About Us


Aphroconfuso is a literary journal in the Maltese language launched on the 1st of May 2023. We take our name from the first printed description of the inhabitants of the Maltese Islands, Jean Quintin d’Autun’s Insulae Melitae Descriptio, printed in Lyon in 1536. “Siculo sunt homines ingenio, Aphro confuso: ad praelia parum fortes & commodi. The people have a Sicilian character, with a mixture of African: they are not strong enough for, nor adapted to, warfare. The name is more relevant as a symptom than a specific agenda. We want to be confident and curious about Maltese identity, exploring its new horizons beyond the well-trodden binaries of Maltese/English.

We are interested in publishing essays, stories and poems — and also literary works that are harder to classify. We are interested in translation, in the coexistence of a small language among global languages, as well as in the expression of global ideas in our language. Our interest is open, especially to feminist experiences, marginal and queer realities. You can get an idea of the kind of work that we publish from the summaries below.

Although we are open to all other formats, we believe that there are great advantages to publishing our journal online. We want to create a sustainable journal and don’t want to seek its prestige only when/if we eventually use the printed form. For this reason we are defining Aphroconfuso as an online literary journal. However, we do not exclude any other format that can supplement the online format. Other formats may include print publications, podcasts, audiobooks, e-books, physical or online events, and others.


Żerriegħa — Davinia Hamilton


6 100 words

An essay on language, memory, and the ground beneath our feet

In the beginning of the second lockdown, Davinia planted a seed for the first time in her life. It was part of a performance that a friend  had devised, and consisted of a zoom call with the performer who would talk the “audience member” through the process of planting seeds in the compost and pot that the performer had sent in the post, together with the seeds themselves.

Much to her surprise, the seeds sprouted and took root. Prevented by the lockdown from visiting her family over Christmas, Davinia instead got more and more into her plants. She cycled through empty streets and walked in the parks in South West London, and as winter gave way to spring, she was exhilarated by all the signs of life around her.

Her new awareness of the different kinds of trees was exciting and learning to tell them apart felt as if a whole new world had opened up. “London Plane, Poplar, Hornbeam, Oak, Large-leaved Lime, Hazel, Ash, Silver Birch, Blackthorn, Weeping Birch, Crab Apple, Willow, Sweet Chestnut, Horse Chestnut. 

But another realisation soon dawns on her: that she hardly knows any of these names in Maltese. The reasons behind this lacuna in her vocabulary change the essay’s trajectory and now she begins to investigate not only the relative prestige of English and Maltese in the country she grew up in, but also the strategies of memory that lingered long after it had ceased to be a British colony. 

“Writing, like walking, is a form of pilgrimage, a word that comes from the Latin peregrinus, ‘stranger’. And here I am, a stranger in this land I live in, sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own language. Let’s let this essay blossom from that seed. It is a pilgrimage through nature, a passage into myself, into the past, and into a dark colonial past that left me  —  and left us  —  missing.

While instances of iconoclasm begin to appear almost daily in the news, Davinia’s journey takes her deeper into colonial false memories and delusions about having once been the Empire’s favourite child.

Davinia Hamilton is a graduate in English from the University of Malta. She studied digital media in Dublin, and theatre at the ArtsEd school in London. She is the co-author of Blanket Ban, a theatrical production about abortion in Malta, published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. The play won the Edinburgh Untapped Award, and was nominated for several other awards.


Ġismi Battikata — Charlene Galea

[“My Body Is a Hassle”]

3 000 words

An essay-poem, a biography of one human body

Charlene takes her body as the book of her life and gives voice to every part of her body and every mark she finds on it. For her, the body is both the source of what she feels and the recipient of everything that life throws at her. She doesn’t just feel it from the inside, but also sees it from the outside, in the mirror of other people’s behaviour towards it.

Although we live in our bodies, our bodies are not ours alone. It is being consumed by others and shaped by the way they see it, the way they desire it or neglect it. From the way it is loved by others and the way it is a tool in a machine bigger than any individual body, an economic and political machine.

Charlene scans her body and describes every part of it, every freckle, every tattoo, every piercing, every mark left over from a previous body, from a previous weight and shape, from a previous self.

