We have searched for customs and events in Greece during the carnival period. What attracted most our attention is “Mpoules & Gianitsari”. A custom characterized by its roots back in the Ottoman domination, the mournful hearings, despite the joyous mood of its people, and the city of Naoussa of Imathia.
But what exactly does this custom revive?
History reports the following ….
Gianitsari (plural form) are Naoussa’s unmarried men, who have entered the guerilla aiming to stop the Turkish yoke. The separation from their homes, the sacred purpose of the mission, the fear of the mother if her Gianitsaros (singular form) will return alive after war, the unknown but also the bravery of these men, are all depicted in the music that accompanies this custom. The zournas and the daouli (davul) create sometimes fast and sometimes slow hearings, preparing the Gianitsari for the moments of war.
Mpoula (singular form), on the other hand, has the role of distraction. She is nothing more than a man dressed in feminine attire that portrays the bride. With the pretense of marriage, Gianitsari descend from the mountains with their faces covered with a face mask (named prosopos) so they can attend this joyous event. They gather in groups, the so-called mpouloukia (plural form), and they roam around the city inviting their people to attend the event. As soon as they arrive at the Town Hall, they ask for the permission of the Turkish Mayor to start the feast. In fact, Gianitsari find a way to see their families, for a short time, to reconstitute their power and see their loved ones.
That was the story of the past.
In the present, Mpoules (plural form) and Gianitsari are a reminder of Naoussa’s bloody moments of history.
As our reference reports, “Gianitsari and Mpoules obey a strict formality. The custom requires disciplined adherence to certain rules, such as the unique participation of men (no women are allowed to participate), the ritual masquerade of Gianistari and Mpoula, the specificity of the dance and musical repertoire and the action of the mpoulouki (singular form) on a specific route. ”
The custom is large and very detailed. However, it is worth mentioning some of its features. Among them is the costume of Gianitsaros: the contela (a lancet shirt), the foustanella (with 250 to 400 langioli, ie piths), the pisli (type of vest), the zounari (a kind of cloth belt worn in his waist), the sellahi, his woolen socks, the tsarouchia (type of shoes) and, for the finish, the prosopos (face mask). Prosopos is a waxed handmade mask, worn by the Gianitsari throughout the custom. They are allowed to remove it only when the mpoulouki arrives in the area of Alonia, placed in Naoussa. As armor and protector, the outfit carries a collection of coins and amulets in front of the chest. The costume is completed with the pala, a steel sword carried by Gianitsari, which is used for their dancing figures.
As the Gianitsaros gets prepared, the mpoulouki arrives with his “brothers”, the rest of Gianitsari. From this point onwards, a touching ritual begins. The Gianitsaros comes out on the balcony and greets the mpoulouki with a rhythmic motion in his arms and chest, so that all the coins are moving loudly according to his chest movement. The movement of Gianitsaros follows the heavy rhythm of zournas and daouli, which sound the Zalistos melody. The mpoulouki greets the new coming Gianitsaros in the same way and welcome him to their team.
Getting out of his house, Gianitsaros makes his orthodoxal cross three times and greets his family with a handshake accompanied by three leaps. This is perhaps the most touching moment of the custom, as the young Gianitsaros leaves his family to join the mpoulouki to defeat his homeland in the mountains.
The mpoulouki, then, sinks into the streets to gather his other “brothers”. The ritual of the Town Hall follows. There, a Gianitsaros and a Mpoula ask for permission from the Mayor in order the mpoulouki to dance freely in the town. “And the dance begins, the zournas plays the Thourius of Rigas and all palas come out of the sheath.”
However, the dance does not stop there. The mpoulouki walks in the narrow streets of the city. The itinerary is specific: as always the first stop is in Triodi area, later Kamena, then Poulana, Batania, Kioski and finally Agios Georgios area. The musicians are singing different songs per neighborhood-stop, and those who live in those neighborhoods are protagonists of the dance of these songs.
The custom culminates in the afternoon in the Alonia area where Gianitsari remove the prosopos and reveal their true forms. Zournas, daouli, Gianitsari, spectators … they all get full of emotions that this authentic Greek carnival custom generates. Every fear of the enemy is lost in the struggle of the palas, every passion for the liberation of their country is depicted in the mournful rhythm of the zournas, and all the prowess that characterizes the Greeks is outlined in the bravery of Gianitsari.