Religious summer festivals of the Pomaks in the mountainous area of Xanthi

The objective of this paper is to explore the role of the public festivals of the Pomaks of Xanthi in the formulation of their ethnic-cultural identity. It is supported that among the Pomaks public festivals operate as a form of collective expression and as customary practice promoting community coherence and reproducing elements of socialization and ethnic identification. The time and place of those festivals are analyzed along with the way they are organized, the animal slaughter ritual and the participation of the Pomaks according to their sex and age. The kurbans (animal sacrifice with distribution of rice pilaf in outdoor gatherings) are popular events not only among the Slavic-speaking Muslims of Rhodope mountain range but also among Christian populations in Thrace. In the case of the Pomaks animal sacrifices also take place during the Muslim feast of Kurbán Bayrám as well as during the hátim ceremony, in periods of drought etc. The festivals of the Bektashi sect of Islam in the Prefectures of Rhodope and Evros are indirectly associated with references to saints and they are organized near their graves. Besides the purely religious festivals, non-religious festivals have beeen preserved among the Pomaks of the mountainous area of Xanthi, such as the celebration of Hidreléz on the 6th of May. Moreover, until recently summer fire rites survived, being both purgatory rituals and rites of passage in their nature. The zhîf ógan custom, with an obvious fire-worship origin, aimed at the expurgation of the village and more specifically the purification of human beings and animal flocks.

 1. Introduction

 Emile Durkheim’s (1) phrase that “through joint action a society gains awareness of itself” could be used as a starting point in order to approach the religious festivals of the Pomaks of the mountainous area of Xanthi. For the Pomaks of Thrace festival gatherings are unique events with a dominant place in their annual life-cycle. They are not merely meetings of human beings in public space aiming at the rejuvenation of family bonds. They are not simply religious feasts with recreational implications. They are something more sophisticated: complex social, economic and cultural events that determine their collective conscience through the reproduction of specific forms of cultural behavior. Until the middle of the 20th c. the population of the mountain communities of the Rhodope Pomaks was unmingled and functioned as a secluded group. Nevertheless, the isolation, endogamy, introversion and self-sufficiency of rural communities did not prevent them from participating in a framework of commercial and cultural transactions and walk through long distances following the mountain footpaths of the Rhodope mountain range. The Pomaks have often been influenced by neighboring cultures either through long term procedures or through intense pressure. The fact that the local Pomak dialects remained without a written form till recently along with the trilingualism that was officially imposed on Pomak pupils through minority education contributed to the depreciation of their mother tongue (2) and the simultaneous use of Pomak together with Greek and Turkish. This fact influenced the oral culture of the Pomaks of Thrace, especially during the five last decades. In this framework the summer festivals of the Pomaks are a significant section in the cycle of their customs, different from the celebrations taking place in other parts of the year. In order to denote the notion of gathering the Pomaks use the word zbor (3) , whereas the word panayír (fair, festival) is also used. However, pertaining to the kurbans which are accompanied by religious prayers the word mahyá is being used. In Turkish the word mahyá denotes the ridgepole of a house but the word also refers to the ornamental lights of Ramadan. When the Pomaks say mahyá they mean a sort of gathering aiming at thanking Allah. The reading of the prayer (müvlít) to God may be done by anyone wishing to fulfill a solemn promise (e.g. for the recuperation of a beloved person, acquittal from court etc) or in memory of a pleasant event (graduation of a child from school, learning the Koran, completion of military service, success at a certain activity). In a family müvlít the imam and other invited men gather at the house of the person celebrating, coffee and sweets are offered and guests’ hands are sprinkled with perfume. In the middle of the prayers serbét (beverage with sugar, cinnamon, clove etc) is offered, whereas dinner (boiled meat with rice pilaf) is served at the end of the ceremony (4) . In this paper we shall mainly discuss the yearly animal sacrifices (kurban) of the mountainous area of Xanthi organized in a holy site (usually the grave of a saint). Many such sacrifices are associated with traditions which justify the origin of those customs. Such traditions about miracles of Muslim saints (evliyá) (5) are widespread among the Pomaks (Theoharides 1995:503-505). The forms of communication developed during the days of such festivals are different from the ways of daily communication: Whereas on a daily basis the emphasis is given on survival and routine issues, public festivals develop those aspects of social life that are based on reciprocity and direct interaction (Stoeltje, 1992:263). Within those festivals knowledge, actions, ceremonies, forms of oral communication are articulated as expressions of a collective recognition of the customary heritage of the forefathers.

