The Rutigliano's Whistles

The Rutigliano's Whistles

Tuesday 05 April 2022

Try to imagine a shepherd who is returning home after losing his sheep, out of breath, without his hat and with the anxiety of no longer having his flock. The pastor in question, in fact, does not know how to whistle, a real drama for those who do this work.

The blame of the people around him is unbearable, he cannot even think: he is considered good for nothing because a shepherd who cannot whistle is not a shepherd.

But he does not lose heart and, with wit and skill, he invented an alternative way of whistling: this is how the terracotta whistle, called "fiscaluru" in the local dialect, was born. 

It is a clay "biscuit" placed at the base of a terracotta cone on the longer side of which a 1 cm gap opens with two small holes connected to each other inside. Thus, simply by blowing into it, the skilled clay worker, called "figulo", emits a loud and clear whistle. 

Today's whistle construction technique refers to the artisan techniques used in classical Rome and in the Greek world: the first whistle in history was found in Castiello and dates back to the fourth century BC.

Legends aside, that of making terracotta whistles is today considered a real art, declined in many shapes and colors, which has become the symbol of a city in particular: Rutigliano, a small village in the province of Bari.

Intrigued by this particular form of art, we visited Messrs. Moccia and Porcelli, a real institution in Rutigliano in the handcrafted construction of whistles that over time have become famous all over the world and collectible. 

Skilled craftsmen, they showed us the process of making their whistles: it starts with clay (of which Rutigliano is rich) which is prepared, worked and then pressed into two plaster molds. The two molds are subsequently superimposed and, when the optimal humidity conditions and the right degree of pressure are reached, they can be separated and opened. 

At this point, to complete the whistle, you need to use a wooden stick that allows you to check if it works. After that, this is also cooked for four days in special ovens. Once cooled, it can be colored with an infinite number of bright colors.

Until recently, every 17th January, in Rutigliano, during the feast of S. Antonio Abate, protector and patron of peasants, every boyfriend used to give his beloved a basket of fruit, a symbol of the products of the earth, with a whistle in the shape of a rooster, a symbol of virility. 

January 17 was also the starting date of the Rutiglianese Carnival and the terracotta whistles often represented, in an ironic way, the exponents of the established power and the notables of the town. Today it is possible to find whistles of all shapes and sizes that celebrate everyday life and village traditions: the trombone player, the priest, the garbage man, the house painter, the young lady with the umbrella, the policeman, politicians or actors who with their bright colors color the white alleys, the cloisters and the most characteristic corners of the medieval village with joy.

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