Did You Know… What Other People Have to Say about Us?

The major Greek migration to Rhode Island began in the 1890s… According to extant records, Greek migration to Providence began in 1898. The period from 1898 to 1902 brought John Coufoudakis, Costas Costakos, Dr. Haralambie Cicma, Theordore Kanelos, and Dr. George Aloucos to the capital city… The distinction of being the state’s first Greek settler, at least insofar as the records show, belongs to George A. Vaka, who (according to the Providence Journal) arrived in 1892 and made his home in Pawtucket. Nothing else is known of Vaka, whom no family claims as its ancestor. His name suggests that he might have come from northern Greece, or even that he was a Vlach, a Romanian Greek.

The Greek People in Rhode Island by Rev. Stephen Kyriakou and Venetia B. Georas, M.D. (Providence, 1994: Rhode Islanbd Ethnic Heritage Pamphlet Series)

The indistinct biological substratum of the Rumanian melting-pot continually overwhelms the kaleidoscope of figures. It is no coincidence that in Rumanian culture there has been so much discussion of the contrast between basis and form… . In certain districts of Bucharest, even today, one gets the impression of witnessing this incessant process of being engulfed, watching vitality dissolve all definite limits. The composite ethnic substratum is the multiple, changing face of this ancient amalgam: the dark olive-coloured eyes and the imperious noses of the beautiful Phanariot women, and the black, soiled hair of the great-grandsons of Aromuns… from Macedonia meander through the crowds like bubbles in a cauldron.

Danube by Claudio Magris, translated by Patrick Creagh (Toronto, 1989)

The Vlakhs were a sturdy and a robust people, very industrious and enduring. The poor soil and inadequate produce of the mountainous areas they inhabited impelled them to exert themselves to the utmost… Vlakhs were mainly engaged in a pastoral economy, but a substantial number were also merchants and artisans in various towns of the Ottoman Empire; and the lower classes were shepherds. They were considered to be less astute then the Greeks, but endowed with more steadiness, prudence, and perseverance, though, like them, they were seldom free from intrigue and divisions among themselves. They were as hardy and active as the Albanians but more regular and less ferocious in their habits. The Vlachiote towns were distinguished from all other towns by ‘an air of active industry, neatness, and good order.’

…the people started building good houses, established Greek schools, and employed doctors. These people were educated merchants, famous artisans, and rich shepherds… The Vlakhs had Greek schools and they used Greek in church. They treated the Greeks as brothers and, to all intents and purposes, there were no national differences between them. It is noteworthy that the hellenization of the Vlakhs had followed the same pattern as that of the Albanians…. when the Vlakhs’ accomplishments and their prosperity became too conspicuous, envy sprang up. Then the Greeks affected to despise them for their imputed inferiority of mental endowments and politeness, although they greatly esteemed their artisans. This exactly parallels what was said of the Albanians of Ydra [Hydra] and reveals the same envy of a prosperous neighboring community.

The Eve of the Greek Revival: British Travellers’ Perceptions of Early Nineteenth-Century Greece by Helen Angelomatis-Tsougarakis (London and New York, 1990)

Beautiful green meadows like those of Kavaya, stretch on all sides… unbroken by any division. Sheep, geese, and turkeys whitened these plains, the goose-herds and turkey-drivers sitting by their charge. The sheep have bells; and now and then a song, not unlike the yodelling of the Swiss, breaks the quiet of these placid meads, or a huge dog rushes to attack the Albanian pictone (foot traveller). The bright sun was setting behind the hill of Ardhenitza as we arrived at its foot… we began to wind upward to the summit, by paths through pleasant underwood, where the monastery, a plain building, stands among the cypresses and ilex. The interior of this, is picturesque; and a painter is ever sure of a group of bearded brethren in the foreground. The view, as might be supposed from the isolated position of the hill, is truly stupendous–it includes the meadow-plain to Durazzo–the far mountain ranges of Tirana and Skodra–the near majesty of Tomohr and its dependent heights, and the plain again to Apollonia…

…While I am sketching, Papa Zacaria… comes to inform me that the fathers of Ardhenitza are roasting a turkey, a duck, and a fowl for my lunch… This, to me, is not agreeable news, as I fear to lose daylight for drawing Apollonia by the delay; but, as the compliment is well meant, I cannot refuse it, and so I wait patiently till the dishes are served, Papades Lazus and Zacaria keeping me company during the entertainment. The former is one of the Vlachi… Papa Zacaria is a Khamariote by birth, and gives me a good deal of information about Acroceraunia, which, if possible I am resolved to visit. About half past two P.M. I left these courteous people and their establishment in the wood and set off through deep mud surrounding the village (for the flocks of sheep and herds of buffali efface all vestige of the road), and thence over a wilder and less mead-like tract of flat ground, towards the hill of Apollonia…

