Tarantism

 

In our territory the phenomenon of Tarantism occupied an important cultural, folkloric and social page for whole generations before completely disappearing. Witnesses of this amazing phenomenon tell of genuine musical rites organized to cure who had been bitten by the tarantula spider (taranta in local idiom).The bite was followed by a frenzied dance at the rhythm of tambourine, violin and sometimes accordion and guitar that accompanied the tarantulees for hours or even for days until they – exhausted, fell to the ground in a state of trance.

At the first symptoms of the bite, it was customary to hang handkerchiefs of different color in the largest room in the house of the tarantulee who, almost as enchanted by the colors, chose one of them to dance with. It was believed that the color of the handkerchief indicated the color of the tarantula. After hours of hysterical dance, contortions and fatigue the group, always dancing at the rhythm of instruments, moved to the countryside where they believed the tarantulee had been bitten and there the last frantic dance took place.

Ernesto de Martino recorded and photographed the rite of “Tarantism”. His photos and audio documents are currently kept at the Ethnographic Museum in Taranto.