I Pupi Siciliani – The Sicilian Puppets

The Sicilian puppets, or I pupi Siciliani are part of the big Sicilian tradition of puppet theatre shows from the late 19th century and early 20th century. They are specifically unique and can be distinguished easily from finger puppets and ‘dummies’ used by ventriloquists because of their make and size. The Sicilian puppets range from 1 meter to almost 2 meters tall and can weigh up to 35kg as they do in the Catania region!

If you like, consider these puppets constructed similarly to the infamous Pinocchio. Geppetto in his workshop of wood, an almost realistic doll with stiff limbs held by strings and maneuvered by a human from above. The Pupi Siciliani were known for throwing shoes on chivalric narratives derived mostly from literature and poems of the Carolingian dynasty which was part of the Holy Roman Empire and dominated western and central Europe in the Middle Ages. Think knights in shining armour saving damsels in distress… A lot also involved some folklore and mystical creations and narratives.

Over the century, the movement developed by the Italian craftsmen to quicken the movement of the puppets and made them seem more realistic.

As we know, the cities of Sicily are characterized for their individual traditions and community culture. It is no surprise that there are two distinct traditions or ‘styles’ of these Sicilian puppets – that of Palermo and that of Catania. The two major rivalry Sicilian cities.

Sicilian Epic and the Marionette Theater : Michael Buonanno : 9780786477678
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Palermitano tradition:

  • Initiated in the capital and spread to the western part of the island
  • 80cm – 1m tall
  • Approximately 8kg
  • Movement originating from sides of the puppet with animators behind the side wings of the stage.
  • Thus, the stage is deeper as oppose to wider so the animators can reach above the stage.
  • More stylized and elementary.

Catanese tradition:

  • Initially from Etna and eventually spread to the East of Sicily and Calabria.
  • From 80cm to 1.3m
  • Approximately 35kg
  • Animators would not be at the same level of the stage as in the Palermitano tradition but on a bridge behind the seabed (ù scannappoggiu). They would be approximately 1m off the ground. (à faddacca)
  • Hence, it is necessary for a wider stage than deeper.
  • More tragic, sentimental and realistic style shows.

Since the 20th century, the Napoli family from Catania have dedicated their family business in preserving this tradition, predominantly in the Catanese style. Since 1921 the family have continued to work hard in maintaining the style and developing more shows for the wider audience, as well as educating. The Napoli family host exhibitions and teach students and opera enthusiasts the technique and art of the Sicilian Pupi tradition. So grand this be of a tradition, in 2008, I Pupi Siciliani were added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humantity list under EU law. Unfortunately, after the economic boom of the 60s, it became hard for pupeteers to keep their job as their main source of income. Fortunately, due to tourism the tradition is still alive and is very popular for importation to post WWII Italian migrant countries such as America and Australia.

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One thought on “I Pupi Siciliani – The Sicilian Puppets

  1. It might be nice to see how such “pupi” puppets are created designed and used in a performance.

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