Journals of a Landscape Painter in Greece and Albania by Edward Lear (London, 1851)

The Monastery of Ardenica is protected by high walls and is entered through wooden doors…. The church standing in the central courtyard was built in the time of the Despotate of Epirus, at the beginning of the 13C… a sombre, dignified, greystone building among cypress trees on its lonely hilltop. The surrounding cloisters housed the monks, guestrooms and rooms for economic and trade activities…

Much of what remains of the church was built in the 18C, an inscription on the wall noting that it was reconsecrated in May 1743. The bell tower was rebuilt in 1925. It escaped major damage in the anti-religion campaigns of the 1970s, and attractive fresco paintings can still be seen, dated 1744, the work of the famous painters Konstantine and Athanas Zografi of Korce…

…In the east wall of the church, and in different places in the outer walls, masonry fragments from Apollonia can be seen, showing how the stone from fallen buildings in the ancient city was used in the construction of the church… Edith Durham visited the area at the turn of the century and noted, “Tall men in dazzling white fustanella, dark blue leggings, crimson waistcoats with two bands of silver chains crossed on the breast, and white coats with hanging sleeves embroidered in black; women in long-skirted sleeveless coats striped diagonally with scarlet–brilliantly aproned and a-dangle with coins–who flashed and glittered like parrots in the sunshine.

Blue Guide: Albania by James Pettifer (London, 1994)

In this neighbourhood all about the ravines and ridges of Rhodope and its outlying ranges many encampments of Vlach shepherds exist. Weigand reckons the total number of such hamlets of huts at forty-two and according to him they have all wandered eastwards from Gramosti. It is interesting to note that their womenfolk have still preserved the Vlach national dress so characteristic of their homeland. They are of course nomads and many of them winter in the plains about Kumanovo and Egri Palanka. In Bulgaria the most important colony is in Sofia itself where half the trade is said to be in Vlach hands, the other half being in the hands of Spanish Jews. There are also Vlach colonies in other Bulgarian towns such as Tatar Bazarjik and Philippopolis and it is noticeable that Bulgarian commercial establishments, such as the Bulgarian National Bank, recruit their staff among the boys who have been trained in the Roumanian Commercial school at Salonica… The total number of Vlachs in Bulgaria and Servia is not great and at present at least there is a clear distinction between the Vlachs of the south and the Roumanians proper, some of who live south of the Danube in the districts of Timok and Viddin. The two divisions overlap a little, but speaking generally one may say that north of Nish and Sofia are Roumanians and south of it are Vlachs.

The Nomads of the Balkans by Wace and Thompson (London, 1914)

During my stay in Salonika, I met Gianni Boutari, a well known Greek wine maker and a Vlach. The Vlachs … are now celebrated for their business acumen. When I told Gianni of my interest in phyllo doughs and their intricate foldings, he sent me off to his natal village of Nympheon [Neveska], in northern Macedonia to learn… The fifty-mile journey from Salonika, which took more than two hours, carried me through an incredible wild country of immense heights and furious rivers.

Nympheon was a revelation, one of the most charming villages in all of northern Greece. Set amidst idyllic mountains… the town is now semi-abandoned, with only thirty-six full-time residents, equally divided between men and women. But wealthy Vlachs have renovated many of the old stone houses, turning them into summer villas. As in every Greek village, no matter how tiny, there were two cafes, one catering to the Socialists, the other to the New Democrats. I found my instructor, Mrs. Nerantso, at the local restaurant, where the village priest was playing cards with about a quarter of the male population.

Mrs. Nerantso took me to a semi-abandoned garden, where we collected horta, the generic word for a whole slew of wild greens… We also collected some sorrel and incredibly long white leeks.

It was a pleasure to watch the effortless way Mrs. Nerantso made phyllo pastry from scratch, working the dough until it was… “as soft as an earlobe.”

The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean: 215 Healthy, Vibrant and Inspired Recipes by Paula Wolfert (New York, 1994)

It is amazing to watch the women of Metsovo and the other villages in Epirus roll phyllo on the special round boards they keep in their kitchens for this purpose.

With their thin, long rolling pins they manage to produce paper-thin sheets of phyllo with such ease that you might think that anybody could do it. However, to make ordinary phyllo which contains just flour and water requires special skills and considerable experience.

The Foods of Greece by Aglaia Kremezi, Photography by Martin Brigdale (New York, 1993)

“I watched the Koutsovlachi disappear in Thessaly over a period of twenty years. I remember the first time I went up there in 1957, I was stunned, it was another world–it was Rumania. Blond, blue-eyed women wearing incredibly beautiful costumes: white, with about twelve to fifteen inches of thick fringes at the bottom, in saffron, black, and ocher. And everywhere I went, there were ducks and geese, which I didn’t see anywhere else in Greece. Ducks and geese and pigs–standard east and central European farm culture. But I saw all of that disappear.

