International awards are comparatively rare in the humanities. An award which has gained recognition during the past 18 years in the field of anthropological studies is the Sigillo d’Oro (Città di Palermo), a gold medal carrying the seal of the City of Palermo, administered annually by the Centro Internazionale di Etnostoria in Palermo with the help of an international jury. The prize pertains to a group of related disciplines such as archaeology, comparative religion, cultural anthropology, ethnohistory, ethnology, ethnomusicology and folkloristics.
The local term “Studi demoetnoantropologici” refers to three layers of research traditions, namely, “demo” to folklore, “etno” to ethnology/ethnohistory and “antro” to cultural anthropology, a kind of semi-historical sequence best understood in the Sicilian context. Local studies on folklife and folkpoetry have expanded toward studies on distant foreign cultures and modern ethnic groupings in urban multicultural contexts. The keyword “etnostoria” seems to denote a preference for historical profiles of cultural development.
A passage offered only in Italian in the programme leaflet may explain the purpose of the prize: “Considerato il Nobel delle discipline demoetnoantropologiche il `Pitrè – Salomone Marino Città di Palermo’ premio, con il suo massimo riconoscimento, il Sigillo d’oro – Città di Palermo, i più illustri studiosi del settore. Alle sue edizioni partecipano studiosi di tutto il mondo, spesso a dispetto delle artificiali barriere erette tra gli uomini e le culture dei popoli.”
The Sigillo d’Oro is awarded for outstanding life-long scholarly work. The recipient is invited to give a public lecture at the University of Palermo. The reference to the Nobel Prize implies honour, not money, but the heavy medal is pure gold. It is handed over at a festive ceremony at which numerous other prizes are distributed for scholarly books, films and other mostly individual achievements selected on the basis of competition.
These prizes derive from the late 1950s, when two professors at the University of Palermo, the well-known historian of folklore research Giuseppe Cocchiara and the Renaissance historian Gaetano Falzone created the international award named after two Sicilian pioneers in the study of popular traditions, Giuseppe Pitrè and Salvatore Salomone Marino.
The recipients of the Sigillo d’Oro (granted since 1983) are:
1983 Claude Lévi-Strauss, France
1985 Lutz Röhrich, Germany
1986 Vinigi Grottanelli, Italy
1987 Carlo Tullio Altan, Italy (Trieste)
1988 Béla Gunda, Hungary
1989 Wolfgang Laade, Switzerland
1990 Vittorio Lanternari, Italy
1991 Paulo de Carvalho Neto, Brazil
1992 Maja Boscovic-Stulli, Yugoslavia (Croatia)
1993 Alan Dundes, U.S.A.
1994 Vittorio Maconi, Italy
1995 Linda Dégh, Hungary/U.S.A.
1996 Maria Rostworoski, Peru
1997 Roberto Cardoso de Oliveira, Brazil
1998 Tullio Tentori, Italy
1999 Mary Douglas, United Kingdom
2000 Lauri Honko, Finland
The list is undeniably international and multidisciplinary. Interestingly, it contains more South than North Americans. Considering the broad spectrum of disciplines, folklorists do fairly well. The number of domestic recipients is not disproportionate.
Why Palermo? The present capital of the autonomous region of Sicily was in its golden age, the Norman era in the 12th century, with its then 300,000 (!) inhabitants a flourishing centre of trade and the arts, a kind of capital of the civilised world. Today, the City of Palermo has gained worldwide recognition for its successful battle against organised crime. The battle has taken culturally interesting forms. During the past five years about 160 neglected monuments, churches, castles, parks, fountains, theatres, villas, railway stations, etc., have been “adopted” by schools and most of them restored by volunteers and reopened. 25,000 students from 150 elementary, junior and high schools have participated. A new pride is superseding the dark decades of mafia in Palermo.
History may explain part of the global zeal behind the Sigillo d’Oro. Another important factor is the international jury administering the prize, especially its permanent Vice President Professor Claudio Esteva-Fabregat from Barcelona, who knows culture anthropological research both in Europe and the Americas through personal experience. The President of the jury and the Director of the Centro Internazionale di Etnostoria, Professor Aurelio Rigoli holds all the strings in his hand as far as local cultural politics and Italian scholarly interest groups are concerned. Good diplomacy and a passion for Sicily are his trade mark. His efforts are making Palermo the world capital of ethnoanthropology.
Source: Il “Pitrè”. Quarant’anni di Antropologia mondiale a Palermo. Palermo: Centro Internazionale di Etnostoria, 1999. 190 pp.
(FFN 21, March 2001: 15)