Every year, on June 24th, on the occasion of the celebration of the patron saint John the Baptist in Aci Trezza, a fraction of the Municipality of Aci Castello, in the province of Catania, the pantomime of Pisci a mari (Fish in the sea) is held. This traditional ritual performance enacts the fishing of swordfish with a harpoon.

The staging begins with a group of four barefoot sailors dressed in typical costumes: denim shorts with fringed bottoms, a red shirt with yellow ribbons, a straw hat decorated with flowers and yellow and red ribbons, colors linked to the Patron Saint; the group, in a festive atmosphere, stages a procession through the streets of the town accompanied by the band and playing the traditional trumpets made with shells. The sailors take the chief fisherman of the fleet (rais, rràisi) from his home and take him to the town’s port. Here the rais, from a rock overlooking the sea, directs and gives indications on how to carry out troop fishing. The four sailors are on a small traditional festively decorated boat and follow the directions of the chief fisherman, trying to catch the swordfish, played by an expert swimmer, chosen every year by the local community and disguised as a fish even with body paint.

The representation then stages the pursuit and capture of the fish in several stages: according to a ritual canvas with a strong symbolic value, the fish manages to free itself three times from the fishermen’s grip despite some wounds with consequent copious loss of blood and which scenically colors the water vermilion red. The fight finally ends with the symbolic triumph of the fish.

Following the defeat, the rais throws himself into the sea and the sailors out of anger begin to argue with each other, causing the boat to capsize. The collective rite ends with a procession of unfortunate fishermen through the streets of the town, who sadly receive wine and money as gifts from the crowd.

The final triumph of the fish over the fishermen has strong symbolic values and recalls the plot of the novel i Malavoglia by Giovanni Verga, who in 1881 told the sad and similar story of a family of Trezzoti fishermen. The plot of this novel is now considered by a large part of the community to be an important foundation of this maritime drama of “Pisci a mari“.


Bonanzinga S., Una pesca mimata per incantare il mare. Il dramma dell’uomo-pesce nella Riviera dei Ciclopi, in Buttitta I. E., Palmisano M. E. (a cura di), Santi a mare: ritualità e devozione nelle comunità costiere siciliane, Regione siciliana, Assessorato dei beni culturali e ambientali e della pubblica istruzione, Dipartimento dei beni culturali e ambientali, dell’educazione permanente e dell’architettura e dell’arte contemporanea, Palermo, 2009, pp. 66-85

Buttitta, Ignazio Emanuele e Maria Emanuela Palmisano, (a cura di) Santi a mare: ritualità e devozione nelle comunità costiere siciliane. Palermo. Assessorato dei beni culturali, ambientali e della pubblica istruzione, 2009



REI - Libro delle celebrazioni - Pantomima: u Pisci a Mari https://reis.cricd.it/reisicilia/details/2/7