I live a few minutes drive from the hometown of my maternal grandparents who migrated to Australia in the 1950’s. Visiting Raccuja is like seeing ghosts pass before my eyes, it’s a strange visceral experience. I grew up hearing my grandparents stories and it is emotional to find myself passing upon their footsteps. Even if they lived and worked out in the countryside, Raccuja was were they did their everyday business.
My great grandmother Catena Scaffidi would leave her six young girls home to do the chores while she put on her one good pair of shoes to go to the ‘paese’ for church services every Sunday. The church of the Madonna is where my grandparents and great Aunts celebrated baptisms, communions, confirmations, funerals and marriages.
I would have loved to see the local Carnevale parades filled with masquerade, music, wine and fun. My grandfather once recalled how he and his friends dressed up as particularly ugly looking women, all in the name of Carnival fun.
Raccuja was founded during the Norman domination of Sicily by Count Roger d’Altavilla at the end of the eleventh century and was ruled by a succession of feudal nobel families including the Alagonas,Orioles, Valdinas and Brancifortes it was under the jurisdiction of this final family that Raccuja became an independent town in fifteen fifty two. The name of the town is derived from the Arab words Rahl (farmhouse) and Kuddia (hill), literally the farmhouse on the hill.
Count Roger d’Altavilla led his army in a bloody battle nearby Raccuja against the invading Saracens during the period of the Crusades which left behind many heroic tales and stories of deep dark Saracen tunnels secretly constructed by these mysterious nomadic people in the surrounding mountains.
Today Raccuja is suffering from the decay which is evident in most of secluded Sicily. This tiny mountain village used to be an important agricultural producer, with the wealth of hazelnuts, oranges, lemons, olives, wheat and other once precious crops. With the gradual decline of agriculture Raccuja’s bank has closed, the post office has moved away and many other precious services no longer exist. The local primary school is barely holding on and the parish priest does his best to inject some life into the local square, uniting the younger parishioners for regular celebrations.
Over the past decade the Raccujese have kept their town alive with great love and inventiveness. Their annual festa’s dedicated to the Madonna (21st September) and Saint Cosimo and Damiano (October) still attract small crowds.
However the real crowd pleaser is the annual Sagra of Maceroni. The local businesses, church groups and other volunteers offer a selection of local products together with a small concert one night in August where visitors can eat a flavorsome plate of freshly made maceroni pasta and a drink of your choice for a few Euro.
Last summer I went to Raccuja’s Sagra with some cousins of mine who were visiting from Australia and we had a good time tasting cannoli, eating Nutella covered crepes and sipping hazelnut liquor. People were being ferried in and out of Raccuja well after midnight on courtesy buses. There were many people visiting from places like Germany, Australia, Argentina, northern Italy and local areas.
Some visitors to Sicily (and in fact most of Italy) plan out their vacations moving around from Sagra to Sagra, particularly in the summer. The humble Sagra is a guaranteed cheap meal and you can taste typical products produced in the local area. Some famous Sagra festivals include the Pistachio’s at Bronte (CT), Cous Cous festival San Vito del Capo, Sagra of the Blood Oranges at Centuripe (EN). There are Sagras dedicated to hazelnuts, salami, cheese, roasted pork, oranges, lemons, it depends where you find yourself in Sicily.
I am contented at Raccuja’s inventiveness and smile at Sicilian’s natural shrewdness, an instinctive trait which helps them to survive. I think my grandparents would be proud of their beloved paese.
And to see more about Raccuja be sure to check out the Comune di Raccuja’s web page.