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Δευτέρα, 4 Φεβρουαρίου 2008

THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY IN TRADITIONAL CYPRUS: TRADITIONS & CUSTOMS AND DANCES

In Cyprus, Sunday was considered as the best day for marriages to take place. According with the ancient custom, they preferred the days that had a full moon, the same as the ancient Greeks. Special nuptial bread buns beautifully decorated and with sesame seeds similar to those which was made in antiquity, were sent to the invited guests along with a candle. On Saturday evening, the day before the marriage, the special nuptial preparation of Cyprus called resi was made. The women of the house (but not the bride) stretched a sheet out in in the courtyard of house. On this sheet the women spread charcoaled wheat which strong young men crushed stepping on wooden flat boards. Others close by, emptied the steaming content from a big pot on the crushed wheat. This content was sheep meat cut out in big pieces which was cooked until it turned into a pulp separated from the bones. With wooden sticks, the young men mixed this pulp with the crushed wheat until they both became one, and then the resi was ready.
After the preparation of the resi, the women prepared the layer of the bridal bed, filling it with wool and was sewed by five or seven young women. These women had to be married and for a single time in their lives and on the four corners of the bridal bed, they sewed red ribbons in the form of the Cross. This process was called "the tipping of the bed'''. As the women sewed the the bridal bed, the attending people threw in it copper or silver coins which were sewed inside the bed along with the wool. When the sewing was finished, young children were thrown over the bridal which started dancing and making somersets. It was believed that, the coins that they threw in the bridal bed will bring money and goods in the house in time of need, and the children will bring fertility. After that, a relative raised the bridal bed above his head and started dancing in circular movements, and with the accompaniment of the cries of joy and the applause of the attending crowd, he carried it up to the bedroom.
On Sunday morning of Sunday which was the day of the marriage ceremony, every-one got up early. The groom even if he wanted to keep his beard, he had to be shaved along the accompaniment of music from the violin and lute and in a festive manner, he put on his wedding costume, however he did that only after his best man danced holding the nuptial costume of the groom in a flat basket. In the mean time, the best maid bathed the bride, and then with the help of her mother, the bride put on her wedding dress and her jewels. As during the shaving of groom, the adornment of the bride was accompanied by music and the instrument players were always present for this event. After that, their parents passed three times around their waist a red scarf which was done separately in each individual's house, the groom and the bride started in a separate procession for the church, accompanied by their parents, the best men and women and maids of honor under the sound of the violin and the lute.
The wedding crowns which the bride and the groom in the church put over their heads were made of natural material woven from laurel or olive leafs (which were not supposed to be seen by the sea), and were decorated with gold thread and colourful festoons. When the time came for the priest to say "Isaias dance'', and the priest, the couple and two children holding the nuptial candles, holding hands, made three times the circle round the table that was placed in front of the iconostasis, the crowd threw upon this circle, cotton seed, sesame seed, candies and coins as a symbolic wish of benediction. The children waited for this moment with a lot of eagerness and they dashed in the circle between the feet of the bride and the groom as well as the people invited without taking anybody into consideration, so that they could grasp the most and more valuable coins. This whole noise was made even louder by the unmarried girls who did not loose the occasion at the duration of ceremony to pad strongly the shoulder of the bride and cry out "beautiful maiden'' or strike their feet on the floor. The bride complied to the commands of the girls which made them feel sure that before the turn of the year, one of them would be standing at the same table and become married. Much laughter and noise filled the church during the duration of the marriage ceremony, and when the ceremony was finished and the couple left the church together, pistol shootings and gunfires were heard often outside the church.
After the church marriage ceremony, according to the custom, the bride could not raise her head for two entire days and she was forced to look down. This process was named "The Adoration of the Bride'' that is to say the looking at or the observation (with the passive meaning) of the bride. In the older years, the bride had to remain during these two days with her face covered by her red wedding veil. When they reached the house of the marriage (which was the house of the groom and not of the bride), the husband with force threw a pomegranate at the entrance door in order to break and empty it from its seeds. This action was a symbolic wish for fertility.
There, at the doorstep of the house, the mother of the groom, in the presence of the young couple and the best men and women, cut off the head of a rooster and while she did that, the groom stepped hard on the feet of the bride. With this symbolic action the bride understood clearly that she should obey her husband, otherwise she would have the same fate as the rooster.
During the wedding feast the resi, the traditional Cypriot nuptial food, was presented first and it had to be warm. The honored guests sat on chairs at a long set up table, while other guests at the wedding ate on reed woven mats that were set up in advance and that were supported on chairs or wooden tripods. Those who could not find a place at these tables ate on the ground, on same reed woven or straw woven mats which were covered by long white or multicolored table clothes.
In Cyprus there existed the not inexpensive custom according to which all the residents of the village and all strangers were welcomed at a wedding, and they eat at the wedding feast, of course after the honored invited guests were served first and took the best places at the table. If the parents of the groom who made the wedding were affluent, then a crowd of uninvited guests from the neighboring villages appeared up in order to be addend at the wedding. The only persons who were not allowed to seat at the wedding feast were the beggars. Everybody come equipped with various containers that were filled up by the mother in law with mixed food. All night they ate and also drunk everywhere. However, when they finished their dinner which they ate sitting down, squatting or even laid down, they immediately took away the mats so that the wedding dancing could begin, where the musicians of the village played. The musicians were specifically hired before hand and they played the violin, lute, and pipe, while the guests at the wedding played the drums.