“I have stopped all kinds of work and found myself doing this work on myself  —   because in a system of life that from birth tries to condemn you to a life of control, this is an act of justice with yourself.

“I am decolonizing myself, stripping this body of authorised adornment. I have a great fear of what will happen when I have to come back from this utopia of a dance studio and face the island of the Maltese again.

“Ġismi Battikata” is the product of a collaboration between the author and Aphroconfuso. It had its genesis in a series of workshops that Charlene held in Budapest as part of a series of performances about the body, movement and voice, which she has been exploring in recent years. Since publication, Charlene has continued to perform the script and change it as her body changes.

Charlene Galea is an artist and performer. She studied at the London College of Fashion and the University of Malta. She frequently shows and performs in Malta and Budapest, Brussels, Berlin and Vienna.


Qarn — Romeo Roxman Gatt


7 400 words

A memoir about transitioning and coming home to language, to family, to yourself

In his memoir “Qarn”, Romeo Roxman Gatt returns to Malta for a short visit but bad news prevents him from leaving. Although he doesn’t go back to London, he starts a much more demanding journey, one that he has known for a long time that he has to make.

During his journey to “correct the error that the doctors and midwives had made” when he and his twin sister were born, he looks not only at the ideas that we carry with us about masculinity, but also at his family, and the culture that he was born into. Initially, it was an illness in the family that kept him from returning to London. This is our first glimpse into Romeo’s world, his life with his parents and his sister.

Not returning to the UK proves fortuitous when the pandemic closes down the skies. Malta is a less hostile environment for him to begin his transition. As he begins a course of Testosterone and starts preparing for surgery, Romeo obsesses over the minutiae of Mediterranean manhood and the pageantry of gender in Catholic culture. He searches for, and occasionally finds, tenderness in even the most masculine of spaces.

“I don’t want to add to the narrative that when someone like me starts injecting hormones he becomes more aggressive, confident, sure of himself, etc. Luckily for me, I was not socialised as a man. I didn’t always see this as good fortune, but I was still young and my mind was not that mature, so I didn’t go too deeply into things... I’ve promised myself that when I take hormones I will be a trans man; I see it as another asset for the future of manhood, if not for all of humanity.

“Qarn” is also the story of a coming home to language. “It‘s only recently that I started thinking about who I am and what I am in relation to my mother tongue  —  Maltese. I was afraid to seriously confront my sexuality and gender when I lived in Malta. It was only when I left for London at the age of twenty that I started to find the courage. 

“I quickly began to realise that whenever I started coming back to Malta… my Maltese vocabulary is tragically lacking, especially when I come to talk about these topics  —  topics that inform who I am and what I talk about in everyday life. I’m excited that there is a sea of queer vocabulary that has yet to be invented in Maltese.

Romeo Roxman Gatt is a multidisciplinary artist. He studied at the Royal College of Art, London, and frequently shows in the UK and Malta. Together with Charlie Cauchi, he set up Rosa Kwir, a gallery space and archive.


Gilgamex, Dak li Ra l-Qiegħ — Omar N’Shea

[“Gilgamesh, Who Saw the Deep”]

6 400 words

On Gilgamesh, its translation, its nuances, & how it has been repeatedly implicated in identity formation

In his essay, Omar shows how Gilgamesh’s reception in the modern age was, from the beginning, frequently roped in to support some large historical or cultural claim, and that included Malta’s own association with a non-European past. Omar begins with George Smith’s 1872 lecture in which he announced his discovery of a flood narrative that seemed to confirm the biblical account. In the newly sceptical 19th Century of Huxley and Darwin, this was a resonant claim. William Gladstone, prime minister and scholar, joined in the evening’s enthusiasm and  gushed that Gilgamesh must have been the prototype of Hercules.

Just over forty years later, F. Calleja was telling his Maltese compatriots that they had “inherited that sacred language” of the Canaanites, and that in speaking Maltese they were Assyriologists without even knowing it! This was far from an innocent statement. Italian had long been the language of the Maltese bourgeoisie and the British administration was, not for the first time, trying to replace it with English. To avoid presenting this as cultural aggression, Maltese itself  was also being positioned and promoted as the “authentic” language of the people. It became tactically important to find for the Maltese language ancient — and, crucially for a country anxious about its European identity, pre-Islamic — roots that could rival the classical pedigree of the Italian language.