It’s a pity because Greece has lost the Sarakatsani, it’s lost the Vlachi, the Koutsovlachi, the Karagounidhes — it’s lost all these fascinating minority groups, and now people are getting up and trying to stop it, but they’re about twenty years too late.”

–“A Point of Contact: An Interview with Nikos Stavroulakis,” by Peter Pappas in The Greek American (January 9, 1988)

Constantin Dumba, Ambassador of Austria-Hungary to the United States during the First World War, recalled one of only two interviews he had the unusual privilege of obtaining with [American President Woodrow] Wilson. Throughout the entire meeting Wilson sat without saying a word; he failed to even ask a question. The Ambassador left the meeting deeply discouraged. The subject that Dumba had wished to discuss with the President was that of the treatment of the Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war in Russia. After the spring of 1915 several hundred thousand soldiers had been taken prisoners; although they were in their summer uniforms, they were shipped off to Eastern Siberia and spent the winter there. Recognizing that there was terrible destitution in these camps, a Relief Committee had been established in Tientsin, China. But the Russian authorities had refused access to the camps, and the Committee was unable to get clothing, medicines and bandages to the prisoners. Even the delegates and doctors of the American Red Cross had been denied access. Dumba had approached Wilson in order to appeal to him to intervene personally with the Tsar, whose kind-heartedness was proverbial. The Ambassador was certain that the Tsar himself was being kept in ignorance of the deplorable conditions and that a personal appeal from the President would have an immediate effect.

But Wilson, who had said nothing during the interview, had promised nothing. Weeks passed, and Dumba despaired of achieving any result when he learned from the State Department that Wilson had, in fact, taken action. The President had written a personal letter to the Tsar and had sent it by courier to the Ambassador of the United States in St. Petersburg. He instructed the Ambassador to deliver the letter to the Tsar at an ad hoc audience, which he was to obtain without stating the reason for it. These measures had been carefully conceived by the President and his staff in order to prevent Sazanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, from intercepting the communication and somehow forestalling action. The American Ambassador reported that the Tsar had been indignant when he was informed of the conditions of the prisoners, and that he had immediately issued the necessary orders by telegraph. American doctors left Tientsin unhindered, carrying furs, blankets and medicines to the unfortunate prisoners. (Source: the memoirs of Constantin Dumba, an Aromanian who rose to great heights in the Austro-Hungarian Empire)

The Broadview Book of Diplomatic Anecdotes by Gordon Martell (Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, 1994)

The Ilinden-Preobrazhenski Uprising appears to have attracted a large number of recruits to MRO’s banner. According to Kral, it was most popular in Monastir Vilayet, with the majority of the people at least tacitly supporting it. In speaking about the Macedonian provinces, Brailsford corroborated this when he reported “there is hardly a village which has not joined the organization” in Monastir.

…Perhaps the most notable event of the rebellion was the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization’s victory at Krushevo near Monastir. In those days Krushevo had a population of about 11,000, approximately two-thirds of which was Vlach. There for ten days a small force of MRO guerrillas, most of them Vlachs, held the mountaintop town of Krushevo and established a democratic republic. The Ottoman commander proved unable to take the town and had to be replaced. In the end the rebels were severely outnumbered and defeated but not before they put up a valiant struggle, even attempting to use hollowed-out cherry tree trunks as cannons.

Some 239 battles and skirmishes occurred in the several months of the Ilinden-Preobrazhenski Revolt. The major battles were fought in the Monastir Vilayet, especially round Monastir, Ohrid, Kostur, Lerin, Prespa, Prilep, Debar, and Krushevo as well as in the Strandzha area of Adrianople Vilayet. Provisional governments were established by MRO in Smilevo, Klissura, Krushevo, and Neveska — the later three of which were Vlach towns and all of which were short-lived. MRO failed to consolidate its gains. In these regions inhabitants seemed to throw their support behind MRO with conviction, some even remaining in the villages despite the certainty that if discovered or caught by the Ottomans would take severe retribution. In mid to late August the soldiers of the sultan, with the strong support of the Greek bishop of Kostur, Karavangelis, mounted a sustained counterattack against the insurgents in the province. Ottoman troop strength was constantly increasing, and the outcome was inevitable.

The Politics of Terror: The Macedonian Revolutionary Movements, 1893-1903 by Duncan M. Perry (University of Michigan, 1988)

In all, the active ranks of the insurgent army in the Monastir province mustered as nearly as I can estimate some five thousand men… The Resna contingent was commanded by a capable chief named Arsof, and the northern bands around Krushevo were under a Vlach named Pitou Goulé, who was killed in the second week of the rising.