2. Festival sites and space organization

  Nowadays the time in which festivals occur is not fixed. It is determined by the weather conditions, the completion of agricultural activities, the organizers’ needs, and the possibility of similar festivals being organized in neighboring villages. In the area of Xanthi Sunday is usually chosen so that they may have Saturday as a preparation day for the transportation and slaughter of animals and the cleaning of the site. Despite the fact that the site of many festivals used to be difficult to access in the past, the participation of people was always impressive. With the construction of rural roads the access to mountain settlements became easier but it kept on having an “epic” nature: the cars with carriers full of people and the boys riding their motorcycles in order to reach the highlands are typical images of those festivals. As far as the organization of space is concerned, the terrain usually determines the choice of the site, the arrangement of cauldrons, the distance between men and women and the location of the bazaar. The site in which the festival takes place is not only associated with practical issues (sunny, leeward and spacious place). It is also determined by the public life of the community, being a landmark and a point of reference. The existence of a fountain or water tap near the gathering site reflects the social function of space and meets the practical requirements of the people being gathered. The cauldrons are placed in lines in a central location. A lot of men and boys attending the festival sit near the cooking area whereas women with young girls sit farther away. The bazaar may be located either at the entrance of the festival site or in a neighboring field. In the Pomak villages of Xanthi many sites are associated with religious festivals organized by the Pomaks from spring to winter. Some of them are the following: Únkele (between Diásparto and Kídaris), Gelín Mezár (Ydrohóri), Éranos, Kéntavros, Kimméria, Kopteró, Livádi, Lívas, Delí Musá (near Áskyra), Pórta-Prióni, Rími, Sátres (towards Témenos village), Símantra (Boz Oglán). It may be noted that the Turkish speakers of the plains of Xanthi rarely organize a mahyá. When they do, the mahyá is associated with a pilgrimage site such as the tekhe of Iliópetra. The people living in Turkish-speaking villages in the mountains north of Xanthi (6) also organize animal sacrifices (e.g. in M.Évmoiro and Pílima) with the participation of Pomaks. In the Pomak villages of the Prefectures of Evros and Rhodope a lot of Bektashi festivals are still organized (Vrahiologlou, 2000:21-22) with animal sacrifices during the summer months. Such festivals are the ones at the following sites: Spanó (Kazlér), Mikró Déreio, Chlóe (Kirk Kurbán), Mikrákio (Tulú Babá), Uránya (Kanín Babá Tekhé), Sinán Babá, Yaglá (Hilyá site), Áno Kampí (Alí Babalár), Kóvalo (Alán Tepé), Áno Kampí (Hasán Babá), Chaldíni (Tsilingír Babá), Káto Kampí (Kampér Babá), whereas the Sultán Bayrám is celebrated a month before Kásem in the Lower Tekhé of Káto Déreio, in Chlóe and in the Rússa Tekhé. In the various locations where festivals are organized there are slight differentiations as concerns the size of each feast and the way it is organized. We shall refer to certain examples below. As it was above mentioned, the location is often a landmark associated with a fountain. The inhabitants of the villages Pórta (Partókova) and Prióni (Kióstra) organize a mahyá between the two villages next to the Hakça su (righteous water) fountain. On the fountain there is an inscription in Arabic with a date (1934). The inscription says that the fountain was constructed as a donation of Ahmetoglou Hasan. In the north of Súnio village there is a place called Gelín Mezár (the bride’s grave) where a festival is organized in connection with the tekhe built there. The relevant tradition goes as follows (7) : “In the past, a bride was riding on a mule to be taken to the groom. The bride’s parents, relatives and co-villagers were coming from Sátres towards the lowlands. The bride’s mother did not want to give her daughter and the girl did not want to go either, because she did not like that groom. They would get married by force! On the way, when they stopped to take a rest, the bride disappeared. A wind blew and took her away. The people were panic-stricken and started to search for her but they did not find her. A wind blew and took her away. In the evening a dazzling light appeared on that spot in various points. The people got scared. Then they realized it was all because of a saint! After midnight the light reappeared at a point where it remained for a long time. Then it was extinct. They found the soil excavated on that point. Within the soil there were blood drops and on them there was the scarf covering the bride’s face”. Within the tekhe there is the bride’s grave (tülbé) covered with a green cloth. In 1961Angelis mentions (8) that in the animal sacrifice organized at the time about 30 sheep and goats were slaughtered and the food was prepared in huge frying pans. Three festivals in the area of Kimméria seem to be thematically interrelated in their reference to three brothers-saints whom the three kurbans honour. The three brothers were Karáoglan, Bózoglan and Delí Musá. On top of Karáoglan summit (called Νa tülbéno in Pomak), at an altitude of 1070 m. a very old grave (tülbé) is found. The grave was constructed with dry stone and it has neither an entrance nor a roof. It is the grave of saint Karáoglan. It is said that whenever somebody attempted to remove stones from Karáoglan’s grave, the stones went back to the grave by themselves! The tradition is as follows (9) : Karáoglan, Bózoglan and Delí Musá were three brothers who became saints after their death. Karáoglan was the eldest brother. He lived on the mountains, far from any human presence. In the evenings something that looks like a snake gets out of his grave, whereas in the past he had been seen to appear being a man from his waist upwards and a snake from his waist downwards. Once Karáoglan appeared in somebody’s dream in the form of an old man and asked the inhabitants of the area to organize a kurban in his honour. Since then, every autumn, on the top of Karáoglan mountain a big sacrifice was organized. Bózoglan, the second brother, was a shoe-maker. In contrast with his elder brother he was sociable and lived in the lowland villages. Karáoglan used to bring him water or milk in a scarf. Once, he brought a big scarf full of water and when he hanged it the water started dripping. Then, Karáoglan asked: “Why, my brother, is the water dripping? What is happening? What is going on and the water is dripping?” Then Bózoglan confessed his sin… As he was mending a woman’s shoe his eyes caught a glimpse of her and looked at her a little longer. That is why the water was dripping!” Bózoglan’s grave is found in the west of Símantra village although there are only a few stones left from the old tülbé today. They say that whenever some inhabitants tried to close Bózoglan’s grave with stones, they found the stones thrown in the nearby river in the following morning! That meant that the saint did not want his grave to be closed. In the past, local people used to light candles in front of the grave or left money, a scarf or a towel under the stones. The Delí Musá location is a valley almost 1700 m. away from Áskyra village (10) . The mahyá is organized next to the stone fountain. An auxiliary construction was built recently as a storing area. It is worth noting that, although there are two rather good dirt roads leading to Delí Musá there are still Pomaks who go there in the old way, following the mountain footpaths. For example we met a Pomak who arrived here riding his mule for 3.5 hours from Anthiró village (he left at 7.00 in the morning and arrived in Delí Musá at 10.30 in time for the mahyá). The mosque where the religious ceremony takes place is farther down the festival site, at Áskyra village. As a result, few persons visit the mosque as most visitors consider it more important to be present at the mass gathering area. According to the tradition, on a stone called Delí Musútska Tsûka they found the blood of a boy who became a bird and that is why they built a grave (11) . It is also said that the three brothers often visit each other. This happens during a specific period of time called üç aylar (three months before the Ramadan Bayram). During those days the two brothers Bózoglan and Delí Musá obtain the form of light and thus travel to Karáoglan Mountain and return in the same way. The Pomaks of that area believe that when a saint asks for a mahyá to be organized in his favour, great disaster (either many deaths or long periods of drought) would befall on the inhabitants if they do not fulfil his wish. On the other hand, every saint creates around his area something like an invisible wall by which all living entities are protected by all forms of evil.

