Did You Know What Others Have to Say about Us?

The Vlasi in Macedonian [FYROM], tribal shepherds almost up to the present, have always made special kinds of thick covers, characterised by their colours. Jewelry has a particular place in the Macedonian folk arts as an integral part of the national costumes together with embroidery, representing its most decorative features… Macedonian jewelry can be found in the well known centres of filigree craft; Bitola, Ohrid, Struga, Skopje, from where valuable hand-made products are dispersed all over Macedonia. Some samples of this jewelry are real masterpieces of filigree craft with old preserved forms and elements… Besides metal jewelry one can find different ornaments, knitted in pearls in the eastern part of Macedonia. Pearl jewelry is special handwork with peculiarly rich and stylistic motifs. Different metal objects for everyday use, made by blacksmiths are artistically formed and richly decorated with various dishes of copper and brass, with rich ornament hand engravings done by coppersmiths are found in almost all towns in Macedonia, (especially in Prilep, Ohrid, Krusevo and Skopje). The copper dishes are characterized by rich forms and original lines, well composed with the very function of the objects. Their ornaments, very rich and variegated, made mostly in engraving technique of shallow and relief forging has mostly Oriented characteristic. The pottery of Macedonia developed and perfected through many centuries was only to be found in the pottery centres until recently – Resen, Veles, Struga, Skopje, Debar, Besovo and especially in the village of Vranestica, in the Kicevo district. Macedonian pottery is characterised by the ancient forms which reflect the impressions of monumentality, as in the heavy and massive dishes from Debar, Struga, Skopje. The pottery from Resen and that belonging to the Vlasi people, looks very impressive with its long and knightly forms. The pottery dishes are made of clay mostly on a foot-worked potter’s wheel and decorated by rather primitive means, colour, graphite, and applications of relief motifs. With their variegated forms and rich decoration, they bear witness to their well-developed sense of the arts and rich imagination.

                    CyberMacedonia: FOLK ARTS IN MACEDONIA

The origin of these Koutso-Vlachs is one of the great ethnic puzzles of the Balkans, for their Latin tongue, although greatly corrupted by words from other Balkan languages, follows the four conjugations of ancient Latin. As in most riddles of this sort, nationalistic interests have led to several extravagant claims…

My chief contacts with the Koutso-Vlachs during 1953 were in Metsovo, one of their most celebrated villages, and along the roads of Greece. On the road between Arta and Ioannina, for example, one bold shepherd girl named Maria, seeing women (my wife and interpreter) in the car with me, asked for a ride. She was a Koutso-Vlach on a nine-day trip back to the summer village in the mountains which she considered her permanent home. We passed some of her companions leading horses on which very small children were perched somewhat precariously on wooly blanket-rugs stacked up on the saddles. On one horse we saw several hens tied to a saddle and I wondered what the horses thought of being turned into a mobile poultry yard; cows, heifers, and goats were also part of the procession under the care of the women. The women were carrying their share of the load, some with babies, others with water kegs strapped to their backs. The lowly donkeys were carrying the tent poles. As we passed the long, straggling march of people and animals, we blew our horn and enjoyed the open-mouthed astonishment of the other Vlachs as they saw one of their number riding in such state.

She explained to us how they stopped before midday and rested, and then after milking the sheep traveled during the night. When we wondered whether or not the children enjoyed the six-month shift, she said, “They learn to make the move for it is a necessity.” “How many times do you move like this?” we asked. “As many times as I have years—twenty-three.” She was amused at our ignorance. Her family was also having trouble over the rental of winter pasture, for the farmer from whom they had been renting wanted to put the land into crops. With an air of assurance, she added, “But we are holding it under the rent law.” Before the last war legislation had been passed forbidding a farmer to put into cultivation pasture that had been rented for three consecutive years to a shepherd, unless he proved to the Ministry of Agriculture that he absolutely need it. This action had to be taken a year in advance and the shepherd had to be notified.

After a while, our lively passenger told us that she wanted to get out at the next turn, for that was the rendezvous point at which the women would stop to unload the pack animals, set up camp, and wait for the men with the flocks to catch up with them before noon. Our conversation with other member of this group dealt more with the problems they were facing as a shepherd people than with the customs and beliefs which set them off from their fellow nomads…

Four of the effects of this migratory life which Wace and Thompson list seem to hold true for all nomadic groups even in 1953, and they deserve brief mention. Such a migration…presents a wider outlook on life in general in contrast to the utter stagnation normal in remote villages. At the same time, it is a serious financial drain, for two houses must be kept up; nevertheless, what is lost in cash is perhaps gained in health. A third effect is that agriculture is almost impossible and is in consequence despised. Finally, home comforts must be portable. That is why an abundance of rugs, blankets, carpets, and cushions seen in these migrations is a sign of wealth.

