The only happy event in old Mani

Generally speaking there were no happy gatherings in old Mani. No birthdays or name days were celebrated there. Sadness and tragedy ruled in old Mani and it was not at all accidental that black was the only color that prevailed in this area.

The only happy events were those of a wedding and a birth of a boy. Like ancient Greeks they thought that a boy or a "koukos" would guarantee the biological sequence of the family and the ethnos in general. Besides, every boy was looked upon as one more warrior or a "rifle" in the family that would be very useful in future fights.

So, wedding was associated with the regeneration of a family, of a kin, of nation and for this reason was celebrated almost like the New Year holiday.

Only in the last three decades the Maniots began to sing Christmas and New Year songs (kalanda) the way they do it in the rest of Greece, going from one house to another. Also in the same period they started to cook different mealy sweets.

A local word for wedding was "gladness", "joy". It was the only event in old Mani when people sang and danced. A wedding was both an official and joyful celebration and when somebody raised a toast he would say: "letís drink to your joy."

A few words should be said about the Maniotís names. The ending of the name of an unmarried Maniot girl was usually "itsa" and after the wedding it was changed into "isa". This was mainly true for western Mani. For example, a wife of Stavrianou Katsirea of Vasili would be deprived of her original first and second names and after the marriage would be called: Stavrianou Katsireisa Vasilonifi (which means the daughter in law of Vasili). Something similar used to happen in old Russia.

In due time all the relatives irrespectively of where they live would got invitations for a wedding ceremony. The groomís house was refreshed and whitewashed. Girls, relatives and friends participated in preparations and in grounding wheat, baking bread and making it sure that there would be enough food for everyone.

Besides the fields (likhadia) that were the brideís contribution to her new family, her dowry included utensils, clothes (skoutia), blankets (botanies), etc. Often the clothes were decorated with ancient valuable coins, usually silver ones.

Together with a piece of cotton most of these coins were later presented to a newly born baby, usually a boy. By this they meant for the baby to become rich and live long. The custom most probably reflected two things.

First was the short span of life which was explained by almost non-stop skirmishes and vendetta that cost many lives, mainly of men. In the old days that part of the Peloponnese was rightly looked upon as American Texas.

The second was the extreme poverty of Maniots. Thus, it was only too natural to wish a newly born baby to become rich.

The dowry also included some family icons, the thing that stressed the fact that a bride was a true Christian.

The movable objects of the dowry were transported to the groomís house by a caravan of donkeys and horses. The animals were covered with colored silk shawls. They were weaving of pure silk threads without any additions.

The most valuable part of any dowry was a reservoir, a "glisterna" as it was locally called. The water in Mani was a real treasure which valued more than a field, more than clothes and often was more important than a bride herself!!

In some parts of Mani, usually in its inner area, a bride got married without any dowry and the expenses for the wedding were paid for from the money collected from the relatives mainly those of the groom.

The ceremony of engagement was very simple. Some men would come to the brideís house, shoot several times, put rings to a bride and a groom and then drink a glass of the Kalamatian "raki" (a sort of vodka). A groom could not see a bride alone, there should always present her relatives or brothers. Quite often the engagement was done without the presence of a groom or a bride. It was enough for two or three men from the groomís side to visit the brideís house and to shoot in the air several times.

Sometimes it was enough for a groom just to shoot in the air without even visiting the brideís house. He could do this in his village announcing that he shot in the honor of a certain girl. Usually this happened when the brideís relatives didnít want this particular groom because they disdained his family.

In this case the matter was very serious because the girl had no other choice but to marry the boy who shot in her honor. The matter is that nobody else would like to marry this particular girl because he would take a risk of becoming an enemy of the failed groom. So this shooting would end up either with kidnapping a bride or with wedding on her parentsí consent. Otherwise there would be a feud between the former groom and a newly wed.

Nobody bothered about the brideís feelings. There were cases when she would meet her future husband only at the engagement.

The birth of a girl would pass absolutely unnoticeable: no visits, no congratulations and no refreshments. On the contrary, when a boy was born men and women would go to congratulate the happy parents. Before entering the housemen would shoot and then pass the threshold with the words: "Long life the baby and let another one follow him!" The festival on this occasion would last several days.

Every Maniot boy at a certain age got a rifle from his father. And like the ancient Spartans each of them would agitatedly exclaim: "We will try to be better". This was a very serious and thrilling moment! They suddenly felt themselves grown-ups and very important people and it was rather often that the youngsters would use their weapons too often and in quite inappropriate cases. Since this time on a weapon would accompany a Maniot for the rest of his life and he would impatiently wait for the moment when he could glorify it. This was the role of a male Maniot in his family and in the patriarchal society. The boys were so important in the society that a traditional wish to the newly weds was to have nine sons and a daughter. You see, the latter was also necessary in a family, just for the sake of giving birth to another nine sons.

As it had already been mentioned this beautiful place with wild nature and fragrant field and mountain herbs and flowers knew no occasions or holidays.

Only at Christmas and Easter they would cook communion bread and boiled rice with raisins and honey. They were used in two cases: to celebrate the name days and to forgive the sins of the deceased. There was only one difference: in the first case the rice was sweetened and raisins, pomegranate and nuts were added and in the second Ė it was very plain. The communion bread and the boiled rice were first brought to the church and then after the end of the ceremony they would be divided among the villagers. In reply everyone used to say: "God forgive him/her".

From the text "Weddings" by Stavrianos Katsireas (an artist)
(From the interview to the BBC, 13.11.88)

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