During the Carnival, a special day of the year, good mood, joking, teasing but mostly disguises, dominate.
In Naoussa, the Carnival is characterized by spontaneity, enthusiasm, the hospitality of the people Naoussa, the feasts without special preparation and the satirical carnivals. The most special and characteristic element is the custom “Boules” or otherwise “Janissaries and Boules”. It is a custom deeply rooted in tradition, having incorporated elements of local tradition and heroic struggles at the passage of its long history. Its heyday was during the late 19th and early 20th century and it is preserved intact until our days.
In contrast to the “disorder” prevailing during the days of the Carnival, the custom of Naoussa is characterized by the disciplined, standardized and excellent aesthetic appearance of the participants. The dressing, the pilgrimage, the itinerary, the musical repertoire, dances, instruments and participants follow the same rules for centuries.
The custom begins on the first Sunday of the Carnival, it continues on Monday -the troops visiting the houses of their members and feast, it is repeated on the Sunday of the Carnival (Sunday of Tyrinis)-on the square of Alonia a feast takes place with traditional food and the famous wine of Naoussa, and it concludes on Ash Monday and the Sunday of Orthodoxy, where all the troops are found in the region of the Cave in order to feast with pies, sweets and plenty of wine.
The custom of Janissaries and Boules is held according to strict prescriptions. The performance of this ritual requires disciplined obedience to certain rules. For example, only men are allowed to participate. There are many other prescriptions, especially concerning the wearing of traditional disguises of Yannitsaries and Boula, the strict execution of the performance with traditional music and dance, and the existence of a certain itinerary that the troupe should follow. At this point, it is worth referring firstly to the contribution of the instrument players of the custom. The only instruments that accompany the troupe are the “zournas” and the “daouli”, the so-called “zygia” (couple).
Only young, unmarried men can be disguised as Giannitsari and Boules. In older times, after the Christmas period, the men who wished to take part in the custom began collecting the appropriate costumes and jewels for the occasion. Today the costume of Giannitsaros consists of the following items: a “condela”, a “fustanela”, a “pisli”, a “zounari”, a “seliachi”, stockings and, especially for those who come from Epirus, a red fez with a black tassel.
Giannitsaroi wear long snow-white stocks called “betsfes” (a kind of shock covering the legs from the heels up to the thighs). Their colour contrasts with the black colour of the “boudetes”, which are garters decorated with tassels. Giannitsaroi also wear short white socks (called “skoufounia”) made of wool by the housewives.
The “condela” is a white shirt with wide sleeves. The front, collar and cuffs of the shirt are embroidered with red or white thread in a fishbone pattern.
The most characteristic item of the Giannitsaros’ costume is the “fustanela”, which is a kind of Greek kilt. The kilt reaches the middle of the thighs (this length differentiates this “fustanela” from the one worn in southern Greece which is longer). The number of the folds (called “laghiolia”) of the “fustanela” worn by Giannitsaros differs from 250 to 400, depending on the financial status and the body conformation of the wearer.
On the feet, they wear the “tsarouhia”, made of skin and ending up in a dense black tassel.
On the bust of the costume, coins (roupia) dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th century are attached. The silver ones are of Turkish, French or Austrian origin. They are suspended on chains, the end of which is decorated with a cross or an amulet (“chaimali”). Today, by simplification, these coins are sewn onto a waistcoat. Necklaces called “ghiourdania” or “bairia” are attached to the upper front part of Giannitsaros' coctume. In the old days, all these jewels were neatly sewn onto the costume on the eve of the Carnival.
At the Town Hall
At the beginning of the itinerary, the leader of Giannitsari and one Boula enter the Town Hall. They pull off their masks, in order to show the mayor that they are “good guys”, peaceful citizens and, mainly, above suspicion. It is the time for the “zournas” player to start playing the “Rhoido”, the only song to which the Yanitsaroi dance flourishing the handkerchiefs tied to their hands. “Down in Rhoidos, in Rhoidopoula, a Turk fell in love with a Greek girl”, is the verse of the song, carefully chosen as to deceive the Mayor“Mountiri”.
Nowadays, the dialogue between the Mayor and the Chief of Giannitsari is as follows:
“Leader: Mayor, we ask permission for the troupe to start.
Mayor: Is everything as it should be?
Leader: Absolutely. You can see.