3. The festival ceremony

The ceremony of Pomak festivals usually follows predetermined models based on a fixed order that older men know and younger ones are supposed to learn. The whole procedure is characterized by the annual repetition of certain actions and the attempt to faithfully reproduce the custom. The fixed site for the sacrifice represents the holy altar where the traditional ceremony is repeated every year. We shall examine the stages for the preparation of a Pomak mahyá below:

3.1. Coordination

Every mahyá is usually organized by a single village but in some cases two or more settlements may cooperate. For example, the villages Prióni (Kióstra) and Pórta (Partókova) in the area of Kimméria organize a common mahyá and the same is the case with the settlements Anthiró (Padína), Livádi (Slanvé) and Vasiliká (Brusóva). Each year the coordination of the festival is undertaken by some persons who are responsible for the whole event. In the Prefecture of Xanthi there is not a specific “agá” being in charge, as in the case of the Bektashi festivals in the Prefectures of Rhodope and Evros. The coordinators in the Prefecture of Xanthi are selected following a procedure of discussions and they may represent a big family of a village (e.g. the Boyar, the Malkots, the Durali etc). They are usually men at the age of 40-50, whose job includes the collection of money from those wishing to contribute, giving 20-30 euros each. The financial contribution is regarded as an act of benevolence and charity (hayιr). If someone wishes he may give more money or no money at all. If we estimate that 20 euros are expected from 200 families then the incomings reach 4,000 euros. A cow weighing 350 kilos may be sold for 700 euros. Some animals are offered as a gift by certain local politicians or well off Muslims. The expenditure of the festival includes the purchase of other necessary types of food (rice, bread, sour milk etc). In the past the coordinator was the president (muhtar) of the village or the vakιf committee (Theoharides, 1995:248).

