Nikaria: images of the land and the open sea recorded in the folk tradition

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Voyaging to Ikaria, “Ikaro” or “Makri”, as was known to the ancient Greeks, or “Nikaria” of the travelers, we watch the island, for afar, emerging through its own sea, the Ikarian. The first images revealed to the traveler is the massif of Atheras crossing the island, from the west cape “Papas” to the east cape “Drakano”. The mountain, that creates an individual relief pattern, with high peaks, stiff gorges, ravines and laced shores, divides unequally the island, to the north and to the south part, called “Sofrano” and “Stavento” respectively, in the Venetian slang. “Nikaria” presents itself to the traveler, the way it was sang through the centuries:

“Oh, poor Nikaria, with your tall mountains, your small houses and your crisp waters”

Beyond the sea “NIkaria” the “Iloessa” (1) shows its forests and its ravines with their plush vegetation, especially to the north part of the island. According to the local history, it was there, in the forests and valleys that the Ikarians sought out refuge, in their attempt to protect themselves from various enemies – the Franks, the Venetians, the Turks, the pirates etc- that raided the Aegean. This is how the Ikarians described their rescue:

“What the yew can hide, the Virgin Mother cannot hide”.

Ikarians also owe their relationship with coal making to “Nikaria” the “Iloessa” , as they were famous  coal makers, who traveled and practiced their skill all through Asia Minor first, and Greece, until very recently.

The “Atheras”mountain was previously known as “Pramnos” and, according to tradition, it was directly related to the production of the famous wine, “pramnios oinos”, one of the most celebrated products of antiquity.

The traditional poetry of the island has a special category of songs, “of vines and wine”, like the one of “Ampelokoutsoura”(2), that is usually sang at the beginning of the festivals.

“blessed be the vine and its trunk, for it can make both young and old forget their worries. I drink you, wine, to do me good, but, instead, you hurt me, you drive me out of my path, and push me down the cliff”.

“Atheras” is also the subject to the folk song “Sympethera”(3), that accompanies a variation of the traditional Ikarian dance tune.

“Where are we going, mother-in law? To the shore of to Atheras?
At the shore we may drown, at the mountain we may get lost”.

But also the Ikarian sea, that “welcomes” the traveler often “angry”, unrestful, unconquered, and stormy, reveals unique images of Ikaria as “Anemoessa”(4). This is how the local folkore describes the strong winds that blow down the peaks of the mountain towards the sea, especially to the southern part of the island: “The God of Winds, old Aeolus, sits upon a steep peak of the mountain, “the Bad Descent”, and it’s there that he opens his sack to release the sudden whirlwinds”. There is also a place in Ikaria, called “Anemotafia”(5), near Perdiki village, where, according to tradition, the Winds were tied and buried.

Additionally, the characterization of Ikaria as “Ichthioessa”(6), was given to describe the richness and variety of fish found in the Ikarian sea. A local song describes the complex nature of the sea:

“You, sea, bitter sea, with your bitter waves
The fish you carry are so sweet, but you are biting”

Many shore names of the island derive from the storms of the Ikarian sea, like “Demonopetra”(7), which is located at the southeast part of the island, that due to its especially rough sea it was thought to be the house of Deamons.

Finally, cape Papas(8), at the western part of Ikaria, took its name after a Roman Catholic Pope had to come ashore, due to a very intense storm.

There, “at Papas’ strait, down in Nikaria…”, that we sing in the songs, is where the dreams begin.

Argentoula Pashari Kouloulia for

 (1) That offers a lot of trees for lumbering
 (2) The trunk of the vine
 (3)Mother in law
 (4) windy
 (5) The graves of Winds
 (6) Full of fish
 (7) Demon’s rock
 (8) Pope in Greek

*Μrs Argentoula Pashari Kouloulia come from Maratho and she is a folklorist and a teacher

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