Mayor: You have my permission”.
The chief salutes by jumping on his feet and the Boula kisses at first the mayors hands and then everyone else's. Everyone donates money. Subsequently, the Boula goes around giving treats to everyone.
“Leader: Brothers, begin!”
The dancing begins. The zournas player starts playing the “Thourios” of Rigas Fereos. The swords are drawn from the scabbards.
The itinerary followed by the troupe, while dancing incessantly, is prescribed and within the limits of the old town. The first stop is “Triodi”, followed by “Kamena”, “Pouliana”, “Batania”, “Kioski” and “St. Georgios”. The armed dancers stop in every neighbourhood, they form a circle and the residents of the neighbourhood begin to dance. The “zournas” and the “daouli” players play different songs each time, specific for each neighbourhood. In this way, nothing is the same, as defined by the custom.
At about 17.00-18.00 the troupe reaches “Alonia”. Here, everyone gets rid of the mask. In older times only those living nearby could take it off. The rest of the troupe would be revealed in the last dance at “Kamena”.
The “zournas” is on fire, triggering the dancers who, possessed by the spiritual and intellectual fury of the struggle, come to the peak of the act. It's the time to draw the mask, reveal their true selves and the rebels will blend in with the delirious, by the sounds of the “zournas”, crowd, and disappear there in.
There is only one or two Boules in each troupe. Her sole dance is “Makrinitsa”, danced outside the town hall. It is during this dance that the children and women fell into the falls of the river Arapitsa in order to avoid being captured by the Turks.
The costume of Boula differs in many respects from that of Giannitsaros. Firstly, it should be marked that Boula is a man disguised in a woman, a feature shared with the ancient rituals. Boula’s head is decorated with flowers, tulles and ribbons. Her mask has no moustache and it is painted red on the cheeks with a golden spot on the forehead, like the one of Giannitsaros. Small silver coins worn over the bust are indispensable ornaments of the Boula's costume.
With the exception of the long dress with the hooped skirt, all the other garments that Boula wears are parts of the local traditional feminine costume: the “saltamarka” is a sleeved waistcoat worn by women on the day of their wedding, the “trachilies” which are fine silk plastrons, the silken fringed girdle, over which the “kolania” or buckles are worn and the gold embroidered belt.
The Prosopos (the mask)
This is of special importance and one of the indispensable parts of the disguise. During the destruction of Naousa in 1922, all the molds for its fabrication were lost forever. Yet, for the celebration of the Carnival period in 1823, Yiannis Blatsiotis, an old artisan, managed to make a new mold as beautiful as his daughter, Aspasia. It took him the whole winter to make it as perfect as the ones that were lost.
A “prosopos” is fashioned from a thick cloth covered by a layer of stucco. The mask is then lined with beeswax in order to keep the face of the wearer cool. The moustache is made of horsehair and tar. The colors used to render the characteristics of the face are mixed with egg yolks. It is well known that these materials are exclusively used in the manufacture of masks up to the present.
The color of the “prosopos” is snow-white; the cheeks are rendered with red paint. White symbolizes the death of nature and the death of Greek nation, while red denotes an awakening, one that will gradually stir the hearts of the enslaved people. The yellow spot on the forehead was applied only to the mask of Boula at first (since it is a trait borne by married women in the East), it is eventually incorporated into the mask of the Giannitsaros as an ornament as well as a symbol of the death of slavery. The symbolic use of these spots is attested by old people. What one can be sure of is that similar colors were used on ancient masks of the same fashion and size.
Possibly, the masks derive their origin from the worship of the ancient god Dionysus (the mask of Satyrs and Maenads or the “mask” of the actors in drama). On the other hand, it could be an expression of “oriental” charm radiated by the white color, the lips and the two slits in the eyes’ place.
The spree concludes on the first day of Lent known as “Clean Monday” (Ash Monday). After the last dance at “Kamena”, it is time for the separation. While all Giannitsari and Boules stand in a circle, they put the instrument player in the middle, hit him symbolically to the head with the broad side of the sword and, lifting him, they shout: “That you should always be eligible, Mitro; next year too!”. Thereafter in the same cycle, they all hit the ground with the peak of their swords saying
“Anything we did or didn't say will stay here!”.
In this way, they apologize for any misunderstandings between them. Then, after shaking hands between them and with the crowd, they head to their homes.