Gilgamesh, whose adventures were translated into Arabic in the 1960s, was destined to be volunteered for a similar mission in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Ancient Semitic culture was promoted by the Ba’ath party as a common heritage for all Iraqis, including Kurds and other ethnicities. This could have excluded Iraq from pan-Arabist projects until it was decreed in 1977 that the ancient Semites of Mesopotamia were, in fact, Arabs!

Omar’s essay then turns to the one existing translation of Gilgamesh into Maltese, by Pawlu Montebello, which seems to have been translated from an English version. At the time,in 1974 , Dom Mintoff was prime minister, and his Labour Party was negotiating the terms for the British exit from the country. His party had turned its back on the West in 1960 when it joined the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO) and now it was promoting closer ties with the “Arab world”, not least with Muammar al-Gaddafi’s Libya, a mere 300 km to the south.

Montebello was clearly a great admirer of Mintoff and in a lapidary frontispiece he effuses about his leadership. He calls him “a courageous leader” and “builder of our land, our age, and our nation. He then offers his translation as tribute to Mintoff, describing himself as one among thousands of followers, whose union is like that of Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

Turning to the character of Gilgamesh himself, Omar references Sophus Helle’s recent translation of Gilgamesh from Babylonian and his scholarship on the epic to reveal a more nuanced character than we may have been used to. “Gilgamesh is not the virile hero that the narrative promises us at the outset, Omar writes. “Indeed when he wins the fight with Humbaba, he only succeeds because his mother, Ninsun, helps him. We end up seeing him hug, cry, worry, dream, and especially mourn the loss of his loved one more than we see him fighting. He tears his clothes and wears the skin of an animal; he roars like a lioness who has just lost her cubs. Omar suggests that there is much “new meaning” to be gained from a new translation of Gilgamesh into Maltese that, unlike Montebello’s, works directly from the Semitic “original”. F. Calleja may have been over-egging his argument, but there really is much Semitic affordance in the original text that a new Maltese translation can exploit. The essay ends with Omar’s own translation from the Akkadian of the recently discovered (2011) fragment, the opening to Tablet V of the epic of Gilgamesh. It tells the story of how Gilgamesh and Enkidu enter the Cedar Forest.

Omar N’Shea studies the Assyrian Empire of the first millennium BCE, with an emphasis on politics, gender, and masculinity. He has a PhD in History and the Archeology of the Middle East from the University of Malta. He is a regular contributor to Aphroconfuso and writes about archaeology and the cultures that surround it, and the history of sexuality in Malta.


Medusa — Rowena Grech


1 500 words

The Medusa story, told from her own perspective

In this short story, Medusa is not “a tragic figure from mythology”. As she does in many of the stories she tells, Rowena goes in search of the woman in the narrative and brings her into our world. 

She does this not by updating the setting or the events, but by retelling it in a contemporary idiom, the very same one that we use to understand and navigate our own emotional lives. We do not get the story of the hero, who conquers, and rules, and rapes, and kills. We read, instead, the effort that the protagonist makes to take shape and become a whole character.

Rowena Grech enters her story by wearing it, photographing it, disassembling it through cosplay and all the technologies she has at her disposal — making the story look at itself in the mirror of social media.


Lejl u Nhar — Miriam Galea

[“Night and Day”]

2 300 words

Short fiction in the form of six vignettes

The women in Miriam’s vignettes free themselves from the intense glare of the Maltese sun and escape north to a city where the day is almost as dark as night, and the “heavens seem to be bruised.

Despite their escape, they all seem to ask the same question: “Where is that blazing sun hiding, where has the light gone?” They run away from lovers and avoid friends. They are bored, nostalgic, forgetful, hopeful.

I think Marija is ill. She’s forgetting things. She’s forgetting men. She’s forgetting tax forms. She’s forgetting names. She’s forgetting books. She’s forgetting sex. She’s forgetting the days of the week. She’s forgetting how to add up.
She’s forgetting to eat, to sneeze, to wake up.
She’s forgetting to open or close the curtain. Forgetting to lock the door from the inside. Forgetting the time.

