Kotsamania is an ancient tradition of the Black Sea. The performance refers to the priests of Momos, the god of laughter and satire.
As I am myself 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.
*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 Virgin Mary (Amomos Syllipsi).
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 Gulbahar, 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 club of Tetralofos and they happily agreed to host me inside a room in the building of the club. I arrived in Kozani, where I met a member of the club 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.
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 considers that they should perform accurately even 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 off to the cultural club, 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.
This custom goes like this. Everyone is dancing along the rhythm played by the 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 in a ritual kind of way 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.
Apart from the musicians and the twelve dancers, there are a few more characters. One or two brides, played also by men, in the same way of ancient Greek theater, 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.
If they do, Kotsamania must come to the rescue and the police officer will press charges to the culprit, which usually have 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 move things around or perform 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 (Greek alcoholic drink made by distilled grapes). By the time the sun sets, it is certain that you will be drunk!
Tsipouro also is supposed to help the freezing cold weather, but that definitely is just an excuse.
When the night falls, everyone returns in front of the local club 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 dance around it starts. Everyone has some nice soup with meat made by the club and other local dishes. After the event is finished, they go inside the local cafes to keep on dancing!
Dancing to Pontic music can really bring one to an ecstatic level due to its manic rhythm that keeps on building up.
The life in Tetralofos - Public Power Corporation.
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.
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.
Lignite exists in abundance in Greece, which is the second-largest producer in the European Union and 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.
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).
Of the five power stations in Ptolemais and Kozani, only one is newly constructed (Ptolemais 5) and the Greek government has decided to shut down the other polluting four. The first station has been already shut down (Ptolemais 1). The rest will follow gradually. A second 450MW modern station is underway (Meliti 2). The government has decided to gradually move towards renewable energy for the power demands of the country.
The life in Tetralofos - Livestock.
Another part of the community keeps livestock. This is mostly cows but some keep chicken as well. The community is very helpful among its members and on many occasions, they will help one make a farm to be able to make a living.
These images were made in the early morning of December 25, the first day of Kotsamania. I visited the farm with the owners and observed the daily activities of cleaning the farm, feeding the animals, and milking them. I even had a cup of warm fresh milk, straight from the cow.
Pontic population, from the time in the Black Sea, has a strong tradition in dairy products, so this is probably a residue of the past. There is also a delicious Pontic cheese called "Mitzi" that resembles mozzarella in texture and taste. You can try it in the houses that greet the Kotsamania during the event.
A smaller part of the population keeps chicken for their eggs and meat. The rooster soup is greatly appreciated among the community and locals will support their fellow growers for the quality of the meat, which is free-range and properly fed.
At this chicken farm, Kostas keeps his trained pigeons, which is his hobby. These are a special breed of "tumbling pigeons" that like to fly up to extreme heights and then suddenly dive down. It was a very interesting experience as the birds will dive at such speed that you can actually hear the noise they make due to aerodynamics. It sounds like a miniature fighter jet flying.
This is a very old tradition of the Pontic Greeks called "Parcharema (v.)". "Parchar (n.)" in the Pontic dialect signifies the summer place of residence. Since the Pontic communities were traditionally agricultural and livestock growers, they farmed the land in these places and they would move there during the summer months to farm and be in a cooler place, thus avoiding the summer heat. In this region of Greece, they keep their places in the rich forest of Vermion.
Over a hundred families would move there in the past, starting traditionally in groups sometime in early May.
The act of Parcharema used to have an elder and that was a lady, called "Parcharomana" (Parchar + mother). She would also have an apprentice to succeed her, called "Romana". Local testimonials say that these women, along with the rest of the women in the community were very hard working and there was not a single time of the day that they would sit and do nothing, while the men were busy with farming. They would start their day with the house chores and then go to gather firewood. When sitting at home they would spin wool with the traditional spindle, called "karmenetsa".
During the night, there was complete silence, other than the dogs barking when wolves approached the settlement. Parchar was to kids their playground and they couldn't wait the time of the year to get there. Today, some families still keep this tradition.
Tradition / History - From generation to generation
Similarly to the etymology of the English word "Tradition" (from the Latin words trans = across and dare = give, to tradere = deliver and traditio - noun), in Greek, the word is "Paradosi (n.)", from "paradido (v.)" which means to deliver, to take across.
Thus, by definition, tradition is an intangible set of characteristics that are passed on from generation to generation. This is mostly done verbally and by experience, but a lot of effort has been put in over the last years to register these traditions in written form. UNESCO has created the archive of the world's intangible heritage and more and more of these traditions are being included in it. Kotsamania, as mentioned above, was the first to be registered in Greece.
Tetralofos is situated at 730m altitude, 20km away from Kozani. It is only a small village of 320 inhabitants (c. 2011) but manages to hold these strong traditions. The population keeps on deteriorating over the years. In 1991 the population was 942. During the Ottoman occupation, the village was called "Dortalli" which meant a place with four Alis. The name "Tetralofos" (four hills) was given after the hills surrounding the village.
Following the Lausanne Treaty, the place was populated with refugees from the Eastern Thrace and from Pontus. The Thracians came from the place of Redestos, the village of Panidos, where the Pontic population came from the regions of Livera and Kapikioe (today Kapuköy).
The costumes, especially the cask - with beads, ribbons, and mirrors -, and the stick in their hands - made of walnut or dogwood with colorful ribbons, tassels, and bells -, require special craftsmanship and are made by specific people who have learned this technique from older generations.
Other parts of the costume, like the socks (Ortaria), are woven by elderly experienced women, where other parts require silversmithing training (medallion, talisman, chest jewelry).
Finally, music is an integral part of the custom. The instruments are taught from generation to generation and that is usually done in the traditional manner which is more experiential. That creates a very interesting result since the music is not based on determined tones, but rather on the whole sound spectrum of the instrument and relied on the ear of the player. The fabrication of the instruments is also based on tradition and requires special knowledge, verbally transmitted (such as when the manufacturer needs to cut the wood according to the phase of the moon and more).
A rare Dionysian ritual kept through the centuries and still carried out in our days. A great excuse for the community and the visitors to enjoy themselves and get together. I have visited five times Kotsamania, but I am sure I will visit many more. The richness of the traditions, the hospitality of the community, and the pure joy from dancing to Pontic rhythm and music, with plenty of Tsipouro running through your vanes, make every single experience truly unforgettable.