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International monetary debauchery – the most favourite carnival figure this year

11 March 2011 / 15:03:49  GRReporter
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Zdravka Mihaylova

Exclusively for GRReporter

In line with the times new figures of the day have appeared among traditional characters of the carnival menagerie this year. The website of the traditional masquerade in Kozani reads the title ‘International Monetary Debauchery’. The carnival procession among the traditional architecture of stone-built houses in Dimitsana, Peloponnese presented the wedding ritual for prosperity ridiculing the troubled relations between the Greek rulers and the IMF representatives in the spectacle ‘The Marriage of 'Troika' and Our Beloved Greece’ (Ο γάμος του Τρόικα με την Ελλαδίτσα μας). Children disguised as European currency of zero coverage, holding "shields" with well-rounded zeros followed by the euro symbol on them, walked among the carnival characters in Heraklion as well as sluggish masquerade characters who have ingeniously devised the thematic slogan of the procession and were inserted in gift boxes with the inscription "Beware of IMF bearing gifts". They were followed by a funeral procession called ‘Mourning for Greece’ and the exaggerated reactions of inconsolable grief and bereavement coming from “widowed” men in drag wailing behind veils of black crêpe naturally provoked bursts of laughter.   

Like all major cities the municipality of Heraklion too has initiated a carnival in town. The surprise of this year's festival in the major municipal city of Crete was that Bulgaria was also invited to take part in it – with the group of mummers from Boyanovo village, Municipality of Elhovo, Yambol District. The group is a member of an international organization for folk art, winner of gold medals from different carnival festivals in Bulgaria. It was awarded the first prize - the Golden Mask – of the International Festival of Masquerade Games Surva 2011 held in Pernik. The mummers’ group was selected on the recommendation of ethnologist Nikolay Sivkov whose daily life resonates with the pulse of celebration during his numerous travels around the country for assessing and meeting the tradition.

QUESTION: Mr. Sivkov, how did the group of mummers from Boyanovo manage to convince the jury that it deserves to be awarded the grand prize of the festival – the Golden Mask?  

NIKOLAY SIVKOV: The mummers’ custom in Boyanovo dates back to ancient times. Their masks are unique, they are a hundred years old. Mummers go energetically on the streets of the village on the first Sunday before Lent, one of them is chosen to be ‘Hajji’ and to guide the procession throughout the day. They choose another one to be the ‘Bride’ and dress him in female costume. They go around the village with a plough and a team of mummers yoked in it. Late in the afternoon the masked group gathers in the village square. “Hajji” gets on the plough, gives blessings for fertility and prosperity and the festivity wraps up with the mummers’ Dionysiac dances.    

QUESTION: Masquerade games exist in different cultures, but this tradition is especially opulent in the Balkans. Therefore, as a first step towards giving Balkan dimension of the carnival procession the municipality of Heraklion invited a foreign group for the first time this year and the lot fell on Bulgaria. What is the deep symbolism of the festival that draws the line between both worlds – the upper and the lower world, the old one and the new one?

NIKOLAY SIVKOV: Mummers carnival games are enacted at the end of winter, on the boundary of the past year and the beginning of the new one when, according to beliefs, during the “unclean days”around Christmas this world merges for short with the hereafter and both good and evil spirits from the other world come among people on earth. They aim through these magical dances, scary masks, ring of copper bells to frighten and send away evil spirits and the weird sisters, and thus to bring plentiful harvest, health and prosperity for the people during the year. In these days from Epiphany to the beginning of Lent and Easter in the Orthodox calendar the world is re-created by putting an end to the chaos of the "unclean days" of transition until order in Nature is recovered.

QUESTION: What are the main characters in Bulgarian mummers play and how to interpret their main symbolic gestures?

NIKOLAY SIVKOV: Mummers under different local names - "startsi", "dervishi", "babugeri", "pesyatsi" and others - are known primarily in Eastern Thrace, Dobrudzha, in the Rhodopes. The rituals that are of male initiative character involve mainly young men. The main characters in the group are mummers, bride, brother-in-law, hadji. Their number ranges from 10 to 30-40 people. Mummers are recognized by their turned fur-coats and high hoods on their heads, decorated with mirrors and beads. The main attributes of mummers except plough and sword are the beam (isomorphic to the phallus) with which they touch childless women as it is believed that they will be able to conceive in this way. The ritual has two or three main points. After walking around the village from house to house the mummers perform symbolic first "ploughing and sowing" on the village square and roll the sieve, predicting the fertility of the year.

QUESTION: In Heraklion mummers from the Yambol village of Boyanovo performed along with four traditional groups from different parts of Greece - Drama, Kozani and Veria in Macedonia, and a group from the village of Gergeri on Crete. What similarities and differences a professional like you finds in these customs parallel for the two countries. How does your knowledge of archaeo-astronomy help for their reinterpretation?

Tags: MummersCarnivalsZdravka MihaylovaNikolay SivkovTraditionCostumes
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