They go away for the weekend and come back to a city that seems indifferent about having them back, but not hostile. “In the dark and in the heavy rain everyone had gathered in the shelter of their home and I was one of the few walking the slippery streets of the city, rumbling with the echo of tired footsteps.

Miriam is a writer, artist, actor and translator. Her own illustration accompanies the vignettes.


Ħsieb il-Ħamiema — Noah Fabri

[“Care(s) of the Dove”]

6 200 words

A short story about two women from Burkina Faso who are raising a daughter in Malta

In this short story, we meet Maimouna and Nathalie, two women from Burkina Faso who are bringing up Nathalie’s daughter in Malta. Their life revolves around work, cooking, eating with friends, hanging out, dreaming. Maimouna was born in Côte d’Ivoire to Burkinabè parents. Her family had a restaurant in Abidjan which suffered an arson attack the day after the coup d’État. They moved back to their village in the north of Burkina Faso and began their life all over again. When she was sixteen, she moved to Ouagadougou where she met Nathalie.  They moved to Paris together and lived there for a year, and then moved to Malta.

Meanwhile, little Gabrielle — the “dove” of the title — watches everything and, with the several languages she speaks, she looks for a word to match everything she observes. “She started trying to stick to one language for each sentence … but she realised that with each word she was associating a  magical world of creatures. For example, she imagined  ‘siġra’ to be a cute angel with straight hair clambering around in a forest; ‘arbre’ was a giant sitting on a potty trying to shit and not succeeding.

Nathalie, her young mother, had once wanted to go to film school but now she finds a strange contentment in the simple fact that her experiences have not left her traumatised. All she wants, for the time being, is that her life can continue as it is.

Noah Fabri is a writer, musician and visual artist. He is co-founder of Geġwiġija Library, a peripatetic lending library that regularly organises events and readings.


Il-Kuxjenza fit-Truf — Joe Gatt

[“Consciousness at the Edges”]

1 600 words

A note on the translation of “Il Fumo, a chapter from Italo Svevo’s La Coscienza di Zeno

Our launch day, the first of May last year, coincided with the centenary of the (self-)publication of Italo Svevo’s La Coscienza di Zeno. We published a translation from the Italian of “Il Fumo”, [Smoking], a chapter from the novel.

Svevo was writing a few years after Italian unification; but his native Trieste would not join Italy for another thirty years. He was not only writing in Italian “from abroad”, he was also writing in a language that was more or less foreign to him, a language to which he aspired.

“The relationship of Svevo and his characters with the Italian language was not too far from that of the Maltese of the same time and the same class. Malta, like Trieste, had more than once been the target of Italian irredentism: two ‘islands’ held by the rule of the two empires (Britain, Austria-Hungary) from fulfilling their destiny and joining their Italian brothers.

Italy’s own “questione della lingua” that had been running since Dante, had only ended twenty years before Svevo’s birth; and twenty years after his birth began Malta’s own “kwistjoni tal-lingwa” when a British report recommended that English should replace Italian in Maltese schools.

Svevo is very much aware that his characters are speaking another language, the Triestine “dialect” that is far from the prestigious Italian he is writing in. This reminds Joe of the Italian television that he used to watch as a child, in which everything was dubbed into Italian. Cops in New York, giant robots in Tokyo, they all spoke Manzoni’s language, although if you looked closely, you could tell that in fact their lips were speaking another language.

The conceit of the “La coscienza di Zeno” is that Zeno Cosini has been asked by his psychoanalyst to write down all his thoughts; not exactly a talking cure but a garrulous one to be sure. But Cosini, if he knows nothing else, knows that things are not so simple, and the language question is far from over. His doctor does not understand this, Cosini says towards the end of the book, he “ignores what it means to write in Italian for us who speak, and do not know how to write, our own dialect. A written confession is always a lie. With every word of our Tuscan [Italian, as opposed to Triestine] we lie!”

“If only he knew how heartily we narrate all the things for which we have a ready phrase and how we avoid those that make us turn to the dictionary! This is exactly how we select from our lives the episodes we write about. We know that our life would have a completely different aspect if we were to retell it in our dialect.


