Volakas (Nevrokopi Municipality, Drama County)
“HARAPIA”(Blacks) – “ARKOUDES”(Bears) 6-8 January
On the morning of 6th January, after the blessing of the waters, the residents of Volaka perform the custom of “bara”. Groups of men singing to the accompaniment of bagpipe and “dahare” (type of a frame drum) lead the last year’s newlyweds to the water tank where the sanctification took place and pass them through the water to enhance their fertility and bless their descendants, as future members of the community.
At night young men sneak in family houses, where nubiles are and steal items, from tools to clothes from hanging rails, which they guard in the square until dawn. On the morning of January 7 a parody of an auction occurs, in which the holders of the objects regain them by paying a sum of money to the church fund. The fertility inference of the custom is obvious, as the focus is on women of marriageable age.
On the morning of January 7, the “harapia” or “arapides” begin to masquerade: They wear brown woven cape, on the back they create a hump with straws, cover their necks with sheep-pelts and paint with black soot their faces and hands. On their foot they wear rustic shoes made of pigskin and socks made of white coarse fabric. On the waist they tie, at front, two large bells (“batalia”) and four cast bells at the back (”tsanve”) carefully matched to produce a harmonious sound. Between the two “batalia” they hang a thick wooden bat creating the impression of male genital organs. In their hands they hold a wooden sword or a walking stick with a fork-like handle, upon which they bent over and shake their bells with sideways movements, seeking to avert evil. At noon they go out on the streets in groups and end up in the square. In the groups of “harapia” are also the “tsaousides”, men with male local traditional attire holding a white towel and brides (“nyvastes”), men with local women's traditional attire. Every bride has as patron one “tsaousi”, who rushes to the rescue when someone from the audience tries to steal her. He captures him by placing a towel around his neck, the “harapia” get distressed and shake their bells and immobilize him by putting the fork of the walking stick on his neck. The protection of “bride” by zoomorphic figures with phallic symbols depicts ritualistically the agony of the pre-modern human to protect, control and enhance the natural fertility powers.
In support of these forces was, with a magical-ritualistic manner, the representation of local traditional wedding which is performed on the next day, on January 8. While singing traditional local wedding polyphonic songs the performers follow the typical procedure: the preparation of the groom, the bride and best man, the cutting of the cake, the transfer of gifts to the bride, the groom's procession to the bride's home accompanied by musicians playing bagpipe and “dahare” and continue the procession all together to the square. The parody of the ceremony is taking place in the afternoon at the village square, by a man disguised as a priest, the bride's face is “revealed”, which until that time is covered and then the wedding dance begins.
At the same time, the custom of “Arkoudes”-“Bears” is performed, by men that cover the entire body and head with goat-pelts. They tie at the front of their waist a bell (“trakarntaki”), which hit with the hands and bounce, representing the sexual act. The leader of the group is the “archiarkoudiaris” (head bear-master) who leads the “Bears” with a tambourine, he swears and tries to control the episodes of their libido, “harnessing” with satirical, mimic manner the fertility forces of nature. The “Bears” are go out on the streets and head towards the village square where they run into the wedding dance. They perform a simulated ploughing and sowing with a plough, to which the “arkoudiaris” yoke two “bears”, a mimic act aimed to ensure the success of the crops.The setting includes and other masquerades, like the “gipsy”, the “policeman”, the “male-nurse” who humorously tease the people and cause laughter. This convivial atmosphere entertained, in the past, the agony of the man in the transitional period from one production season to another and today it discharges the intensity of collective life.
The same day, until recently, was also the day of “Babo”, i.e., the midwife (“babiden”). The women that had given birth in the last year went to the house of the midwife, offered her soap, a jug with water, a towel, scarves, “tsourapia” (woolen socks) and a bread, they kissed her hand and poured water to wash her hands. The midwife invited them into the house and offered lunch. In this way women expressed their gratitude for the valuable assistance of the midwife to bring new life to the world.
And with these peformances-“dromena”, the man of pre-modern society hoped to secure a prosper year, health, abundant crops and reproductive wealth for himself and his livestock.