The Sicilian bag “coffa”, its history, materials and decorations
Sicilian traditions

The Sicilian bag “coffa”, its history, materials and decorations

Coffa Siciliana

The Sicilian coffa has now become an icon of the Sicilian tradition in the world. The history of its origins is linked to the land.

I will try to tell you about the Sicilian coffa, how a simple object has often become a luxury accessory.

Like all symbols of Sicily, this particular object comes from an ancient tradition and craftsmanship.

Precisely because of the craftwork this typical product has arrived to the most famous catwalk

History of the Sicilian bag “Coffa”

The origin of the Sicilian coffa is very far from what one might think.

This article has its origins in the history of Sicily going back to the Arab domination which was, most likely, the mother of this tradition.

The Arabs brought with them the technique of weaving vegetable fibers to make useful and resistant containers.

The name “coffa” almost certainly derives from the Arabic word “quffa” which means basket.

Its origin is linked, as already mentioned, to the earth. This container was used to transport food and as a feeder for horses and donkeys which were the “engines” of agricultural life on the island.

Agricultural activity made Sicily prosper and famous. This makes traditional agricultural objects the most fascinating of the island’s icons.

The Sicilian coffa is one of the best examples of craftsmanship from the earth and which over the years has found its place among the objects that most recall our land.

Its realization takes place using the leaves of Sicilian dwarf palm (called in dialect “giummara” and “troffa di curina”).

These leaves, after being dried, are intertwined with skill, giving life to this container. Over time, the simple basket has been increasingly decorated, making it a sought-after and particular product.

This ancient handmade work has today also found its place in the world of fashion.

The Sicilian dwarf palm

The raw material in the craftsmanship of this iconic bag is precisely the dwarf palm.

This plant is born and develops spontaneously in the Mediterranean area, especially in rocky terrain.

The plant (“giummara” in dialect) was present on the island well before human presence. In fact, it is estimated that this plant has already been here for more than 50 million years.

This plant is famous for its resistance and for its ability to survive climatic situations and terrains that are not always idyllic.

Like all the resources present in abundance on the island, this too soon found a purpose in the everyday life of Sicilians. For many centuries the leaves of this plant have been used for different purposes.

The largest ones (“giummi”) were traditionally used to produce objects such as brooms. The smaller leaves (no less resistant) called “curina” were instead used to create weaves that can give life to different objects including the Sicilian coffa.

The processing of these leaves is a tradition that is handed down from father to son and is considered traditional in the island.

In recent years, due to the expansion of agricultural land, this plant is at risk of disappearing. Precisely because of this, it has been declared a protected plant.

The Sicilian Coffa, Dimensions and Decorationsù

Over time, this container has gone from being just a work tool to being considered a fashion accessory.

Although there is no certain source, I think its story was influenced by its closest relative “the Sicilian chariot”. This is because originally the main function of the Sicilian bag was to act as a “portable” manger for horses and this has meant that the connection with the Sicilian chariot is direct.

I think this affinity was the main cause of the initiative to decorate this basket in a way similar to what is traditionally the decoration of Sicilian chariot.

The measures vary a lot and it is difficult to give precise indications. On average they range from 30 to 50 cm both in width and in height.

Among the decorations that we mainly encounter are: Brass, velvet, lace, costume jewellery, mirrors, fringes, pom poms, fur, trimmings, ceramics and hand painted decorations on leather.

The handle can be in different materials.

The decorations are in line with the decorative art that comes from the Sicilian chariot, motifs, colors and style that recall our island.

All this has meant that this bag, which has been of “popular” use for centuries, has found its place in the world of accessories and in the interpretation of various craftsmen and designers. The coffa, obviously based on the hand that creates it and the materials used, can be considered luxury.

I think that going back in time, the inhabitants of the island in the past would never be able to believe that the coffa, for their daily and working use, could ever reach very high prices as today.

It is obvious that for tourists buying a Sicilian coffa skilfully produced with precious materials can allow them to take a piece of this island and its traditions with them.

From agricultural tradition to unique fashion accessory

The Sicilian coffa awakens Sicily in the minds of tourists and the world. It represents it in its colors and traditions.

Thanks to a meticulous work of distinctly artistic artisan hands, due to the use of increasingly refined decorations, this Sicilian icon easily lent itself to the catwalks.

An important role in making this bag known and appreciated was given, between the 50s and 70s of the past century, by the beautiful divas of Italian cinema: Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale and Gina Lollobrigida. These female artists often showed off this bag contributing in a crucial way to making it known all over the world.

The general public will immediately think of Dolce and Gabbana but the truth is that there are many Sicilian craftsman who have interpreted this accessory in a unique way.

What I want to recommend to anyone who intends to buy one of these bags is to choose well and buy artisanal Coffa made in a workmanlike manner and be careful of the many imitations. Check the closure and the internal fabric lining carefully.

Conclusions

The Sicilian coffa is an accessory that tells a story of tradition, innovation and craftsmanship.

It is a unique piece that expresses the personality and taste of whoever decides to wear it.

If you want to add a touch of originality and elegance to your look, choose a Sicilian coffa!

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