Long long time ago, when sounds had not become words yet and syntax had not organized those words into a developed language, communication was mostly based on signs. This primitive form of non-verbal communication, which is still a distinctive trait of every true-born Italian, may use hands or the whole body to convey a message or an idea. The signs we use every day to reinforce our communication can be easily be considered our oldest “words”.
The act of bowing, for example, can be regarded a gesture of “self abesement” as it seems to stem from either the will to give assurance of his own safety or revere somebody we feel superior to us for rank, breed, beauty, etc.. In Robinson Crusoe, for example, before Robinson teaches Friday to speak his language and have a proper conversation, Defoe marks the submission of the young cannibal to the white man as natural and Friday seems eager to show it with the humblest bow ever:
“He (Friday) came running to me (Robinson), laying himself down again upon the ground, with all the possible signs of a humble, thankful disposition, making a great many antic gestures to show it”,
And as he feared Robinson might not have understood his intentions:
“At last he lays his head flat upon the ground, close to my foot, and sets my other foot upon his head, as he had done before; and after this made all the signs to me of subjection, servitude, and submission imaginable, to let me know how he would serve me so long as he lived”.
Can you guess, which is the first, the “I cannot do without” word Robinson taught Friday? It’s “master”.
In time the act of bowing has become more simply a way of greeting showing a certain respect and I have to say that In Italy we are very familiar with this protocol. You may think: ” how polite these Italians must be”, and, well, indeed we are, but lately, when we mention the word “bowing” here, we do mean something else. “Bowing” in Italian is “inchino” and the shipwreck of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia was caused by an “inchino”.On 13 January 2012, the ship, carrying 4,252 people, deviated from her planned route at the Isola del Giglio, coming closer to that island, and contacted an object on the sea floor. But why should the ship go closer to the island? Well, at those times there was a sort of competition among captains to demonstrate who was the most dexterous to navigate as close as possible to the island, an “inchino” in fact. Captain Schettino did certainly his best to win it, but unfortunately in this game 32 lives were lost without considering the ecological disaster and the incredible loss of money of the company. If you want to meet the man, you may find him in prison you would say, but we are in Italy, the land of the incredible and , actually, I saw some pictures of him while he was gaily partying in Ischia or (would you believe it?) at university, yes, at university as he has recently been invited for a speech on panic management. Schettino??? He was the first to abandon the ship.
Let me take you to the south of Italy now, where the word “inchino” still keeps the trait of a respectful behaviour. At this time of the year a lot of processions are held everywhere: a lot of festive people who follow the statue of a saint, carried by strong worthy men (it’s a high privilege to be chosen among the carriers) singing and praying through the streets of the town. Well, only few weeks ago a procession in honour of “Our lady of Mount Carmel” in Palermo unexpectedly stopped in front of the funeral home of D’Ambrogio family, another “inchino” in fact. Why did they stop? As a tribute to Alessandro D’Ambrosio, the godfather of Porta Nuova, now in jail, who only two years ago was one of those noble carriers.
The land of saints, navigators and politeness, indeed. 🙂