GERGERI (Rouva Municipality, Heraklion County)


The “Arkoudiarides” (Bear-masters) are the main characters of Gergeri´s “dromena”-performances, of the “apokrigiomata” (carnival). The process of masquerade is a ritual performed in a playful atmosphere, accompanied by the sounds of lyra (string instrument) and Cretan lute, beverages, food and banters. Young men, and nowadays also women, wear white sheep’s skins covering the front and back torso. On their waist they hang hammered goat bells and paint their faces black with soot from the cooking pots (“mouzonontai”). Their leader, the “arkoudiaris”, wears old clothes, paints his face black and keeps a “vitsa” (a branch stripped of its leaves).


The “arkoudiarides” are tied together with ropes which their leader holds and go out on the streets of the village. They run and bounce, shaking their bells, creating a commotion. The leader-“arkoudiaris” directs them with ropes, while they occasionally resist, by being stubborn and not obeying. Then the “arkoudiaris” pulls the ropes and hits them with the branch trying to assert himself. The effort of a human to “restrain” the untamed power of the zoomorphic masqueraders in this performance-“dromeno” and their behavior as a flock, is a symbolic transfer of the stock-breeding labour. It aimed, through mimicry, to control the forces of nature that lead to successful livestock production and with its satirical style it relieved the anxiety of the stock-breeders about the outcome. The group dances with the participation of the spectators, a dance called “arkoudistikos” -“bear-like dance”, a bouncy dance which is connected to this performance. The bells of the “arkoudiarides” follow the rhythm of the music as they jump and make obscene movements. The dance is accompanied by a band playing “askomantoura” (type of bagpipe) or lyra and lute, formerly in the middle of the dance, while nowadays they are on a platform. More recent, also, is the addition of carnival verses in the dance´s song. Until the recent past, the masqueraders, visited the cafes of the village, teased the people and often told obscene rhymes, they celebrated and danced. The performances-“dromena”, now, take place on the main street of the village.


This day, apart from the custom of “arkoudiarides”, representations of agricultural labours are taking place, such as virtual ploughing, sowing and olive harvest. In the spring, as it is the beginning of a new production season, it is a critical time for the crops. The farmers’, of the past, anxiety for the success of the crop production, prompted them to enhance ritualistically the revegetation of nature.


Performances, in which the usual order of circumstances is reversed with a satirical manner, are also taking place. Typical example is the reenactment of a wedding ceremony in which the bride is a man in disguise. Similarly, there is a representation of a funeral where the dead is resurrected when they offer him “for the last time” a drink. In both cases the denotation of fertility in the performances is evident, as the operators are expressing themselves with provocative words and movements. These are representations of rites of passage. In the pre-modern era they are reversed and it is how people, at the critical time of the transition from one production season to another, could unbend. They also sought, with their prolific meaning, to act upon the forces of nature.