3.2. Animal sacrifice

  The sacrifice of animals takes place on the previous day in the morning or at noon. The number of animals being sacrificed varies according to the expected number of visitors. The animals are usually the cow (kráva), the ram (praz) and the bull (porch) and sometimes the goat (kóza) and the sheep (ófche). Before the beginning of the sacrifice the imam asks the people to stand opposite the tied animals. He reads a prayer from a religious book and they pray all together. Once the animals have been blessed the slaughter procedure starts. In the case of stout animals, such as the cow, the participation of many men (more than ten) is needed in order to tie and hold it. There have been reported cases when the animal reacted violently, escaped and was finally caught with great difficulty. Using thick rope (fórtama) they tie the horns of the animals and pull them to the slaughter spot. Their body and legs are also tied with other ropes so that they do not move, while others hold the animal’s head tightly from its horns so that they raise their neck towards the person who will carry out the sacrifice. For the killing of a cow two men act simultaneously, one slaughtering its neck and the other disboweling it from the neck downwards. It is always in their mind not to allow the next animal to observe the slaughter procedure, so that it does not suffer. They say that the animal “must not understand the blood”. The number of cauldrons varies from one festival to another (they are usually 10-20). The cauldrons are stored at a nearby mosque from which they are borrowed for the festivals. In 1958 Taouktsoglou wrote about the organization of a big kurban in Kíknos village, in which a crowd of people gathered, more than 40 sheep and goats were slaughtered and 80 cauldrons of rice pilaf were used (total expenditure: 11,000 drachmas) (12) . In Símantra village they made preparations for 5,000 visitors in 2005 (14 August): they slaughtered 5 cows and prepared 2,200 kilos of meat. In the kurbans of the Pomaks there have survived a lot of ancient elements of sacrifice, which has been considered to be an integral part of the concept of sacredness in the history of mankind. As Walter Bukert (1983:3) remarks, the religious man (homo religiosus) gains his self-consciousness by becoming a killing man (homo necans). Through the killing (13) of the sacrificed animal the devotee lives an intense religious experience, approaching life through death and not merely through righteous living. We could say that for the Pomaks the sacrificed animal is the medium between man and God: the believers in Allah who eat the animal feel that they take part in a mystical union with the grace of divinity. In the popular worship of the Pomaks the blood which is being spilt seems to have a purifying nature similar to the Christian holy water (Aikaterinides, 1997:147). Many worship customs are often transferred from one religion to another, retaining their central core intact (Merakles, 1987:54). In a similar way significant similarities (14) appear in the case of sacrifices as the links between the ancient sacrifices and the bloody sacrifices of modern religions are evident. The main protagonists in a sacrifice adopt specific roles being placed at a different level from those who merely attend the festival. As Burket (1983:37) pointed out, the group of the people appearing as protagonists in the sacrifice consist a sacrificial community with its own internal hierarchy and structure. In the Pomak mahyá the role of the cook is most honorable. The chief cook decides on the amount of rice and salt and determines the way in which meat will be boiled. He is a highly respected person who has been initiated in the art through his long participation and apprenticeship next to experienced cooks. As an example we may mention Ferat Ali Affendi from Áskyra village, who has been the chief cook in the Delí Musá festival for many years. Besides being laborious (as a skilled stone craftsman he built the stone wall around the Áskyra mosque by himself) and sociable (as the owner of the Áskyra café he is well known by anyone visiting his almost abandoned village), he is also the carrier of the cultural heritage of his area: he still makes wooden musical instruments in his laboratory, plays the recorder (pishtélka) and the bagpipe (gáida) and sings Pomak songs (15) . It is not strange that such a person does not only incorporate various aspects of the Pomak cultural knowledge but is also chosen as the chief cook for the Delí Musá mahyá. Once the animals have been slaughtered, they are skinned, hanged on hooks and cut into pieces. Before skinning, smaller animals are blown up with a pump in order to facilitate excoriating. The animal fat is placed separately and it will be sold to anyone wishing to make kavourmá (sauted meat with fat and onions) with it. Meat chopping is done collectively and lasts many hours. After being chopped, meat is boiled slowly from 2 o’clock after midnight. Four to five persons stay up the whole night in order to take care of it. At the night of the sacrifice dinner is served for those who work for the preparation of the festival. They are the ones to eat first, thus participating in the sanctity of the sacrificed animals. Some of the village youth may pitch tents in the forest, experiencing their participation as a form of adventure. Vigils are organized on the eve and the festival day. All those owning houses at the nearest village invite their relatives and friends to stay in, offering them sweets, coffee, refreshments etc. Chatting lasts for hours. Children may play their own games (16) or jump over fires. The animal killing ceremony is repeated by the Pomaks in other times of the year as well. The Kurbán Bayrám, which is a commemoration of Isaac’s sacrifice by Ibrahim (Abraham), is a significant event celebrated seventy days after the Ramadan. The animals sacrificed should be well-nourished, whereas skinny animals are said not to be accepted by Allah. It is considered an act of irreverence not to participate in the Kurbán Bayrám. On the festival eve tekbír takes place, a kind of prayers ending the following Friday. Girls paint their hands (from the middle of the palm to the fingers) with kina, a tincture imported from Arabia. From a religious point of view the Kurbán Bayrám is as important as the Ramazán (17) , which is one of the five pillars (18) of Islamic faith and corresponds to Islam’s ninth month, during which, according to the tradition, the Koran was delivered as a guide for the mankind. A common element in both festivals is the handshakes, wishes and kissing the hands of the elderly by the young (19) . In the past during the Kurbán Bayrám it was common to organize circular dances. In Gláfki running races have been reported along with exhibitions by men who formed a human pyramid by climbing one on the other’s back. In Éranos carnival events were also organized with disguises. Some men were painting their faces with charcoal, they were dressed in animal skins, hanged cow-bells from their body and appeared suddenly in order to frighten the others.