Reċti tal-Kbar, Parties tat-Tfal — Ryan Falzon

[“Play-acting for Grown-ups, Playtime for Kids”]

2 600 words

A satirical story-essay on spectacle and property

Two characters are filling out a grant application to fund some sort of performance or event. They’re not exactly sure what they want to achieve other than to get the funding.

The subject, they agree, should be Malta. The world is Malta, and Malta is the World. Even though “it’s no longer easy to write about Malta, if it ever was”. They pack into their proposal every last detail of contemporary Maltese life — without stepping on anyone’s toes, of course.

Nothing is too specific: The six-pack of bottled water you get for every €100 spent at the supermarket. Upwardly mobile couples silently enjoying Sunday fish lunches at expensive traditional restaurants. Hastily-built penthouse apartments with temperamental plumbing song festivals, apple-flavoured vapes, CBD, protest-marches, exploitative labour practices, strip clubs, glorified washrooms posing as studio flats, acquaintances, cousins, contacts, nephews, networks built around back-scratching, the quid pro quo of a booming economy.

As in his very successful debut novel, Sajf (Kotba Calleja 2022), Ryan documents a frantic, hedonistic, claustrophobic society determined to commodify not only every last inch of horizontal and vertical space, but also every trope and symbol of its culture.

(The whole thing is called off because the funding application is turned down.)

Ryan is also a visual artist showing regularly, locally, in Berlin and other cities. In his art, as in his writing, wit is offset by sensitivity; public role-playing is examined as closely as the loneliness of an electronically mediated social life.

Aphroconfuso and translation

When we started planning our journal in autumn 2022, we knew translation would be an important part of the mix but we didn’t quite realise to what extent. By the time we wrote our first editorial  in May 2023, we were saying that

“If it’s true, as many claim, that all writing is a form of translation, writing in Maltese is translation in an even more obvious way.

For many reasons, not least a long history of colonisation and the fact that Maltese is spoken by just over half a million people, most Maltese writers will have done most of their reading in English (and Italian, French, German, etc, but mostly English) so  the process of writing becomes a struggle to express in Maltese ideas that they’ve always thought about in English.

This is, of course, particularly the case in essays, when dealing with concepts from contemporary philosophy, or cultural theory, which our contributors very often have only ever read in English. (Very few works of philosophy have been translated into Maltese, and almost none of them is a work of contemporary thought.)

In the editorial process, together with our writers, we often have to choose between borrowing a word, forcing a neologism, paraphrasing it, resurrecting an archaic term, stretching the meaning of an existing one, and so on. These are the shims and stratagems that any translator is familiar with. And, rather than trying to hide this process, we have sought to incorporate it into our journal’s style and “show the struggle”. This does not apply only to theoretical subjects. In his transition memoir, “Qarn”, Romeo Roxman Gatt frequently runs out of Maltese vocabulary. “It is quite recently that I started thinking about who I am and what I am in relation to my mother tongue  —  Maltese. I was afraid to seriously confront my sexuality and gender when I lived in Malta.

Otherness. In Maltese it is difficult to translate it with one word; I have to give the meaning instead: that quality which emphasises the difference. For now I will say it in English: Otherness. I would like to find it in Maltese since it is used so much in the texts I work with. Maybe ‘alterità’? Or is that ‘alterity’?

Sometimes, we try to see if we can gain more intimate access to a term by exploiting the affinity of Maltese with both Semitic and Romance languages. This is also a little act of decolonisation that refuses to see the world always and only through the prism of the English language. 

In October of 2023 we had an event at the Malta Book Festival called “Kif Tgħidha f’Qalbek” [How You Say It to Yourself] in which Kurt Borg, Davinia Hamilton and Omar N’Shea discussed the difficulties (and unexpected delights) of trying to incorporate certain specialist terminology in their essays in Maltese.

Following this event, some of our contributors became involved in a work group to discuss the translation of certain terms into Maltese by means of a written conversation using online documents shared privately. The project is called “Il-Kliem fit-Teorija” [Words in Theory] and the entries for these terms are regularly updated, and new terms added. Periodically, we publish “snapshots” of these conversations on our site.

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