For thousands of years people have celebrated the rebirth of nature following the calendar dictated by the nature itself…i.e. the rite of spring…just before spring would make its grand arrival.So in other words the beginning of winter’s end was always a critical juncture of cosmic time, turning one of the annual cycle leading to cosmogonic changes of spring. People in rural communities, farmers and ranchers tied to the land and to primitive beliefs felt the need to join nature in regenerative work with their own magical rituals: awakinging supernatural powers, heavenly and infernal, to ensure health, fertility and abundance for all souls living on earth and for what germinates from this, single and inseparable.These celebrations called Dromena tis Evetirias-Good Year Rituals (ev-good, etos-year) were outmost important as any community’s survival depended on their crops and till today they are often encountered in traditional carnivals in northern Greece and particularly in Thrace.
But luckily here in Messinia, Nedousa, a tiny village in the Taygetus mountains, has kept this tradition flowing uninterrupted since the ancient times…now taking place every year on Monday of Lent.
The motto of the day is definitely Naturalia non sunt turpia i.e. Natural things are not obscene. Not just physical things. The freedom is not limited to words, but it also covers pantomimic acts, manifested by sexual and other innuendos. It does not cause misunderstandings, neither it conflicts with values such as honor, shame, dignity or ideal behaviors such as modesty, temperance, and honesty. During the celebration other rules of conduct apply. Especially at the carnival, often exactly the opposite of those of everyday life. This is the “inverted world” motif already found in antiquity.The complete scenario of the Evetira Feast follows four main ritual acts which are: 1.Choros ton Tragon (Rams’ Dance) , 2. Arotriosi (Plowing and Sowing) 3.Gamos (Marriage) 4.Thanatos (Murder-Funeral) and Anastasi (Resurrection) each culminating on the main square and evolving in the streets of the village. Nowhere else but only in Nedousa, we find the coexistence of three such ritual acts: plowing-sowing, marriage-procreation, death-resurrection. This “scenario” is one of the reasons that make the authentic rural carnival in Nedousa important to the extent that for some it amounts to a significant archaeological find.The celebration is proceeded with Moutzouroma (Face smudging) and Agermos (the villagers together visiting all the inhabited houses of Nedousa).
Prologue-Moutzouroma (Face smudging)
Upon arrival to the village all visitors are smeared by “Kalogeros” with soot coming from this same oven transcending from their role as spectators to being participants…becoming equal among themselves…with their features unified under the black painted masks. The villagers have been wearing those black “faces” since early morning when they took part in “Agermos”… Agermos
Early in the morning the villagers smear their faces with soot and pay visit to all the inhabited houses of the village with greetings of good year and music as they prepare mentally for the ceremonies that will follow aiming to enact the rituals and to ensure health and prosperity for all the community (Nowadays there are only 20-25 people living in the village permanently and most of them are elderly. Most of the relatives inacting the ritual live in Kalamata half hour drive from the village). After all the houses were honored they make their first appearance on the main square of Nedousa carrying walking canes, sticks, phalluses and other objects which accentuate the satirical and bucolic spirit of the day…Then they gather up in the main square of the village…The music is played only on drums and flutes which change hands several times……The first dance as an “invitation” for peace and security which unites with sacred ties all the participants.
Dressed with skins, bells and horns the “troupe” descends the steep village paths onto the square making abrupt headbutt movements while their bells cause deafening noise, which works both ways: as deterrent against evil spirits and persuasivly calling vegetation to “wake up” with the coming of spring.After this ritual dance on the square they withdraw to prepare for the second act…
II. Arotriosi-Plowing and Sowing
Arotriasi is the sacred and therefore a “serious” phase of the happening, a plow is carried by two animals “cattle”, symbolizing a male and a female, which make a round of the square three times backwards, driving forward counterclockwise, opposite from how the Earth and the Universe turn. The reversal occurs with everything you hear: profanity, phallic figurines, the obscene expressions used to dare and manage the insatiable desire and, thus, release it. It is a grand coming in contact with the Earth… so the “cattle” plows and falls on the ground too with ashes cast over the heads symbolizing seeds ready to germinate. After Arotriosi the performers withdraw to their base again…
III. Gamos-Marriage The groom is attended by men in one home and the bride traditionally by bridemaids in a separate dwelling…each is accompanied on the streets by a procession and the couple meets on the main square in front of the church to be married…The couple which consists of two disguised men, merry in front of all the community and immediately after the wedding begins efforts of “childbearing” over “3 times plowed fields” of Hesiod, with the human reproduction trying to stimulate fertility of the fields, and vice versa.IV. Thanatos (Murder, Death) and Anastasi (Resurrection)
The last stage of the ritual is Death and Resurrection. The groom who is played in this act by Kalogeros who was smudging the faces i.e. initiated all the partisipants…is “murdered” and the coffin with his body is brought onto the square…during the funeral lamentations which continue having sexual connotations are performed over the coffin of the deceased.The groom is miracoulously ressurected and the arrival of spring is secured leaving behind the defeated winter…
It was by far the best, the most enjoyable and interesting carnival feast I have ever attended. The atmosphere was entrancing and welcoming, the rituals played out with passion, the jokes were obscene as they should be but also clever and fun, the dance tunes and songs accompanied solely on drums and flutes a perfect match for the surrounding high mountains…a little wine and a lot of dancing (Nemo saltat sobrius)…and above all it was a Feast with many “BLACK as night” friendly faces!!!