Παρασκευή, 22 Ιουλίου 2011

Death customs from the Aromanians (Vlachs) of Paleomanina

On the occasion of the celebration of Souls of Pentecost, we will mention the book "The Vlach customs of the village Palaiomanina of Aitoloakarnania (Prefecture in Greece) with Greek ancient roots", by Dimitris Stergiou, where the main death customs (and not only) of the residents of Palaiomanina are recorded and it is also revealed that they (customs) have deep ancient roots, even from Mycenaean and Homer era! 
The author, with strong presentation of scenes and roots from Aromanian (vlachic) marriage, birth, death, beliefs, other customs, as well as an indicative vocabulary with numerous Mycenaean, Homer and other ancient and Byzantine words, demonstrates the undeniable Greek cultural reality and the scientific truth (full of irrefutable evidence) for the Greek Aromanians or ‘Armans’ (Ρωμιοί): That is, they are indigenous Greek people who, after the introduction of the Latin language in the territory of the Roman Empire, became, for business, bilingual (they spoke and never wrote common Latin, too). 
So, with this book and its remarks on Mycenaean, Homer and ancient, in general, roots that can not all be regarded as incidental, the anti-Greek propaganda is smacked once more. In this respect, all the folklore data presented in this book are inextricably elements of Greek culture, Greek ancient tradition and (for many centuries) Hellenism that all Greeks and of course Greek-Vlachs saved with their customs, their songs, their sacrifices and their benefactions. 
The Vlachs in Palaiomanina washed the deceased with water and wine, they shrouded him with a white sheet very close to the skin, they closed his eyes, crucified his hands, put roses in the mouth and they placed him on the floor with his head towards west. If he was unmarried they wore him a crown. They covered the dead and tried not to be walked over by a cat, not to serve water and nobody to pass over him. 
Τhey brought to the deceased flowers and sweets (pita di nieri = pie with honey, a type of ‘baklava’ with multiple sheets) to give greetings to the other dead. From the moment someone died until his burial, his mother and sister had their hair untied, as a sign of great sorrow. During the ceremony of burial, the mother of the diseased sat up on a stone. They wore black clothes and a black scarf round their front (like a belt) 
When "raising" the diseased, a long nail was pitched on the spot (they nailed Death), while they kept his belt and hung it up. The housewives threw water down the way (street) where the coffin passed. 
The custom required the gravediggers (sextons) to wash their hands with continuous flowing water (not to stop at all during washing). This meant that Death should not stop in the street. Everyone who followed the funeral washed their hands even in their return at home. 
During the stay of the diseased in the house, lamentations were heard by women - keeners who sang funeral songs that referred to the dead, his appearance, his posture and his accomplishments in life. 
Wailing and singing of these Aromanians were choral and polyphonic (Arvanitovlachs), where a woman or a man, as a topper, began, leading the words of the song or the lamentation and then, the others repeated verse-verse. 
After the burial, the relatives of the deceased brought meat, wine, bread to console the sorrowful. When the carcasses were whole, they were brought without their heads. Food at memorial service, was always generous, depending on the age of the deceased. As it was new, richer laid the table. 
The Vlachs from Aitoloakarnania believed that the soul of the diseased was wandering for 40 days in the places where he had lived, when he was alive. People also believed that the body would melt, if a snake bit it. If the body of the deseased melted, they thought that he was excommunicated. That’s why they boiled water and scalded the grave for 3 Saturdays because they believed that the deseased was in the grave at that day (Saturday). 
All these remind us of many scenes, or a lot of information about death in ancient Greece. The first concern, also, in ancient times was the deseased to be washed, perfumed and covered with a white sheet. Next to the deseased, there were the keeners, his parents, his friends and women of the relatives, who, in turn, sang the mournful song and ceremonial lament, and the by-siders ‘answered’ with grief and mourning. In this lament, like the Vlachs, everything from life and activity of the deceased that would cause more pain and anguish, was referred and was acted with blows to the chest and untied hair pulling. 
The following information about the death in ancient Greece are observed and identified in dead ceremonies and beliefs of the Vlachs (Aromanians). 
• In classical era, the diseased were wrapped in clean shrouds (sheets) and, under Solon’s law, there shouldn’t be more than three (sheets). 
• They put an obolus in the mouth of the deceased, as a sign to pay the ‘ferry of Death’. 
• The relatives and the family was dressed in dark clothing, usually black, and women had their hair untied, as a sign of mourning (in some cases, they even cut it) 
• One vessel called ‘Ardanio’ was located in front of the door with water, taken from their neighbors. People, who were coming out of the house of the diseased, were sprinkled by this water to prevent the miasma of death. 
• After the burial everyone went back to wash, purify themselves and give a funeral banquet. This was because they believed that the soul of the deceased was present and for this reason they only said praise (words) for the diseased. Banquets and sacrifice followed on the 3rd, 9th, 30th day after death and after one year. 
• They closed his eyes and mouth (the Aromanians had a handkerchief gripped by the jaw to the head) and covered the face with a cloth. This was acted either by the spouse, or the brother, or the sister or the son of the diseased. 
• Women washed the dead with hot water 
• The placed the deaseased with his feet towards the door, a sign that he would not return again. 
• Friends of the house would not forget to wash their hands with running water, because people believed that a house, which was visited by death, was infected. 
• Apart from those used in life, they also gave a pie with honey to the deceased to tame wild Cerberus. 
• The funeral banquet for the dead was rich (Omer characterizes it an ‘abundant dinner’in his poem ‘ Iliad’ Ψ 29-34). Aren’t these the similarities amazing? And how they could not be like this, since they have common roots! 

(Source: Customs with Greek ancient roots of Vlachs in Paleomanina, by Dimitris Stergiou, publications Papadimas, Athens 2001)
Original text by John Tsiamitros, translation in English by him, too. The article was published on 21-05 in the newspaper ‘LAOS’, Veria

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