3.3. Area preparation

The area of the festival must be cleaned from weeds and rubbish. It should also be soaked with water to eliminate dust. Sometimes the municipal authorities may send special vehicle carrying water for this reason. A group of men work on the spot on the festival eve, while women clean the mosque area. Early in the morning of the mahyá day peddlers put up their stalls using electric generators, the cauldrons area is fenced and the last arrangements are made.

3.4. The festival day

Most visitors start gathering after 10.00 p.m. They usually search for the shade of a tree. Men sit separately from women, but in certain cases families and mixed teams sit together. For many people the festival day is a good opportunity to meet friends and relatives. The village houses are open to visitors, treating them coffee and chocolate. Food is considered to be very important for anyone wishing to feel the experience of the mahyá. The type of food being served, the food preparation process the persons who prepare it or distribute it and the outdoor lunch render eating a collective act, creating feelings of solidarity to all participants. Most men sit down in order to eat, separately from women, who are with their children. The rice pilaf is distributed at around 1.00 p.m. Women are usually the ones to be served first. Besides the rice pilaf a tablecloth is often given to each group. The tablecloth is wrapped and includes bread, forks, sour milk. In most cases sour milk is distributed separately by young people who walk around the festival site selling sour milk bottles in a crate. The distribution of rice is also done by 20-30 young people who try to take it to all the visitors, no matter how far away they are sitting

3.5. Prayer

Once the rice pilaf has been distributed the imam calls everybody for the prayer. During praying all participants sit bending their knees with their palms facing the sky. This very body posture makes them all take part in an action of religious obedience. The “Amen” follows at the end of the prayer with a typical gesture that everybody does, as if they are washing their face.

4. Multiple functions of Pomak festivals

There are various motives for the participation of modern Pomaks in the procedures of a festival. For some of them participating is a manifestation of religious belief or a socialization factor, whereas others use festivals in order to exhibit their power or specific skills. Generally speaking, we could say that Pomak festivals function at multiple levels in the following ways:

4.1. Religious action

The celebration of summer festivals is certainly associated with the deep religiousness of the Pomaks, which may be gradually subsiding but has not ceased to be a fundamental quality that is embodied in their system of values. This religiousness is also shown in the fact that many older Pomaks still pray five times a day (20) and consider the pilgrimage to Mekka as an honorable deed, for which a devout Muslim is worth spending a great amount of money.

4.2. Language communication

By rekindling popular memory, the mahyá contributes to the redetermination of social boundaries and the redefinition of private space through the dynamic procedures of the festival: cooperation, information exchange, agreement or disagreement, withdrawal of cultural stock through language communication. The roles of the transmitter and receiver of communicative messages are alternated among bystanders in a symbolic dimension. Ordinary greetings, wishes, teasing may encode (through language) multiple relationships which are externalized and materialized. It should be noted that the language heard at festival sites is Pomak. It is worth mentioning that among younger Pomaks a lot of Greek and Turkish elements are mixed with Pomak words and phrases.

4.3. Initiation procedure

The participation of a young Pomak may follow certain stages: a) not participating, b) onlooker, c) assistant, d) protagonist, e) chief-organizer. The escalation of participation corresponds to age growth. Yet few people reach the highest grade, which is particularly honorable. It might be said that young Pomaks seem to be reaching adultness through these festivals. This applies especially in the case of boys, who are more actively involved in the work of slaughtering and cutting the animal. The initiation of boys into the festival ceremony becomes exceptionally important, as the adoption of specific roles within the traditional Pomak community seems to lay greater emphasis on the role of men. By learning the secret code of adults, young boys pass from the stage of adolescence to a widely accepted phase of adulthood, with new responsibilities, new rights and new obligations. This initiation offers them access to a form of knowledge which can only be attained through a long procedure.

