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Giusy Andriano

The Greekness in Calabria  


One of the first times Greek culture came into contact with Calabria is tracked back to the stories of Odissea by Omero. When Ulisse came to the Feaci land, driven by the forces of the sea and by the sea monsters Scilla and Cariddi, he was surprised by that land. Many interpretations recognized the Feaci land to Calabria: a place located in the middle between Ionian Sea and Tyrrhenian Sea where Omero was welcomed by Nausicaa.

From his impact with that land, Omero tells that Ulisse was involved in one of the virtues of the ancient greek, the ​Philoxenia​: the love for the foreign. Its meaning comes from a lifestyle set of values with a strong sense of welcome to the unknown person, and include taking care of him, welcoming him in a home, and giving him all the necessary to make him feel good and feel that the foreign is not an enemy but a brother who can take something positive. 

Maybe it is for this reason that when in Calabria we speak about “greekness” we never mean “colonization” but we mean “exchange”. 

Historical context 

Despite the mythological tales, we can find first greek evidences of settlement, starting from VIII century B.C when Greeks landed in masses of the calabrian coasts and founded such a large number of cities that they created the ​Magna Grecia ​(Μεγάλη ​ Ἑλλάς).   

Greek influence encompassed a very big area which extended beyond the Calabrean region, in which have been handed down a series of cultural, economic and social influences. In the city of ​Kroton​, for example, many high level cultural figures left their traces through their teachings, such as the philosof Pitagora who founded the pythagorean school where he taught religious, philosophical and political knowledges, so much that the

“crotonesi”, people from Krotone city, are still called “pitagorici”. 

In this article I would like to concentrate more on the area I belong to: the southernmost of the italian peninsula, not to be too dispersive. 

The area of Reggio Calabria

The area of ​Rhegion (now Reggio Calabria) includes many villages which compose the “area grecanica”. The majority of their names have maintained their hellenophone appellative. 

The area of ​Bovesìa​, near Reggio Calabria, is considered the heart of the magno-greek culture, and until now it is still strong. This area extends along the ​Amendolea river (Amendulìa Potamò, to indicate an area full of almond trees) that in the hellenic era was navigable, letting cross the villages of ​Ghorio di Roghudi​, ​Bova​, ​Gallicianò, Roccaforte del greco and Condofuri. ​Besides the scenic beauty, these areas are characterized by legendary tales that remember the beliefs of the greek mythology. 

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Ghorio di Roghudi, is a small village built on the valley. It has been completely abandoned since the 70s because of a violent flood. The name ​Roghudi ​comes from ​roghòdes which means harsh. Around this area the shape of one rock gave rise to the myth that the village was guarded by a dragon and some milk boilers that fed it. People from roghudi believed that the dragon was the guardian of a treasure and anyone who wanted it, would have to sacrifice a goat, a cat and a little baby, everyone male. No one over the centuries wanted to face this test. When a malformed child was born in the village, rejected by his parents, he was taken by two men who carried out the test of courage. Both the goat and the cat were killed, but when it was time for the child to be sacrificed, a sudden storm caused the death of one of the two men, while the other surviving man was persecuted by the devil until his death​.

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The​rock of the dragon and Milk boilers (​ta vrastucia​)

Culinary traditions

Most of the culinary greek traditions are still carried on in the village of Bova(original name: Chòra tu Vua ​which means city of the flock) that is considered the capital of the greek culture in Italy. The legend says that this village was founded by a queen who carried on the population there and made her first footprint on the highest point of the rock. 

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Still now, in Bova culinary and not traditions of ancient Greece became propriety of the autochthonous population. One of the most symbolic dishes in Bova is the ​lestopitta (the name comes from ​leptòs​: thin and ​pita​: bread). It is very similar to greek pita but it’s fried and you can put inside local cheeses and sausages.  During the Easter period the culinary tradition is accompanied by other symbols like the Musulupu (in greek “mouthful of the wolf” ): it is a not seasoned cheese made of sheep or goat milk and put into anthropomorphic forms, usually feminine figures that reclame the Mother Heart thanks to which people could get a good harvest. The drawings on it, done in a very greek style, symbolized the breast, the nipples.

Musulupu is not a common cheese, but a ceremonial one, utilized during pythagorean mystery rituals, where fasting was practiced. In a few words it wasn’t, for ancient greek, like a real food to eat but a “solid drink” that was neither satisfied nor nourished: the shape of the breast, like a clock, was broken on time during the day and drunk little by little.  For this reason it, specifically, represents the Lenten season. 

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Musulupu cheese

Another kind of food, sweets of the greek tradition, done in the Easter period, are the Cudduraci or ​‘Nguti (in greek ​κουλουρακια​). They are simple biscuits made with butter, modeled by hand, and brushed with egg. Then the ​Pignolata (in greek Loukomades λουκουμάδες) ​they are sweet pancakes made from leavened and fried dough, soaked in honey.  

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Cudduraci and Pignolata  

Rituals and beliefs of the greek traditions

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We can find many other hellenic traditions in the village of ​Gallicianò too. This village is an open-air museum of the greek tradition, it is considered the ​Acropolis of the Magna Grecia​. As soon as you enter the village you can understand why.