The first three weeks of the insurrection were a period of almost unchecked triumph. The Turks seemed incapable of thinking out a plan of campaign, and, save in the three towns of Monastir, Ochrida, and Castoria, the insurgents were almost everywhere supreme. They took the three country towns of Krushevo, Klissoura, and Neveska — all of them Vlach centres perched in the most inaccessible positions upon the mountain-side. The Turkish garrisons either fled or succumbed with hardly a show of resistance. Demonstrations were also made against the towns of Resena and Kitchevo, but here the attack was never pressed home. In the three captured positions provisional governments were installed, the insurgents danced with the girls of the place in the town squares, and from the churches, bells (which Christians rarely dare to ring) summoned the townsmen to hear glowing orations upon the duty of rebellion and the glorious prospect of freedom. These three weeks must have been the happiest interval which Macedonia has known since the coming of the Turks. The men flung away their fezes — badges of servitude — and walked erect without fear of a beating or a bastinado. It is to their credit that, instead of enjoying their brief triumph at the expense of their Greek rivals, they bore themselves tolerantly and abstained from violence — save that they levied money contributions from the captured towns…

The first sign of energy which the Turks displayed was the dispatch of a force of about three thousand men under Baktiar Pasha to retake Krushevo… There was some skirmishing, but on the 12th of August, ten days after the capture of the place, the Bulgarians made some sort of composition with the Turks, probably paying a ransom to the Pasha, in return for which the Bulgarian quarter of the town was spared. The troops and the Bashi-bazouks compensated themselves by falling mercilessly upon the Vlach quarter, inhabited by a wealthy community with Greek sympathies. In four days 366 houses and 203 shops were burned, at least 44 men and women, all non-combatants, were murdered in the streets (of whom only three were Bulgarians); some women were violated. The pillage of both shops and houses was complete and systematic, and hundreds of the citizens were beaten and maltreated. The Bulgarians showed little bravery in this affair, and their conduct in abandoning the Vlach quarter to be pillaged was grossly unchivalrous. The Turks acted after their kind. They knew the Greeks too well to fear that even this massacre of a Phil-hellenic population would affect the Pro-Turkish policy of the Greeks. Neveska and Klissura were evacuated without a struggle — let us hope from a scrupple about exposing the inhabitants to a vengeance similar to that which had overtaken Krushevo.

Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future by H.N. Brailsford (London, 1906)

Two other Balkan peoples, the Vlachs and the Albanians… contributed to the formation of the Greek people. Both appear late in the sources, the Vlachs not earlier than 976, the Albanians about a hundred years later. As a consequence, except for their speech in the case of the Vlachs, a derivative of Latin, in the case of the Albanians, an indigenous outgrowth with important Latin influences, very little is definitely known concerning their origins and early history…

There is a point…which relates to the Vlachs in Greece which has to be looked into some detail. It has been observed that when the Vlachs were first noted by the sources there were Vlachs already in the Greek lands. This has given rise to the view, held especially by Greek scholars, that the Vlachs in the Greek lands had always been there, having descended from native Greek elements which had been Latinized under Roman domination. The view is based primarily on a passage drawn from the De Magistratibus of John Lydus, a work written about the middle of the sixth century. The passage reads: “It was an old rule that all that was transacted by the prefects and also by other officials was to be expressed in the language of the Italians (Latin)… All that was transacted about Europe was done according to this old tradition by necessity because its inhabitants, though in large part Greeks (Hellenes) spoke the language of the Italians. This was especially so of the public servants.”

In writing this, John obviously had in mind the language of the administration then in use in the Balkan peninsula, for Europe in John refers to Balkan possessions of the empire. This is the meaning of the term in the other four places where John uses it and it must be its meaning in this passage also. John’s statement, therefore, that Europe’s inhabitants, though in large part Greeks, spoke Latin is somewhat of a problem. It is either an exaggeration, a point in John’s criticism of John of Cappadocia for his administrative innovations, including his restrictions on the official use of Latin, or simply it is not true. In any case the most that one can make of it is this, that in the sixth century there were Greeks throughout the Balkan peninsula who spoke Latin. This, of course, undermines its significance as evidence for the view that the Vlachs of the Greek lands were the descendants of Latinized Greeks who had been natives of those lands. Without absolutely excluding the possibility that Latinized Greeks may have been involved, still the most plausible explanation of the origin of the Vlachs, both of those in the Greek lands and those in the other regions of the Balkan peninsula is that they were descendants of Latinized Daco-Thracians who had survived the Slavic invasions and in time spread throughout the Balkan peninsula. This is the view generally held by scholars: it is also best in accord with Byzantine tradition.

–“The Formation of the Greek People,” by Dr. Peter Charanis, in The “Past” in Medieval and Modern Greek Culture, Speros Vryonis, Jr., ed. (Malibu: Undena Publications, 1978)


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