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Kotsamania in Tetralofos, Kozani: An Ancient Pontic Tradition

As I am of Pontic heritage, I wanted to see the custom of Kotsamania (from the Turkish kocaman = the big man). In other places, this is also known as "Momoyer". This is an ancient tradition of the Black Sea. The performance refers to the priests of Momos*, the god of laughter and satire. The origin of the event is considered to have originated from Ancient Greece, namely the ancient Dithyramb, as during the centuries evolved by the Pontic population.

The ancient Pontic tradition of Kotsamania in Tetralofos, Kozani. Explore the rich history and vibrant culture of this UNESCO-recognized custom. By Photographer George Tatakis
The Kotsamania of Tetralofos in Kozani, Macedonia, Greece

The Origins of Kotsamania

*Momos comes from the Homeric verb "Mo" which means to find a fault. Ancient Greeks said that the perfect man is the one that Momos has nothing to say about. Thus there is the Greek word "a(not)-momos, Amomos", which translates to immaculate. A common use would be the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary (Amomos Syllipsi).

Preservation in Tetralofos

This tradition takes place all over Greece, but this version, which is called "Kotsamania" was danced in the region of Pontus, Livera. Livera had certain privileges under the Ottoman Empire because of a local lady called Maria (later known as Gülbahar, after becoming a Sultaness). It is considered to be the most representative since it is the most complete, in the sense of being preserved intact for many centuries. This is the first Greek custom to be registered in UNESCO's Archive of intangible heritage.

More villages around Tetralofos keep this tradition, such as Aghios Demetrios, Ryakion, Alonakia, Skiti, Protochori, Komnina, Asvestopetra and Karyochori.

I had already made contact with the local Pontic Cultural Society of Tetralofos and they happily agreed to host me inside a room in the building of the Society. I arrived in Kozani, where I met a member of the Society Yannis, and followed him along to Tetralofos village. This is not too far from Kozani, just an approximate 20-minute drive. Along the way, you could see the huge utility power plant of Kozani which is kind of a landmark of the place. You could see the steam coming out of the chimneys.

I arrived at the home of Yannis' father in Tetralofos. His mother was around and offered to make coffee. I gladly obliged to that and to everything else they were taking out. I had a lovely Kourambies, or two (traditional Christmas biscuits with almonds, dusted with powdered sugar) and some lovely spoon-sweet.

Kotsamania in Tetralofos Greece. Western Macedonia. Tetralofos. © George Tatakis
Preparing for the event

Yannis along with his cousin Kostas started to get ready for the event. The mother was supervising and was giving directions to make things right. The father came along a few minutes later and he too started providing directions on how to proceed with the whole event. since the event is now protected by UNESCO, he believes that they should perform accurately even in the slightest details. At the end of every year's event, they will host a meeting with the community to discuss what might have gone wrong and what needs improvement. This is the leading family of Kotsamania.

We then went to the Cultural Society, where everyone would meet to start the event. This place was also going to be my home for the next few days. It was hosted in an old, but nicely renovated building. The heating inside was great, which was a good indication of a good night's sleep since it was freezing outside.

Inside, some people were dressing up or doing final preparations. After everyone was done, we went outside for a group photo and were ready to start.

Kotsamania in Tetralofos Greece. Western Macedonia. Tetralofos. © George Tatakis
Kotsamania party

The Dance of Rituals

Kotsamania unfolds with a mesmerizing dance to the rhythm of traditional instruments. Bagpipe (Aggion), Lyre (not used in Tetralofos), and drum. They start by visiting the graveyard, which is located at the village's entrance. Each time they stop, they dance ritually and perform certain acts.

This is a transitional custom, related to passing from the old year to the new one and has entertainment and eulogy characteristics. The whole community takes an active part in the process and the plot of the ritual, which is different every year, due to the improvisational aspect of the custom.

Kotsamania in Tetralofos Greece. Western Macedonia. Tetralofos. © George Tatakis
The ritual of Kotsamania

Symbolism and Punishments

Apart from the musicians and the twelve dancers, there are a few more characters. One or two brides, played by men, in the same way as ancient Greek theatre, an old man, an old lady, and the devil. There is also a police officer (Tsantarmas, Turkish) and a doctor. People attending, are actively taking part by trying to steal the bride away.