Nowadays this village is almost totally depopulated: the

inhabitants are 61 and the oldest ones still speak the greek language of Calabria at their homes[1]. This shows how the inhabitants of Gallicianò were able to defend the greek culture despite the subsequentes settlements. 

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“Calos irthete ode manacho stes oscie fortomene ascepono ce asce tragudia”

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Orthodox church of the greek Madonna of Gallicianò

Despite the predominance of the Catholic religion, in Gallicianò wa can find the ​Panaghìa tis Elladas, the church of the greek Madonna, still   opened for workships and weddings.

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Gallicianò, fountain of Love “Cànnalo tis Agàpi” In the village of Gallicianò, we can also find the Fountain of Love (To cànnalo tis Agàpi) that is so called because, in ancient times, engaged couples met here.  Generally, when a boy decided to ask for the hand of a girl he met at the fountain, he placed a log of charred wood in front of her door. If the family accepted the suitor, the log – called “​ccippu” – was brought into the house at night, otherwise the father of the family would roll it down the street.

The wedding

Despite in Calabria the wedding ceremony follows the catholic tradition, it also follows some of not religious and greek traditions before the ceremony in church. In some of the small calabrian villages the weddings are celebrated through ancient rituals. Many times before the future wife decides to get married, her family provides to buy all the necessary things for the house of the couple, above all the trousseau! One or two days before the wedding date, there is the bed ritual: the future couple invite their relatives and close friends in their future home, and ONLY the feminine and MARRIED woman prepare, for the first time the bed of the future couple (maybe in the greek tradition only single girls are allowed to do it). 

During this ceremony, the guests put money inside the bed, to wish a richness future to the lovers. 

Another curiosity in common with the greek land, which I’m not very sure that derives from there, is the belief in ​Malocchio​, that in Greece is called ​Matiasma​. It is one of the most ancient popular traditions, which deals with the superstition of the power of the gaze to produce evil effects on the person being looked at. Sometimes there is a relative or a ederly neighbor who does the ritual to remove the malocchio believed to be generated by false compliments dictated by envy for their beauty, their work, for their children and many, many other reasons. 

The person who, in a period of his life, feels a lot of bad energy or unlucky on him, goes to get the malocchio removed, or in case he is physically far from this person, the person who removes the malocchio can use one of his personal items. 

Specifically, she puts water in a plate and recites several prayers (from the Christian religion), makes the sign of the cross three times, on the person’s head and on the plate. Then she puts some drops of oil into the plate with water and, if the drops remain intact, the malocchio is gone and the ritual finished. Otherwise it could repeat the procedure. 

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An old woman doing the ritual of removing malocchio

The malocchio ritual procedure could be teached to the next generations, but it could be teached only on Christmas night. 

Traditional Music and Dance

Finally, in Gallicianò and in all the rest of the hellenic area, we can also find dances and musical melodies carried on with handmade folk musical instruments like the ​tamburello (in greek tympanon) made with goat’s skin, the ​organetto (similar to the accordion)​, ​the lyre and the ​zampogna ​(also made with goat’s skin) usually used in Christmas time.

The symbolic dance of this region is tarantella. ​Its origins are not sure but probably linked to Magna Grecia. It is a courtship dance directed by an old and respected man who is the “director” of the dance. He chooses one boy and one girl who have to dance together and in turn he changes couples, but before the exit, the male dancer has to dance with him. None of the guests to the dance, man or woman, can refuse the invitation to dance! 

He makes what we call ​rota​: the circular movement that marks the territory of belonging, and on which they are dancing, a real duel between men, for the dominance of the space. The guests to the ball also arrange themselves around the dancers in order to create a circle, the rota.

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The director and me dancing tarantella

The feminine figure, on the other hand, dances in a shy and modest attitude that reminisces of ancient classical greek attitudes. The woman, who generally moves less, almost always occupies the center of the wheel: a position of prestige and respect. 

The dance is supported by a group of musicians, playing live music that could go on for many hours.

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My friend Nino and me playing organetto and tamburello 

The original name of tarantella comes from ​tarantula​, because the dance movements of jumping simulates the attitude of being bitten by a tarantula. The tarantula myth was born precisely in the era of medieval obscurantism when the pagan divinities of Magna Graecia are silenced by the new apostles of a more rational and composed religion. The history of the tarantella is therefore a history of repression, a repression that starts from the hegemonic culture and strikes down on the peasant culture, archaic and obstinately linked to the fables and rites of the earth and the stars.

Religious Rituals 

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During the Palm              Sunday, of the catholic religion, is carried on a ritual of the greek mythology: the of ​Pupazze (or Persefoni​) ceremony, done on the street. They are sculptures of female bodies, that remember Demetra and Persephone myth, made by olive leaves, woven into wooden sticks decorated with fruits, and flowers, that are brought around the streets of the village. 

It is believed that the ritual of ​Pupazze​, is celebrated to thank the mother goddess. 

In Calabria, in the previous years, some of the ancient traditions have been lost, because it was believed that they were only for old people. 

Only in recents years were born many associations[2] and schools[3] that teach the old greek language of calabria to improve the value of traditions and give continuity to the origins. 

[1] Old people speaking grecanico in Gallicianò  ​ 

[2] Greek cultural center “Apodiafazzi”

[3] To ddomadi greko, greek school of Bova ka