4.4. Reinforcement of community coherence

Besides leading people to their incorporation to the community, the Pomak festival also reinforces the solidarity among adults. The group work of those taking part in festival preparations cultivates the cohesion of the insiders group. Young children may remain onlookers of the ceremony, anxiously waiting for their time to come when they will become protagonists themselves. The way young boys watch reveals the fact that they are not observing the ceremony as “strangers”. They all realize that it is their own cause and they will soon be the ones to continue the tradition.

4.5. Socialization and entertainment

It has been stressed (Aikaterinides, 1997:84) that such festivals used to be important as opportunities for entertainment and eating, both highly appreciated by the frugal people of the mountains, who were rarely given the chance to have a proper meal. For the Pomaks who have deserted their villages and have been living in the lowlands in the last three decades the organization of such festivals represents the reconstruction of their community and the rediscovery of their collective identity. Relationship and festival become two cultural poles fed by each other (Avdikos, 1998:180), as people visit their relatives during the festival, entertaining themselves in a joyful atmosphere. The feelings of euphoria prevailing during the summer festivals of the Pomaks are similar to those of other ethnic groups that also organize summer festivals in the mountains. It could be said that a sense of pride is also prevalent, counterbalancing a feeling of inferiority and self- devaluation that has been developed among the Pomaks in the last decades mainly due to the depreciation of their mother tongue. Moreover, these festivals are a good opportunity for young boys and girls to meet each other, something which is considered absolutely natural and which happens on a daily basis in big villages (such as Ehínos, Kéntavros, Páhni, Gláfki etc) during the afternoon hours in the so called “vólta” (hanging around).

4.6. Reproduction of symbols

The use of symbolic forms in festivals has been pinpointed by writers such as Jane Harrison, Mikhail Bakhtin and Victor Turner, who have stressed the transformational dynamics of festivals, claiming that they often invert the accepted social order, the relationship between the two sexes and social stratification, rendering all participants equal (Rappaport, 1992:268). In this way, the festival ceremony seems to incorporate an unwritten social contract and to function as a fundamental social action, on which social structures are based (Rappaport, 1992:254).

4.7. Time limit

The annual repetition of the ceremony is a way to define time. The periodicity of the festival makes it a part of the rural activities of the Pomaks, by which it is often associated. On the whole, Pomak festivals are living contemporary events simultaneously reminding traditional habits and customs. The past is recreated as present within the limits of ceremonial time, safeguarding the perpetuation of the festival in the future.

4.8. Redefinition of social roles

Social relationships are also affected by festivals. The natural division of the members of a community into groups and classes, according to their socio-economic position and the roles they adopt, is tested and ratified through the festival procedures. The distinction between the sexes in the festival area along with the dominant role of men as main protagonists in them are nothing but a confirmation of masculine presence in the public space of the community (Avdikos, 1998:182). However, although the coordination of the mahyá is the job of men only, certain auxiliary works are undertaken by women (cleaning the mosque, washing the cauldrons etc).

4.9. Promotion of financial activities

At a financial level the trade fair is a necessary constituent of the Pomak festival. The bazaar is near the site of the cauldrons. Among the items sold in the market one may find clothes, fabric, carpets, shoes, religious books, compact disks and music tapes, posters with landscapes. There are also mobile canteens serving food, outdoor grills and men selling cold coffee. Most men drink coffee as a pastime while waiting for the rice to be served. Women usually buy something for their kids and their house. There is also an animal fair, which is organized in the form of an auction, in order ot cover part of the festival expenditure.