The lyra, the musical instrument of the same type that was used in Rhodes and is still used in Karpathos, was in older times the main instrument of music in Cyprus. The violin reached the island a lot later and replaced it. Another type of musical instrument that was used in Cyprus up until recently was the tampouras which had four strings while the lute usually has eight. The zournas and ntaouli which was a drum made from donkey skin were used only by the Turks of island. The Greeks used the tampoutsia, a drum which has its origin in Cypriot antiquity as its frequent depiction on many ancient Cypriot vessels confirms. These were the musical instruments that were heard at the wedding in all the duration of the night. During the duration of the wedding night, men used to make song competitions and the one who sung the best on the spot improvised couplet, either for the wedding or the new couple, gained the enthusiastic applause of the crowd. The nuptial song of Cyprus which we wrote about in our previous post was sung in this kind of atmosphere and it was unthinkable to have a wedding without singing it.
Men usually danced separately from women and the most usual dances were Cypriot vis-a-vis dances which were danced in pairs. It was also the rule for only one pair to dance each time. The typical women's dance most times consisted of open hand movements that went back and forth accompanied by a simultaneous slow and repeated movement of the entire body.
The movements were slight and infrequent and rarely did all the body bent. The legs were hardly raised from the ground. The faces of the girls that danced remained deliberately very serious and even when the spectators were joking and having fun, a lot of effort was made in order to avoid any face expression. They fixed their look at the front and lowered their head lightly to the ground. Only when the end of the dance approached did the music become faster and alternatively the movements of the pair of dancers become faster and more lively before they left the dance floor. The opinion exists that the chorus of ancient tragedy can only be fully expressed in this manner.
The men danced the men's vis-a-vis dances more wildly. The individual men's dances (because women's ones do not exist) were danced as wildly as possible. Three or four young men would take a hold of each other's shoulders dancing the syrtos and lead the dancer to the dance floor, then they would withdraw and leave the dancer alone to execute his dancing figures. The particularly skillful dancers unfolded like acrobats and jugglers and before the carrying of knives by Cypriot men was prohibited by the British, the dancers used to throw a knife in the air and take it.
When the girls finished their dance and withdrew, the men threw coins at the legs of the musicians. In this way they honored the girls and the more money they would spend, the more they showed their respect to them. Women and men dancers, the groom and anybody else who wanted, accomplished in a very original way to give some money to the musicians. They Spat on a coin and pressed it hard on the forehead of the musician, until it would stick. Because this could happen many times in one evening, in the suffering forehead of the musician, red circles appeared. The musicians threw the coins that they acquired in a sheath, or even indeed inside their violin or lute.
In honor of the bride, during the wedding night, a fire was made near the house outside and was left to burn for a long time. This action which was not absent from any wedding, was called "the lighting of the torch of the bride''. Depending on the time of season and if the dowry allowed it, Cypriots used to built inside the house or the courtyard of the house, a kind of throne for the newly weds. The bed was often used as a seat and the sheets and other cloth materials were used as the roof of the throne. At the right from the groom stood either his best man or the representative of the best man holding a big lite candle. If for economic reasons the candle was thin, it was fixed on a long pole.
Along with the wine which was running like a river, during the duration of the wedding night the guests also consumed the marriage bread buns, and other dishes such as cheese, eggs, meat, fruits, olives e.c.t. Around the morning hours the wedding feast became Bacchic and lasted until day break and it wasn't until then that the entire company, joyous and effervescent, would decide to leave the house of the wedding. The young couple had to remain seated on their throne up until very late into the night. The groom would get up from time to time in order to greet the guests or to bid them goodbye, in order to supervise the service, in order to see along with his parents for new supplies of food. However, the poor bride was not allowed to abandon her place, only seldom. She danced only one time when she opened the wedding dance with her best woman. She had to continue seating there for hours, and with her head and eyes lowered down.
Late into the night the dances finished and the new couple accompanied by their parents, their best men and best women, and the priest of the village, were led to the bridal room, under the sounds of violins, the lutes and tampoutsia. The first best woman and the first best man holding lite candles were showing the way. In the bridal room, the young couple were left to stay alone while outside the bridal room the others remained in order to see ''the virginal spots'' of the newly wed bride. The newly weds spend the first night of their marriage not on the bridal bed, but on a bed which was put on the floor. On this bed their first sexual union took place, but not for anything else other than to prove that the bide was a virgin. Upon the completion of the sexual act, the groom came out of the bridal room to give the blood stained sheet to his mother so that everybody could see ''the virginal spots'' of the bride, especially the in laws. Provided that those of immediate interest were satisfied about the virginal immaculateness of the newly wed bride, the groom had to also inform in line and the remainder of the villagers. He would open the window and start the gunfires in order to send them the good news.
On Monday morning the mother of the bride slaughtered a pair of nursling pigeons and cooked them in order to make the established egg and lemon soup for the newly weds. The best men organized a feast with lots of eating and drinking, and brought gifts to the young couple, most times foodstuffs, meat, poultry and similar other. Many of the invited guests offered also as a gift money, clothes, equipment e.c.t. These gifts were never given on the day before the marriage, but the day after the marriage, on Monday, and they stacked them above each other on the bridal bed. The initial reason behind this custom was that if the newly wed bride was not a virgin, the marriage would dissolve immediately and the gifts would be given for no reason. On Monday the bride wore her ''Monday dress'' which was usually navy blue or black in order to show her sorrow that she lost her virginity and in the evening when all the guests were gathered, the newly weds danced together and people pinned money on their clothes as they danced. It is noteworthy to add here that the guests at the wedding on Monday, during the duration of the symposium, deliberately broke various glassware which symbolized the fracture of the virginal hymen of the bride. It was considered particularly a great honor to the newly weds, if a guest after sitting at the wedding table, and was offered a dish full of his favorite food, managed to hit it so hard on the table and brake it smudging the table clothe with the food. If you still have not understood why the newly weds slept on a bed put on the floor and not on their bridal bed during the first night of their marriage, after reading this you will understand.
In older times the feasts of marriage lasted one entire week and the marriage used to finish the following Sunday.


