the seeds down there–the newly sown crops–to germinate and grow. Basic to this belief is the notion of resurrection: the seed seems dead, it is buried, it rises to produce new seed. The eternal cycle of life.

“Second were the spirits of the dead of other villages. These were particularly dangerous because they would be busy sequestering all the existing abundance for their offspring. So ritual dancers, from the Balkans to Britain, marked out territories and fought intruding bands, to the death if necessary.

“Finally, there existed a very special group: young women born into the clan who had died before having any children–hence not ancestors of the living but still belonging to the community. Most important, they had not used their natural store of fertility. So, people reasoned, if we’re especially nice to them, they might bestow that unused fertility on us. Because unmarried girls in the living community spent much of their time singing and dancing together, people inferred by analogy that the spirits of dead girls would likewise band together and spend their time singing, dancing, swimming, laughing, and so on. These Dancing Goddesses inhabited the wilds, controlling the rain and other waters, creating fertility and healing powers people needed. The challenge was to lead, cajole, trap, or entice them into the cultivated areas to shed their fertility here, and one way to do this was to do what they did: dance.”

Elizabeth Wayland Barber, The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance, pp. 3-4.

Vesuvio by Spaccanapoli

napulitano

Si mont’ o si ‘ma mont’ ‘e na jastemm’
Si ‘a morte si ‘na mort’ ca’ po’ tremm’ Montagna fatta ‘e lava ‘e cient’ len’ (gue) Tu tien’ ‘mman a te’ sta vita meja

So pizz’ ‘e case o so pizz’ ‘e galera addò staje chiuse d’a matina a sera
si’ o purgatorio ‘e tutt’ chesta ‘ggente ca vive dint’ e barrache e vive ‘e stient’

si fumm’ o si nun fumm’ ‘o faje rumore ‘o fuoco che te puort’ dint’ o core quann’ fa notte ‘e o ciel’ se fa scur’ sul’ o ricordo ‘e te ce fa paura

chi campa ‘nsiene ‘a te, te para’ nient’ si jesce pazz è pazz overamente l’unica verità pe’ tutt’ quante
sarria chell’ ‘e fui’

ma po’ addo’ jamm’ , primma ca tocca juorno dopp’ tant’ stu’ ffuoco e lava ce port’ tutt’ quant’ a ‘mmiez’ a via

(strumentale)

chi campa ‘nsiene ‘a te, te para’ nient’ si jesce pazz è pazz overamente l’unica verità pe’ tutt’ quante
sarria chell’ ‘e fui’

Si mont’ o si ‘ma mont’ ‘e na jastemm’
Si ‘a morte si ‘na mort’ ca’ po’ tremm’ Montagna fatta ‘e lava ‘e cient’ len’ (gue) Tu tien’ ‘mman a te’ sta vita meja

English

You’re a mountain, but a swearing mountain. You’re death, but death that sends tremors. Mountain of lava, of hundreds of paths,
you hold in your hands this life of mine.

Is this a place for homes or a place for jail

Where you’re locked from morning till night? You’re purgatory for all these people
who live in slums and who live in need.

Whether you smoke or not you still make noise its the fire you bear in your heart.
When the night falls and the sky gets dark
the mere thought of you makes us tremble.

Those who live with you, don’t be surprised if they go out mad they really are mad.
The only (truth?) safety for us
would be to run away from you…

and yet, where shall we go? before the day breaks this river of lava will drag us along and
leave us homeless.

(instrumental)

Those who live with you, don’t be surprised if they go out mad they really are mad.
The only (truth?) safety for us
would be to run away from you…

You’re a mountain, but what a mountain. You’re a mountain, but a swearing mountain. You’re death, but death that sends tremors. Mountain of lava, of hundreds of paths,
you hold in your hands this life of mine.