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Agatha Goumenou

The feminine suit of clothes (sagiana) of Pogoni and the local dances.

Goumenou, Agatha: "The female costume (sagiana) of Pogoni and the local dances", 17th International Congress on Dance Research, Naxos, 22-26/10, 2003.

Pogoni is an area north of Ioannina next to the Greek-Albanian border, quite forgotten, although it used to be a great commercial and civilization centre. It is believed to have taken its name from the emperor of Byzantium Constantine Pogonatos who had visited the area. The natural beauty of the area fascinated him and he built a great church, which still exists today, called Molyvdoskepasti (Lead-roof). The history of my birthplace, the traditional architecture of the stone-built houses, the amazing beauty of the scenery with the plane-trees, the hospitality of the locals, the fascinating sound of the local music, but mostly the Pogonian dress, so strange to the eyes of a young child, led me some years later to set about learning more about it. So I asked some of the village women like my grandmother to tell me more about it and their experiences, and about their feelings when they see it worn by us younger women. They could not tell me when it was first worn. But pictures and marriage contracts that are still in some families' possession show that it had been worn since 1800.

It is a rare costume and different from those we know in the rest of Greece. This particular dress sought to emphasise the matriarchal society that was commonplace in the area. Women used to get married at a very young age, while men were away travelling for a long time. They were completely responsible for their homes and fields. The Pogonian woman's dress had differences depending on the age and the social status of the women. It was made by special dressmakers or by the women themselves at the loom out of local wool or material brought back from the men's' journeys. The fabrics were made of silk, velvet or cotton.

The white clothes called "routia" were woven with thread made of hemp that could be found in the area. They were decorated with lace at the breast and the edge of the skirt. In some cases they were even used in wedding dresses.

The decorating collar called "lemaria" had yellow lace all around made with a knitting needle. The sleeveless long open front piece of the clothing was called "segouni" and was white and made of wool. It could be found in two forms, the "asprogaitano" which was worn by single women, widows and elderly women without any jewelry, and the "mavrogaitano", which was called "sagiaki", worn by married women. Two pieces of blue black and brown woollen cloth were sewn at the breast, and at the back there were two deep creases decorated with red tassels high on the hips.

During formal celebrations the women used to wear white woollen aprons ("podies") which were held on the body with a black belt ("mavro zonari") 35 cm wide and 2,20 m long and a red belt ("kokkini zoni") 10 cm wide and 12 m long. On weekdays they used aprons made of fabric, worn over the belt and tied with strings. These aprons matched with the "alatza". This was a short long-sleeved overcoat in light colours (pink, blue, purple) made of velvet, silk or striped fabric. The women also had stockings called "ploumia", which were made of wool or cotton and were decorated with colourful needlework at the ankle.

The "tsaprakia" - of three kinds and of different sizes - and a row of twelve gilt buttons ("koumbia") the size of an almond, sewn on the right side of the "segouni", used to decorate the women's breast. But what was the most characteristic of all was the headband, the "ombolia", which was wound on the head in a complicated way creating the "fakioli". The "ombolia", made of pure silk, was woven at the loom and was 10 metres long. It was dyed with the yellow of a plant called saffron so that it had a yellow shade. At the edge there were two red stripes each 2 cm wide. One of them was placed at the back of the head while the other was high on the head between the right eyebrow and right ear. No jewelry was worn on the head; according to tradition this was given for schools and churches to be built.

In the same way the wedding dress was different too. An important role here was played by the decorators ("stolistres"), women of old age who had in their possession most of the wedding ornaments which did not belong to the church or to the community or which had been given temporarily to other families in order to avoid the curse from the others. In that way all the brides, rich or poor, were decorated in the same way on their wedding day. These women used to wash, make up and take care of the bride with cosmetics sent by the groom beforehand.

At first the bride was dressed in the white clothes mentioned above and then she wore the striped "alatza". A short-sleeved purple waistcoat made of velvet with golden endings at the sleeves was worn over it. Over this the belt was worn with a purple or pink mantila, which was also a present from the groom. Over everything else the "segouni" was worn which had extra fabric at the shoulders like wings and red tassels sewn towards the back until the armpit. The jewelry was the same, adding rows of golden coins at the breast, along with a cross and a ring.

On the head the decorator placed a purple ombolia tried in a special way and she decorated the forehead with the "stolos". This was a carved gilt piece of jewelry decorated with stones. Long earrings ("skoularikia") were put on to the left and right, while on the head were put the "finikia", pieces of jewelry the size of a cocoon. Finally the bourbouli was put on, which was a long pink scarf with which the bride covered her face until the groom raised it with his knife after the wedding ceremony.

Nowadays in the area of Pogoni there are only a few suits of clothing, which are scattered. The way the old women wore these clothes has almost been forgotten. Younger women discarded them when the European way of dressing arrived in Greece and wore them only on special occasions.

To a large extent, however, Pogoni managed to save many of its old songs about life, love, pain and death. Nowhere else can one see a celebration beginning with a dirge and ending with one. Singing about the difficulty of life and its toughness relieved their souls. Men and women danced in the same circle accompanied by musical instruments called clarinets ("klarina"). It is very unusual for people to dance without their sound and when they do they simply sing, the men first followed by the women.

But even when they dance the men precede the women. The women's chain is linked to that of the men by an elderly person or the priest of the village. First in line are the elderly women or the middle-aged, followed by those who have just got married and finally the single ones. The same happened with the men. Their position in the circle had to do with their age and the date of their wedding. Men held each other arm in arm, and women held each other in the same way. Where men danced next to women they were linked with a kerchief.

Women were never at the beginning of the dancing line to lead the dance. This would happen only on her wedding day, when she would lead "the Bride's Dance". On this occasion the bride would dance a more sedate dance, such as the Gaita, to appear as decent and modest as possible.

After the bride it was the groom's turn to dance. Depending on the occasion if there was a song that had the bride's name he would dance that, otherwise he would choose one of his own taste. Then he would continue to lead, the bride always next to him followed by the best man and his parents-in-law. How good a dancer he was would be shown by the many "tsakismata" (figures, improvisations).

Well-known dances of the area of Pogoni are Amarantos, Verginada, Gaita, Pogonisios, and many others. They are all characterised by their formality, their heavy steps and movements and the uniformity of the steps of the dancers, except those of the first dancer who is leading.

The people of the Pogoni district are good dancers and enjoy their music, which to others may seem rather plaintive. And that is perfectly understandable because, as they say: when the music we first heard when we were young is played its sound touches us and we wonder why younger people don't feel the same. That kind of music is part of ourselves and is the rival of our happy days.

Ms. Agatha Goumenou


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