Sweet Village Life
How innocent the love of the past. People would weave stories of a future together, from a mere glance, not even a touch. A gaze in the eyes, my grandmother (Niki) knew he was the one for her. My grandfather (Antonis) was her elder brother’s best friend. Sweet village life joined them together in a sense of community and trust. She would see him every three months at communal gatherings, that was the only time her heart skipped a beat. At 15 years old, Niki had dreams of becoming an actress and had already participated in several local plays. Niki had the voice of a nightingale, waking with song and dancing her way through the day. However, due to poor familial conditions and obligations as an older sister to 4 younger siblings, Niki was forced to mature at a very young age. Pulled out of high school by her mother (Athena), Niki began a career as a tailor. She sowed wedding gowns and garments for local women and men. She held a class for ten women, where she shared her skills and crafts. The women would sing all night, under one lamp, their only source of light as they sowed and learned together. Village life was full of abundance. The abundance you cannot find in your wallet, or at your local bank. This abundance was full of spirit, full of life. With only one bread to fill their empty stomachs, 8 children would sit around the Sunday table full of laughter and joy. My great-grandmother (Athena) though stern would always feed her children with love and nurture.
Life had a complete different reality in my grandfather Antonis world. He was born of a rich family and they owned most of the land in their village Tymbou. The story was that Antonis father in his desperation to find prosperous land, asked for a sign from heaven. As he prayed, he received a vision to start digging on a land which locals considered as barren land. There he found an ancient icon of the St. Marina. She was viewed as a high protector by all locals of the village. It is said that the saint appeared to him and told him to start farming on the land. Everything he sowed and reaped would be turned to gold by her. The only thing she asked of him in return was to build a church in her name. Sure enough, years later local villagers prayed at the church of St. Marina, which was considered one of the most sacred spots of the village. Antonis family was prosperous, employing several locals and offering fair wages to those who worked on their land. Antonis was also a hard-worker. The fields was his work-place where he even had a cot where he would sleep out in the open. He tended to the animals and vegetation, and harvested the cotton fields. His fields generously grew plump fruits and vegetables. In the bliss of growth, he would look up at the stars and listen to the water nourishing the crops. Vitality, supplying the Earth and his community was what made him sleep sweet and sound at night.
This is why Niki fell in love with him. He was such a humble, big hearted man despite all the riches he held in his hands. It would take him several years before he could see Niki as a woman. She was 5 years younger then him, and being her brother’s best friend, Antonis had a lot of respect for the family. This is how naive and innocent village life was. People had morales, codes of honour which they held and followed. Their human instinct and nature was to bring help to others and offer service for the betterment of the whole community. Niki’s beauty though, soon caught attention and Antonis could not resist but ask for her hand in marriage, with her father and mother’s approval and older brother of course!
The Rites of Ceremony
Cyprus traditional weddings were a 7 day celebration. This was the custom that Niki and Antoni followed on 29 October 1967.
Friday: Known as the “Bridgia, The Dowry”: Women would come together to hand wash the bed sheets of the couple. They would sing and dance until late evening, filling their hearts with local gossip and homemade food.
Saturday: “The dressing of the Bed”: This was when the women would sow the bed of the couple. They sowed the mattress, printing red crosses for protection and filling the bed with cotton. The men placed money in the bed for prosperity and abundance. As a violinist played traditional wedding songs, the men picked up the prepared bed and danced with it, bringing it to life. A chosen mother rolled her infant on the bed for good luck and to bless the womb of the bride. The bed would be transferred from the bride’s parental home to the couple’s home. All participants would go to the couple’s home and celebrate until the morning, feasting on food, wine, music and dance.
Sunday: “Wedding Day”: The bride would be dressed in the morning by her relatives at her parental home. This was accompanied by a violinist playing music and the women offering her blessings through the crossing of a sacred belt around her. The groom was also prepared at his home, shaven by his best man. The couple were escorted to the local Greek Orthodox church, where they were anointed by rose water. a symbol for enduring love by their neighbours and friends. At the church, vows of matrimony were made and traditional rice was thrown to the couple.
*My grandmother and grandfather were the first local couples to have a photographer at their wedding. This is why my grandmother is shy in the photo when my grandfather kisses her on her cheek, as public affection was not common.*
Monday: “The Dance”: The couple held there first dance ceremony, where the locals glued money on their wedding garments. This was a sign of great wealth and an abundant life.
Tuesday: “The Gifts”: The couple would go around the village and receive gifts from all locals, neighbours and friends. The gifts were usually chickens, pastries, eggs and household items. In exchange, the couple would hold a dinner party that would last until the dawn, where they would dance and sing.
Wednesday: “Kocholoufkia: Legumes”: The relatives and good friends of the couple would meet up and eat beans, black-eyed peas in order to fast from the vast meals of previous days. This gathering also promised dance and song until late hours.
The following Sunday: “Antigamo: Re-Marriage”: This was a big feast held to celebrate the matrimony where the priest, family members and people who could not attend the church ceremony gathered to celebrate the marriage once again.
Even though this 7 day ceremony would seem a bit far-fetched for our modern society, the art of it all had deep meaning. The whole community would gather together to join two partners in this sacred union, bringing them together through blessings. Everyone worked in harmony with one another with naivety and innocence and would literally rejoice and celebrate for the lucky number of 7 days. The rituals performed on each of the 7 days by the community, proved to bring positivity to the couple and all had the intention of manifesting good fortune upon the couple.
In these times, where we have so lost the essence of unity and true love, going back to the past is a necessity in order to heal future generations. Ceremonies like these, the morales of village life is not something necessarily that needs to be revived, yet is something that can remind us of the notion of joint community, bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood. Music, service, dance, art and play can heal all wounds of modern society. Our system has become too complex, full of absurd laws and rules which deprive us of our freedom. In this deprivation, we have become fixated on trends, fashions, the latest “it” thing and have forgotten that we are human. We have forgotten where we have come from. The land, mother nature is so craving for us to remember her. By focusing on the prosperity of the land around us, the tending of plants, animals, the rejoicing and celebration of other’s happiness, we can truly heal this world.
War Cannot Take Our Love Away!
In 1974, my grandparents lost the home they had built for their beautiful three daughters and all acres of land in their village Tympou. In the Turkish illegal invasion, 5,700 Cypriots became refugees. With a smile on their faces, courage in their hearts in the years to come they were to rebuild their lives on the non-occupied areas. My grandfather was forced to become a truck driver to support his family, and my grandmother became a shoe tailor. What surprises me is that despite all the difficulties, all the pain and loss, the fighting and treachery of war these two people still sang and danced. They rejoiced each day and never were saddened by defeat.
People like this, Niki and Antonis, are true heroes. Their rare gem of sacred marriage truly inspires us to follow their example and light the world with unity and love.