The Men of Lesbos

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         The events culminate in the appearance of a group of men, most of them shepherds, each wearing dozens of bells in copper and iron of every size—the sort you’d normally find around the necks of sheep and goats. Altogether, the bells on any one man can weigh as much as twenty kilograms or more.

         Anonymous behind their black-daubed faces, these bell-wearers (or Koudounatoi, as they are called) act out their desires, their repressed and suppressed erotic instincts, as they seek to purify the community and scare away evil spirits with their apotropaic appearance and the loud, scary ringing of their bells. Others believe they symbolize the souls of the dead, which have the power to make the land fertile again.

         They wear traditional headdresses, similar to the keffiyehs the Arabs wear, or a bright yellow and red hat that they make themselves by cutting a gourd in half and pinning a few turkey and cockerel tail feathers to the end. They hold a long, thick phallic staff (the koutskouda), with which they pound the earth, as though inviting Mother Nature to open up her dark womb for them to plant the seed with new life, or somehow seeking to release the light into the last, dark days of winter so that new growth can begin. This pagan ritual has deep, primordial roots with links to Dionysian worship and acts of faith with which the villagers hope to fertilize the earth by magical means.     

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Dimitris Yeros is a Greek artist and photo-grapher whose works have been widely shown in Europe and North America. His photos appear on these pages.

 

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