4 σχόλια:

  1. I enjoyed reading this post – as I enjoy reading all your posts. I attended a wedding with some of the elements you describe about 25 years ago, in my father's village, in the Paphos district. I particularly remember the preparation of the resi.

    What I still don't understand, however, is this concept of the antigamos, which marks the conclusion of the wedding feast. What is the significance of the antigamos? What actually happens? Is it just a repeat of the previous Sunday's festivities? Why would it even be called the antigamos? I wonder if you know any more about this. I've always been curious.

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  2. Hi dear friend,
    Firstly thank you very much for reading my blog.
    The tradition of the antigamos started when the bride came from other village,and therefore on the Sunday after the couple's marriage,the newly weds had to go to the bride's village and do the wedding all over again without of course the church ceremony.In more recent times,due to lack of men in Cyprus,the dowry fell on the bride and now she had to provide for the house instead of the groom and the groom had to go and live in the pride's village.This is how things are still today.For this reason,the antigamos changed and the couple had to go to the groom's village to do the wedding after it was done the in bride's village.In those days people were poor but they were much more generous and spend much money in feeding two villages for so many days.

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  3. Thank you for the information. That's so interesting.

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  4. Hello,nice post thanks for sharing?. I just joined and I am going to catch up by reading for a while. I hope I can join in soon.

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