Kotsamania in Tetralofos Greece. Western Macedonia. Tetralofos. © George Tatakis
Kotsamanos to the rescue
Kotsamania in Tetralofos Greece. Western Macedonia. Tetralofos. © George Tatakis
The bride, like all characters, is impersonated by a man. A characteristic that is taken from the Ancient Greek Theater.

If they do, Kotsamania must come to the rescue and the police officer will press charges against the culprit, which usually has to do with the bride getting pregnant. Pregnancy signifies fertility, so in a sense, they are wishing fertility of the earth for the year to come.

The culprit is then charged with a fine, that is relevant to the financial situation of the person, but he may decide not to pay the fine, in which case punishment is decided for him which differs on every occasion.

When they finish off at the graveyard, they start the house visits. They perform the custom for two days, December 25 and 26. They will visit separate parts of the village each day so that they have time to go to every house. As soon as they reach each house, they start dancing around the yard and wish good luck for the year to come. The devil usually tries to play some tricks on the family, such as moving things around or performing some kind of mischief. He represents all evil that is going away with the year that passed.

Each house has prepared treats for everyone which consist of local and traditional delicacies as well as a lot of Tsipouro (a Greek alcoholic drink made from distilled grapes). By the time the sun sets, you will certainly be drunk!

Tsipouro is also supposed to help with the cold weather, but that is just an excuse.

Kotsamania in Tetralofos Greece. Western Macedonia. Tetralofos. © George Tatakis
A chicken in a car. Tricks by the devil.

When the night falls, everyone returns in front of the local Society and they start dancing in circles. A fire is lit to the old man's sack, to signify the cleansing from the old period and a frenzy dancing around it starts. Everyone has some nice soup with meat made by the Society and other local dishes. After the event is finished, they go inside the local cafes to keep on dancing!

Dancing to Pontic music can bring one to an ecstatic level due to its manic rhythm that keeps on building up.

Kotsamania in Tetralofos Greece. Western Macedonia. Tetralofos. © George Tatakis
The burning of the old man's sack

Life in Tetralofos

Public Power Corporation and Lignite

The majority of the people of Tetralofos are employed in one of the local Power Corporation lignite stations and mines.

Public Power Corporation (PPC) is the oldest power supplier in Greece. The power stations and the lignite mines in Macedonia, Greece (Kozani - Ptolemais) are the largest in the Balkans.

Kotsamania in Tetralofos Greece. Western Macedonia. Tetralofos. © George Tatakis
An on-site worker. One of the cooling chambers at the back reads: "Go Solar", put there by an environmentalist group.

As a photographer, I was very intrigued to photograph these mines as they looked surreal to me, resembling a moonlike landscape. Having an engineering background myself, such environments are very interesting to me. Fortunately, I managed to get a special permit to be in the mines and make images.

Kotsamania in Tetralofos Greece. Western Macedonia. Tetralofos. © George Tatakis
A quality inspector in the mine

Lignite exists in abundance in Greece, which is the second-largest producer in the European Union and the sixth-largest in the world. The quantity has been calculated to suffice for the following 45 years. 62,5 metric tons have been mined during 2006.

Today, there are 8 lignite power stations, that add up to 42% of the installed power of the PPC and produce 56% of its total electricity output.

The use of lignite to produce power provides Greece with approximately $1B per annum. It is a low and controllable cost fuel and is safe to transport. On the downside, there is significant pollution associated with it.

Kotsamania in Tetralofos Greece. Western Macedonia. Tetralofos. © George Tatakis
Worker in the mine

Four lignite mines, not including the newly built "Ptolemais 5" are currently operating in the Ptolemaida - Amynteo Lignite Center: the South Field Mines, the Kardia Mine, the Main Mine, and the Amyndeon Mine (including the mine in Florina). The Lignite Center also includes the Lignite Factory and LIPTOL Steam Power Station.

All mines including the power stations in the area employ around 10000 employees (permanent staff and external crew).