5. From Hidreléz to Kásem

Besides the kurbans organized by the Pomaks, non-religious festivals can also be included in their traditional summer events, although they are gradually being abandoned. It should be emphasized that the Pomak customs are based on the annual cycle that may be divided into two large categories: the summer cycle and the winter cycle. The time limits corresponding to those two cycles are the Hidreléz (on the 6th of May) and Kásem (on the 8th of November). The Hidreléz celebration on the 6th of May corresponds to May Day and defines the beginning of summer. Its character is predominantly magical as the favor of nature is aimed at along with the transmission of energy to people through the power of plants and the element of water which is on them (Keltsidou, 1996). On that day in many Pomak villages the people customarily wake up early in the morning in order to collect a plant called zdráftse (21) (wild geranium). Then they boil the plants and wash their body. Another custom of that day is rolling their bodies on the grass in order to collect the dew and have good health. In some cases a celebration starts on the previous day and lasts all evening. During the Hidreléz they usually gather in a public place and make swings (22) hanging them from some tall trees. Young children and adults (even old women) swing and have fun there for many hours. The 6th of May coincides with the celebration of St George according to the old calendar (13 days after the 23rd of April). In 1961 (23) Taouktsoglou noted that during the Hidreléz celebration in Kíknos village girls used to gather outside the village in order to boil corn, which was then being distributed to both children and adults. The celebration of the Hidreléz is most popular among the Bektashi Muslims of Thrace (Vrahiologlou, 2000:24-27). Some important sites for this day are the Ishiklár Tekhe (Nefés Babá), 13 km away from Alexandroupolis and Rússa village, where a big kurban is organized (25) in which cauldrons are carried from the historic tekhe of Seyít Alí Sultán (Kizíl Delí) (24) (26) . The autumn celebration of Kásem is on the 8th of November and coincides with the celebration of St Demetrius according to the Old Calendar. Kásem is regarded as the last day of summer (lâto) and the beginning of winter (zimá), in the same way that Hidreléz signifies the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Whereas Kásem is no more celebrated in the Pomak villages of the Prefecture of Xanthi (27) , in the Bektashi villages of the Prefectures of Rhodope and Evros it is celebrated with a big kurban organized in Mursála site, two kilometres east of Áno Mikrákio (Evros Prefecture). Near the festival area there is the grave of Mursél. The Bektashi Muslims visit the grave and light candles in a special cavity (Vrahiologlu, 2000:61). In certain Pomak villages Kásem was associated with some types of oneiromancy (similar to those appearing during the Greek custom of Κλήδονας), in which the power of water was regarded as magical. For example, in Éranos village (28) during Kásem girls carried a wooden stick and walked towards the river without speaking. They placed the stick on two river rocks so that water would pass it without becoming wet. They also made a wish for their future husband to appear in their dreams (29) . They believed that the dream they would have after doing so would reveal their fortune.

6. Summer fires

Another summer custom of the Pomaks that has to be mentioned is related to customary fires (30) . The collective practice of jumping over the fire was widespread in the Pomak villages of Xanthi till the 1990s but it has now disappeared. In the custom of zhïf ógan (living fire) all the Pomaks of a village gathered on a summer day (31) in a particular place. Two men (preferably brothers) got some bark (íshka) from a tree or put some ground resin in the form of dust (prah) on a log and started rubbing it from both sides with a big rope (fórtama) in order to light a fire. Once the fire was lit the whole village had to jump over it. The Pomaks used to say that the smoke “burnt” sick tonsils and those suffering from tonsillitis should jump over the fire so as to be cured. They would also go through a metal coil (zólezno óbrats) in order to have good health. Animals were forced to go through that coil as well. Such pagan rites aimed at averting the evil and at safeguarding good health for the whole village. They were also a good opportunity for a meeting of all community members. It should be noted that such fire rites date back to ancient times and may be found in many civilizations all over the world, especially in cases of natural disaster or when animals were infected by epidemics. The lighting of the “necessary fire” was sometimes called wild fire, in order to distinguish it from the “tame” fire that was not lit in a ritual way. The name “living fire” was widespread among Slavic peoples, who considered that fire a proper treatment for animal diseases. In Slavic countries they used wood from poplar, pear tree or cherry tree so as to light the fire. Moreover the persons that had to work for the fire should be brothers or at least to have the same name (Frazer, 1994:214-218). Animals would pass over the glowing embers and young people would smear their body with ashes. The ashes would be scattered on the fields in order to protect the crops. The necessary fire was lit by a boy and a girl at the age of 11-14 in the case of the Serbians, whereas Bulgarian farmers considered the disease a horrible demon whom they could only keep away from their fields by creating a fire barrier. From an anthropological point of view two theories have been suggested in order to interpret the celebration of fire (Frazer, 1994:219-232): a) the sun theory, according to which people consciously imitated the sun in order to bring out sunlight, b) the purification theory, which is more widely accepted, according to which the fire is used as a way to purify men, animals and plants by eliminating whatever may threaten human beings.

