6 - 8 June 2005
Sammy Vella questioned the magnitude we gave for the unit. His query led to our discovery of the error in the United Nations document, and the correction of our page, and he then very generously answered other questions which enabled us to revise pages on other Maltese units. Mr. Vella’s description of a childhood experience in Malta in the mid-20th century is a fine example of the relation between merchants and their measures in an era before government sealers of weights and measures:
These units of measure were not just an approximation used for doling out dry measure. They were actual wooden containers. I’ve been told that they also existed in brass and even in bronze, but I’ve only seen them made of wood. Round the corner from my father’s house there used to be a grain shop. The guy was one of the village’s wealthy men. He sold all the grains, pulses, seeds, flour, sugar, peanuts, chickpeas. His big warehouse was a magnet for us. There were so many different smells and so many nooks and corners to hide and play in. Once I took what looked like a small wooden bucket to play with and the guy stopped me dead in my tracks. “Oh no you don’t!” he shouted, “that’s my tomna!” The point was that he would let us play with anything, even with the maize and the walnuts and hazelnuts, but not with that “bucket” because that was his unit of measure, his tomna.
13 January 2005
Joseph Ellis corrected the plural form.
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Last revised: 6 June 2005.