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Deserted Albanian Village Tries to Keep Ancient Carnival Alive

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The spring carnival is the pride and joy of the village of Narta in southern Albania, held at the end of the Orthodox Easter Fast – but as emigration shrinks the local community, some fear for its future.

egend has it that hundreds of years ago, a cholera epidemic decimated this marshy region in south Albania, known for its picturesque monastery built centuries ago on an island surrounded by the lagoon, and as well, for its tasty fish and eels and strong red wine.

As the inhabitants of Narta recovered from the plight, they decided to organize a large festivity where they would beat a young bear to tame it, as well as eat and drink, at the close of the Orthodox Easter Fast.

Centuries later, local inhabitants are trying hard to protect those traditions following a different type of epidemic: mass emigration and population collapse. 

Following the collapse of Communism in Albania in 1991, the inhabitants of Narta, who speak Greek as their mother tongue, left en-masse for Greece and other countries, searching for a better life. 

During Communist times, the village had a reputation for poverty. It was typical fishing village with scarce agricultural land, whose bareness gave birth to a reputation for good quality wine. 

Today, the village is home of no more than 250 inhabitants, a tenth of the 2,500 people that were there three decades ago. 

However, scores of those who left don’t miss the chance to return home for the carnival.

Andrea, one of them, told BIRN that he had returned home each year for the last 33 years, after emigrating to Greece in the early-1990s.

“In no other place you can find such festivities as in Narta,” he told BIRN with pride.

The clarinet is playing and the youngster are overjoyed as the actors play their roles, some wearing a bear skin, others playing the palaço, the local clown, aiming to have a laugh following the tough times of the winter.

The festivities last for three days at the square in front of the Church of Shen e Diela (St Kyriaki). 

Konstantino Zarka, another local who has lived in Greece for decades, says the carnivals are an opportunity to get back to childhood and reconnect with friends, but also with ancestors. He believes that about 10 per cent of the previous population returns for these holidays. 

“These costumes and masks symbolize our grandfathers and grand-grandfathers who are reborn each Easter and go around the village for three days, as it happened with Jesus, who died on Friday and was resurrected on midnight between Saturday and Sunday,” he said. 

“These costumes are inherited from our forefathers,” agreed Dhimitrula Franxhi, an 88-year-old local. “It was following an outbreak of cholera. Our forefathers started the carnival to get away as much as possible from the bitter reality of that time,” she added.
But she fears that passing time and continued emigration is eroding the old traditions.
“The costumes are being worn out and the youngsters do not seem eager to preserve the tradition as they should,” she observed.
“In our time, the carnivals followed strict order and discipline, there was a rule about who danced first – and what the ornaments and dances should be,” she said, pointing to the somehow chaotic environment around her.

Source: Balkan Insight

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