NIKISIANI (Municipality Pangaio, Kavala County)
“ARAPIDES” (BLACKS) January 7
The “Arapides” are male performers who wear black woven capes, woven leggings called “kaltsounia” and pig-skin shoes called “tservoulia”. They strap the shoes on the shins with leather strips (“lapares”). On their back they create a fake hump. They cover the head with a tall, conical cover made of black goat-pelt, the “barbota”, upon which they tie a silk girdle (“tsevre”). In earlier times the betrothed men added to it a scarf that had been embroidered by their fiancée. They keep wooden swords, called “maheres” (big knives) and hang on their waist with a rope four large bells: one hammered “batali” at front – on the right and three cast bells, “tsania”, one on the left–at front and two on the rear. The bells are carefully selected to create a harmonious sound.
Throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25 - January 6) groups of children and young people roam the streets of the village with bells on their waist to banish evil demons.
On January 7, after noon, two groups of young and older “Arapides”, while brandishing their knives, wander the streets of the village with a sturdy stride. Causing a rhythmic sound of the bells to chase away evil and to awaken the nature from hibernation. The teams end up in the school yard, where men and women dressed in traditional costumes dance to the music of two zourna (wind instrument) and dauli (drum). The music stops and the “Arapides” appear. They move in a ritualistic circle. In the middle of the circle two “Arapides” approach and throw down their knives. The rest of them shake their bells with their heads bowed down and put the “barbota”-head mask onward. A simulated scene of brawl between two “Arapides” and the “death” of one unfolds. Then all the “Arapides” gather around him in a mystagogy and they “breathe life into him”. After the “resurrection” of the dead they take off their head mask (barbota) and reveal their human identity and emotions, celebrating in an ecstatic manner, which results in a group dance.
The “death” and “resurrection” of the “Arapi” are considered to symbolize the death of nature in winter and its resurrection in spring. The days when the performance (“dromeno”) occurs, just after the winter solstice, the light has gradually begun to overcome the darkness of winter, as the days are getting longer. It is the time when the farmer and the stock-breeder feel the need to ritualistically strengthen the sprouting force of nature that starts its effect.