Malta features prominently in a new book on the folklore of hunting.
The book, Lark mirrors, folk art from the past, was written by Herman F. Arentsen and Natalino Fenech and deals with lark mirrors (alwettieri), a form of decoys that were used to attract larks.
The head of lark mirrors was made from wood, about 30 centimetres in length and shaped like a croissant or vaguely resembling a pair of birds' wings, on which small pieces of mirrors were stuck. The head was placed on a spindle that was fitted on a stake and spun from a distance by means of a chord.
Larks were attracted to it when it was spun. It is not known why larks were attracted to the mirror bits and various theories put forward by hunters are discussed in the book. Most Maltese hunters believe larks mistake the lark mirror for a pool of water and go to drink.
In Malta, lark mirrors were used by various hunters, especially in the middle part of the last century, when larks were hunted for food. Larks were shot in considerable numbers and their meat turned into lark pies even up to 30 years ago, when most hunters shot birds for the table, rather than for sport.
Lark mirrors have existed since 1583, or even earlier, as a French poet mentions them in a poem of the time. Shakespeare refers to lark mirrors in Henry XIII, written at about 1613.
In France, the use of lark mirrors was so common that the term lark mirror has a metaphorical meaning for illusion. One can find references to lark mirrors in French proverbs and sayings, songs as well as Operas.
The book has seven chapters on the history, evolution, manufacture and use of lark mirrors in England, France, Italy, Malta, Germany, Austria and The Netherlands.
The chapter about Malta contains information about how they were used, made and sold as well as anecdotes and information from senior citizens who recall using and making them.
The book has over 500 illustrations, including some taken from rare patents dating from the 1800s. Illustrations for the covers are by artist Andrew Micallef.
The book has an extensive bibliography and eight appendices show dozens of industrially-made decoys and folk art pieces. The book also contains information on bird calls and owl decoys used for luring larks. It also has an extensive summary in Italian and French.
The late emeritus professor Karel H. Voous wrote that the book "contains a wealth of historical and folkloristic detail".
The honorary life president of the Ghaqda Kaccaturi San Ubertu wrote that "lovers of folklore in general and those interested in hunting in particular cannot fail to find this fascinating book a goldmine of information and reference".
The book, which was printed by Progress Press, has received favourable reviews in Holland and is available at leading bookshops.
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