7. Rain processions

In order to cause rain during periods of drought the Pomaks organize a rogation and a kurban. For example during the 1987 drought a mahyá was organized in Ehínos along with a rogation, during which an ornate bull was taken around the village. The bull was then slaughtered in the nearby stream. Rain invocation rites are incorporated in the oral tradition of the Pomaks. A magical imitation of rain is found in the story told about Tsingené Hisár (Γυφτόκαστρο- Gypsy Castle), the highest summit of the Greek section of the Rhodope mountain range (altitude 1827 m.). According to this story (32) : “Once there was a terrible drought. People were suffering from water shortage and decided to organize a rogation for God. Three gypsies climbed on the highest summit of the area and piled stones making a high tower. They climbed on the highest of these rocks. One of them was holding a torch, the second had an empty can and the third a bucket full of water. The man with the torch started imitating the lightning in the sky, the second beat the empty can to imitate thunder and the third threw some water in the air with the bucket, imitating rain. When God saw what they were doing he got angry. A strong wind blew and threw the three men away till they disappeared. The same wind took a huge stone towards the island of Thassos.” It should be note that rainmaking songs and stories are also found in the Bulgarian section of the Rhodope (33) . Moreover, in the folk worship of Thrace they used to imitate rain during the Perperúna ritual (34) , during which an orphan girl was dressed in oak tree branches. She was then sprayed with water and led a procession followed by other girls. The group was singing a song which may be found in various versions:

Perperúna is walking,

For rain it is begging:

Lord, give rain,

A tough rain…

(35) Among the Christians the perperúna is associated with an invocation to Prophet Helias, who is supposed to be the curator of rain, lightning and thunder. However, the sacrifice to the saint was not done on his celebration day because it was not necessary at that time. Instead it was done between St George’s Day and St Athanassios Day (Megas 2001:270-1).

8. Conclusion

We could say that through their religious festivals the Pomaks of Thrace become conscious of a historical and cultural continuity, connecting the present with the past both at a symbolic and a communicative level. The religious nature of the Pomak festivals is merely the starting point for the repetition of the ancient blood sacrifice ritual, a sacrifice that survives in the Rhodope mountain range in various transformations. The ethnic identification of the Pomaks of Greece is often done by adopting criteria such as language, origin, religion, anthropological features or the endorsement of social attitudes. Whenever the Pomaks themselves communicate with non-Pomaks they often distinguish between the “we” and the “you”. They refer to the náshine (those who are ours) and the váshine (those who are yours), a distinction that may operate at various levels: family, village, Islamic faith, Pomak language. The transition of the Pomak villages from stock-raising to the cultivation of tobacco and the subsequent abandonment of agricultural and pastoral activities after the 1970s led to an extensive urbanization and search for new forms of employment in big cities. The needs of the labour market for construction workers, shipyard workers, waiters, painters, factory workers etc turned the Pomaks towards new types of employment that influenced their daily life, their social relationships and their customs. A typical example is that of traditional music and dancing. Contrary to the Pomaks of Bulgaria, the Pomaks of Greece rarely perform their folk music in public places. This fact does not denote a negative attitude of the Pomaks towards their folk culture; It is associated with a mixed attitude of fear and shame (Tsimbiridou, 2000:38). These contradictory feelings are deeply rooted in modern history as well as in the official policy that the Greek state enacted through minority education, in which the Pomaks of Thrace are taught Greek and Turkish and not their mother tongue (36) . A political aspect of the festivals is reflected on the tendency to revitalize them and simultaneously enhance the religious belief of the Muslims of Western Thrace. This tendency is promoted by some Muslims who identify Islam with the Turkish language (37) , which is the language used by religious preachers in the mosques of Thrace. In this framework, representatives of the Turkish Consulate of Komotini tend to visit the Pomak festivals accompanied by other well-dressed Turkish-speaking men, who present themselves as “officials”. There is also a tendency to place welcome banners written in Turkish (38) . For the Pomaks themselves the festival rites are not only regarded as a form of religious practice but they also reflect a wide range of cultural standards. Despite the attempts to appropriate festivals for political purposes, the holy ceremonies of the festivals, inherited to one generation from the other, are still exceptionally attractive events for the Pomaks, who associate them with good health and the aversion of the evil as well as the embodiment in the cultural system of their predecessors. Pomak festivals are neither a revival of a distant past nor isolated survivals of old customs. They are living cultural performances without any elements of folklorismus, an idea unknown to the Pomaks yet popular among other ethnic groups of the area (Sarakachans, Vlach speakers, Greek refugees from Eastern Thrace, Asia Minor, the Black Sea etc). To sum up, we could say that, despite their multiformity, the summer religious festivals of the Pomaks have a lot of common characteristics: they are collective public events with a complex structure and they are repeated on an annual basis, being incorporated in the life cycle of the Pomaks. Through their repetition, customary actions ratify their supernatural essence. Since the performance of ritual actions is pre-determined and expected, there could only be little deviation from the norm of the standard rites. Nevertheless, year after year, some changes do take place, not in the ritual procedure but in its context, rendering the festival a vibrant expression of current trends. However, the immutable core and the holiness of the animal sacrifice are indisputable. This fact makes the sacrifice a representation of regularity, religious truth and morality, affirming the symbols through which community life is reproduced.

Nikolaos Kokkas