Romania’s Vlach roots.

According to wikipedia, the etymology for the “Vlachs” is “ultimately of Germanic origin, from the word Walha, a name used by ancient Germanic peoples to refer to (mainly) Romance-speaking neighbours”. Slavs initially used the term “Vlachs” to refer to Romanic people in general. Over time, this term was applied to designate the Central and Eastern European peoples living in the former Roman colony of Dacia who spoke the Daco-Romanian language. These Vlachs eventually joined to form the Romanian nation, which remains the only Latin-language in a sea of Slav langauges known as the Balkans.

The history of the Vlachs (or Wallachians) is a fascinating and exciting one, chock-full of folklore, paganism, adventure, conquest, and a mystical relation to “the land”. Here is a story about the winter festivals of the Vlachs:

During the twelve days that elapse between Christmas and Epiphany the Vlachs believe that the mysterious beings called Karkandzal’i or Karkalanza wander about the earth fron dark till cockcrow. They especially haunt the springs and defile the water, and is very dangerous to meet them. They are finally driven away by the blessing of the waters at Epiphany. Between the day of St. Basil, New Year’s Day, and Epiphany a curious mumming performance takes place which is well known throughout Thessaly, Macedonia and Thrace. The object of this mumming is to drive away Karkandzal’i. Who these mysterious beings are no one can tell, they appear in Greek folklore wherever there are Greeks, Turks believe in them and so do the Vlachs, but we have no information whether they appear in Bulgarian folklore. The name varies between Kallikandzaros and Karkandzalu and every place which believes in them has some different form. Their origin and the meaning of the name are equally obscure and the recent ingenious attempt to trace their ancestry to the Centaurs does not seem satisfactory. The Samariniats call the mummers Ligutshari and the young men delight to make up such bands. In other times they would make up the band on New Year’s day and after performing in their own village spend the days before Epiphany in wandering around other villages in the neighborhood always returning home for the Epiphany. It sometimes happened that two bands met on the road and then there was a struggle to see which was the better. Neither would wish to yield except to force, for the weaker band had to salute the leader of the stronger. Thus it has been known to end in bloodshed, so they say, and near Verria they will point out places in the hills called “La Lingutshari” where a struggle between two bands ended in someone being killed. A band may consist of any number up to twenty, but there are really only seven essential characters, the bride, the bridegroom, the old woman who nurses a puppet in her arms pretending it is her child, the old man or Arab, the doctor and two men dressed in skins to represent bears or sheep or wolves or devils. The latter characters always have masks of skin and wear on their heads a piece of board in which is inserted a kind of plume made of the tail of a fox, wolf or goat. They are always heavily loaded with rows and rows of mule and sheep bells to make more impresssion when they dance. The Arab too usually wears a similar costume. If more than seven people compose a band, the extra persons will duplicate other characters such as the bride and bridegroom, of whom there can be ny number up to six, and the devils or bears, or they may introduce fresh characters such as the doctor’s wife or a priest. The brides are invariably young men dressed in girls’ clothes, and no women ever take part in such mumming; it would be improper. The plot of the play which the mummers performed was very simple. The Arab or old man would annoy the bride with his intentions. The bridegroom would naturally intervene and a lively quarrel would ensue, which ended eventually in the death of one of them. He was duly mourned either by the bride or by the old woman and the doctor was called in. Through the doctor’s skill the dead was restored to life and the play ended with a general dance of all the characters and the sending round of the hat. In other days the play seems to have included something in the nature of an obscene pantomime, of which traces still survive. Nowadays the play varies much from place to place, for instance at times the Arab will attempt to steal the old woman’s puppet baby and this provokes the bridegroom’s interference […] Wherever there are Vlachs the custom is known. It still flourishes in the glens of Pindus at Luria and Baieasa and at Briaza where they call the mummers “Arugutshari”. They are known by this name at Klisura, at Neveska as “Ishk’inari” and at Krushevo as “Arak’i”. In the Meglen at L’umnitsa and Oshini they appear as “Dzhamalari”.

Learn more about the Vlachs at The Little Vlach Corner…