                        Rainbow in the Rock: The People of Rural Greece, by Irwin T. Sanders
(Harvard, 1962)

… The decline of Metsovo began in the time of Ali Pasha of Yannina who succeeded in getting the town into his hands and in setting its privileges at naught. Leake, Pouqueville and others writing about this time describe the rapid increase in brigandage and taxation which seriously injured trade. Then came the Greek revolution of 1821 which laid all wealthy Christian villages open to suspicion and plunder, and about the same time the invention of the power-loom in the west of Europe fatally injured the woolen trade.

Any prosperity that remained was finally extinguished by the so-called revolution or un-official war of 1854. The Russian attack on the northern provinces of Turkey in Europe had provoked the most sanguine hopes in Greece, and it was generally believed that with the appearance of Greek forces across the frontier, Epirus and Thessaly would rise at once against the Turks. Officially the Greek government kept the peace, but unofficially it encouraged the sending of bands over the frontier to stir up insurrection. As happened in the case of Samarina and its neighbours the main result of this movement, which was a curious mixture of patriotism and plunder, was that those who were to be freed from Turkish tyranny found themselves pillaged by both sides. During the few months, for which this rising lasted, Metsovo, like other towns and villages in Epirus, and Thessaly suffered heavy losses. The town had been incited to revolt by the Greek consul at Yannina and became the prey of both sides in turn. Ghrivas the most prominent of the Greek leaders occupied it and levied 150,000 piastres from the inhabitants. On the approach of the Turkish troops he assembled the women and children in a church on the pretext of defending them, but, when he once had them safely inside, stripped them of all their jewellery and valuables. He then retired to the most easily defensible part of the town, but when the Turks began to attack, retired burning some thirty houses to cover his retreat. Abdi Pasha entered Metsovo and what had not been left by Ghrivas was taken by the Albanian irregulars. In all about a third of the village was destroyed and the rest reduced to a condition of the utmost misery. To this account taken almost word for word from the Parlimentary Papers we may add an extract from a letter of Ghrivas himself which may to some extent shift the blame from the leader to his followers.

“After the battle of historic fame at Metsovo, of which I sent you the description and plan to-day, seeing the greatest conspiracies and treacheries existing against me on the part of my companions in arms I was compelled to retreat thence and to take the direction of Thessaly…. Whilst in Epirus I beheld so many of our soldiers indulging in every sort of violence, I was compelled to dismiss them and now I have about four hundred chosen men. Were I to tell you of the atrocities which had been committed against the christian population by our soldiers both in Epirus and Thessaly you would be struck with horror and would curse the hour in which this new struggle had first begun.”

Even before the district had been cleared of Greek troops Metsovo and the christian villages were appealing to the Turks for aid. The troubles of 1878 and 1881 did not affect Metsovo so much except that the brigandage that followed the rising made the country generally unhealthy for trade. But after the cession of Thessaly to Greece in the latter year and the advance of the Graeco-Turkish frontier to a line between Metsovo and Malakasi the resulting customs barrier on the Zighos killed what hopes there were of a revival of trade in this direction. The last Balkan war of 1912-13 and the consequent cession of Epirus to Greece may revive the trade between Yannina and Thessaly along this route, and in this case Metsovo may once again prosper, but it is too early to judge how great a drain this last war has been on the resources of the country.

                        The Nomads of the Balkans, by Alan Wace & Maurice Thompson
(1972 London/New York, reprint of 1914)

Stock-raising in southern Greece must have been trifling compared with that of northern Greece. The greatest part of this was in the hands of the Vlakhs of Pindus, who, in winter, brought their flocks to the plains as far south as Aetolia and Attica and even the Morea [the Peloponnesus]. The Greeks, too, raised their own livestock, but during this period their activities in this field were occasionally impeded or completely prevented by Ali Pasha and his sons, or other rich Turks, who, as master of the pasture land, leased the grazing rights to those who paid for the privilege, or they used the pasture for their own flocks.

Ali Pasha and his sons possessed a very large number of sheep and goats… estimated … to have been over 1,000,000 head. In his dominions, Thessaly excluded, the total number of sheep was calculated, on the basis of the annual tax paid for them, to be 3,000,000 and that of goats 7,400,000. The value of the flocks belonging to the Vlakhs was estimated to have been 40,000,000 piastres. Leake had been informed that the net annual profit from a ewe in the Pindus was five piastres. Since two-thirds of a flock were ewes, we can estimate that the considerable revenue of 14,250,000 piastres could be derived from the ewes only in Ali’s dominions… We have very few details about the export of dairy products… Sclavonian (Dulcinote) traders bought cheese from the Morea, a trade which was affected by the war in the Mediterranean. No doubt, this line of commerce must have been considerably more important in northern Greece. However, the largest part of the produce must have been absorbed in the internal market; only the export of woven woolen clothes from the mountainous areas of Greece was large…

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

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