Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cretans speak in Mantinades

“A Cretan does not say in plain words what he feels,
With mantinades he weeps or with laughter he peals!”

Mantinades (plural of mantinada) are the most common form of folk song and are widespread across Crete. The Cretan mantinada is a 15-syllable rhyming couplet in Cretan dialect. Each mantinada is complete in itself in spite of its short length, like a limerick. There are however some mantinades used to answer others, in which case their meaning is complementary.
The mantinada is the unique way in which young and old in Crete can express their many and varied emotions: sorrow, joy, hope, desire, love, anger, revenge, nostalgia. Thousands of mantinades have been composed and are still being improvised on every facet of human life. Most are to do with love and romance, but there are also satiric, didactic, teasing couplets or verses on exile, engagement, marriage, everyday life and of course death and losing loved ones.
Mantinades are told at festivals accompanied by the lyre, or on their own in company, at the cafe, in everyday conversation. Most are not written down even in a notebook, and even fewer are published. Many are told and forgotten, but the best are learnt off by heart and passed on by word of mouth.
The origin of mantinades
According to historians, mantinades first appeared in Crete in the 15th century, during the period of Venetian rule. Cretans were influenced by Venetian poets and European poetry and started using rhyme for the first time. The famous poem “Erotokritos” seems to have played a decisive part in the invention and development of the mantinada. How could it not? Vicenzos Kornaros’10,000-verse romance has been read aloud and extracts sung by Cretans from the time it was written in 1590.
As for poetry in general, there is evidence that it has been known and loved in Crete since antiquity. The Cretan oracle and prophet Epimenides (6th century BC), for example, wrote his prophecies in verse. There was also Iophon of Knossos, who gave prophecies in verse at the oracle of Amphiaraos on Oropos.
Mantinades in Crete and Greece
It is not generally known that mantinades are not exclusive to Crete. The folk couplets of Kasos and Karpathos, islands to the east of Crete, are also called mantinades. Similar rhyming couplets are found on other Aegean and Ionian islands, and even in Cyprus, where they are known as “tsatista”.
The difference in Crete is that the production of mantinades continues at the same pace, especially in the villages, while in the rest of Greece very few new ones are made up. Crete manages to combine tradition with modern technological developments, often with a great deal of humour, as you can see from the following mantinada:

“In the sheepcote I set up a modem to use,
For to sell on the Net the milk from my ewes.”

Mantinada competitions
Mantinada competitions have become popular in Crete in recent years, encouraged by the “Michalis Kafkalas” Cretan Rhymers’ Association. The club was founded by doctor Michalis Kafkalas, himself a student and improviser of mantinades. Mantinada competitions are organized by the Municipalities of Agios Nikolaos and Ierapetra, the Philologists’ Association of Chania Prefecture and the Cretan Students’ Union of Athens, while the 7th Pancretan Mantinada Competition is currently being held, organized by the Korfes Cultural Association.
The House of the Mantinada
The House of the Mantinada is to be housed in a restored building in the village of Korfes. It will be a Folk Museum, with important exhibits on traditional Cretan farming life. Thousands of mantinades by Cretan versifiers of repute and younger mantinada rhymers will be collected here, forming a vital source on the mantinada, an integral element of Cretan tradition.
The Museum is a two-storey stone building dating from 1925 in the village square which has been bought by the Korfes Cultural Association. “On the ground floor there will be an exhibition of farming tools, furniture, clothing, implements and any other items of everyday use, which visitors can enjoy along with a glass of Cretan raki”, explains Mr Kostas Farazakis, Chairman of the Korfes Cultural Association. He adds that, “the upper floor of the Museum will house all the mantinades we have at our disposal. Of course, anyone who wants to bring us his own creation to add to the collection is welcome.” Now that the Museum building has been acquired it’s just a question of finding funding for its restoration, which should be completed next spring.
Mantinades samples
Mantinades About Crete
I’m glad to be Cretan, my word I do keep.
With mantinades I sing, with mantinades I weep.

In Crete all men are brave without fears
And mantinades express both laughter and tears.

I hold the earth and scatter it from Psiloritis’ seat
And cast it wide so all the world may become like Crete!

Oh God, please change the heavens, I humbly do entreat
And place the stars all in a row to make the shape of Crete.

Mantinades About Love
A yearning in my breast has bloomed, an ever-roaring fire,
And every beating of my heart increases my desire.

I count the stars in the sky but I’m missing one
Because I forgot to count you, my sun!

If I were a snowflake, my life would be bliss
I’d lie on your lips and melt in your kiss!

As long as the world lasts, love will live long
It’s a gift from God and nature’s song!

If only your heartbeat and breath I could be,
So your very existence depended on me.

Stand facing the sun, my light, so your beauty it may see,
Then fall from sheer jealousy and burn out in the sea!

Your eyes are the sea, your face is the sun
One smile of yours and Spring will come!

Our paths are now sundered but they’ll never be gone
As long as I live, the memories live on.

Death and separation: they’re only a word apart
For both provoke the same pain in a grieving heart.