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Magna Grecia - from tarantella to funeral dirges in the lands forgotten by Christ

29 December 2014 / 13:12:53  GRReporter
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It is difficult for someone to describe the overwhelming impression of that village when he or she sees it! As its name suggests (from the adjective ρηχώδης = ακανθώδης, gnarled, thorny, steep) Rihoudi (Ρηχούδι) or Rogoudi (Ρογούδι) is built on the steep slopes of a cliff and is surrounded by gaps on all sides. The perilous location of the village hid such serious threats that mothers had to tie their children with a rope for fear that, while playing, they might roll down into one of the village´s two swift-flowing rivers (Amendolea and Fouria), at the bottom of the precipice. The history of the village describes such cases. It has become an object of study owing to its unique architectural interest. One of the most important Italian publishing houses, Einaudi, had even featured a picture of Rihoudi on the cover of its spectacular volume History of Calabria that appeared on the market in 1985. 
- During one of the stagings of the International Dance Festival in Kalamata ethno-musicologist Lambros Liavas had illustrated his lecture on "Tarantella pitsika: a music and dance spell of hellenofones from South Italy" with the performance of the dance ensemble Arachne Mediterranea ("Mediterranean spider") from the village of Martiniano in Apuglia, which performed the ritual dance. Its members are researchers associated with the University of Lecce, the capital of Salento, and their studies are focused on the culture of the nine Greek-speaking villages in Salento. In a letter, Mozart’s friend, the English composer Stephen Storas, described the dance of a "tarantato", whom he had watched while travelling in these lands during the 18th century and defined Tarantella as a 6/8 rhythm, which is present in the area even today. What are your observations on the origin and symbolism of Tarantella?
- Tarantella (the dance of the spider) is par excellence the traditional dance of southern Italy, especially of Apuglia, which is different from one area to another. It is associated with the phenomenon tarantism (tarantismo), i.e. the bite from a small poisonous spider - tarantula (tarantella, diminutive of the word taranta = spider). This bite provoked in the tarantato who suffered the bite a state of general discomfort, stomach pains, sweating, increased heart rate, and ecstatic delirium. In order for the affected person to get rid of all these symptoms, special musicians visited him or her at home, the expenses being borne by the family, and to the sounds of particular music, the person embarked on an hours-long dance, imitating the movements of the spider. The pace of the dance became more hectic, until the bitten person fell down exhausted on the ground, still in an ecstatic mood. Thus, worn out by the dance, he or she got rid of all adverse effects caused by the bite of the tarantula. It is a therapeutic ritual with music and dance, directly related to the economic and social conditions that prevailed in the Italian south until the 1960s, but also to the position of women in these societies. It is no coincidence that the tarantula "preferred" socially marginal people, usually young, unmarried women, victims of patriarchal society. The ritual dance allowed them to turn upside down the rules of everyday life, enabling them to attract the attention of others once in a year and to find a vent from their daily oppression, disappointments, impasses, concerns. Scientific studies have not proven the existence in Apuglia of any spider that causes such pain and ecstatic states. 
The reasons, as I said, are rooted elsewhere. Tarantism is the subject of numerous studies. Making an overview of a long history with all the changes that are due to the relevant historical, social, economic and religious developments, Tarantella and its varieties have survived to this day as a typical dance from the Italian south, mostly from the Greek-speaking region of Apuglia. Today there are numerous musical groups, in Italy, Greece and elsewhere, that frequently promote this dance. Even in Apuglia, the festival "The Night of the Spider" (La Notte della Taranta) has been held every summer over the past 16 years, with the participation of official institutions and many folk groups. There are many groups, the research of tarantism has intensified but without the proper respect and responsible attitude. Today, all are experts in everything. But regardless of the state of things, the conclusion from scientific research is that the ancient Mediterranean ritual dance with therapeutic properties is reminiscent of the deep mythological, language and musical roots of a common tradition, the bridge of which is the Ionian Sea.  
- Your comprehensive ethnographic research naturally includes the burial customs of the communities inhabiting the Greek-speaking villages in Calabria. What similarities and differences have you established with those in Greece?          

Tags: Christina PetropoulouZdravka MihaylovaCalabriaMagna GreciaItalyGreek languageTarantella
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